The 100 best metal songs of the 90s
We count down the definitive list of the best rock and metal songs from the 1990s.
The ‘90s were good, weren’t they? So bloody good. It was the decade that gave us Forrest Gump, Dolly the sheep, Friends, the N64 and Harry Potter. It also gave us Marilyn Manson, Korn, Machine Head and Rage Against The Machine, who are still some of the biggest names in rock and metal. In the latest issue of Metal Hammer magazine we revisit the ‘90s to get the lowdown on the best albums, the scene explosions, and the stories that mattered and still matter. From black metal to grunge, it’s all covered.
And to celebrate our undying love for the ‘90s we (along with some of your favourite bands) decided to count down the 100 best songs of the decade. It took AGES. But we think this is pretty much the greatest ‘90s playlist you’re ever going to find.
Please note, we had one rule in place: Only one song per album allowed.
100. Mr Bungle – Carousel (Mr. Bungle, 1991)
Coming on like Madness playing with Frank Zappa, Carousel provided an outlet for Mike Patton's crazier musical ambitions that didn't need to be approved by his colleagues in Faith No More. Given free rein, he comes up with song that gets increasingly more eventful as it proceeds but never loses its grip on melody. Like a midget circus colliding with a horror flick colliding with Willy Wonka's sinister uncle.
99. Snot – Snot (Get Some, 1997)
Frontman Lynn Strait might have tragically died in a car accident in 1998, but his legacy lived on in this dancefloor filler and nu metal classic. The first track from Snot’s only album with him, Get Some, it shoved his talent and attitude in your face.
98. Faith No More – The Gentle Art Of Making Enemies (King For A Day... Fool For A Lifetime, 1995)
One of Mike Patton's finest performances. He starts like a crooner, continues with the kind of sinister voice John Wayne Gacy might have used to lure victims into the basement, and climaxes by proving that he can really, really sing. It's possible this song invented System Of A Down all by itself.
97. Testament – Riding The Snake (The Gathering, 1999)
Bringing Dave Lombardo in on drums, The Gathering helped Testament sign off the 90s in style, and Riding The Snake has gone onto become one of the Bay Area behemoths’ all-time great anthems.
96. Voivod – Jack Luminous (The Outer Limits, 1993)
Getting into Voivod is like staring at a Magic Eye puzzle; defocus properly and a whole new dimension comes into being. Bringing in 1950s sci-fi sound effects and lusher textures to orbit around their off-kilter axis, Jack Luminous's slower pace allowed an easier entry point into their spectacular compound-eye vision of thrash dystopia.
95. Melvins – Honey Bucket (Houdini, 1993)
Melvins’ major label debut, and essentially their finest record of all time, Honey Bucket is a furious, three-minute sludge metal workout, lead by Dale Crover’s punishing, complex drums and Buzz Osborne’s filthy riffing. In an album where every track is a delicious celebration of dirge, Honey Bucket is in irresistible highlight.
94. Napalm Death – Twist The Knife (Slowly) (Fear, Emptiness, Despair, 1994)
Known to most people thanks to its inclusion in the Mortal Kombat soundtrack, Twist The Knife came at a time when Napalm were once again evolving and changing into a new form. An entirely different line-up and approach it may be from the 'classic' Scum-era material, but this is still a typically teeth rattling 160 seconds of Napalm.
93. Queens Of The Stone Age – Avon (Queens Of The Stone Age, 1998)
A real blast from the past now, with this choice cut from Josh Homme and co’s self-titled debut – formed from the ashes of desert rock forerunners Kyuss. All grungy, metallic sensibilities, it’s less polished than a lot of Homme’s later ventures and damn cool for it.
92. Emperor – Thus Spake The Nightspirit (Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk, 1997)
Taken from the band's sophomore album, Thus Spake The Nightspirit is a prime example of how Ihsahn and co. were able to meld blistering, speedfreak black metal with the grandiosity of symphonic metal. Still terrifying, though.
91. Life Of Agony – Lost At 22 (Ugly, 1995)
Dark, grungy melodies swirled around angsty lyrics about a person desperate to find their own path without giving into conformity. This downbeat, outsider alt-metal would become the New York quartet’s hallmark.
