Friday, June 28, 2019

TOP 50 ALBUMS OF THE 90s: Part IV

Pardon the delay everybody, the show is still on!  We're breaking into the top 20 now, and now we finally hit the point where I need to defend the shit out of my choices, because nostalgia is finally becoming a major factor.  But whatever, we'll burn that bridge when we get there.  Let's get on with it!

20: Infester - To the Depths, in Degradation (1994) 
Often cited as one of the most horrifically evil, brutal, and extreme albums in all of death metal, Seattle's best fluke, Infester, unleashed this hellish monstrosity on the world in 1994.  To the Depths, in Degradation is a tough cookie to crack, because it's so monstrous in its presentation that it's almost incomprehensible on first listen.  I've used the word "alien" to describe a few albums on this countdown, but this is probably the album that most deserves it.  More than the grimy depths of Incantation or the gloomy weirdness of the entire Finndeath scene (that's right, Demilich doesn't appear on this list, fight me), Infester feels the most like it wasn't truly created by humans.  This dark, oppressive, and utterly alien atmosphere is something that I don't think was ever truly matched without sacrificing the brutality that these guys put forth.  It's almost unbelievable how dank and arcane this is without sacrificing one single ounce of weight.  Every riff is super deep and punishing, and the vocals alternate between indecipherable gurgles and bone chilling screeches.  It actually sounds like some sort of esoteric spiritual torture, like the bowels of Hell themselves.  Like Mental Funeral a few spaces back, this just sounds... wet.  This sounds like the last choking gasps of a sinner drowning in a lake of coagulating blood.  That's really the best I can do with this album.  All I can do is make weird, arcane similes and just hope it makes sense to you.  I can try to explain how the drumming is odd and torrential and how the riffs are deep and twisting, or I can just tell you to look at that sleep paralysis nightmare of an album cover and just say "yeah, that".  I've mentioned this before, but the first time I ever listened to this, I was in good health and feeling perfectly fine, and then somewhere around "Epicurean Entrails" or "A Viscidy Slippery Secretion", my stomach gurgled painfully and I ran to the bathroom to have burning pitch-black diarrhea so powerfully I almost achieved liftoff.  To the Depths, in Degradation is legitimately cursed and I'm terrified of listening to it now while typing this.  Listen with caution, it very well could kill you.

19: Dismember - Like an Everflowing Stream (1991) 
Everything I said about Entombed applies here as well, as I've always seen them as sister bands to one another during this early Swedeath era.  The Sunlight Studios sound is on full display here, as should be expected, but apart from the sound itself being brutally heavy and punishing, Dismember excels in sheer songwriting prowess like few others could ever dream of.  Like an Everflowing Stream is, to me, the absolute pinnacle of Swedeath.  Like, holy shit just listen to "Override of the Overture" to hear some of the most ear catching riffs the scene ever produced.  The main riff and the bridge riff before the solo are two that are easy first ballot candidates in the Riff Hall of Fame, and it never really stops from there.  One thing that I love about the Swedish style is how relentless and uncompromising it is, but these early classics never skimped on atmosphere either, and that may be why they stand ahead of the pack.  Dismember here doesn't lose that epic occult atmosphere that somebody like Morbid Angel helped popularize, and they blended it with that straight ahead carnage that made the scene so noteworthy in the first place.  The whole thing is super chaotic, with d-beats and riffs that are as sharp and heavy as dozens of guillotine blades all falling at once, with propulsive, downhill-running speedfests like "Skin Her Alive" and "And So is Life".  And even with that, you have moments of heavy melody like "Dismember" or gloomy sluggishness like "In Death's Sleep", but even that one eventually careens headfirst into a thicket of claymores by the end.  Just... dammit I wanted to cut down on short entries but Like an Everflowing Stream is just so fucking self evidently top tier that I don't know what to say about it.  This hits so hard that I swear it should come packaged with a train horn just to warn anybody within earshot that they're about to be blasted with so much force that they'll just instagib like a sprite in Doom.

18: Type O Negative - Bloody Kisses (1993) 
Type O's second appearance on this list is, frankly, a genre defining moment.  Gothic metal nowadays has come to mean something entirely different, generally what I refer to with the pejorative "corsetcore", where pretty women with impossibly pale skin coo over non-riffs with the barest hint of metal behind overbearing symphonics.  But at this time in history, Bloody Kisses completely reinvented Type O Negative and showcased one of the purest mixtures of doom metal and goth rock.  When people talk about the current wave of gothic metal, heavy influence from Fields of the Nephilim and Sisters of Mercy isn't what I'm ever expecting, but lordy did the Bensonholst Lesbian Choir nail it here.  While not as lush and pleasant as the far inferior October Rust, those swelling soundscapes that would help define the band as a 90s staple definitely began here, almost completely erasing the quasi-Carnivore leftovers on Slow, Deep, and Hard.  You've got one holdover hardcore song with "Kill All the White People", which is an album highlight regardless, and "We Hate Everyone" is musically fast and punk as fuck but he utilizes his booming cleans much more than this mid-range rasp, but for the most part this is a stunningly gorgeous marriage of Sabbathian doom metal and gloomy 80s goth rock.  The goth influence is probably most direct on tracks like "Blood and Fire" and "Set Me on Fire", but it permeates throughout the entire album regardless, with the moody synths remaining prominent at all times.  I love the vulgar savagery of the debut, but this subdued, introspective, and bleak atmosphere works so much better with Peter Steele's crooning baritone, which is in top form here of course.  The title track is an excellent representative of the sound they'd come to embody from this point onwards.  Long, expansive, slow moving songs overflowing with emotion.  Really though, the true highlights are the first two real songs, "Christian Woman" and "Black no. 1", the latter of which is genuinely one of my all time favorite songs across any genre.  It was their hit single, their biggest and most recognizable song, instantly making them favorites among teenage mallgoth girls who blatantly missed the joke that the lyrics were sarcastic and squarely about them.  Steele's sensual, vampyric croon was just too much to resist and as a result an entire generation of oblivious goobers missed that "Loving you was like loving the dead" was less of a darkly romantic couplet and more of an accusation that you're terrible at sex.  Apparently "You can't go out because your roots are showing / Dye 'em black" and the brief moment where Josh Silver straight up plays the fucking Addam's Family theme song weren't obvious enough that the song's tongue was planted squarely in cheek.  The album isn't perfect, it falls victim to their frequent habit of loading albums with way too much for one sitting, and it really didn't need four fucking interludes, but this is probably the album where it matters the least, because every single legit song is a knockout and it's definitely the recommended starting place if you've never heard the band before.

17: Death - Symbolic (1995) 
This is the one I feel like I need to defend, because popular opinion really seems to have turned on Death in recent years.  If oldheads will begrudgingly give them the honor of releasing the first death metal album with Scream Bloody Gore (instead of flat out denying it and giving the title to Possessed's Seven Churches instead), most of them completely lose interest around the time of Human, leaving their later prog era to be adored exclusively by guitar nerds, "Evil Chuck" fanboys, and me.  And hey, even then, most of their later era is a disjointed mess of unconnected ideas that I can't stand to listen to, but I still think Symbolic holds up extremely well.  So well that it landed in the top 20 here.  All of the pummeling morbidity of their early work has been wrung dry by this point, leaving only a vaguely deathy extreme prog metal album that's still somehow loaded with excellent riffage and more hooks than I know what to do with.  This album is catchy as hell, which is surprising considering Chuck never learned how to sing and no matter which style he was using for any given album (he had a nasty habit of changing his vocals from album to album but never from song-to-song, even though we know damn well he's capable of it) remained harsh and monotone.  It almost all comes from the melodic sense of the riffs themselves and the endless noodling.  Unlike the other albums from this period, Symbolic seemed to have a real purpose and direction, with every song being laser focused despite the myriad of ideas on display.  This hyperfocused songwriting manifests best on the more straight ahead rockers like "1000 Eyes", "Without Judgment", and the title track, but the highlight of the album is also one of the highlights of their career and one of their signature songs, "Crystal Mountain".  As much as I love Gene Hoglan's manic double bass in "1000 Eyes" and "Symbolic", those explosive moments all pale in comparison to the sheer grandiosity of "Crystal Mountain".  There's something otherworldly about this one, I don't know if it's the alternating heavy parts and subdued quiet parts, but this takes so many twists and turns and feels larger than it has any right to be.  All in all, this is one of the only progressive metal albums I've ever truly loved, and even after all these years and my striking distaste for the albums surrounding it, Symbolic still stands as a late-career masterpiece that enthralls me with each listen.  People will say that Death started sucking once Chuck started smiling and the lyrics shifted from blood and gore to philosophy and introspection, but fuck them, they had at least one home run during that period.

16: Gargoyle - Tsuki no Toge (1994) 
I promise this is the last Gargoyle album on this list.  I know you all know I blow this band to an absurd degree, but they really were untouchable for a spell in the early 90s.  Tsuki no Toge marked the end of the She-ja era, needing two guitarists to replace him, and both of them (Yotaro with the ridiculous hair, Kentaro with the slightly less ridiculous hair) are as good as he was alone.  So yeah it's no surprise that the fretboard theatrics are off the fucking charts on this one, and the dead-eyed stares of the flamboyant band on the cover art should allude to the fact that this is surprisingly fucking brutally heavy for how melodic it also is.  Their goofy funky influence hadn't gone by the wayside yet, so tracks like "Dokoka De Jimushi Ga Naiteita" and "Karappo" are just as fun and high energy as counterparts from previous albums like "Hito no Tame" and "Naidzukushi", the punk influence of "Hatena?" is impossible to overlook, and both ballads ("Kuroi Hana" and one of their signature live closers, "Yakusoku No Chi De") are great, but the real highlights are the heavy ones of course.  There is a slight exception with their soaring power metal epic "Catharsis", but without a doubt they're at their best when they're thrashing their heads off.  "Senzaiteki Genkyoukaku Musabetsu Kakusei Kin Kansenshea" starts off deceptively simple, signaling another one of their signature "Ruten-likes" before it explodes into a cataclsym of frantic riffage with a pace that would make Kreator blush.  "Piichiku Paachiku" is another full-speed-ahead tumbling thrash assault that gets me harder than the hoverbike level of Battletoads, and it along with "Kanzen Na Doku Wo Youkyuu Suru" hammer home how fucking catchy they were able to make even the most menacing thrash songs they could manage.  But really, anybody who has read my gargantuan review series knows the best track here.  "Shouryakukeitachi Yo" is, without a doubt, the best song on the album and one of the best songs they'd ever write.  Every single second is loaded with manic riffs and boundless energy, and the fast verse riff that kicks in at 41 seconds is one of the god damned best riffs ever written.  It's Mercyful Fate-tier, dead fucking serious.  Kiba unloads his lyrics with the speed and force of a firehose, to the point where even native Japanese speakers struggle to understand anything he's saying during this rapid fire expulsion of insanity.  And it all culminates with one of the most sublime choruses of all time.  I haven't really talked about Kiba's vocals here, but you should know by now that he has a very rattly voice that sounds like he's been chainsmoking since conception, but at this point in time he still held an enviable amount of melody in that rattle, and "Shouryakukeitachi Yo" is the absolute greatest marriage of grit and melody.  He sounds like E. Honda is Hundred Hand Slapping him in the throat as he belts out this grandiose singalong melody with so much confidence that you're just in the palm of his hand, at his beck and call.  I love it so much, I'll keep gushing for another thousand words if you let me.

