Heavy metal was widely criticized in the ’80s, being blamed for everything from crime and violence to delinquency and despondency. Metallica’s Black Album proved otherwise; showing that metal could be more experimental and more virtuosic than many thought – as well as being appreciated more by critics than previously acknowledged.
Even under pressure to produce commercial albums, bands like TESTAMENT and Overkill released some of their finest works. Unfortunately, many revered metal musicians had passed away by this point.
Pantera stands as one of the most influential bands of heavy metal music during the 1990s. While various styles of metal came into vogue at this time, Pantera stood out with their groove metal style being distinct and original to itself – its combination of complex guitar riffs and hard-edged vocals creating an unmistakably different sound that challenged trends of its day. While Pantera’s legacy was unfortunately cut short due to Dimebag Darrell’s death at such a young age, its impact remains felt today within metal music today.
Pantera under new lead singer Phil Anselmo began shifting away from glam metal towards heavy metal with their 1988 release Power Metal, featuring heavier sounds than their previous efforts while also including elements of thrash metal into their music.
After the success of Power Metal, Pantera continued to perfect their signature “power groove” sound on 1992’s Cowboys From Hell and 1994’s Far Beyond Driven albums, taking further into thrash metal territory through heavier instrumentation and more aggressive vocals from Anselmo.
Pantera started touring widely after the release of Far Beyond Driven in 1994; however, Anselmo began experiencing severe back pain that year and acting strangely on stage – which alarmed the Abbott brothers. Anselmo eventually stopped touring with Pantera altogether in favour of doing side projects instead, eventually leading to his departure in 1996 and sparking an epic legal battle between himself and Pantera that ultimately resulted in its disbandment.
2. Black Sabbath
Metal’s 1990s era was an unsettling one for traditional fans of the genre, who worried these new subgenres might eventually kill its music. Boy bands, grunge and pop punk flourished while new subgenres like death metal, industrial metal and black metal emerged; Thrash metal bands started disbanding as acts with more mature agendas took hold; traditional fans became alarmed at these trends being introduced; some felt these genres might kill traditional metal music completely.
As it’s impossible to pinpoint who exactly invented heavy metal music, Birmingham-based Black Sabbath can be seen as one of the early British Invasion bands responsible for pioneering it. Their combination of granite rock riffs and haunting vocals from Ozzy Osbourne opened up doors for groups such as Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Metallica to follow in their footsteps.
After the original lineup of Black Sabbath disbanded in 1979, guitarist Tony Iommi and bassist Geezer Butler decided to continue performing under Ronnie James Dio of ex-RAINBOW fame, creating 1990’s Persistence of Time album that showcased dark and heavier songs such as Belly of the Beast and In My World; marking one last recording session featuring all original members.
While thrash metal bands like Slayer and Megadeth would become dominant throughout the ’90s, Sweden’s Entombed was one of the earliest death metal acts to gain ground with their 1995 album Left Hand Path. Packed with great riffs, chaotic solos, and unbridled anger, the record set new standards of brutality within metal. Nearly 20 years later it remains essential listening for anyone interested in extreme subgenres of metal like Entombed’s brand of death metal.
Metallica stood apart during an era in which many metal bands softened their sound in order to stay current with musical trends, by staying true to themselves while pushing the limits of what thrash metal could be through more refined compositions and lyrics – not simply wail and smash things; their message resonated globally.
Metallica emerged from the underground scene of thrash music with their debut album Kill ‘Em All in 1983 and were among the first thrash metal acts to achieve mass popularity with 1986’s Master of Puppets. While initially criticised as too commercial, Metallica has stayed true to their roots by not adhering to any rules or guidelines for success; creating their own path that has since inspired metal groups across decades.
Metallica released their self-titled fifth album in 1991 to widen their reach and garner critical acclaim from both rock and metal circles alike. Although original drummer Jason Newsted had to be replaced with less experienced Randy Trujillo during this process, Metallica still continued their relentless touring schedule and demonstrated unflinching dedication to their craft.
Ihsahn and his bandmates created gothic metal, an amalgamation of harsh thrash metal and grandiose symphonic metal that took inspiration from both Alice Cooper’s dramatic stage presence and hard rock of NEW YORK DOLLS’ hard rock sound – developing their signature dark melodies and emotive lyrics which resonated strongly with listeners. Taken from their second album Thus Spake the Nightspirit this track showcases some of those qualities.
While many believe the 1990s to be a less-than-stellar decade for heavy metal music, many iconic bands emerged during this decade. Ozzy Osbourne’s iconic vocal style and larger-than-life personality were instrumental in popularizing heavy metal while White Zombie and Sepultura helped develop its sound further. Furthermore, death metal gained significant momentum, with acts such as Deicide and Slayer leading the charge.
While thrash metal and other extreme metal genres enjoyed their heyday in the ’80s, Slayer revolutionized heavy metal with its brutal and honest lyrics. Their landmark album Rust In Peace remains one of the finest examples of taking metal to new heights; songs such as Holy Wars… The Punishment Due and Hangar 18 from Rust In Peace stunned listeners worldwide with their modernized brutality.
Slayer was instrumental in dismantling any remnants of glam metal’s flashy guitar riffs and costume-wearing of bands such as Motley Crue and Poison that had marked this scene. Slayer was an early pioneer of metal music, setting new standards with their high-velocity thrash bangers that still influence modern metal bands today. Grunge emerged out of the Pacific Northwest bands like Nirvana and Alice in Chains; though its influence could be found among some metal groups like Pantera’s 1991 album In The Name Of God which served as an inspirational blueprint for future bands to emulate.
Metal fans tend to view the 1990s with disdain, as their genre’s popularity took an unprecedented dive and pressure mounted for bands to go more mainstream led to albums from some of its premier groups that weren’t always to their standards or simply didn’t deliver on their promise of excellence. TESTAMENT’s The Ritual, BLACK SABBATH’s Load and SLAYER’s Diabolus in Musica all stand as examples. However, one bright side to this decade was that metalheads could cling onto; heavy metal as a community was resilient and adaptable enough to weather whatever storm may come their way. Fear Factory pioneered and hybridized death, industrial, and alternative metal styles into one distinct sound in the ’90s; later bands like Killswitch Engage, Slipknot and Static-X would include these new elements into their sound.
Cannibal Corpse, Morbid Angel and Entombed all became early pioneers of death metal within this decade, coinciding with their beginning careers and giving rise to what is known as death metal sub-genre. Death metal is a variation on thrash metal which emphasizes violent brutality with harsh vocals and an emphasis on riffs; Suicide Silence and Emmure frequently cite these acts as sources of inspiration.
Pantera, Metallica and Slayer undoubtedly played an instrumental role in shaping metal as we know it; but some of the most creative acts to emerge during this era include Tool and Neurosis who bridge visual art with musical arts via album covers and live shows – setting an outstanding precedent for progressive and experimental music through instrumental experimentation.