90. Meshuggah – New Millenium Cyanide Christ (Chaosphere, 1998)
When Meshuggah dropped their sonic atom bomb on the metal scene, nobody had ever heard anything like it before. New Millennium Cyanide Christ somehow became something of a hit, which, considering it sounds like 800 pneumatic drills all being started at once, is some feat. A move they'd go on to repeat many times over their stunning career.
89. Opeth – Face Of Melinda (Still Life, 1999)
Opeth were already well on the path to greatness when Still Life dropped in late ‘99, and Face Of Melinda proved exactly that. An eerie acoustic number that bursts into life around six minutes in, this unveiled more shades to a band whose palette was already busy.
88. Metallica – Until It Sleeps (Load, 1996)
From the vastly underrated Load (fuck you, even 2 x 4 slams), this brooding epic signified that Metallica’s unerring ability to balance an emotional punch with their heavy hadn’t wavered whatsoever.
87. Corrosion Of Conformity – Dance Of The Dead (Blind, 1991)
Taken from 1991’s Blind, the first album which saw COC shed their well-worn hardcore punk skin in favour of blues-rooted heavy metal, Dance Of The Dead is a gratifyingly scuzzy blend of sludge and hard rock riffing, which keeps the band’s punk spirit alive in its pointed lyrics about “the system”.
86. Entombed – Wolverine Blues (Wolverine Blues, 1993)
By 1993 Entombed had let the filthy power of early Discharge and pure rock 'n' roll soak all the way into their music, creating an entirely new sub-genre of death metal that is still producing new bands to this very day. Wolverine Blues is year zero for Trap Them, Black Breath and the rest.
85. Suffocation – Infecting The Crypts (Effigy Of The Forgotten, 1991)
Suffocation are legends in New York's metal lineage, but back in 1991 Frank Mullen and co. were just another new band in the burgeoning death metal scene. Then along came Effigy Of The Forgotten and this absolute blast of brutality. Cue a million imitators and even more sore necks.
84. Megadeth – Sweating Bullets (Countdown To Extinction, 1992)
Meet the real Dave. Or at least his schizophrenic representation we hear in conversation here. Not the most intense Megadeth track of all time, but you’d be hard-pushed to find any thrasher who doesn’t know every single word to this song. No wonder it’s still in every setlist.
83. Limp Bizkit – Nookie (Significant Other, 1999)
BAND PICK: Jacob Field from The One Hundred
"Huge groove, aggressive, in your face, and relentless. It has a catchy melodic chorus, porn-like groove basslines, breakbeat verses and some of the most inappropriate lyrics. It still sounds current despite being nearly twenty years old – the song has really stood the test of time. It features everything Bizkit are; hip-hop and rock mixed perfectly."
82. Cradle Of Filth – The Forest Whispers My Name (The Principle Of Evil Made Flesh, 1994)
Cradle's debut album made waves throughout rock and metal almost instantly, and it's easy to see why. Songs like The Forest Whispers My Name proved that extreme metal wasn't just for the frozen north, but the shrieks and wails of one Dani Filth were just as dangerous and chilling as anything in Scandinavia.
81. Death – Trapped In A Corner (Individual Thought Patterns, 1993)
Having laid down much of the groundwork for death metal, Chuck Schuldiner was also determined to guide it to the next stage of evolution, transitioning into broader, progressive realm. This was a mesmerising point of transition, blending an irresistible central groove with guitars that seemed to have whole new dimensions to explore.
80. Kyuss – Gardenia (Welcome To Sky Valley, 1994)
Before Josh Homme was off bothering charts with his various rock ’n’ roll outfits, he cut his teeth as one fifth of stoner legends Kyuss. Hazy stoner rock born from the blazing Californian desert, Gardenia encapsulates the lazy urgency and expansive, transcendental creativity which would eventually see them crowned kings of the desert rock movement.
79. Pearl Jam – Rearviewmirror (Vs., 1993)
In 1993, two years after the release of their debut album Ten, Pearl Jam returned with Vs. – their more aggressive sophomore offering. It was Rearviewmirror’s pace, raw, emotion-filled lyrics and frantic crescendo which raised it above the other 11 tracks. A true classic.
78. Anthrax – Only (Sound Of White Noise, 1993)
While the '90s would prove to be a testing time for Anthrax as the decade wore on, Sound Of White Noise brought John Bush into the fold, and this juddering beast showed that the New Yorkers still had plenty to offer.
