These Classic Hard Rock/Metal Albums Turn 25 in 2015!
Wow, that was a quick quarter century....!!!
Do you remember 1990? I do! At the dawn of this new decade, I was a 20 year old college sophomore and a full blown hard rock and metal fanboy. 1990 was a pretty good year for my favorite musical genre, with the release of numerous albums that are still considered classics today. Those of us who spent the year at the record store, glued to MTV's "Headbanger's Ball" or diving into the mosh pit didn't know it at the time, of course, but 1990 was also the beginning of the end for hard rock/metal as the dominant mainstream musical format. By the end of 1991, the Grunge movement had begun wiping the slate clean and covering the world in flannel. But hey, it was a fun ride while it lasted, huh??
Below is a list of some of my favorite hard rock/metal releases from 1990. As hard as it may be to believe, these classics are celebrating their twenty-fifth (!) anniversary in 2015. Damn, when did I get so old? I bought most of these at Sam Goody at the mall when they were brand-new - on cassette!
Megadeth - Rust In Peace
I was a well seasoned Metallica and Anthrax 'banger during thrash metal's formative era but strangely, I was never much more than a casual fan of Megadeth... until I saw the Rust In Peace lineup live, opening for Judas Priest's Painkiller tour in late 1990. I watched in disbelief as Dave Mustaine and Company - all of whom were clean, sober, and at the absolute peak of their abilities at the time - completely stole the show from the mighty JP, a feat that I didn't think was possible. I bought Rust In Peace (as well as all of the other Megadeth recordings I was missing) shortly thereafter and I've been a slobbering fanboy for the band ever since.
I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Mustaine at a bookstore signing for his autobiography in 2010 and when I shook his hand, I told him about that show and said, "I've been waiting 20 years to tell you this... you guys wiped the F***ing floor with Judas Priest that night."
Judas Priest - Painkiller
In spite of my Megadeth epiphany at the concert supporting this album, Judas Priest still bounced back nicely with 1990's Painkiller, which brought the leather-n-studs veterans screeeeaaaaaaaming back to prominence after dabbling in slicker, more pop-friendly metal pastures for a few albums (1986's over-synthesized Turbo and 1988's over-produced Ram It Down). On Painkiller, the Priest had noticeably beefed up the aggression factor and mixed some added influence from the then-hot thrash/speed metal underground into their trademark anthemic sound. Though Judas Priest may have been simply trying to follow the trends of the day on Painkiller, it has become a fan favorite in the years since its release and is regularly cited as one of their best albums. It would also be the last Judas Priest album for seven years, as Rob Halford shockingly left the band at the end of the Painkiller tour, forcing Priest into dormancy until they found a worthy replacement in Tim "Ripper" Owens.
Pantera - Cowboys From Hell
Whether you loved'em or hated'em, you couldn't deny the impact Pantera had on the metal genre. Though they seemingly came out of nowhere, the four Texans had been plugging away on the Southwestern U.S. club circuit for nearly a decade - and had four independent album releases under their belts - prior to unleashing their major label debut, Cowboys From Hell. Pantera started out as a group of teenage hair farmers worshipping at the party-rock altars of KISS and Van Halen, but toughened up their sound in a big way with the addition of vocalist Phil Anselmo in 1988. Thanks to massive MTV and radio support for killer Cowboys cuts like "Cemetery Gates" and a relentless tour schedule which found them opening for luminaries like Suicidal Tendencies, Judas Priest, and Skid Row, Pantera quickly clawed their way to the top of the 1990s metal heap and held that title till drugs and egos eventually tore them apart at the turn of the 2000s.
Slayer - Seasons in the Abyss
Just like I was with Megadeth, I was merely a casual Slayer fan during much of their '80s heyday, but something in their unholy sound finally clicked with me on Seasons in the Abyss, their fifth disc. Maybe it was that cool-as-hell music video for the title track (shot in Egypt at the foot of the Pyramids!), or the crushing assault of tracks like "War Ensemble" (who can forget Tom Araya's crazed scream of "WAAAAAAAARRRRRRRR?") and "Skeletons of Society." Seasons in the Abyss cracked the Billboard Top 40, scored Slayer a gold record, and today is considered one of the pillars of their catalog, standing proudly right next to the seminal duo of Hell Awaits and Reign in Blood.
Queensryche - Empire
The progressive metal titans in Queensryche took another giant leap forward with this album, tempering the high-falutin' feel of their preceding magnum opus - the Operation: Mindcrime rock opera - with a slightly more commercial bent. The experiment was a smashing success, as Empire cracked the Billboard top 10 and eventually moved three million records thanks to the enduring hit single "Silent Lucidity." Empire would prove to be Queensryche's peak; the still-active band spent much of the next two decades unsuccessfully trying to duplicate its success.
