Thursday, March 13, 2014

Ten Underrated ‘90s Metal Albums

…that you should definitely take a listen to.

With March unofficially representing Heavy Metal Appreciation month here at The Internet Is In America, I reckoned it would be worth our collective whiles to take a look back at some of the lesser heralded metal offerings of the 1990s. Sure, sure, we’ve all heard the bona fide classics a million times by now -- hell, I just did a list counting down the 10 most ass kicking death metal albums of the era -- but what of the records that, while not setting the world afire then, sound pretty darn impressive in hindsight?

Well, here’s a sample platter of ten heavy metal albums released during the “Beavis and Butt-Head” era that I believe all self-respecting metal heads would be wise to revisit; you may have scoffed at them way back when, but something tells me the past twenty years or so might just open you up to some reevaluations of your tastes…

Anthrax -- “The Sound of White Noise” (1993)

Anthrax is probably the least heralded of the “big four” of thrash, but to their credit, they are probably the only group out of that quartet that can say they recorded genre-defining master works in three different decades. While “Among the Living” and “We’ve Come for You All” stand out as among the absolute best metal offerings of the 1980s and 2000s, respectively, 1993’s “The Sound of White Noise” remains one of the most underappreciated albums of the grunge era, and quite possibly the finest alternative-metal record of the decade not produced by a band named “Helmet.” Far and away the most popular track on the record is “Only,” an ass-kicking alternative-metal hybrid that James Hetfield once described as the absolute perfect song. From “Black Lodge” to “Potter’s Field,” it’s actually a fairly nuanced and original-sounding album throughout; it may not be the thrash masterpiece you’d come to expect from Scotty Ian and the boys, but it’s definitely a diamond in the rough, nonetheless.

Body Count -- “Body Count” (1992)

Although rap-metal grew to become one of the late 1990s biggest scourges, this pioneering release from 1992 is actually one of the best start-to-finish alternative metal albums of the 1990s. Even without the original album’s closing ass kicker (the controversial-beyond-words “Cop Killer"), Body Count’s eponymous debut album is still a tour de force, with so many underappreciated anthems that you just have to  wonder how this thing kept from becoming a mini genre classic in its own right. “There Goes the Neighborhood” and “Body Count’s in the House” are both pure testosterone ass-stompers, while alternately morbid and hilarious tracks like “KKK Bitch” and “Momma’s Gotta Die Tonight” are certainly deviations from the wannabe Megadeth and Metallica norm that came to represent most early ‘90s metal offerings. All in all, this is a rock solid album; if you’re looking for something to change your perspective on the separation of metal and rap, this is about as good a starting point as I can imagine.

Megadeth -- “Cryptic Writings” (1997)

While Dave Mustaine, the individual human being, is crazier than a shit house rat, its hard to deny the dude’s musical dexterity, and “Cryptic Writings” stands out as one of the band’s better post- “Rust in Peace” outings. Initially decried as the band’s equivalent of “Load,” this late ‘90s release certainly holds up a lot better than most mainstream metal releases from the same timeframe, due in part to the album’s atypical production qualities and stylistic diversity. While the prospect of technical thrash titans like Megadeth toning it down for an album of relatively simplistic tunes may sound like a gargantuan fuck-up, the more subdued and experimental nature of the album makes it a lot more interesting, and pleasurable, in my ears than something like “Risk” or “Youthanasia.” Tracks like “Use the Man," “She-Wolf” and “Vortex” really aren’t the kind of tunes you’d expect from Megadeth -- which may be at least one reason why the album stands up as well as it does today.

Motorhead -- “Sacrifice” (1995)

While many claim that Lemmy and company haven’t really done anything new since “Ace of Spades,” this forgotten mid-90s release shows that, contrary to popular misconception, the band DID have the ability to shake up their sound a bit, and the overall outcome, surprisingly, is quite enjoyable. While tracks like “Sex & Death” and “War for War” are very much the bass-driven, The Kingsmen on crystal meth-sounding tunes the group are known for, the band actually does mix it up a bit with this 1995 offering, especially with tracks like “Make ‘Em Blind” and “Don’t Waste Your Time” -- the latter being a piano and saxophone-accompanied ode to Jerry Lee Lewis. Clocking in at a blistering 36 minutes, the band never lingers any longer than they have to on any one track, and the general “stripped-down” production of the album makes it sound unlike anything the band has recorded since…or, really, before, for that matter.