15: Cannibal Corpse - Tomb of the Mutilated (1992) 
One of the things that actually surprised me the most when writing this list was how long it took for me to actually get to a Cannibal Corpse album.  It feels weird to have to constantly defend the most visible and successful death metal band of all time, but man I swear the underground has a lot of weird bad faith arguments against them that get trotted out fucking constantly.  I won't bother with them here, but the point is that Cannibal didn't make it to the top of the heap by accident, from the beginning of their career all the way up to today, they've been some of the tightest and most consistent songwriters in the genre.  I frequently cite 1999's Bloodthirst as their best album, but honestly, when the cards are on the table, they just don't have any one single album as heavily loaded with classics as Tomb of the Mutilated.  This marked the end of one era, the beginning of the end of another, and also the stoic continuation of even yet one more.  The era that ended was Bob Rusay's tenure with the band before his firing and subsequent departure from music entirely, also making this the last album with the original lineup.  As one of the original guitarists, his style was integral to the band's identity, and he famously wrote the main riff for "Skull Full of Maggots", one of their most iconic tracks.  Unfortunately, the band had continually gotten more and more technical as the years went on and his skill just never really improved at the same pace as the rest of the guys, so this became his last hurrah, likely being the absolute zenith of his technical ability (a level they'd surpass as a band roughly ten more times after this).  The era that saw the beginning of its decline was that of original vocalist and lyricist, Chris Barnes.  Barnes was the face of the band at the time, and his deep growls and utterly grotesque lyrics were part of the reason they ever even made the big time in the first place, but on this album they take a sharp turn downwards from where they were on Butchered at Birth.  He still sounds fine here, but his high rasp was already pretty shit and his more frequent growls were sounding less vicious and more just... hoarse and lame.  This would culminate on the following album but the seeds were definitely sown.  Lyrically he was just as disgusting as ever, but man he really leans into the necrophilia on this one.  Seven of the nine tracks here are either explicitly about or offhandedly throw in a reference to either raping a corpse or a corpse raping somebody, it's kinda nuts.  I guess there's a reason the Parental Advisory warning is bigger than the band logo, eh? But most importantly, the third era this inhabits is the one that encompasses their entire career, and that's simply that it's extremely fucking good.  The opening trio of "Hammer Smashed Face", "I Cum Blood", and "Addicted to Vaginal Skin" is arguably the strongest to open any of their albums to date.  And even beyond those three most obvious tracks, nothing here falls short of extraordinary.  "Beyond the Cemetery" has some of their nastiest riffs, "Necropedophile" never slows the fuck down, Paul absolutely loses his mind on "Split Wide Open" and delivers some of the most intense drumming of his career, "Entrails Ripped from a Virgin's Cunt" is every bit as classic as the opening three, it just never stops.  Cannibal has always had a very strong sense of groove to complement their frantic energy, but here is truly does take a back seat to the explosive adrenaline that occupies pretty much every single track, and as a result it stands as one of their best even 25+ years later.

14: Running Wild - Masquerade (1995) 
I don't know what it is, but this is a totally underrated album.  Most people will at the very least stick up for the band up through The Rivalry, but like I mentioned previously, outright support seems to stop around Black Hand Inn, and I really don't understand why because Masquerade is an even better album.  I think this could be because, while this is their ninth full length album, it's actually somehow the first one where every single member carried over from the previous album (which would also happen on the next album as well), and since every member of the band had always injected their own personality and strengths into each album they're featured on, this is probably the most similar album to its predecessor throughout their whole career.  But even with that said, I find this to be superior precisely because it's a more focused and cohesive attack than Black Hand Inn.  The songs all flow into one another very well, with no track really standing out as jarringly different than the ones surrounding it like "Genesis" or "Fight the Fire of Hate" did.  Here, their disparate influences of speed metal and cock rock mesh together gorgeously, and I think the more KISS inspired tracks are still the most metal of their kind.  "Rebel at Heart" is a Running Wild classic for this reason entirely, and "Metalhead" sounds like it could've brought down any stadium it was played in.  That's not to say the ferocious speed metal is lesser here, no sir.  "Lions of the Sea", "Masquerade", "Underworld", and "Soleil Royal" are among the best songs they'd ever pen, with some excellent riffs and incredible hooks to complement their unrelenting speed.  I don't think I've adequately expressed just how fucking catchy Running Wild is, because god damn can these guys pen a grandiose hook.  Holy shit every single track has the catchiest chorus ever, with "Soleil Royal" pretty easily being my favorite, though obviously none of them are slouches.  Just god damn, if you like traditional metal in any sense, there is no reason whatsoever for you to not also adore every second of this indisputable classic.  HEAT AND FIRE, BURNING PYRE, SMOKE AND FLAMES, A RAGING HELL

13: Vader - De Profundis (1995) 
Vader was always good, this is no secret, but they were on another level with their sophomore release, De Profundis.  I've only had the privilege of seeing Vader live one time, and you'd think I'd be disappointed when it became obvious that they were going to play this album in full, since they have so many classic tracks that it's basically a crime to leave them out of a set, but man this is so good that I didn't even care a little bit.  They have so much character, with their particular brand of death metal being notoriously reliant on tremolo riffs and blast beats, but even though they ape two of the biggest songwriting tropes from the 2nd wave of black metal, there isn't an ounce of blackness to be found here, this is pure fucking death.  Because of this there's an inherent simplicity to their craft, eschewing some of the more mind-melding technicality that most death metal this side of Obituary loves to fill their music with, and as a result Vader is also pretty solidly the catchiest death metal band in existence.  I will go on record as saying that there are no death metal bands with more or better hooks, and yes that includes Bolt Thrower fucking fight me.  From the opening seconds of "Silent Empire", Vader heralds their entrance with some of the most well crafted and ear catching riffs ever to be chained to insane blasting and unapologetic brutality.  This never stops, with other highlights including "Sothis", "Incarnation", "Blood of Kingu", and "Reborn in Flames", though you really can't go wrong with anything here.  One thing that I don't think gets enough credit is Piotr's voice, because he's incredibly unique with how clear his lyrics are.  They're still deep and brutal, of course, but he doesn't really growl as much as he just roars, and as a result every word can be individually picked out and sung along with (extra fun considering how hilariously thick his accent is), and it only adds to the infectiuosness.  There's also an incredibly prominent thrash influence that seems understated until you ask yourself "Could Slayer have written this riff?"  And it's true, if Slayer had continued to get heavier and heavier after 1986, there's a real chance they could've spat out something similar to De Profundis.  As far as I'm concerned, Vader is who truly put Poland on the map when it came to metal, and to this day the only Polish metal band with more listeners on last.fm is Behemoth.  Even Decaptitated, who got to be pretty fucking massive in their own right, are a solid 100,000 listeners behind the orignals, and the fact that they're still putting out some of the best albums of their career in the current decade tells me that Vader was always destined to be one of the greatest death metal bands of all time, and as a fun but useless bit of trivia, they actually are the first death metal band I ever loved.  Not Cannibal Corpse, not Morbid Angel, not Death, fuckin' Vader.  Vader is responsible for like 80% of this list being populated with extreme metal.  They're one of the best gateways there ever was.

12: Motorhead - Bastards (1993) 
I told you it was coming, and that time is finally here.  Yup, BastardHead is ostensibly a reference to the fact that Lemmy initially wanted to name this band Bastard before his manager talked him out of it, but it also serves as a nice reference to their best album.  You heard me correctly.  As classic as Ace of Spades, Overkill, the self titled, Orgasmatron, and Another Perfect Day are, none of them actually surpass their twelfth album.  Twelve albums and nearly twenty years into their career, that's the point where they truly hit their apex.  It simply comes down to the fact that they have no albums as consistent as Bastards.  And that's impressive since it's one of their more obviously varied albums of its face.  The two best songs exemplify this perfectly, with "Burner" being a double bass filled speed metal scorcher and "Born to Raise Hell" being one of the all time great rock n roll party anthems, and actually my all time favorite Motorhead song.  "Burner" also helps introduce listeners to Mikkey Dee, one of the tightest drummers in the game, who was introduced on this album and would stick around for nearly 30 years until Lemmy's death in late 2015.  I feel like I read somewhere once that Lemmy cites Little Richard as either his greatest influence or favorite artist (or both), and man it's really noticeable on the sleazy rock n roll that populates this album.  "Born to Raise Hell", "On Your Feet or On Your Knees", "Bad Woman", and "I'm Your Man" all sound exactly like what would happen if you took some good time 50's boogie rock n roll like Little Richard, Chuck Berry, or Sister Rosetta Tharpe and transported them forty years into the future and loaded them up on whiskey and speed.  Special shoutout also has to go to their darkest and most depressing track ever, and the best Motorballad of all time, "Don't Let Daddy Kiss Me".  That one is just... man it's heavy.  That's a rough one to listen to, and it's extra brutal because it's told from the perspective of the victim and there's no happy ending.  The World's Worst Crime just happens nightly and she can't tell anybody without destroying the only family unit she knows and God hasn't saved her yet.  The end!  No moral!  And then it closes out with a terrifying "goodnight..." before seguing directly into "Bad Woman" one of the more raucous and fun party songs on the album.  What the hell man?  Why would you destroy me emotionally like that and then seamlessly transition right back into sexy partying??  You were something else, Lemmy.  You were the mirror that showed lesser men that they were clowns, and the world is a lesser place without you.  Motorhead was mad underrated in the 90s, and Bastards is proof that they shouldn't've been.

