Grunge was still grabbing the headlines in 1994, but metal was fighting back courtesy of Machine Head and Pantera. Norway’s Emperor and Mayhem cut through the headlines and forced the world to take black metal seriously, while in California Korn were giving birth to a whole new sound with their debut album. This is the soundtrack to 12 tumultuous months.
1. Biohazard – State Of The World Address
No one would dare to question Biohazard’s roots in New York hardcore, but by their third album the Brooklyn bruisers were increasingly absorbing hip-hop influences too. Songs like Down For Life, Tales From The Hard Side and How It Is (featuring a guest appearance by Cypress Hill’s Sen Dog) brought tough street-metal grit to bear upon flagrant boom-bap grooves. Rap-metal by default rather than design, it was a natural and neat fit for a band that deserves more credit for their pioneering nous.
2. Cannibal Corpse – The Bleeding
Death metal was on the wane by ’94, but no one told Cannibal Corpse: their killer fourth album added brains to the blood and gore. Before parting to form Six Feet Under and taking the original band logo with him, Chris Barnes helped helm some of the most horrifyingly violent and undeniably catchy anthems in the band’s arsenal. Who else could be so acclaimed for creating a song as contemptible as Stripped, Raped And Strangled?
3. Corrosion Of Conformity – Deliverance
Corrosion Of Conformity’s major label debut (and first with guitarist Pepper Keenan on vocals) eschewed the blast and rumble of their early punk rock days and instead perfected the more Sabbath-worshipping and classic metal vibes that had started to creep in on 1991’s Blind. The anthemic chug of Clean My Wounds and the rolling, hulking sway of Albatross turned Corrosion Of Conformity into one of the hottest metal times.
Truthfully, though, there is far more to the album than those two songs – the greasy title track and the nearly-seven-minute-long stoner freak-out of Pearls Before Swine are as good as anything COC ever put their name to.
4. Cradle Of Filth – The Principle Of Evil Made Flesh
The self-proclaimed “Only True Black Metal Band In The UK” gave the predominantly Norwegian style a decisively English twist on their debut album, piling on the mordant eccentricity, Victorian libertinism and gothic Hammer Horror ambience to an irresistible, far-reaching effect.
It may seem primitive now, but The Principle Of Evil Made Flesh sounded daringly lavish at a time when black metal production was concertedly ugly and raw. The violent title track is still a setlist mainstay, but the pulsing dark romanticism of The Black Goddess Rises and The Forest Whispers My Name nailed the band’s distinctive MO right off the bat.
5. Dream Theater – Awake
After the success of 1992’s Images And Words, the New Yorkers’ third album solidified their place as the most important prog metal band of the decade. It may have been released at a time when grunge still ruled all before it – as the lukewarm and/or baffled reviews that greeted Awake showed – but there was no arguing with the sheer quality of songs such as Lie, Caught in a Web and The Silent Man.
Prog metal was on its way to becoming a major commercial force, and Dream Theater were leading the charge.
6. Emperor – In The Nightside Eclipse
Norwegian black metal in the early 90s was a far different beast to the polished, unit-shifting phenomenon we’re used to these days. Churches were burned to the ground; graves were desecrated; and at least three homicides were connected with the scene.
At the center of the soon-to-be-circus were Emperor. But with their 1994 debut album, black metal’s leading lights grew up quickly, bringing symphonic ambition to the crepuscular murk.
Not many people will argue against the case that Emperor are the greatest black metal band of all time, or that they raised the genre into new realms of art. In The Nightside Eclipse amplified black metal’s invocation of otherness as it imprinted the inhuman on an immeasurably vast and majestic canvas.
Keyboards swirled like avenging angels of death, guitars surged as if attempting to reach escape velocity from this mortal realm and Emperor opened new spaces that drew innumerable voyagers in their wake.
7. Korn – Korn
To call Korn’s self-titled debut a game changer would be a bit of an understatement – the album that jumpstarted the nu metal revolution sounded like nothing that had come before it. Its influence can still be heard today.
The record transformed the landscape of alternative music through the 90s and the 00s. And as for Korn, their career as modern metal’s standard bearers was set. Over 25 years later, they’re still carrying the flame.
8. Kyuss – Welcome To Sky Valley
Myriad bands emerged from the early 90s desert rock scene, but only one was the king: Kyuss. Their legend was cemented on Welcome To Sky Valley, their third album and major label debut. Guitarist Josh Homme monolithic riffs sounded the rumble of an earthquake and the power of a tornado happening at, while singer John Garcia’s vulpine how lent it a classic rock edge.
The fact that Kyuss not only managed to sound as exciting and contemporary as any other modern band, while leaning so heavily on the tropes of the past, but were clearly totally disinterested in playing the music business game, is why fans of the time still continue to speak about Welcome To Sky Valley in the sort of hushed tones reserved for royalty.
9. Helmet – Betty
Helmet made their mark with 1990’s Strap It On and 1992’s Meanwhiletheir bracingly stripped-down, staccato groove distilling frontman and founding member Page Hamilton’s jazz background into off-kilter time signatures that felt like a palpitating heartbeat on steroids.
Betty, however, made the whole enterprise fun. More generous in tone, the grooves now spring-loaded, it was a masterclass in fuss-free dynamics where every lunge of riff found an exhilarating counter-reaction. Unfortunately, Helmet never hit the same heights again, but Biscuit For Smut‘s pneumatic thrill ride and Milquetoast‘s heavy bass underpinning forged DNA that’s still rampant to this very day.
10. Machine Head – Burn My Eyes
In a year of game-changing albums, Burn My Eyes was truly one for the ages. Inspired by riots, religious cults and a desire to push the boundaries of heavy music, its impact was nothing short of monstrous.
Released by Roadrunner Records on August 9, 1994, it was hailed as an instant classic and became the label’s biggest-selling debut ever (an accolade it retained until Slipknot’s breakthrough in ’99).
With its ground-breaking blend of thuggish grooves, vicious thrash and hip hop bravado, not to mention frontman Robb Flynn’s incendiary lyrics, Burn My Eyes did more than most to redefine metal in the 90s.
The album’s impact was immediate, particularly in the UK and Europe, but until those sales figures rolled in, Robb remained unsure whether the band had a bright future. But 25 years on, few fans – nor Robb himself – would dispute the enduring power of an album which went on to truly change the mold.