The 1990s were a tough time for a young Metal fan and these are the Top 10 albums of the era that helped me get through it! If I knew then what I know now things would maybe be different but these are all still amazing albums from that decade.
The mighty forefathers of Folk Metal! There were quite a few albums from this band, fronted by ex-Sabbat vocalist Martin Walkyier, that could have made the list here. Skyclad were ahead of their time in the 90s. Metal was unfashionable enough during this period without throwing in fiddles and (often pun-tastic) ecological lyrics.
This was their 5th full length album and they had moved away from the more traditional metal style to something more unique and sophisticated. Their earlier albums felt quite medieval whereas with this and Prince of the Poverty Line they were becoming Dickensian! How many Metal bands can you say that about? Also, every Saturday I would watch an episode of Sharpe with my Dad and then listen to this. The two were curiously complimentary and this a large part of why it is imprinted on my DNA to this day.
After Ozzy’s “retirement” Zakk Wylde followed up No More Tears with this brillant Southern Metal gem. Being out of the slick confines of the Ozzy band allowed Zakk to stretch out with a much looser and more improvised performance. It also allowed him to indulge his Allman Brothers, Skynyrd, Creedence and Elton John fantasies. Heavy takes on retro 70s classic rock influences were in vogue amongst the Grunge performers of the era so Wylde’s influences resulted in a fashionable album without any of the stigma of “going Grunge” (a sad fate that awaited many of the 80s acts that survived into this period).
Pride & Glory became my guitar bible. Tracks such as Horse Called War, Shine On and Toe ‘N The Line have fantastic extended guitar jams with only bass and drums for company. There are also a lot of great ballads on here and an evocative swampy feel throughout. Zakk gives a surprisingly good debut performance vocally, although still a bit in thrall to his heroes like Gregg Allman. The other happy result was that my interest in this album also led to a lifelong love of the Allmans, Skynyrd, Blackfoot and the like. This was a rich area of musical exploration for me throughout the 90s and beyond.
Zakk’s sartorial choices during this time were also an introduction to the wide world of flared jeans..
Through the 80s Black Sabbath were a shadow of their former selves, commercially, and had eroded much of their respect with a series of embarrassing line-up debacles and music that, while often excellent, didn’t seem appropriate for the band name and identity. By the start of the 90s, Sabbath had achieved a tentative line-up stability and clawed back a bit of respect with the Headless Cross album. They would follow that up with the superb Tyr, one of my favourite albums of all time!
I have a bit of a penchant for fantasy, vikings and medieval atmosphere in my Metal. Later in the 90s, Norse Mythology would become a common theme in some of the Black Metal 2nd wave but when Sabbath released Tyr it seemed terribly unusual and creative to me (not having heard of Bathory). Tony Iommi’s reliable thick riffing is thickly layered over with keyboards and atmospheric effects. Dynamic and catchy tunes like Jerusalem and Heaven in Black nestle alongside sweeping epics like Anno Mundi and the Valhalla trilogy that opens Side B. The album’s power-ballad Feels Good To Me succeeds by way of its excellent production and mood. Tony Martin is in confident form vocally and lyrically and if this had been released under a different banner I think we’d be talking about it like the proto-Power Metal classic it is, rather than an under-heard record from a great band’s wilderness years.