11: Running Wild - Blazon Stone (1991) 
I'm sorry, I really am.  I didn't expect Running Wild to dominate so completely and utterly when I first got the idea to do this feature.  But it's true, four of the fifty best albums from this decade all came from one band.  They truly were unstoppable during this period, and Blazon Stone stands as their best of the era.  This really is the only album that ever could've followed up the heavy metal legend that is Death or Glory, because there isn't one single thing about this album that I don't adore to pieces.  I don't know what I can really say about this one considering it's the fourth time I've tackled the band here, and the whole reason I did the huge review series on Gargoyle instead of Running Wild is because the Germans are just hard to talk about since each album is pretty similar to the ones surrounding it and only feels wildly different once you look three or four albums into the past.  Their blend of trad and speed metal with sprinklings of arena rock is probably at its most potent here, with tracks like "Fire & Ice" and "Lonewolf" rocking harder than anything has ever rocked before while also dipping their toes into power metal with "Little Big Horn".  This is probably their most "normal" album, in a sense, while still being arguably their most iconic behind the obvious trilogy from the 80s.  They were always primarily a speed metal band above all else, but I'd argue that Blazon Stone is more of just a fast trad metal album with loads of melody, and it turns out that that is an incredible mixture (though that's not to say that "Straight to Hell" isn't pure fucking speed metal of the grandest kind).  I've also mentioned before that one of the band's secret weapons was always their ability to let each individual member play to their strengths no matter what they were, and that's why the long, melodic bass passages left with Jens Becker (aka Mike's brother from Stranger Things if he got into metal instead of punk), but he was still here on this album, so we're treated to the stunning interlude of "Over the Rainbow", which definitely deserves mention.  But really, I have to stop and tell you all to quit reading this and go listen to "White Masque", which is my absolute favorite Running Wild song, above even obvious contenders like "Riding the Storm" and "Conquistadores".  That chorus is sublime.  The oldest of the old school MA reviewers, UltraBoris, may not have been the best with words, but god damn if he wasn't right on the money when he compared that chorus to Blind Guardian in terms of catchiness and complexity and called it one of the most perfect choruses in the history of heavy metal.  It's my favorite song by my favorite band, so that should tell you that I, uh... I really recommend it.

That's it!  Only one more to go!  There's a chance I manage to finish this whole spiel on the 30th like originally planned, but if I don't, tune back in on July 1st for the conclusion and the official BH Ranking for the Top 50 Metal Albums of the 90s!

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

TOP 50 ALBUMS OF THE 90s: Part III

Welcome back fools, Part III is now officially underway, let's cut the bullshit and get right to it.

30: Darkthrone - Under a Funeral Moon (1993) 
Where A Blaze in the Northern Sky carried some remnants of Darkthrone's early death metal phase and kept the song structures weird and diverse, Under a Funeral Moon is where they truly and definitively came into their own and embraced black metal's ethos of minimalist atmosphere and lo-fi workmanship.  This doesn't sound like technically skilled musicians playing to the best of their ability, this sounds amateurish on purpose, and in a way that's even more impressive.  What makes this so much different than the legions of clones that this album spawned (and to a greater extent, the following Transilvanian Hunger) is that instead of sounding like kids who can't play their instruments and got into black metal because it's easy, this sounds like every last micron of extraneous fat has been stripped away.  There is no fluff whatsoever on Under a Funeral Moon.  Despite that, unlike their contemporary Burzum, they don't necessarily strip so much away that they land on total ambience.  Instead, tracks like "Unholy Black Metal" and "Natassja in Eternal Sleep" are still metal to the fucking core, with noisy cymbal crashes dominating the trebly mix during constant blast beats and riffs that slow down almost never.  The eternal classic "To Walk the Infernal Fields" likely stands out specifically because of that, because it's the first track where the trio really dials back the tempo and manages to retain that overwhelming atmosphere of pure malice.  No matter the speed, the general feeling, the white hot burning core of the music, remains as unrelenting and dangerous as it begins.  It just never falters, and 25+ years later it still stands as one of my all time favorite albums in the entire genre.  I can't recall the source, but I feel like I recall reading at some point that Fenriz himself considers this to be the only "true" black metal album in Darkthrone's impressive discography, and while I don't necessarily agree with that, I find it hard to argue against the opinion that this is the purest one, and incidentally, also their best.  I said before that Darkthrone is one of the most truly legendary bands in metal history, and Under a Funeral Moon is my proof.

29: Entombed - Left Hand Path (1990) 
If we're going by review scores alone, according to the Metal Archives, Left Hand Path is the greatest album of all time, currently standing with 16 reviews and an astounding 98% average score at the time of this writing (going a whopping ten years from 08-18 with every new review being a perfect score).  It's even currently the #9 best death metal album of all time according to RYM, which is impressive considering the userbase there is full of arrogant /mu/ nerds who have it ranked below the worst Death album and fucking Gojira.  The point is, Entombed's debut has absolutely stood the test of time as a watershed moment in death metal history, and the fact that I have 28 albums ranked above it here is more of a personal failing of my own than anything Entombed is at fault for.  This is, as far as I'm concerned, the most important and definitive Swedeath album of all time.  The entire niche sound that this country carved out for itself in the early 90s was codified here, and for better or worse, everybody is still trying to one up this album.  The title track opens the record with a bang, the likes of which not seen since the creation of the cosmos, and from there it just never stops.  There were a lot of tiny things that went perfectly right and wound up creating an entire scene.  Like, for one, it's easy to forget when listening to this that Left Hand Path was recorded by four high school aged teenagers in a small studio for a debut album only a few months after a name change and a rough three track demo.  This happened fast, and it happened early.  The guitar tone achieved here put Sunlight Studios on the map and made it the mecca for Swedeath bands, with that impossibly heavy distortion becoming an instant trademark that immediately gave away the recording location of any given band at the time, and became the only real rival to the Scott Burns treatment at Morrissound for Americans.  I'd be failing as a critic to not also point out the massive amount of punk (particularly d-beat) influence on the album, helping to keep the aggression at meteoric highs and the adrenaline at a constant.  Tracks like "Supposed to Rot" really showcase this.  You really can't go wrong with any track though, as the title track is a vaunted classic and "Bitter Loss" contains some of the best DM riffs of all time.  If you like pretty much any Swedeath from any point in history, you have Left Hand Path to thank for that.

28: Suffocation - Breeding the Spawn (1993) 
This is without a doubt one of the most tragically screwed records in extreme metal history.  Suffocation understandably wanted to work with Scott Burns again like they did on their debut, but Roadrunner was a fucking cheapskate label and didn't want to pay the premium to send one of the best bands in the world to the best studio in the country, and instead wound up forcing them to record more locally in New York, which led to Breeding the Spawn ultimately being produced and mixed by a guy who, according to Discogs, has a handful of credits on a dozen jazz albums and nothing else, and mastered by a guy who is most well known for producing landmark rap and hip hop albums (though oddly enough he also mastered Mercyful Fate's Melissa, which is one of the greatest albums ever written and sounds phenomenal, so I'm willing to put most of the blame on the first guy here).  So instead of the heaviest sound ever like the albums surrounding it, Breeding the Spawn is a weird mess that's both trebly and muddy, relegating what could've been Suffocation's crowning achievement to a bizarre footnote that they've spent the rest of their career trying to fix.  It's quite clear as well, since as soon as two years later they had started a tradition of rerecording one song on each new album in a quest to slowly recreate the album that could've been.  And it's a worthy endeavor too, because many of these are the best songs they ever wrote.  That mangled, unusual weirdness that I was talking about in the Pierced from Within entry is amplified by a million here, with tracks like "Epitaph of the Credulous" being some of the most chaotic and frantic shit they'd ever put to their name (seriously check out the bass noodling about a minute into that track).  I think the badness of the production is kinda overhyped, because I mean this still sounds vicious as hell, but it's clearly a shell of what it could've been, and the fact that I love it as much as I do should just make the quality of the songs themselves all the more apparent.  I know I already referenced it earlier, but I need to defer to Cheeses_Priced's review yet again, because he makes the point so much clearer than I ever could, and of all the reviews I wish I had written, this one is probably the one I wish I had written the most: "...the first few moments of the song “Breeding the Spawn” sound like what you’d get if you sent two (or more?) distinct riffs through a telepod together, yielding some horrible, twitching, barely-alive monstrosity of death metal guitar playing whose mere existence is a blasphemy against creation."  In their prime, almost nobody was better than Suffocation, and the fact that they arguably their best album got fuckin' kneecapped during the recording process was probably a good thing because otherwise everybody else would've just packed it in and quit, because nobody else was going to write a song as good as "Prelude to Repulsion" or "Anomalistic Offerings".

27: Blind Guardian - Imaginations from the Other Side (1995) 
Dear god it's all been death and black metal for like 15 positions, do I like anything else??  Turns out yes I do, and I'm here to scream at you about how Blind Guardian is one of the greatest bands to ever walk this earth and anybody who doesn't like them is factually incorrect and all opinions about anything else should be disregarded out of hand.  Imaginations from the Other Side is the first album that truly cemented their future direction as one of the biggest bands ever in terms of sound.  The rough speed metal of the first few albums is still here in places like "I'm Alive" and "Born in a Mourning Hall", but there's a new sense of bigness that just wasn't quite there on those seminal early works.  Hansi and the Choir of a Million Identical Hansis came into their own here, and between the fast songs like the aforementioned and the album highlight, "Script for My Requiem" and the ones that sacrifice speed for epic scope like the title track and "And the Story Ends" the entire album just feels like the grandest event metal had in the entire decade.  Hansi's vocals are the highlight here like usual, and I think this hits the perfect nexus between his crooning bardery and his more ravenous screams from the speed metal era.  You can hear so much grit and venom in the chorus to a song that is otherwise very clean and melodic like "Bright Eyes", and he never again hit such a sublime balance.  Cleaner metal like this hit a huge dead patch in the mid 90s and didn't really recover until the mainstream finally gave up on nu and groove metal, but if people still wanted traditionally styled heavy metal at the time, this could've cemented Blind Guardian as Iron Maiden-level huge.  It's a shame, but ultimately it doesn't matter because time has vindicated this album as the milestone that it is, and my hot take is that even though power metal owes the bulk of its sound most directly to Helloween and Judas Priest, Imaginations from the Other Side is the album that truly kicked off the late 90s wave in Europe.  After this, everybody had to step up their game to even be in the conversation, and everything just got bigger and bigger and it never really stopped growing from here.  If each album couldn't be a fucking event like Blind Guardian could do, then you weren't even worth talking about.