Deliverance - Weapons of our Warfare
Unless you followed the explosion of bands in the underground Christian hard rock/metal scene of the era, Weapons Of Our Warfare probably passed you by in 1990, but it's been a perennial favorite of mine since its initial release. This four-piece speed metal band's second album can best be described as Christian rock's answer to Metallica's Ride the Lightning or Master of Puppets. The music video for Weapons' title track even got some spin time on MTV's "Headbanger's Ball," which helped the album move nearly 100,000 copies -- which was a particularly impressive feat when you consider that most of them were sold via Christian book-and-music store channels, not "regular" record stores..
Scorpions - Crazy World
I saw the Scorpions on their U.S. tour for this album in early '91 and in fact that gig was one of my first hints that '80s arena-rock was losing its luster, because the arena was only half full. Despite the initially lukewarm reception to Crazy World, the German veterans still managed to squeak in last massive hit before the doors closed on the hair metal era with the power ballad "Wind of Change," which became the unofficial theme song to the end of communism. Though they pretty much disappeared off of the U.S. radar after this album, the Scorpions are still at it twenty five years later, packing 'em in around the globe. The release of a new studio album (Return to Forever) is imminent.
Love/Hate - Blackout in the Red Room
When Guns N Roses struck multi platinum with Appetite For Destruction, the rest of the major labels immediately began scouring L.A.'s club scene to find their own gutter-rock combos, hoping to duplicate that success. Love/Hate were Columbia Records' entry into that sweepstakes, and though the band never sold a heck of a lot of records, their debut disc is a sweet one. Blackout in the Red Room piles on the sleaze in spades, coming off much like Appetite's scuzzy, hop-headed little brother. How this album never became huge will always be a mystery to me.
Suicidal Tendencies - Lights, Camera...Revolution
The former skate punks completed their transition from snotty, noisy teenagers to well-oiled thrash machine on their fifth album, which featured future Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo. S.T. got major support from MTV for the vicious "You Can't Bring Me Down" and sarcastic "Send Me Your Money" videos, eventually garnering the Suicidals a gold record. As a side note, I saw the band live on their tour for this album and to this day it still holds the crown for the absolute sickest Mosh Pit action I have ever witnessed.
Warrior Soul - Last Decade Dead Century
Regular readers of my Hubs (all two of you) already know what a fanboy I am for this underrated-as-hell band. This was the first of four critically acclaimed, politically charged punk/metal albums released during the early 90s by Kory Clarke and his gang of rabble rousers, whose incendiary sound should've caught on in a big way. Unfortunately, the band seemed to be just a little bit ahead of the times, because they imploded just before bands like Rage Against the Machine began filling arenas and reaping platinum with similarly socially-aware mosh anthems. Weep for what might have been!
Other notable 1990 releases included AC/DC's biggest hit in years, The Razors Edge, which went multi-platinum thanks to the smash singles "Thunderstruck" and "Moneytalks." Iron Maiden's frontman Bruce Dickinson released his solo debut, Tattooed Millionaire, only a few months before Maiden themselves released No Prayer For the Dying.
Interest in the hair-metal genre was beginning to wane by 1990, but Don Dokken released his first (and only) album as a solo artist, Up From The Ashes, while Firehouse's debut album and Cinderella's Heartbreak Station still managed to strike gold. Tesla unplugged for their Five Man Acoustical Jam live album and scored their biggest hit ever with a cover of the 70s chestnut "Signs." Extreme released Extreme II: Pornograffiti in late '90 but the album didn't truly blow up till the following Spring, thanks to the mega-hit acoustic ballad "More Than Words."
On the thrash front, Death Angel delivered Act III, which is widely considered to be their most mature work, while Anthrax's Persistence of Time, Atrophy's Violent By Nature, Testament's Souls of Black, GWAR's Scumdogs of the Universe and Prong's Beg To Differ kept mosh pits churning throughout the year.
Changing of the Guard
Thrash metal's commercial peak came with the Clash of the Titans concert tour that featured Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax - three out of the so-called "Big Four" bands - on the same bill. The tour started in Europe in 1990 and then made its way to U.S. enormo-domes in the Summer of 1991. No one could've predicted that the then-unknown act with the thankless task of opening the U.S. leg of the tour - a Seattle band named Alice In Chains - would eclipse all of the other bands on the Clash bill a year later. It truly was the end of an era!