1996 wasn't as strong as either the year succeeding it or preceeding it, but there were still some solid releases. Pantera continued their string of excellent albums, and non-American bands outnumbered the American bands on this year's list. Here are my choices for the best heavy metal albums released in 1996.
For the second time in the '90s, Pantera topped my year end list. The Great Southern Trendkill probably wouldn't have been number one in very many other years, but in 1996 it was the cream of the crop. In addition to their usual intense, crushing metal, Pantera showed some diversity on this CD with a couple slower tracks, which are actually really good. The songs are fueled by anger, and Dimebag's guitar work is outstanding as usual. When it comes to Pantera's catalog, this album is often overlooked and underrated. It's worth revisiting.
In their two decades of existence Neurosis has released albums that have been classified under just about every genre of metal. 1996 may have been their finest hour with Through Silver In Blood. Neurosis creates a brilliant aural experience that combines ambience, heaviness, atmosphere, violence and musicianship into a genre defying epic. Clocking in at over an hour, you'll hear elements of doom, sludge, death, progressive, hardcore and many other genres on this outstanding CD.
The second album from the Swedish band In Flames was Jester Race. One of bands that pioneered the "Gothenburg Sound," on this album In Flames uses a lot of the melody and song structures of bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest and adds elements of more extreme genres like death and thrash metal. The vocals are harsh, and combined with the melodic nature of the songs, makes a great blend of intensity and accessibility.
Sepultura topped my 1993 list with Chaos A.D., and their following album, Roots finds the band embracing their Brazilian origins, especially the native rhythms and percussion. There are also influences of nu-metal, and Korn's Jonathan Davis makes a guest appearance on one track. This was the last Sepultura album with Max Cavalera doing the vocals, and also the most polarizing for fans. It was one of those love it or hate it releases, and even over a decade later opinions on this album are very divided.
Their 1994 album Tales From A Thousand Lakes made my year end list for 1994, and Elegy makes it two in a row. The Finnish band added melodic vocalist Pasi Koskinen, and the vocals on this album are split pretty equally between him and Tomi Koivusaari, who does the growling vocals. Amorphis moves away from traditional death metal and more toward folk and progressive with some songs that have piano and acoustic guitar along with the harder edged tracks. It's a unique sounding album with lyrics based on Finnish mythology and tradition.
Opeth would really hit their stride with their following few albums, but their second release, Morningrise, served notice that the Swedish band was developing and perfecting a unique sound. There are just five tracks on the album, with each one at least ten minutes long. The epic songs are never boring, as the music shifts from intense metal to mellow acoustic and back again. It's a complex and progressive album that masterfully melds the electric and acoustic.
Corrosion Of Conformity only released three albums during the '90s, but they were all good ones. The last one they released that decade was Wiseblood. It didn't do as well commercially as 1994's Deliverance, but was overall a better album. COC combines Black Sabbath style riffs with a southern groove, and there's not an ounce of filler. Pepper Keenan's vocals are excellent, and Metallica's James Hetfield also makes a guest appearance.
Filosofem was the last Burzum album recorded before Varg Vikernes (Count Grishnackh) was imprisoned for the murder of Euronymous. There are only 6 songs on the record, but they are all long, including one clocking in at 25 minutes long. The songs are ambient black metal with an emphasis on atmosphere and emotion. They are minimalist and repetitive, raw and chaotic. Vikernes' harsh and distorted vocals convey pain and sorrow in addition to the usual anger and hate. It's a very challenging but at times transcendent album.
October Rust was Type O Negative's follow up to the extremely successful Bloody Kisses, and although a good album, didn't quite reach the heights of its predecessor. The music on the album is dark and melancholy, Type O Negative's trademark combination of doom and gothic metal. It also has the band's trademark humor. Peter Steele's baritone adds a different twist to Neil Young's "Cinnamon Girl," and although there are a few filler tracks, it's still a solid album.
The Finnish band Stratovarius were very prolific during the '90s, releasing six studio albums, a live album and couple compilations. Episode was right in the middle of their most prolific period when they released five studio albums in five years. Stratovarius plays melodic power metal with big hooks along with excellent guitar riffs and solos. There are some really catchy tracks here, especially "Father Time" and "Speed Of Light." From uptempo, soaring songs to ballads to clever instrumentals this is a very well rounded album.