26: Running Wild - Black Hand Inn (1994)
For a long time, or at least as recent as twelve-ish years ago when I first truly got into the band, this was seen as Running Wild's last truly great album.  I think they stayed good for a few more albums but there's no denying that 1994 was a landmark year for them.  While they had better albums earlier on in the 80s, I think Black Hand Inn actually solidified one of their most recognizable sounds with the addition of Thilo Hermann (with his relentlessly melodic guitar lines) and Jorg Michael (with his constant power metal influenced double bass and absolutely gigantic Moyai face).  Running Wild has always been Rolf's band first and foremost but it's obvious that the other assorted members have always left an indelible mark on whichever album they appear on, and that's as true here as anywhere else.  The other major change was that this was the first time Rolf attempted to write a full on start to finish concept album, and honestly it's kind of a major flop.  The story is paced poorly and incomprehensibly, with pirates shoehorned in there out of nowhere because that's apparently the only thing he really knows sometimes.  Featuring a mysterious man with fortune telling powers, a witch burning, an entire song dedicated to calling a priest and asshole, regular old pirate songs, "Holy Dragonmen", and eventually culminating in a 15 minute epic (complete with Rolf's trademark cornball narration) about the history of Earth that starts when aliens land on the planet to mine gold.  Yeah it's kind of a mess, but telling stories was never Rolf's strength.  His strength was always just writing kickass songs, and that's where Black Hand Inn excels.  That 15 minute epic, "Genesis", is right up there with "Treasure Island" in terms of the best long Running Wild song, featuring one of the catchiest choruses ever and more hooks than your dad's tackle box.  While the songs that toe the line of heavy metal and hard rock like "Soulless", "Freewind Rider", and "Fight the Fire of Hate" are all very good, it's the speed/power metal influenced songs that are more in line with Running Wild's traditional bread and butter that truly stand head and shoulders above the rest of the album.  "Black Hand Inn" kicks the album off with a stratospheric high note, showcasing an incredibly infectious chorus and heralding Michael's entrance with one of the fastest and most explosive tracks they'd written up to this point.  The sprawling "The Phantom of Black Hand Hill" also brings the fucking house down, and "The Privateer" is a bona fide RW classic for a reason.  I also have to give a special shoutout to "Powder and Iron", which I feel has been kinda forgotten in the canon of the band but really shouldn't be.  Just like the title track, it's fast and hooky and god damned wild.  I absolutely love this album even if the narrative thruline is a complete mess, because the individual songs themselves all smoke to a completely absurd degree.

25: Gamma Ray - Somewhere Out in Space (1997) 
Smack in the middle of their classic era, Gamma Ray released yet another enduring power metal classic with Somewhere Out in Space.  In hindsight, I don't think I ever really realized it back then, but really, their sci-fi themes really did help them stand out since seemingly the only other band in the genre leaning into the depths of outer space nearly this hard was Iron Savior, and even then they debuted the same year and also featured Kai Hansen on guitars at the time.  Either way, lyrical themes aren't what make Gamma Ray so good, it's the quality of the songs themselves, and they excel here with those.  "Beyond the Black Hole" continues their streak of incredible album openers, with frantic bass and drums leading into a soaring guitar melody.  "Beyond the Black Hole" is one of the all time great Gamma Ray songs, and I can't recommend it enough.  Similarly to Power Plant, Gamma Ray had something of a problem loading their albums with way too many songs in order to reach that 80 minute mark that CDs could hold, but in a similar vein to the following album, it almost doesn't matter since all of the songs are so fucking good.  I'll admit that "Pray" sucks but that's mostly because every metal band that isn't Blind Guardian is just bad at ballads on principle, people like to peg "Lost in the Future" as a filler track but it's honestly one of my favorites here so I don't know what they're talking about, and "Watcher in the Sky" is probably unnecessary since it was also featured almost completely unchanged (beyond the vocals) on Iron Savior's debut, but it's still one of the best songs here so I'd feel bad cutting it, etc etc.  There's so much good material here that I can't justify cutting more than maybe one song.  Every moment is fucking impactful, because Gamma Ray's biggest strength was probably simply being ferocious and mean while being melodic and fun.  I've said before that the smiley face that power metal usually typifies was always more of a crooked-toothed sneer with Gamma Ray, and they always had this rancid chainsmoking attitude behind the major key melodies and screaming falsettos.  Check out "Men, Martians, and Machines", "The Guardians of Mankind", or the title track to get a taste of this.  Shout out to "Shine On" as well for being one of their most triumphant and exciting tunes and to "Valley of the Kings" for being one of their most "normal" power metal songs and making that one of the best in the genre as well.  They just couldn't be stopped during this streak, and that should be indisputable for any and all fans of power metal.


24: Candlemass - Chapter VI (1992) 
Candlemass was one of the best bands that existed in the 80s, but in the 90s there was eventually a pretty sharp dropoff after the reformation since nobody gave a shit about Abstrakt Algebra.  But before that point, there was an album in between the legendary Marcolin era and the Flodkvist-led AA mediocrity, and that was the tragically short lived era with Tomas Vikstrom behind the microphone, producing only one album, the unfairly forgotten Chapter VI.  While this may not be as majestic and awe inspiring as Nightfall or Tales of Creation, this hits all the right notes and does everything Candlemass does well almost as well as anything else they ever did.  Hell I even like this more than the debut, one of the most influential metal albums of all time!  I think what it is that I like so much here is the more down-to-earth and relatable nature of the music, which contrasts with their larger-than-life splendor of the Marcolin era.  He was singing odes to the gods themselves, while Vikstrom here sings about the fallout of nuclear war and a girl destroying her life through allegorical fairy tales.  This isn't as massive as those classic albums, but Leif shows that he has skill writing with a smaller scope as well, with "The Ebony Throne" probably being the best example.  It's a very simple, streamlined doom metal track that gets to the point quickly and strongly, and based on the chorus alone it's one of the best Candlemass songs ever.  "Where the Runes Still Speak" is more in the vein of classic Candlemass, though it's decidedly more downtrodden and dark than something like "Darkness in Paradise" or something.  Like, when people praise 90s and beyond Black Sabbath for any reason, I feel like they're actually listening to Chapter IV and just don't realize it, because all of those massively dark and heavy crushers that Iommi wasn't actually writing at the time apply perfectly here.  Vikstrom's voice also lends a more traditional rock element to everything as well, since the chief complain about him was that he sounded more well suited to a hard rock or power metal band than epic doom.  That's not exactly wrong but it's not really right either.  His voice is undeniably powerful and carries these songs just as well as the riffs do, but his falsetto does have this sort of sleaze that Marcolin never truly had.  It's not a worse Candlemass, but it's definitely a different one, and frankly it's one I like almost exactly as much as the classic version.

23: Gargoyle - Furebumi (1990) 
Gargoyle is a very eclectic and weird band, with every album up to the Moderngoyle era in the mid 2000s touching on all kinds of weird shit.  Their bread and butter has always been heavy and quirky thrash metal, but they've never shied away from touching on punk rock, doom metal, surf rock, or regular old poppy J-rock, and it all truly started here on their second album, Furebumi.  This is, more than anything, the definitive Gargoyle album.  Their sound was truly solidified here, and from here on out there was no more awkwardness or shaky steps.  Every weird and crazy idea was approached with utmost confidence and they pretty much never dipped below "fucking incredible".  Just listen to how frantic and ferocious tracks like "Shoumetsu", "Execute" and "Dilemma" are, and that last one can't even help itself from throwing in left-field ideas like an acoustic solo before flying into lightspeed double bass and looping back to actual god damned blast beats.  "Naidzkushi" is the predecessor to their wacky cornball songs like "Hito no Tame" and "Baby Cat" in the future and it just sounds like the most acid-and-whiskey influenced beach party of all time.  Kiba's instantly distinctive rattle is thrown to the forefront on one of my favorite songs of theirs, "Ounou no Goku", especially on the soaring chorus.  Really though, "Ounou no Goku" may be my favorite song on the album, but the two most important tracks on Furebumi are doubtlessly "Halleluyah" and "Ruten no Yo Nite".  The former would go on to be one of the their signature songs, finding itself rerecorded seemingly a million times, even as early as the very next album.  And I can't blame the band for keeping this song relevant as often as they did, because it's an explosive and raucous tune that sees the band at their heaviest and meanest, despite the imagery the title probably conjures.  If you've read my review series, you're probably familiar with the term "Ruten-like", and that's because "Ruten no Yo Nite" is so unique and iconic that they couldn't help but try to recapture the magic of that song on every single album in the future.  Some of them worked better than others, but none of them ever surpassed the original.  This is the blueprint for every long, slow, proggy, doomy song in the future, replete with marching drums, haunting violins, and a downright creepy falsetto melody.  It's a seven and a half minute dirge that assaults the senses with poignant imagery and it's one of the all time great songs in a discography that contains like thirty of the best metal songs ever written.

22: Bolt Thrower - ...for Victory (1994) 
I deviate veeeery slightly from the norm here, because I feel like The IVth Crusade is generally considered the best album in Bolt Thrower's 90s era, but it's usually put in close company with War Master and ...for Victory.  For my money, the last one is their true crown jewel of the era.  The IVth Crusade stands out for being their first album to finally and wholly excise the leftover grindcore influence from their early era, focusing entirely on a particularly doomy brand of death metal.  And hey, I can't deny it, it's a classic for a reason.  ...for Victory on the other hand, just feels BIGGER.  From the opening moments of "Remembrance" you are just pounded into fucking dust and it never really stops from there.  This is a mean fucking album, and their signature bass-heavy sound only propels these monstrous riffs even further into the sunset.  They didn't lose those doomy overtones from the previous album, but they did amp them up with a hell of a lot more energy (which is saying a lot because it's not like the previous album lacked explosiveness in any way) and as a result delivered one of their most solid collections of menacing death metal classics.  Special mention has to go to "Graven Image" for being the best song here, and even then I struggle to explain why exactly.  Bolt Thrower is just... I dunno man they're heavy.  I think it's the boosted bass presence that does it, but they always carried so much weight that you could swear they'd snap your spine on soundwaves alone.  It's also the fact that they never bought into the fact that brutality can only be achieved with overwhelming speed, because they're not afraid to pick up the pace but always maintained an extremely tight groove in every song they'd pen from here on out.  They had said at some point that they moved away from the sound on the debut because people would kinda stand around confused during the fast, grindy, blasting parts, so they decided to focus more on groovy riffs to keep the moshing and headbanging going from start to finish at shows.  I think this is weird as hell because I mean come on, how are you supposed to headbang during a blasting section?  Furiously, that's how.  Either way, I'm glad they made this change in songwriting approach, because in doing so they became one of the most instantly recognizable death metal bands of the classic era, and I wouldn't change a single thing about them.


