Nothing. That’s right, the 90’s were a splendid transitional era for Metal after the Heavy/Thrash dominated 80’s, a time period where new genres emerged and where Metal opened up its borders to other genres. Thing is there are many articles saying that the 90’s witnessed a big drawback in Metal, and that Grunge took over and Rap Metal made Metal hipster. Well in an effort to suppress all these allegations, I’ll simply write a list of 10 exceptional Metal albums from the 90’s. You can also help my case out and add more suggestions in the comments.

  • 10 Exceptional Metal Albums from the 90’s (in no particular order)
  • Death – The Sound Of Perseverance

In 1998, the forefathers of Death Metal released their seventh studio album entitled “The Sound Of Perseverance”, the final result of a band’s inspirational evolution through the years. Like them or not, many if not all their albums are among the all-time Death Metal classics and deserve to be on this list, but I’ll only mention this one because it’s exceptional, groundbreaking and glowed in a period where Rap Metal was in the spotlights. Here’s “Scavenger Of Human Sorrow” from their “Live In L.A (Death & Raw)” DVD:

  • Pantera – Cowboys From Hell

The 90’s began with Pantera’s fifth yet first successful studio album “Cowboys From Hell”. After basking in 80’s Glam Metal, the band went back to their southern roots and recorded an album that set the standards for Groove Metal and currently the NWOAHM (New Wave Of American Heavy Metal). Along with explosive riffs and inventive solos from guitarist Dimebag Darrell, vocalist Phil Anselmo gives the music the raw energy it needs, all in all creating a release that’s considered among the most influential Metal albums of all time. Here’s “Cowboys From Hell” from the album:

  • Opeth – Morningrise

Opeth’s second studio album was released in 1996 and proved to critics and fans alike that the band will keeping moving forward from their sound on their debut “Orchid”, and ultimately be considered as one of the main cornerstones of Progressive Death Metal. With 5 songs and over an hour of music, “Morningrise” paved the way for Opeth’s evolution and for their next great 90’s albums, “My Arms, Your Hearse” and “Still Life”.

  • Cynic – Focus

After playing on Death’s “Human” release, guitarist Paul Masvidal went to focus on his own band with drummer Sean Reinert and recorded their debut album “Focus” in 1993. The band is among the first to blend Death Metal with Jazz Fusion and Space Rock, creating an ambiance like no other band at the time, especially with duel vocals, both growls and robotic-like clean vocals using a vocoder. It took the band one exceptional album to gain recognition in the Metal community and to be considered among Metal’s pioneers and icons (their second album “Traced In Air” was released 15 years later!). Here’s “How Could I” from Focus:

  • Sepultura – Arise

Brazilian band Sepultura were already an international name in the late 80’s, especially after they released “Beneath The Remains”, a Thrash / Death album that came out in a time when Thrash Metal was moving more and more towards the extremes (which finally manifested as Death Metal). In 1991, Sepultura released “Arise”, their last Thrash / Death Metal album and in my opinion, their finest to date. With percussion/drums from the jungles of hell, Sepultura single-handedly fused an intense tribal spirit with devastating Metal riffs.

  • Symphony X – The Divine Wings Of Tragedy

In 1997, Symphony X took Metal by storm with their third release “The Divine Wings Of Tragedy”. The band continued with their already-established sound on their first two studio albums “Symphony X” and “The Damnation Game”, this time gaining more exposure in Europe with help from InsideOut and SPV. No band had put so much neoclassical influences into their music so Symphony X were definitely leading that movement in the 90’s. Here’s a classic song from the album:

  • Emperor – Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk

It’s difficult to talk about the 90’s without mentioning Black Metal, and you can’t get any greater than Emperor under that genre. They were the ambassadors of Black Metal and they definitely improved on the genre’s early outputs. If you think Black Metal is defined by low-quality recordings and unending blast beats, Emperor’s “Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk” will definitely change your conception about that. With influences closely related to Classical and symphonic music in general, Emperor created the ultimate soundtrack of Armageddon. Check out this live performance from their “Live Inferno” DVD:

  • Iced Earth – Burnt Offerings

Definitely one of the biggest Heavy Metal bands of the 90’s, Iced Earth released the first of their several successful 90’s albums “Burnt Offerings” in 1995, with new vocalist Matt Barlow. The album features the ultimate Iced Earth song, “Dante’s Inferno”, a 16 minute trip into the nine circles of hell itself, with exceptional songwriting and lyrics in all sections. Building on this new-found spirit with Barlow, the band went on to record another classic 90’s Heavy Metal album entitled “Something Wicked This Way Comes” in 1998. Here’s a video of “Dante’s Inferno”:

  • Theatre Of Tragedy – Theatre Of Tragedy

Also among the emerging genres in the 90’s is Gothic Metal and Doom Metal, both of which can be largely credited to the early works of Theatre Of Tragedy, whose “The Beauty And The Beast”-styled male / female vocals set the standards for this genre. With their self-titled debut album, the band created an atmospheric ambiance like no band ever attempted to do so in Metal music, especially with their lead piano melodies. The music reflected both beauty and sorrow, anger and peace, and set the standards for female-fronted Metal bands to come. Here’s “Sweet Art Thou” from the album:

  • Pain Of Salvation – Entropia

The final album on this list will definitely belong to the Progressive Metal genre, who also emerged in the 90’s in both the U.S and Europe. Along with international bands like Dream Theater, Pain Of Salvation helped propel the genre with their 1997 debut / concept album “Entropia”, a gem in the genre, and one of the very best debut albums ever. The band displays not only great musicianship but the creativity to support it, thus earning its place among the most respected Progressive Metal bands. Here’s “! (Forword)” from the “Ending Themes” DVD:

Indeed there are plenty of great Metal albums from the 90’s, and just because Metallica’s golden years were cut short in the late 80’s doesn’t make the 90’s bad at all. I’m looking forward to your recommendations of exceptional Metal albums from the 90’s!