1994 was a really good year for heavy metal. It saw the rise of Norwegian black metal along with the continued success of American groups like Pantera and Megadeth. The Norwegians have a strong presence on this year's list, including the top three spots. CDs that just missed making the list include Cradle Of Filth, Enslaved and Slayer. Here's my choice for the best heavy metal releases of 1994.
The Norwegian black metal scene of the early '90s was filled with controversy and criminal acts. Emperor were right in the middle of things, and their first full-length is one of the definitive black metal albums. Most of the band (Ihsahn, Samoth, Faust and Tchort) were just teenagers when In The Nightside Eclipse was released, and it has the passion, anger and fury of youth, but the musical maturity of older bands. It's a chaotic frenzy of guitars, keyboards and drums that is cold and harsh with tortured, piercing vocals. It's an essential album for black metal fans.
Burzum's musical influence, quality and impact will always be overshadowed, which is understandable but unfortunate. Burzum is the one-man project of Varg Vikernes, also known as Count Grishnackh. In 1993 he was convicted of the murder of his former Mayhem bandmate Euronymous. He continued to periodically release music while imprisoned, but Hvis Lyset Tar Oss remains one of Burzum's finest works. The four songs on the album clock in at over 40 minutes, and are very emotional and powerful. The song structures are relatively simple, but the atmospheric and dissonant tracks make a strong impact.
1994 was an incredibly strong year for black metal, and the fact that Mayhem's influential album is only number three on the list proves how many truly groundbreaking black metal albums were released that year. De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas features vocalist Attila Csihar, although there were lyrics written by the band's former vocalist Dead, who committed suicide in 1991. The album was dedicated to their murdered compatriot Euronymous. The music on this album is raw and feral, brutal and evil. Frenzied guitars and drums mix with Attila's unique and undecipherable vocals. This another of the many essential black metal albums released in 1994.
The first non-black metal album on this year's list belongs to Pantera. Their previous release, Vulgar Display Of Power, topped my 1992 list. Far Beyond Driven wasn't quite as good as that one, but it is an excellent album nonetheless. It debuted at number one on the U.S. album charts, and their Sabbath cover "Planet Caravan" got quite a bit of airplay on rock radio. Most of the songs are ultra heavy and extreme, and although there are a few rough patches it still holds up well over a decade later.
This was the second album from the Finnish band Amorphis. On Tales From The Thousand Lakes, sound evolved from standard death metal to melodic death metal with a lot of doom influences and hints of Viking and folk metal as well. Lyrically it is a concept album based on the Finnish national epic Kalevala. It's doom tingled melodic death with a lot of keyboards and a combination of harsh and melodic vocals. Amorphis wraps it up with a heavy version of the Doors classic song "Light My Fire."
Darkthrone was another influential Norwegian black metal band, and by 1994 had released several albums. Transilvanian Hunger was their fourth effort, and is grim and sparse. The production is low-fi, but after a few listens the mesmerizing effect of the minimalist music grabs you with its hypnotic effect. Darkthrone is sometimes overlooked in the Norwegian black metal scene, but they were definitely one of the elite.
Machine Head was started by ex-Vio-lence guitar player Robert Flynn in the early '90s, and Burn My Eyes was their debut album. The sound is somewhere between old school thrash and modern metal. It's aggressive and brutal with excellent guitar work and diverse vocals from Flynn. The songs are heavy, yet catchy. It arguably remains the band's best album.
After making it to number one on my 1990 list with Rust In Peace, and number two in 1992 with Countdown To Extinction, Megadeth slipped a little in 1994. Youthanasia continues the path away from thrash and more toward the mainstream. There are some really catchy songs, and it's still plenty heavy. Highlights include "Reckoning Day" and "A Tout Le Monde."
Kyuss were at the forefront of the stoner rock/metal scene, but are actually more respected and influential now than when they were still together. Like 1992's Blues For The Red Sun, Welcome To Sky Valley has great musicianship and a lot of diversity. You'll hear some proggy instrumentals along with thick and sludgy stoner rock and psychedelic metal. The album is divided into three "suites" of songs that are each about 15 minutes long. It's another classic in the stoner genre.
10. Testament - Low
After 1992's The Ritual didn't receive great response, 1994 brought some changes. Guitarist Alex Skolnick and drummer Louie Clemente were gone, replaced by James Murphy (Death) and John Tempesta. As a result, Low had a different sound, but it was a good one. Testament's songs were faster and heavier, but there was still a really strong groove. Chuck Billy's vocals combine harsher death metal style growls with melodic vocals.