21: Solitude Aeturnus - Beyond the Crimson Horizon (1992) 
Sometimes I catch myself committing blasphemy and claiming that Solitude Aeturnus is better than Candlemass, but really that's only true in the 90s.  The two bands are impossible not to compare, playing the exact same niche style of metal with vocalists so similar that Rob Lowe actually found himself in Candlemass in the mid 2000s after Messiah was kicked out after the second reunion and sticking around for three incredibly solid albums.  But after Marcolin's initial departure, the Americans overtook the Swedish legends with stunning alacrity.  Beyond the Crimson Horizon is their apex, and all eight tracks are the best fucking doom songs America ever produced.  I would probably rank epic doom as my all time favorite genre if every band was as good as the two biggest bands in the style, because the consistency here is unbelievable.  Just like their inescapable counterpart, I think one of the things I like most about Solitude Aeturnus is their conviction towards just not particularly caring about rules, because while this is pretty orthodox on the whole, they're still unafraid to throw in a bona fide high speed thrash section in the climax of "It Came Upon One Night", and one influence that seemingly everybody in the world can't help but point out is Fates Warning.  The point is that the ethos of "tune low, play slow" didn't apply here, and it didn't have to.  They crafted sublime worlds out of the ether and presented them to you in a way just comprehensible enough to be rocking and catchy but just surreal and otherworldly enough to feel like nothing you'd ever heard before.  The addition of screaming guitar pyrotechnics and spastic drumming gives this a weirdly technical character that very few doom bands would even try to approach, and as a result we wind up with tracks as propulsive and fiery as "The Final Sin", "Plague of Procreation", and arguably the best epic doom song ever written, "Seeds of the Desolate".  All three of the first few SA albums are nearly untouchable, but for my money, the winner has always been Beyond the Crimson Horizon, and I'll never forget the first time I heard that first heavy riff a minute and a half into "Seeds of the Desolate".  To this day, well over a decade and a half later, it still makes my head involuntarily bang with wild abandon.


And that's all for today!  Truth be told, I always try to have at least two entries done before posting the first one so I can always give myself some leeway in case I get busy for any reason and need to skip writing for a day.  But to pull the curtain back a bit, my real life day job has suddenly gotten very busy and there's a very real risk I'll miss the next deadline and wind up not getting all of this done by the end of the month like I had initially planned.  So even if the next entry takes a day or two longer than expected, fret not!  They're coming!  Thank you so much for sticking around and let's just kick this thing's ass!

Sunday, June 23, 2019

TOP 50 ALBUMS OF THE 90s: Part II

Welcome back everybody!  You know the deal so let's just jump right back in.


CONTINUING ON:  

40: Macabre - Sinister Slaughter (1993)  
I think it's pretty safe to say that absolutely fucking nobody sounds like Macabre.  There are tons of bands that aim for a twisted and uncomfortable atmosphere, but almost nobody sounds as completely fucking whacked out as this unbreakable Chicago trio.  They're another example of a band kinda figuring out death metal way ahead of the game, but they're unique in that, like Napalm Death, they came from a more Carcass-influenced grindcore background, and they're a bit less renowned in modern history because they're the total opposite of prolific and release an album basically once per generation.  Their lone 90s album, Sinister Slaughter, is seen as their definitive release and I really can't argue with it (though Dahmer is extremely close).  Everything the band is about, all of their unmistakable quirks and oddities, everything is on full display here.  The homage to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band except with the assortment of famous people being replaced with infamous serial killers, mass murderers, and cult leaders, really kinda drives home the band's darkly comedic approach to the horrors of real life.  Every track is about one of these real life monsters, from the pop culture touchstones of John Wayne Gacy and Richard Ramirez, to some more lesser known villains like Howard Unrah and Daniel Rakowitz, and the guys bring all of their obscene madness to the forefront with glee.  Probably their most notable feature is Corporate Death's vocals, which can sometimes present themselves as traditional death growls, but more often are some completely fucking deranged screeching.  I don't really know how else to describe it, he just sounds completely mental with this high pitched, almost childlike and inhuman wailing.  It's that childlike insanity that helps the band stand out so much, because they also include weird singalong nursery rhyme type segments into the tales of slaughter and murder.  "Vampire of Dusseldorf" is an all time classic thanks to this.  I wish there was a way to really put to words just how deranged everything sounds, but there's really no way to adequately describe hearing a toy piano play a little jingle to the tune of "I'm going to strangle you / and I'll slit your throat too" before Corporate Death's eyes just flare out into perfect spheres and he screeches like a possum before breaking into some of the most intense and focused deathgrind ever written.  I really should just do a full review for this, because there's so much more I want to say (I haven't even touched on how Dennis the Menace is seriously on par with Pete Sandoval as a drummer or how deceptively skilled they are and only showcase it in short snippets of frantic shredding), but I'll just cut it short.  I really think I may have ranked this one too low, because I can't think of a single flaw as I type this.

39: Burzum - Hvis lyset tar oss (1994) 
Varg is one of the most infamous figures in black metal history, being the public face of the wild tales of church burnings and murder that gave the scene so much mystique at its height.  He may have since added yet another hat to his head by also being the face of weirdo neo-pagan white supremacy that proliferates the scene as well, but I really can't deny just how god damned influential and flat out fucking good he was at his peak.  All of Burzum's pre-prison albums are classics, but none stand as high to me as his 1994 monument, Hvis lyset tar oss.  I'll admit that of the album's four tracks, I'm really only here for two of them, but they are so fucking good that this finds itself ranked as their best album anyway.  Opener "Det som en gang var" really is Varg's defining track to me.  His real skill in the black metal scene was turning hypnotic repetition into overwhelming atmosphere, and while it may have reached its logical conclusion one album later, this opening 14 minute wave of darkness and misery is simply unmatched in the genre.  The heavy synth lines over the top of the almost agonizingly repetitious riffs perfectly encapsulates that feeling of coldness that every single 2nd wave band was trying to capture, and at no point does it drop below the level of "instant classic".  The two shorter tracks in the middle are no slouch either, being the more "traditional" tracks full of tremolo riffs and blast beats that Norway made damn sure to solidify as they foundation of the genre itself.  Going from the sheer frigid atmosphere of the opener to these two furious tidal waves only makes them hit harder.  And then the final track just rounds everything out perfectly, with "Tomhet" exemplifying its own title.  "Tomhet" is just... empty.  After a half our assault of icy hell, the album closes on another 14 minutes of pure ambience.  And just... fuck it works so well.  After all that, for this to have a denouement that lasts a full third of the album's runtime just puts everything into perspective.  It's so helpless and miserable, with no ounce of levity or anger or... anything really.  "Tomhet" is the sound of pure emptiness, nothing matters anymore, all life is shit and we're all going to die.  One of the definitive black metal albums ends with nothing but synth.  Not one screech, not one guitar note, not one percussive hit, nothing.  It just ends with nothing.  And really, conceptually, isn't that what black metal was always trying to do anyway?  This is what happens when you take hate to its logical nihilistic conclusion.  There is no hate purer than hate for yourself, and there is no purer expression of that than simply wanting to wither away and die.  Hating so much you can't even hate anymore, so you just lie down on the side of the road and wait for the light to take you as your body withers away into soil.

38: Artillery - By Inheritance (1990)
Boy it sure is lucky that every time I have a really dark and depressing album on this list it gets followed up by something speedy and entertaining.  Artillery's By Inheritance is exactly that and more, and it's survived as their last truly worthwhile release.  Even though they've had a decently received comeback in the last decade (along with every other moderately popular 80s metal band), they've been a shadow of their former selves, and I think their 1990 opus is their real zenith.  It's hotly debated amongst old school thrash fans if their earlier, rawer releases are better than the polished and melodic entry here, but for my money By Inheritance simply has almost all of their best songs.  The A side in particular is unbelievable in how many classics it throws at you in a row, and the B side, while less dynamic, is almost equally stellar.  Where Artillery excels to me is their ability to shove melody to the forefront without sacrificing one ounce of primitive savagery.  A track like "Life in Bondage" showcases that with aplomb, while "Bombfood and "Don't Believe" lean in much harder on the melodic side of things, with "Khomaniac" and "Beneath the Clay" neatly blending the two styles.  In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the second group there are among my favorite half ballads ever written.  "Bombfood" in particular has a chorus that just blows me away, and the bridge and final verse in particular sum up so succinctly why I can't stand uncritical soldier worship like what Sabaton does or the very real culture of obligatory bootlicking in America.  Fuck sake guys, war sucks, it's like the worst shit out there.  The powers that be don't care about you.  The orders you take won't do you no good, so why don't you split?  You ain't nothing but bomb food.

37: Gargoyle - Tenron (1993)
Oh don't look so surprised.  I've written 22 fucking reviews for Gargoyle, of course they're gonna show up here.  Japan's greatest secret was on fire for pretty much their entire career, and during the She-Ja era here they were arguably at their peak.  This is his swansong, and it delivers some of his all time tightest guitar playing, and the rest of the band falls in line with some of their best written material ever.  Their peak weirdness would hit a bit later on albums like Natural and Gaia, but Tenron is in pretty close contention for the title of their best album to gleefully indulge in the proggy weirdness of their 2nd phase while retaining the blistering power/thrash of their early era.  The band had a bit of a strange development, since they were frantic thrash with violins and funky party songs from the get go, got weirder as they went along, and then near the midpoint of their career they started streamlining and just got heavier and heavier until Gargmageddon when everybody except Kiba abruptly quit.  At this point, they were firing on all cylinders creatively and never really let their metal roots fall to the wayside.  "Doumu Lullaby" is one of the happiest and most entertaining funk honky songs they ever wrote, yeah, but contrast that to "Wa ga Tousou" or "Haretsu Ganbou" to see just how wide the breadth of their creativity was.  Those two songs rip to unbelievable degrees.  "Ame Ni Mo Makezu" contains arguably She-Ja's most impressive solo, and "Shinpan no Hitomi" is one of the finest examples of their occasional power metal leanings that they'd also express later down the line on "Kaze no Machi".  I could namedrop every single song and tell you why each one is amazing, but then I'd just be here all day and essentially wind up rewriting my review.  Just know, Gargoyle is one of the greatest bands of all time, and Tenron is an excellent example as to why.