77. Immortal – The Sun No Longer Rises (Pure Holocaust, 1993)
For all the theatre that's always attended Immortal, at their heart are some of the most spectacular riffing and evocative guitar tones within all of black metal. Here, guitars sounded like icebergs atomised into the finest of blizzards and Abbath's monotone croak was a trance tuned into the most ancient of frequencies.
76. Electric Wizard – Wizard In Black (Come My Fanatics..., 1997)
It should come as no surprise that Come My Fanatics..., the album from which this song is taken, was primarily inspired by Black Sabbath and magic mushrooms. Eight minutes of glorious, nihilistic sludge interspersed with Iommi-eqsue solos make this the album’s stand out track – and one which would be key in shaping the sound of doom to come.
75. Guns N’ Roses – November Rain (Use Your Illusion I, 1991)
Nine minutes of full-blown rock opera, this was just about as far removed from anything Guns N’ Roses had recored before when it arrived in 1991. It combined sweeping symphonic melodies and grand piano with more Slash face-melters than you could shake a bottle of Jack at. And how about that video? Once seen, never forgotten.
74. Amorphis – Black Winter Day (Tales From The Thousand Lakes, 1994)
Over a decade before the likes of Finntroll, Eluveitie and Korpiklaani took folk metal crashing into metal’s wider consciousness, Amorphis were revolutionising the scene with tracks like this mystical mash-up.
73. Darkthrone – Transilvanian Hunger (Transilvanian Hunger, 1994)
Ridiculously lo-fi production and soul-crushing growls became the blueprint for countless black metal bands in the '90s and beyond, for which Darkthrone are partly responsible. However, this murky, primitive sound only adds to the powerful sense that you're listening to something evil that probably shouldn't be consumed by human ears.
72. Ozzy Osbourne – Mama, I’m Coming Home (No More Tears, 1991)
One of the all-time great heavy metal power ballads, Mama, Ozzy’s ode to coming off the road and back into Shazza’s arms is packed with enough cheese to give a mouse diabetes, but you just cannot fuck with that chorus.
71. In Flames – Jotun (Whoracle, 1997)
In the middle of one of the 1990s’ finest golden runs, the Swedes wrote this absolute masterpiece for the ace Whoracle album. Its irrepressible hooks and twin harmony magic would be influential for decades to come.
70. Nine Inch Nails – The Day The World Went Away (The Fragile, 1999)
The second track on NIN’s 1999 album The Fragile’s is a brooding, ominous beast. Entirely bereft of drums, its opening repetitive fuzz guitar strum builds and builds. And then stops. Abruptly, while just the steady thrum of the bass remains. Reznor sings only a single stanza, infused with enough sinister melancholy to completely unnerve. Even the choral ‘na na nah’s (usually the purview of a shiny happy song) that kick in when the cacophony of guitars return do little to lift its bleak awesomeness. When the apocalypse hits, this will be its soundtrack.
69. Eyehategod – Dixie Whiskey (Dopesick, 1996)
There aren't many sounds in the world of music more disturbing than Eyehategod at their nihilistic best. Dixie Whiskey is the sound of Black Sabbath and Black Flag doing heroin in a tin bath. So basically, it's right up there in the New Orleans back catalogue.
68. Tool – Sober (Undertow, 1993)
Awkward, uncomfortable and uncompromising, debut album Undertow is where Tool laid down the blueprint for the path of tightly-honed experimentation they would follow throughout their career. This song’s expansive guitars and poetic lyrics marked the band out as something different and special, particularly when set against the backdrop of their heavy metal contemporaries.
67. Pantera – I’m Broken (Far Beyond Driven, 1994)
BAND PICK: Alex O'Leary from Bailer
"I’m Broken is one of the anthems of the '90s. It displays everything about them at the peak of their career. Hard hitting, in your face riffs, visceral vocals, a blistering solo and pure groove. That video, too. Lads in a room pouring out their heart and souls. Perfect!"
66. Marilyn Manson – Lunchbox (Portrait Of An American Family, 1994)
The seeds of Manson becoming Public Enemy Number One in the United States were being sown on his 1994 debut Portrait Of An American Family, and despite this not being the most terrifying song in his repertoire you just can’t deny the power of the chorus. Plus the video of a super skinny, no make-up Mazza is so ‘90s it’s still brilliant to watch today.
