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Influential Metal Albums - Part IV

by MetalMike & Sargon the Terrible

In Part IV of our examination of Influential Metal albums, Sargon explores more of the albums that kicked off new genres and sounds which enabled Heavy Metal to remain vibrant and weather the lean years ahead. I focus on releases that helped refine existing sounds with releases that would soon go underground but be revered by bands and fans in the new millennium. Still talked about and used as measuring sticks 20-30 years after first appearing, here are more of the albums that have shaped the Heavy Metal we know today.

Nocturnus – The Key (1990)

There's nothing especially groundbreaking about the songwriting on this album – except that this was the first Death Metal album to use keyboards as a main instrument, and thus it really broke down a barrier to using them in other kinds of metal. Keyboards had been looked down on and shunned by metal musicians, and so to include them openly was – at the time – pretty revolutionary. Now there are legions of Death, Black, Folk, and all kinds of other metal bands who use keys, but this was the crack in the dam. Sargon (Review)

Riot – Thundersteel (1988)

Once a humble hard rock band from New York, Riot released a few fun albums with extremely odd artwork (a white seal is about as non-metal as it gets) before releasing the superlative Fire Down Under and promptly losing their singer. They tried again with a new voice but hung it up in 1984. Founder and guitarist Mark Reale put a new lineup together and in 1988 the revamped Riot knocked it out of the park with Thundersteel. Taking the speed of Helloween, who by this time were heading off the rails, and giving it a slick, smooth production emphasizing the sharp playing refined Power Metal for thousands of bands to come. MetalMike (Review)

Death – Human (1991)

Having already created a landmark release with Scream Bloody Gore, Chuck Shuldiner did it again. After three albums as a noisy, bashing Death Metal band, Chuck doubled down on the technicality and produced an album of heaviness mixed with complex, almost progressive songwriting. This album is really where the phenomenon of Technical Death Metal began. Sargon (Review)

Emperor – In the Nightside Eclipse (1994)

Emperor were one of the big players in the swelling Black Metal scene in Norway, as the second wave gained momentum in the 90s. On this album, they broke away from the raw, underground aesthetic and added keys to their roiling compositions to create more atmosphere and shading to their sound. This was where the use of keys became officially cool in Black Metal circles, and the cold, brooding feel of this album is one bands to this day reach for. Sargon (Review)

Dream Theater – When Dream and Day Unite (1989)

Speaking of progressive metal, Dream Theater's debut is as near to ground zero as we are likely to get to the genre's genesis. Taking the musician's varied backgrounds in jazz, classical and other musical styles and forging them into a form of metal that is both heavy and complexly melodic was relatively novel in 1989. Keyboards, once the bane of "true" heavy metal, shared the spotlight and even took center stage from the guitar and yet the music never loses focus or momentum. Justified or not, almost every progressive metal band from this point on has and will be compared to Dream Theater and this is the album that started it all. That Sargon also included Dream Theater (see below) speaks volumes about the band's influence. MetalMike

Dream Theater – Images and Words (1992)

Probably the most influential Progressive Metal album ever made. With their second album, Dream Theater gave the entire genre a shock it has never recovered from, to the point where when discussing prog bands, it is more useful to mention the very few who are not under the spell of Images and Words. They have never since managed to produce an album as good as this, but after this one they don't have to. Sargon (Review)

Paradise Lost – Gothic (1991)

Candlemass may have perfected Doom, but in the 90s the style began to evolve a harsher, uglier child in Doom/Death. Paradise Lost were there at ground zero with this album, their second. With the dark riffs, drawn-out compositions, and Nick Holmes' bleak vocal approach, this album breathed a melancholy and desolate atmosphere. What pushes it over the edge are the addition of orchestral elements and soprano vocals that successfully marry Doom and Death to Gothic sounds and make the title of the album self-explanatory. Sargon (Review)

Type O Negative – Bloody Kisses (1993)

The first two Type O Negative albums, a band fronted by former Carnivore singer Pete Steele, featured covers with a penis and an anus, respectively. That certainly set an expectation for album #3, Bloody Kisses. Instead of more anatomy, Steele went all-in on the gothic vibe. Black, as in dark feelings and dark humor, something he'd toyed with before on tracks like "Unsuccessfully Coping with the Natural Beauty of Infidelity" came to the fore and a new genre coalesced. Instead of singing about all the shitty things going in the world, Steele sang about all the shitty things going on in his life and in his head. That he could still poke fun through all this (see the cover of Seals and Crofts' "Summer Breeze") made it all the more intriguing. The gothic style would spill over into symphonic, black and other genres, testifying to its allure. It was around before Steele and Type O Negative but they gave it legitimacy. Metalmike