36: Overkill - Horrorscope (1991)
I give Overkill a lot of shit, but there's no denying that these Jersey Boys have a couple albums that are top fucking tier, and Horrorscope is one of them.  Like most thrash bands that ruled in the 80s, their first 90s album was one of their darkest and most aggressive.  I've always seen this as sort of a sister album to Kreator's Coma of Souls, but the big difference between them, and the reason that Overkill is featured here instead of the German stalwarts is because this just sounds a million times heavier.  Overkill's strength and ability to stand out from the crowd during the thrash boom came down to three factors, and all of them are in top form here.  Blitz's vocals are the same venomous snarl he's always made his trademark, D.D. Verni's bass is bright and lively, and they were one of the thrasher's most overtly proud of their punk roots.  Tracks like "Thanx for Nothin'" really hammer that last one home, and it's an obvious highlight as a result.  This is also the album where they got the gloomy doom/groove passages to work exceptionally well, because "Skullkrusher" was just slow and boring and their next eight or so albums would all be asinine sluggish groove mistakes, tracks like "New Machine" and the title track here are the perfect marriage of those stomping slow parts and their signature manic speed.  Really, this album is tight as fuck, and that's a quality that I never thought they were exceptionally skilled with.  They work best when they're just unleashing their manic punk rock attitude, but somehow they took that wild-eyed frenzy and focused it into a singularly metal riff attack and delivered their most consistent offering even to this day.  "Frankenstein" is a bit of a stinker but it's a filler instrumental cover track so I can easily overlook it, because everything else is just god damned vicious.  "Coma", "Blood Money", "Life Young, Die Free", "Bare Bones", "Nice Day... for a Funeral", just every single track is a home run and I'm honestly stunned that Overkill never managed to make this sound work again, because from here on out they start a nearly two decade long streak of dull mediocrity.  But here?  On Horrorscope?  They were poised to easily crush the 90s harder than any other thrash band in the game.

35: Darkthrone - A Blaze in the Northern Sky (1992)
Darkthrone are honestly one of the bands most worthy of the title of "Legendary".  The amount of bands they've influenced throughout their lengthy career is nothing short of uncountable, with Transilvanian Hunger being the album that I'd argue spawned the most shameless clones across the entire history of heavy metal.  But we're not here to talk about that album right now, instead we're looking at the first of their "Unholy Trinity", 1992's A Blaze in the Northern Sky.  I think this is one of the most important albums in all of the second wave of black metal out of Norway, but not necessarily because it definitively showcases how this newfangled "black metal" was done.  In fact, it doesn't at all, there are a lot of holdovers from their death metal days here, with some of these riffs being straight up fucking spine shattering in their weight and aggression.  No, what Blaze did was definitively showcase how to successfully transition out of death metal and into black metal.  They're like 85% of the way there on this release, and those few holdovers give this album so much fucking flavor, because not many bands in this scene had that "embarrassing" death metal phase laid to tape already like Darkthrone had, and none of them were able to make these disparate influences work nearly as well as they did.  "Kathaarian Life Code" is flat out one of the best black metal songs of all time, with the entire ten minute runtime being a ruthless assault on good taste and leaves you battered and begging for more.  That jackhammer assault never stops, but it's filtered through pure, wretched filth in the way that only black metal could do.  The sound quality here is lo-fi and frankly kind of awful, but that's the entire appeal.  This is a group of diseased creatures making music the only way they know how, and it comes off so wretched and horrifying and alien that I really think cleaner production would have neutered the inhuman nastiness.  The album just gets colder and more feral as it goes, and at no point does it drop below classic status.  I haven't even really touched on the manic mid-range vocals or the punk influence, but there's so much to talk about with Blaze and I only have so much space and have already spent way too long on this section of the list, so I'll rein it in.  Darkthrone are legends for a reason, and you can barely go much righter than A Blaze in the Northern Sky.

34: Autopsy - Mental Funeral (1991)
Simply put, this is the filthiest death metal album ever recorded.  I'd just end it here if I didn't want to seem lazy, but man that's really all you need to know.  Every single note is covered with ten feet of wet, slopping mud.  Actually that's not even correct.  Mental Funeral, more than anything else, sounds like dipping your face in a sewer and then getting sludgehammer'd.  For a time when death metal was getting more and more polished and tight, Autopsy went full on in the other direction and released something that was just disgusting and filthy.  Twisted, alien, macabre, disgusting, these are the words that spring to mind when I hear "Slaughterday" or "Twisted Mass of Burnt Decay".  These guys were never really about pushing the boundaries in terms of speed, and were quite content to dial the pace down significantly and just drown you in horrifically sludgy atmosphere.  Of course, I don't mean "sludgy" like, Melvins or Crowbar or something.  I mean it just sounds like sludge, slime, Ubbo-Sathla, whatever you fancy.  Despite the overwhelming atmosphere, Mental Funeral is a very dynamic album, with horrifying shifts in tempo and angular riffs that seem to spawn from the ooze that encases you as soon as you press play.  I know I already quoted a better reviewer in the last feature, but I need to do it again because my reviewing peer, Acrobat, puts it much more succinctly than I ever could: "I think the best music can often be judged in terms of the images it conjures in your mind and, in this sense, Autopsy are certainly the death metal band whose work gives me ​the creeps most often."  That's really it right there, Autopsy at this point had completely mastered the art of making music that was both brutally macabre and evocative.  That twisted, writhing, cancerous mass of oozing vileness on the cover is the exact kind of thing I see in my waking nightmares when "In the Grip of Winter" plays.

33: Deicide - Deicide (1990)
I tend to flip flop fairly often as to which of Deicide's first two albums is better, and at the time of this writing, the self titled is the winner.  Years ago, back in high school, I actually sat down with a notebook and a pen, turned this album on, did the calculations, and discovered that Deicide has infinity riffs on it.  As the last entry should show, I adore a metal album that can evoke an oppressive atmosphere, but Deicide kind of goes headlong in the other direction and somehow accomplishes it anyway.  Every single second of this album is loaded with at least ten concurrent riffs, all of which flashing along at 666bpm, with Steve Asheim proving himself to be one of the most manic and underrated drummers in death metal, and yet at the same time the feeling the album conjures is one of pure fucking insanity.  Glen Benton may be one of the biggest idiot assholes this side of Kerry King, but man in his prime he sounded fucking possessed.  His signature quirk of double layering his vocals was fully developed already, and he crams the songs with his simultaneous highs and lows to create a disorienting and frankly evil atmosphere.  This is sheer audial hellfire, with screaming leads licking fire into your eyeballs and downhill-running riffs that tear you to shreds.  This is a short, 30 minute nuke of total devastation that levels me every time I listen to it.  At no point does this album dip apart from the short intros to "Carnage in the Temple of the Dead" and "Lunatic of God's Creation", every other moment is one of the greatest examples of early death metal, no matter how much of a joke the band later turned into.  Most of the death metal on this list so far has been more from the era or the mindset that was wholly divorced from thrash, which I'm sure has given you the impression that I prefer that style to the one that sounded like thrash being pushed so far past its natural boundaries of speed and heaviness that it became death metal, but that's not true, because Deicide is clearly the latter, and it's fucking incredible.

32: Suffocation - Pierced from Within (1995)
And now to completely contradict myself, because here lies Suffofuckingcation, one of the greatest metal bands ever to walk this godforsaken planet, and not one single hint of thrash metal remains on their third outing, Pierced from Within.  There's a lot of debate amongst fans as to what their best album truly is, but honestly that answer doesn't really matter.  Everything they did with Doug Cerrito was top tier DM that still hasn't been accurately replicated.  I think it took me a while to understand precisely why they always managed to stand head and shoulders above the thousands of clones they spawned, but god dammit I'm going to quote a better reviewer to make my point for me again, this time the old chum Cheeses_Priced.  Though this particular passage is in reference to Breeding the Spawn, it's a very good primer to the band's entire ethos as a whole: "They tend to be pretty good about not playing the exact same bar of music over and over again – but neither do they shift about at random – instead, they deliberately mangle the hell out of whatever it is that they’re playing as they go, offering a number of variations of each idea, making for music with a real sense of depth and complexity."  That's kinda their modus oprandi in a nutshell, everything they do is helplessly brutal and at the same time just kinda wrong.  They approach death metal with a kind of dutch-angled lunacy and wildly thrash you around, refusing to stay on the straight and narrow, constantly careening off course and tumbling through fields of spiked boulders.  The first 20 seconds of the title track demonstrates this perfectly.  Those twenty seconds contain just one riff repeated twice, but that riff goes through like six or seven time changes and is presented in such an alien, atonal way that I still struggle to make heads or tails of it.  And that never changes, every track is a veritable whirlwind of nonsense brutality that sounds like the most chaotic shit in the world but was clearly written with a lot of love and care.  Like, I dunno, random track here, "Brood of Hatred" is almost impossible to follow with it's crazy shifts and turns, culminating in one of the brutalest breakdowns the 90s ever saw.  I also consider this to be one of the heaviest albums of the decade from a production standpoint alone.  Yeah, it's that typical Scott Burns sound, but Suffocation makes it sound so much thicker.  This album has more girth than Mandingo and hits harder than Lawrence Taylor.  The fact that this still stands today as one of the heaviest and meanest death metal albums of all time despite not really going full speed all the time really speaks to how hard it hit.  Nothing punched harder than this, and the total chaos that leads up to the signature punishing breakdowns only makes them slam even harder.  Also, fun fact, this is the only album in history to ever feature two guys named Doug.

31: Bathory - Hammerheart (1990)
Bathory is a tough cookie, because Quorthon had so many good ideas and so many of them hit bullseye, that it's genuinely really tough to pick out a favorite album of his.  After much deliberation, I decided that my favorite was either the self titled, both Nordland albums, or this, the classic Hammerheart.  Considering the lattermost is the only one actually released in the 90s, it's easy to slot it in somewhere here.  Quorthon had one of the most brilliant minds in metal, and the scene is objectively lesser without him.  A belief of mine that has been surprisingly contentious is that aesthetic genres don't exist, and that's why despite me obviously being a huge fan of Running Wild, you'll never see me refer to them as pirate metal.  However, the one and only exception is viking metal, and even then the term has been so misused that it is used to describe anything from Ensiferum to Amon Amarth.  So if you're wondering what viking metal sounds like, Hammerheart is the answer.  This pounding, midpaced crunch, larger-than-life scope, and epic breadth is what truly makes an album a viking metal album, and this is the point where Quorthon had fully broken away from black metal and created an entire genre all by his lonesome.  This era of Bathory is tough, because it seems caught between oldheads who can't help but totally overplay the amount of Manowar influence on this album and Twilight of the Gods and the younger generation that refuses to acknowledge that Quorthon had ever even heard of Manowar.  But it's true, those slow, booming anthems and the overwhelming sense of bigness that Manowar had in the early 80s shines through here pretty strongly, and mixing that with the leftover pagan mysticism of black metal created something so unique that it became its own thing entirely.  It's also worth noting that Quorthon is the absolute best worst singer in metal history, and his tuneless yells add so much character to these odes, because he doesn't need to sound skilled in the first place.  This is pure feeling, pure emotion, straight from the gut.  The massive choirs and rough-yet-gargantuan production brought these songs to life in a way that really hadn't been seen before, and to this day tracks like "Shores in Flames" and "One Rode to Asa Bay" stand as the absolute pinnacle of this niche genre.  That's not even mentioning the crushing standouts of the monumentally doomy "Baptised in Fire and Ice" and the awe inspiring "Valhalla".  Every single song is a highlight really, I feel bad leaving out "Father to Son" in that previous sentence.  I can't get enough of this album on its own and the fact that it was pretty much the first of its kind makes it all the more special.  If you ever want to know if what you're listening to is truly "viking metal", simply ask yourself "How much does this sound like mid-era Bathory?"