Ozzy Osbourne -- “Ozzmosis” (1995)

Post “No More Tears” yet pre-MTV reality show, “Ozzmosis” catches Ozzy at a fairly staid point in his career. Now, you’d think that (relative) stability would result in a rather uninspired album, but 1995’s “Ozzmossis” is actually a pretty damn fine release, with some of the best ballads Mr. Osbourne has ever recorded. While the opening track "Perry Mason" is just sheer cheese, things pick up considerably with the super symphonic sounding "I Just Want You," which gives way to the suprisingly soulful "Ghost Behind My Eyes," which sounds like Black Sabbath with Matthew Sweet on lead vocals. Really, "See You On the Other Side," the album's centerpiece, is reason alone to give "Ozzmosis" a listen -- not only is it one of the finest songs Ozzy has ever recorded, it might just be his single best ballad ever, even eclipsing classics like "Mama I'm Coming Home" and "Changes."

Rollins Band -- “Weight” (1994)

No matter your opinion on Mr. Rollins, you have to give the ex-Black Flag front man some credit: not only did he find a way to excel after he severed ties with his bread and butter, he actually managed to craft a new sound that was not only about as far removed from his old band as imaginable, but actually pretty damn awesome and innovative, to boot. So what do you call the disaffected, “Disconnected” angst alt-metal contained in “Weight?” With its half-spoken, mostly observational lyrics, the entire album feels more or less like the internal dialogue of Michael Douglas’ character in “Falling Down,” only with crunching guitar riffs in the background. There's actually a quite bit more to the album than it's most celebrated track, "Liar", including standout post-punk-alternative metal tracks like "Icon" and "Shine." If you're looking for some '90s metal that's funkier -- and certainly, much more cerebral -- than the norm, this is a record you definitely need to give a spin.

Slayer -- “Undisputed Attitude” (1996)

It’s Slayer doing metal-tinged covers of sundry DIY punk standards -- how could it possibly suck? I always tend to think of this album as the CD “Garage Inc.” wanted to be.  The band absolutely blazes through Minor Threat, D.I. and Verbal Abuse standards, stopping periodically to pound their way through a reworked version of The Stooges “I Wanna Be Your Dog” (now christened  as the far less subservient-sounding “I’m Gonna Be Your God”) and “Gemini,” a Slayer original that appears to be inspired by “The Exorcist III.” Even better? The Japanese release has even more tracks, including a few Suicidal Tendencies and GBH re-dos. It may not be the “Reign in Blood”-era Slayer we all know and love, but it’s certainly an experimental risk that pays off; and if nothing else, it’s WORLDS better than just about anything the band has released post- “God Hates Us All,” for certain.

Sleep -- “Jerusalem” (1999)

Simply put, Sleep’s “Jerusalem” is the single riffiest album in the history of recorded music. Clocking in at a little under an hour, the entire album is basically one full-length, chopped up song, containing some of the chunkiest, sludgiest guitar work you'll probably ever hear -- seriously, if you thought the dudes in Crowbar and Corrosion of Conformity could make slow sound so heavy, you haven't heard shit, amigos. In a decade with so many guitar heavy metal masterworks from bands like Down, Monster Magnet and Kyuss, this is arguably the zenith of the stoner metal subgenre. Although definitely not for all tastes, for those of you that like your metal booming with the kind of thud that only irradiated dinosaur footprints could muster,  "Jerusalem" is a largely unheralded record you direly need in your collection.

Stormtroopers of Death -- “Bigger Than The Devil” (1999)

While S.O.D.’s landmark  1985 hardcore/thrash fusion debut “Speak English or Die” put Scott Ian and Billy Milano’s other band on the genre radar, in many ways, their much less celebrated 1999 release “Bigger Than The Devil” may ultimately be the better of the two recordings. With hyper-fast, bluntly political "satirical" tunes like "Kill the Assholes," "The Crackhead Song" and "Skool Bus," S.O.D. is one of the few quasi-intelligent metal albums of the decade to merge humor with hardcore, resulting in some truly amazing, mini-crossover-triumphs. From "Celtic Frosted Flakes" to "The Ballad of Michael H." to "Frankenstein and His Horse," this is an irreverent, self-reflexive record that also happens to be a truly fantastic metal recording by its own merits. That, and the special edition bonus EP contains what may very well be the greatest Slayer song never actually recorded by Slayer -- the hilarious (yet undeniably ass-kicking) homage "Seasoning the Obese."

Vader -- “Black to the Blind” (1997)

“Black to the Blind” is far from being Vader’s finest album. Heck, one could argue that it’s not even the band’s best recording from the 1990s. That said, the first time I heard this album way back in '97, it totally blew me away; as soon as Doc Raczkowksi started pounding his drumset like a maniac on "Heading for the Internal Darkness," I knew I these Pollocks were for real. Not quite visceral enough to qualify for death metal and way too fast and abrasive for the Metallica set, this album was pretty much the perfect entry point for thrash and alt metal fans to hop into the heavier, darker stuff. At only 29 minutes in length, this is a record that pulsates like liquid magma, erupting and not even thinking about stopping. And to think: the sole reason I picked this thing up back in the sixth grade was because the group shared its name with my favorite pro wrestling bad guy!


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