Darkthrone – A Blaze in the Northern Sky (1991)

Another nail in the wall that built Black Metal. Darkthrone started as a Death Metal band with their debut, but then they switched to Black Metal and have never looked back. The album was absolutely formative to the scene, as Euronymous may have invented the sound of the second wave, but Darkthrone got on the radar first and created an impression that will never fade. Sargon (Review)

Judas Priest – Painkiller (1990)

Despite being one of the prototypical metal bands, Priest spent a lot of the halcyon decade of the 80s screwing up, putting out questionable albums like Ram It Down and Turbo. Finally, in 1990, they got their act together and released Painkiller, at once a next step and a virtual distillation of their classic approach. It's easily their best work, and they have spent all the years since chasing after it. That they are not the only ones is plain to see, as so many bands have followed in its footsteps. Sargon (Review)

Scanner – Hypertrace (1988)

1988 featured another signpost in the Power Metal landscape thanks to Germany's Scanner and their debut Hypertrace. Musically, it was not really that much different from other Power Metal acts. Where Scanner changed the formula was in the lyrics – they went full-on Science Fiction. Where most bands of the time were still singing about the metal lifestyle or sociopolitical topics, Scanner came up with a concept album that took cues from things like Star Trek, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Aliens. It was weird but welcomed by metal fans who also enjoyed Sci-Fi. It was a match made in heaven and inspired bands like Gamma Ray and Iron Savior. It's a wonder no one did it before 1988. Metalmike (Reviews: <1> <2> <3>)

Clandestine (1992)

On their second album Entombed gave Swedish Death Metal a kick in the ass it has never gotten over. Massively heavy, with that saw-blade guitar sound that bands have been imitating ever since, Clandestine pretty much embodies everything legions of Eurodeath bands have been striving toward for the last 25 years. Sargon (Review)

Mayhem – De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas (1994)

Mayhem were a hugely influential band on the second wave of Black Metal in Scandinavia, but it can be hard to pick out their really defining work. Deathcrush is primitive and was little-heard at the time, and Live in Leipzig was a bit overlooked when it was released. This was the only real Mayhem album, with Euronymous' strange genius on guitars producing riffs like no one had ever heard before. A flawed album, but still a landmark. Sargon (Review)

Cannibal Corpse – Eaten Back to Life (1990)

Sure, other Death Metal bands preceded Florida's Cannibal Corpse (Death, Carcass, Obituary, etc.) but they pioneered what would become the "Florida sound" that came out of Morrisound Studios in Tampa. They also upped the "gross" factor of their lyrics to ridiculously over the top levels. I remember reading the booklet when this album came out and being so disgusted by them that I used that as an excuse for not playing them on my college radio show. To that, the Metal Blade Records rep said if any of my listeners could make out what Chris Barnes was saying, he'd eat the disc. Touché. There were earlier and better Death Metal bands but Cannibal Corpse was a lightning rod for the genre. Metalmike

Dissection – Storm of the Light's Bane (1995)

Unusual for a band to be so formative to both the Black Metal and Melodic Death Metal genres. Fans will argue over whether this one is better than The Somberlain, but in retrospect it is plainly Storm of the Light's Bane that made the bigger impact. The grim atmosphere and dark lyrics attracted Black Metal fans, while the intensely melodic riff-style made the album compulsively listenable. The album gave Black Metal bands the courage to be more melodic, and made Melodeath bands feel like they could be darker and more evil. A landmark album. Sargon (Review)

At the Gates – Slaughter of the Soul (1995)

Foundational to the Gothenburg sound that was coming to dominate the Melodic Death Metal genre in the 90s, At the Gates released three albums that only made a moderate impression before they released this one. Slaughter of the Soul was their fourth album, and it blew the lid off the smoldering scene and helped bring it to a much wider audience. This album gave notice that even in the dark year of 1995 metal was still alive, and even now it remains an essential release. Sargon (Review)


Influential Metal Albums - Part I
Influential Metal Albums - Part II
Influential Metal Albums - Part III
Influential Metal Albums - Part V
Influential Metal Albums - Part VI

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