And that's all for part two!  I hope you're all enjoying this as much as I am.  Join me again in a day or two for part three to see if doom metal is ever going to make an appearance.  Who knows!

Friday, June 21, 2019

TOP 50 ALBUMS OF THE 90s: Part I

I love big fuckin' lists.  I've done a similar list like this for the 2000s four years ago, and I had a blast doing it.  Most of you may know that I run the big month-long Album of the Year poll at the Metal Archives, and this year I've decided to introduce mid-year polls with broader categories.  The inaugural one this year is on this particular subject was going to be the best of the 1990s before the pre-poll decided to do a genre poll instead, but I mapped out a potential 90s list anyway just in case and decided that my top ten wasn't nearly broad enough to give a full scope of how excellent metal was as a whole during this decade, so fuck it I'm gonna do another Top 50!  Metal was arguably in its most fertile creative period during this era, with the advent of extreme metal truly taking off and seeing huge advancements in death and black metal, power metal finally truly coming into its own and breaking fully away from the more nebulous speed metal of the late 80s, thrash was in its waning years but the more traditional acts released some of their absolute best during the early years of this period (and those who didn't were busy getting more and more extreme and turning into death metal), etc.  More traditional metal may have taken a huge hit this decade, but the variety is off the charts and extremity was explored in ways that the 80s could've never dreamed of.  This is fun because there's a lot more hindsight involved here than with the aughties list, because I was born in 1990 and very few of these albums are things that I was into at the time they came out.  And so with that in mind, we're going to take a trip down my own path here, look through my eyes and see what I consider to be...

THE BEST METAL ALBUMS OF 1990-1999

You guys know the rules by now.  Full lengths only (which sucks because Suffocation actually landed with TWO EPs in the top 50 when I first did this list and Blind Guardian released the best live metal album of all time during this era, but it's an arbitrary distinction I always give myself so you'll have to deal with it), and metal only, because nobody reading this cares about how much I also love dumbass Fat Wreck skate punk from this era.  Anyways enough metashit, let's get on with it!


50: Iniquity - Five Across the Eyes (1999)  
I know that their 96 debut, Serenadium, is generally considered these brutal Danes' zenith, but there's some intangible quality about Five Across the Eyes that I don't think I'll ever fall out of love with.  Part of this is purely nostalgia, because this was one of the first ultra-dry tech death albums that I ever really heard and I was instantly hooked all those years ago.  Those of you who are the perfect age to remember those early flash videos of the early 2000s might remember one that made the rounds on Ebaumsworld and such under the name of "Death Metal Karaoke", where it was just some goofy joke where gibberish lyrics flew past the bottom of the screen while death metal played.  Well the track used for that was "The Bullet's Breath" from Iniquity's third album, Grime.  I wasn't really into extreme metal at the time apart from a few scattered bands, but something about it hooked me, so I fired up the old p2p networks and grabbed a bunch of random tracks from the band.  The ones from Five Across the Eyes are the ones that really stuck with me, and to this day I can't help but feel a rush of nostalgia from one of the first death metal bands I ever loved.  Apart from the nostalgia and the extremely dry production actually adding to the mechanical mania of the technical wizardry that this album revels in, one of the big things that helps this stand out to me is simply the fact that this features Mads Haarlov on vocals, who I have been saying for years is one of the absolute best death metal vocalists on the planet.  This guy is insanely underrated, carrying one of the most inhuman and beastly roars the genre has ever seen.  Most other great death metal vocalists at the very least sound like a human being, but Haarlov really doesn't.  There's something completely feral and bestial about how his incendiary voice punches through the music.  It all just adds to how little human element is present in this album, and that's something that would usually be a negative, but these guys make it work, and I'll always love it for that.  Also, side note: "Inhale the Ghost" is one of the raddest fucking song titles ever written.

49: Nocturnus - The Key (1990)  
It's easy to forget just how wildly ahead of their time Nocturnus was.  Death metal barely knew what it was in 1990.  Morbid Angel had only just codified how to truly divorce death metal from thrash the year before, most classic bands in the genre had either just barely gotten their debut out, and even if they did there's a solid chance there's still a lot of Slayer influence left over since the transition was still being hashed out at the time, but somehow in the midst of simply figuring out what the genre even stood for and sounded like, Nocturnus was busy upending all of the conventions and buttfucking all of the rules before anybody even knew what they were.  The Key still stands out today for sounding like almost nothing else.  It was already unheard of within the genre for the drummer to also be the vocalist, not to mention taking a style meant to be as brutal and primal as possible and adding in a full time keyboardist.  But not only did they do it, they did it better than anybody who has tried doing it in the years since.  On the surface these things can be kinda gimmicky, since Mike Browning doesn't sound all that different from most DM vocalists at the time and the keys don't really ever take the lead with their own melodies and instead just play swelling chords in the background for atmosphere, but that atmosphere added so much to the unending brutality of the riffs themselves.  These blasts were almost Sandoval-esque in a time when he was one of the only guys who could truly call himself the best in the genre, and the forward-thinking rule-fucking helped pave the way for tons of bands in both the prog death and tech death scenes in the future.  Context certainly matters when judging this album, sure, but even with the context of the time stripped away, this is just incredibly written and perfectly performed death metal that became a cult classic for a damn good reason.

48: Skyclad - Prince of the Poverty Line (1994)  
Skyclad are rightly known as the forefathers and flat out inventors of folk metal, and for my money, their undisputed peak of their career happened in 1994 with Prince of the Poverty Line.  They were extremely prolific during this decade and have tons of great albums, but all of them are flawed in some way, usually the simple fact that they have great beginnings and ends but mediocre middles, and honestly Prince of the Poverty Line is no exception.  Simply put, this one has the strongest strong songs and the least boring weak songs out of their entire career.  I'm not kidding when I say that this could easily land a whopping thirty points higher if every song was as good as "Civil War Dance" or "Cardboard City".  The former is quite easily my favorite song of their entire career, featuring one of the best build-and-release moments in the entire scope of heavy metal in general in the intro, some of their downright meanest riffs in the chorus, and some of the most venomous and evocative lyrics Martin Walkyier would ever pen.  I've heard Skyclad described as "the most aggressively British band ever" and this album is a great example as to why.  There's so much downtrodden, filth-caked urban misery just oozing out of every second, with a stiff, biting sarcasm permeating the record.  At this point in history, Walkyier hadn't adopted the more melodic voice he'd champion around Irrational Anthems, here still carrying the biting snarl and bitter snark he had in Sabbat, and it works so well with the "brown" feeling this album couples with pure righteous anger.  The fiddle finally became an inescapable aspect of their sound on the previous album, but here the interplay with the nasty, dirty riffage is simply the best it would ever be.  This is that perfect nexus in time when they were both folking and rocking instead of just folking.  They weren't going to tackle a song as heavy and menacing as "Gammadion Seed" ever again in the future, and if you want to know what truly pure folk metal sounds like, this is 100% the album I'm going to point you towards, every single time.  "Take your partners for our civil war dance / Open season on the underworked and overpaid".

47: Motorhead - Overnight Sensation (1996)  
One thing that should surprise nobody is that Motorhead is going to make more than one appearance, and I'm not even worried about spoiling that the other entry is going to be Bastards.  Everybody should be able to see that coming.  My internetical pseudonym for the past 14 years is "BastardHead" and what the fuck do you think that's a reference to?  Lemmy and crew were definitely on fire in the 90s, with no less than four albums that easily deserve a place and their classic canon alongside their 70s and 80s material, and Overnight Sensation is easily one of the best of the post-classic lineup era.  This one stands out for several reasons, one of which being that this is the album that finally ended the decade long experiment of the band having two guitarists, finally bringing them back to the power trio format that made them famous in the first place and solidifying the lineup of Lemmy, Phil Campbell, and "The Greatest Drummer in the World" Mikkey Dee that would persist until Lemmy's death nearly twenty years later.  The other being that this is probably the purest and best blend of the band's sleazy Little Richard influenced rock n' roll and their pure molten heavy fucking metal.  Lemmy has always been of the mind that Motorhead is a rock n' roll band first and foremost and all of the punk and metal influences are secondary, and honestly most of the time he's not wrong.  But for a brief period in the 90s, there was absolutely no denying their titanic heaviness.  Listen to the high speed assault of "Civil War", the monumental "Shake the World", or the actual-goddamn-Motorhead-trying-thrash of "Them Not Me" and tell me that they hadn't fully embraced their place in the metal pantheon by this point.  There's plenty of old time rock sleaze here still as well, with the title track, "Murder Show", and "Crazy Like a Fox" being the standouts in that regard, and "Eat the Gun" mixing the two styles in such a way that it sounds like Chuck Berry joining a metal band.  Basically every song is a standout and a perfect example of why Motorhead was so fucking good at what they did.  People complain that they just wrote the same song over and over again, and anybody reading this should know better than that by now, but there's no denying that they had a signature sound regardless, and Overnight Sensation is just another in a long line of examples as to why they never really needed to stray too far from the path they had beaten.

46: Demolition Hammer - Epidemic of Violence (1992)  
Demo Hammer is simply one of the most brutal thrash metal bands to ever exist.  It's barely even a contest.  I'd say with little hesitation that Epidemic of Violence is the closest that thrash can get to becoming death metal without actually stepping over the line.  Seriously, the first minute of "Skull Fracturing Nightmare" alone is likely to snap your goddamn neck based on soundwaves alone.  Almost nobody else can throw such a veritable whirlwind of riffs at you for as long and as incessantly as these guys can without blurring into a white noise of brutality.  The amount of hooks that this beats into you with a steel hammer is fucking unreal, there are so many memorable riffs and songs that it's almost unfair.  Honestly I could probably describe this album best by just listing song titles and letting you fill in the blanks.  "Skull Fracturing Nightmare", "Orgy of Destruction", "Pyroclastic Annihilation", "Omnivore", they all just feed into the fact that this album is a purely destructive force of nature with no real motive other than the wanton destruction of anything that finds itself in its path.  Pure chaotic neutral metal.  It's here to destroy and that's all it needs to do, for better or worse.  Probably the best part of this is that it fixes the muddy production that holds their debut, Tortured Existence, back from being almost exactly as good.  This'll probably be the shortest entry in the whole series because I really don't know how else to describe this beyond "it's complete destruction in musical form".

