1991 was a watershed year for metal. On one hand, Skid Row became the first metal band to debut at number one on the Billboard album charts. On the down side, a new genre called grunge emerged with releases from Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden in 1991. That genre would kill the hair bands and do serious damage to all metal bands. But heavy metal still did fine with monstrous commercial success from Metallica. A lot of more extreme bands like Sepultura, Death and Morbid Angel made our year end list in 1991.
Metallica's self-titled album is better known as "The Black Album." Commercially this was Metallica's most successful album,with the hit singles "Enter Sandman," "Nothing Else Matters" and "The Unforgiven." It was a return to basics for the group, and it worked. The songs are more straightforward and less experimental than their previous couple albums, and that focus brought forth some outstanding songs.
Even though it sold probably a tenth the number of copies as the Metallica album, Sepultura's Arise is nearly as good, and has really held up well over the years. The Brazilian band's style of thrash is brutal and unforgiving with a lot of death metal influences and harsh vocals from Max Cavalera. In addition to their extremity, Sepultura also shows a lot of creativity and versatility on this album.
When it comes to death metal, it simply doesn't get much better than this. Death is one of the most influential bands in the history of the genre, and Human is a classic. They were hitting on all cylinders with great musicianship, improved songwriting, insightful lyrics and an excellent vocal performance from Chuck Schuldiner. This is an essential album if you're a fan of death metal.
No More Tears saw Ozzy Osbourne collaborating with fellow metal legend Lemmy from Motorhead on several songs. Their partnership, along with great guitar work from Zakk Wylde propelled the album up the charts and eventually went multi-platinum. It also had the hit single "Mama I'm Coming Home." The songs are very slick and commercial, but they are also really catchy.
Altars Of Madness was my number one album of 1989, and even though Blessed Are The Sick is lower ranked, Morbid Angel's competition in 1991 was much stiffer and it's actually nearly as good as that seminal album. Trey Azagthoth does some serious shredding, and David Vincent's vocals are once again really good. This album is packed with potent songs.
By their third album, Carcass' songs were getting longer and longer. Their debut had over 20 tracks, most only a minute or two long. Necroticism: Descanting the Insalubrious, on the other hand, has much longer songs, even one that's over seven minutes. They don't lose any of their intensity, they just expand the boundaries of grindcore into thrash and death metal, which is much more interesting sounding.
Starting out as roadies for Celtic Frost, the Swiss band Coroner released some really good albums before disappearing in the early '90s. Their best was Mental Vortex, which combined traditional thrash with more complex and progressive elements. The album ends with a cover of the Beatles song "I Want You (She's So Heavy)." Coroner had a unique sound and approach, and are relatively unknown and worth checking out.
For a heavy metal album to debut at number one on the Billboard album chart in the midst of the grunge explosion was quite a feat. While not extreme by any means, Slave To The Grind was harder edged and rawer than their previous albums. Songs like "Monkey Business" were still radio and MTV friendly, but had some intensity. This was also hair metal's last hurrah, at least for chart success.
Although they've been lumped into the "second tier" of thrash, Overkill has had a long career and released some pretty good albums. Horrorscope is filled with powerful songs that are very memorable with some very catchy riffs and choruses. Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth has a very distinctive voice that is pretty polarizing, but I've always liked his style. Overkill has never had massive commercial success and are a very underrated thrash band.
Corrosion Of Conformity were one of the first "crossover" bands that blended heavy metal with punk. Blind was one of their best albums. In addition to their politically charged lyrics, COC mixed things up musically, going from straight ahead metal to more punk oriented songs and even an instrumental. This is a diverse album that really packs a punch.