45: Type O Negative - World Coming Down (1999)  
This is honestly a really, really hard album to listen to and talk about.  It's so bizarre to think that Peter Steele has been dead for almost a decade now, and how he seemed to be doing better than ever before at the time when his past drug abuse finally caught up to him and killed him, because World Coming Down absolutely sounds like the last gasps of a dying man who gave up on living long, long ago.  The band famously refused to play anything from this album live because it reminded Pete of the worst time in his life, and listening to it really hammers that home, because World Coming Down is just pure fucking despondent hopelessness at every turn.  Type O was also famous for their sardonic wit and black humor they'd inject into every album, but this was the one time where they seemingly went fully mask off and just gave the fuck up.  Any humor present here is presented similarly to how a suicidal man on the edge of a bridge would dryly chuckle when a well meaning onlooker would tell him that life is worth living.  Of their entire oeuvre, nothing is more hopeless than World Coming Down.  This is just dirge after dirge after dirge of ugly, meaningless, destitute misery, broken up only by short interludes meant to mimic the last minute of somebody fucking dying.  I can't source it right now but I feel like I've read somewhere that Pete had to leave the room after hearing the finished version of "Lung" for the first time because it was such a horrifyingly realistic portrayal of a man's last desperate breaths while surrounded by his wailing family.  I believe it.  If you've ever suffered through depression, a lot of this album sounds familiar, even if you've never heard it before.  It's ugly and empty, just long stretches of downtrodden nothingness with extremely brief flashes of beauty that are almost impossible to appreciate when mired in the bog of self loathing.  It's like laying half-submerged in a landfill, lungs on fire, consciousness fading, and then looking up and seeing the northern lights.  I know I'm going to make this really long, but there's a section of Noktorn's review for this album that just perfectly encapsulates what makes it so great much better than I ever could, so bear with me here.  "...depression is much more an abstract, featureless misery than it is something beautiful. The riffs flawlessly express this: amorphous, languishing collections of lethargic, dissonant notes, with just a fragment of minor key melody to give a trace of emotion to it And that's all there really should be, as that's all there is during periods of depression: a trace of emotion, more a memory of what it's like to feel than any feeling itself. But the more incredible thing they're able to do is in the openly melodic segments, with their bittersweet beauty that fits the New York goth style and allows us all to look into it. This beauty isn't a celebration of a depression, but a celebration of beauty in ugly places. It's the beauty in natural disasters, in inevitability, and most importantly, in the fact that you, yes, you, will not be remembered after you're gone. Type O Negative celebrates our insignificance, how non-existent the footprint each one of us leaves on our world will be. This is the musical equivalent of standing on the edge of the river at night and looking longingly at the city before you, surrounded by people, and yet the loneliest person in the world. That is beauty.

44: Running Wild - Pile of Skulls (1992)  
God damn do I need some levity after that.  And luck would have it, one of my all time favorite bands makes their first appearance at this point.  This is another one that's completely unsurprising if you're familiar with my writing, but yeah Running Wild is definitely going to show up more than once as well.  I've long said that Pile of Skulls is actually one of their weaker albums from their classic period, but they were so fucking good from 84-95 that even one of their weaker efforts from the time is good enough to find itself ranked as one of the best albums of the decade.  I call this one of the weaker ones purely because the token "just okay" tracks this time around are probably the least interesting of their career.   The title track could've been a total stunner but it feels like the chorus is just empty, like it needed more backing vocals or bigger chords in the back or something, because as it stands the simple palm mutes hold it back.  And don't even get me started on "Roaring Thunder", which is easily the lamest butt rock track they ever crammed into a raucous speed metal album.  I always thought "Uaschitschun" was a big misstep on Port Royal and I like a third rate copy of it even less.  So if I've got bad shit to say about the album, why is it even on this list?  Well the answer to that is simple: the good songs are among the best they'd ever write.  The combo of "Chamber of Lies" into "Whirlwind" is one of the best album openers they'd ever pen, "Fistful of Dynamite" is one of the best hard rock songs they'd write, "Lead or Gold" seemed to perfectly predict the Thilo Hermann era with it's wild gallops and triumphant lead lines, and "Jenning's Revenge" is one of their catchiest and most underappreciated tracks of the era.  But really, you know the real reason this album is held in such high regard.  It's not a surprise at all, but "Treasure Island" is arguably Rolf's absolute peak as a songwriter, with every single second of its 11 minute runtime being fucking iconic.  Even the corny spoken word intro is inseparable from the main song, which itself features some of their best riffs, potentially the best chorus they ever wrote, and one of the most impressive extended soloing sections Rolf ever laid to tape.  "Treasure Island" really is the quintessential Running Wild track.  Every single thing that makes them one of my all time favorites is found here in spades, from the infectious hooks to the wailing solos to Rolf's hilariously thick German accent mangling every third word (turns out "toad" is pronounced "twahwd").  I can't recommend it enough.  Just like Skyclad's entry up there, the good songs here are so fucking good that if everything was as good as them, this would rank like thirty spots higher.

43: Napalm Death - Harmony Corruption (1990) 
And now we're back on the brutality, because fuckin' hell is Harmony Corruption a menacing album.  This is another one that I tend to forget came out as early as it did, because it sounds like it came fresh from the heyday of death metal instead of the first year that anybody other than Death and Morbid Angel knew what the fuck they were doing.  The fact that Napalm Death found their way to death metal via grindcore instead of thrash gave them a very distinct character that most of their contemporaries lacked.  They already employed blast beats as a standard part of their repertoire, they were already used to the wildly chaotic pace and structure of these songs, they already tackled pure extremity from a slightly different angle.  They didn't get here by playing Slayer or Kreator faster and faster until they finally crossed the threshold, they got here by taking one of the angriest and most filthy styles of music and simply made it heavier and more hellish.  It helps that this helped usher in the stable lineup the band would more or less run with for the rest of their career barring this being the last album Mick Harris would drum on before being replaced with Danny Herrera (and also Jesse Pintado leaving fifteen years later but nobody replaced him and Mitch has been the sole guitarist ever since so it's barely a difference really).  This newfound cohesion would really shine through in how tight these songs are despite their inherently chaotic nature.  I think the real glue that helps this stand out as much as it does is the introduction of longtime vocalist Barney Greenway, whose incredibly deep and vicious growl was leagues away from Lee Dorrian's frantic shouting, pushing them even further into full on death metal and helping them become the enduring legends they became as opposed to the flash in the pan originators of a different style.  The immediately recognizable touch of Morrisound Studios and Scott Burns also helps the push into clear death metal.  I'm probably making this sound like this is good solely because they shifted from grindcore to death metal, but that's not what I'm getting at here.  What I mean is that they entered death metal when it was a burgeoning scene and immediately stood out for having a sort of dutch-angled left-of-center madness that their contemporaries could only dream of.  This is a very hurried, frantic, and chaotic whirlwind of riffs and aggression that has easily stood the test of time as possibly their best album in a career loaded with great albums.

42: Sodom - Better Off Dead (1990)  
I know the conventional wisdom is that Sodom's peak in the 90s was the unfairly brutal Tapping the Vein or their initial comeback of Code Red, but for my money, their peak was actually Better Off Dead, the one that's more or less unfairly forgotten thanks to being sandwiched in between two of their most popular albums (Agent Orange and the aforementioned Tapping the Vein).  I always joke that the 80s ended in 1992, and this here is one of the reasons I say such a thing, because this is ironically one of the most unabashedly 80s albums Sodom ever wrote.  When most thrash bands were either getting more technical or more groovy, Sodom bucked the trend by, oddly enough, just sorta regressing back to the early/mid 80s for inspiration.  While Megadeth was busy shredding our faces off, Sodom instead reached back to more simplistic inspirations, namely Tank and Motorhead.  There's a lot of punk and hard rock influence to be found here, most notably on their covers of "Turn Your Head Around" and "Cold Sweat", the enduring classic "The Saw is the Law", "Resurrection", and one of their most underappreciated classics, "Stalinorgel".  That's not to say these lighter influences completely usurped their trademark manic thrash, not by any stretch.  "An Eye for an Eye" stands right up there with "Nuclear Winter" or "Agent Orange" in terms of opening cookers, and I'd put "Shellfire Defense" and the entire b-side on equal footing with anything else they ever wrote.  This is without a doubt their most underrated album, and I sometimes consider it to be their best album period.  It's just the perfect amalgam of all of their influences.  It's got the insane thrash they rose to prominence with, a heightened punk sensibility (which admittedly they've always worn proudly), plus heaps of Motorhead and early 80s NWOBHM.  It's the musical manifestation of not giving a fuck.  Angelripper clearly didn't give one single shit about keeping with the times and instead just indulged himself on his old favorites and did what he did best.  

41: Gamma Ray - Power Plant (1999) 
I've actually softened on the Scheepers era of Gamma Ray quite a bit in recent years, but there's still no denying that when Kai Hansen resumed his rightful place as the singer, they took off in a way that few power metal bands ever managed.  Their streak from 1995-2005 is completely fucking unreal, with all five albums encompassing that span being stone cold classics, and their three albums that were released in the 90s stand out a little bit ahead of their 2000s counterparts simply because Kai's infuriating habit of stealing riffs and melodies left and right hadn't really started yet.  I struggle to rank this trio of albums sometimes, because they're all fairly similar in their strengths and weaknesses.  Power Plant, like the other two, runs a little bit too long and has a filler track or two that I could really do without (this time being the too-dorky-even-for-me "Heavy Metal Universe" and "Hand of Fate", which has a phenomenal chorus but the rest of the track is pretty meh (and also has one of the earliest examples of Kai ripping off his heroes with the first verse being a dead fucking ringer for "Dissident Aggressor")).  But like always, their good songs are so fucking good that it just flat out doesn't matter in the end.  The a-side is pretty much flawless, with "Anywhere in the Galaxy" being one of their most bombastic and intense openers, "Send Me a Sign" being one of the most achetypical power metal anthems, "Gardens of the Sinner" being one of the most epic openers to not actually open an album, "Razorblade Sigh" having one of their coolest soloing sections, "Short as Hell" being an awesome groovy experiment that works perfectly, et cetera forever.  Special shoutout has to go to "Armageddon", the closing epic that was actually the first power metal song I ever heard, if you can believe it.  That fucking chorus is on a whole other level, and the fact that they were able to keep up the pace for nearly nine solid minutes and never once get boring is a feat unto itself.  Without a doubt one of the best power/speed metal albums Germany would ever crank out, and that's with the knowledge that the scene is going to be represented a few more times as this list goes on.  It was a really fertile time for that scene, without a doubt.


And that's all for part one!  I'll be doing this the same as I did the 00s feature a few years ago, so check back in two days from now for the next installment!