65. Deftones – Engine No. 9 (Adrenaline, 1995)
Deftones found themselves lumped in with the nu metal crowd when the millennium turned, and this song is a good example of why that wasn’t entirely fair. Sure, there were hints of ill-advised rapping and they would eventually come to tour with Linkin Park and Taproot, but it was the blend of visceral aggression and willingness to experiment on display here which saw them set an agenda entirely their own.
64. Cathedral – Hopkins (The Witchfinder General) (The Carnival Bizarre, 1995)
For a generation weaned on Hammer Horror and the erotic power of damsels in distress, this was an orgiastic anthem, the opening Vincent Price sample spurring spiralling guitars, a groove you could trampoline on and Lee Dorrian's cat-on-a-hot-tin-roof vocals, at once churning and kaleidoscopic.
63. Type O Negative – Everything Dies (World Coming Down, 1999)
BAND PICK: Joseph D. Rowland from Pallbearer
"It’s perhaps their most darkly beautiful song – and Type O themselves are a virtually perfect encapsulation of a sound that is both wholly singular and wholly ‘90s.”
62. Down – Stone The Crow (NOLA, 1995)
The epitome of Down’s swampy, NOLA sound, Stone The Crow was a laidback southern song with Anselmo’s torn, masculine vocals bearing the heaviest of pain. 21 years on, it still sounds like a beast.
61. Sepultura – Arise (Arise, 1991)
On an album that saw Sepultura transcend their thrash peers and reach for greatness, this urgent, explosive opener came to be a calling card for a band that were yet to have their most era-defining moment.
60. Rage Against The Machine – Guerrilla Radio (The Battle Of Los Angeles, 1999)
Rage Against The Machine just don't write bad choruses, and Guerrilla Radio's anthemic and cathartic release has stood the test of time so much that your local rock club still plays it. Prophets Of Rage play it live. And you probably bought Rock Band 2 just to play it. Zack De La Rocha's signature yelps push the song forward but its the bounce and fire within that make this a real standout in Rage's catalogue.
59. Carcass – Heartwork (Heartwork, 1993)
Cutting down their song lengths and ignoring genre constraints, the Liverpool pioneers paved the way for melodic death metal, this four-and-a-half minute blast a masterclass in accessible extremity and precision.
58. Neurosis – Locust Star (Through Silver In Blood, 1996)
The word ‘epic’ is thrown around to describe everything from YouTube videos to insurance comparison sites these days, but forget what you think you know – the true meaning of that word is locked within the heart of this track. Dense, intense, deeply affecting and avant-garde without trying too hard, this song is the sound of these Californian sludge lords realising their true potential.
57. Fear Factory – Replica (Demanufacture, 1995)
The centrepiece of Demanufacture, a futuristic masterpiece about man’s struggle against a corrupt technologically advanced government, Replica pitted robotic drumming against a fuckload of groove. Perhaps the industrialists’ catchiest song ever.
56. Strapping Young Lad – Detox (City, 1997)
BAND PICK: Tony Dolan from Venom Inc
"All you could want and more. Furiously addictive and powerfully charged, it takes no prisoners and is a brutal face frontal assault. Gloriously metallic. All hail the Townsend!"
55. Cradle Of Filth – Cruelty Brought Thee Orchids (Cruelty And The Beast, 1998)
The Filth's first release on the heavy metal bastion of Music For Nations and a serious step up from their debut. The production more expansive, the symphonics turned up, and Dani's vocal dexterity flourishing amongst the myriad of metallic elements. Plus the bounce on Cruelty Brought Thee Orchids is enough to get even the most wearisome metalhead tapping their feet.
54. Iron Maiden – Fear Of The Dark (Fear Of The Dark, 1992)
The album might be patchy at points, but Maiden fans will always be grateful for what has become the setlist staple of any Maiden show. So much so that they’ve even included it in '80s-themed sets through the years.
53. Paradise Lost – Hallowed Land (Draconian Times, 1995)
One of the most anthemic moments of PL's Draconian Times album – the moment when the Yorkshire metallers went for the mainstream metal jugular. Hallowed Land rides along on a slinky riff and an imposing, yet catchy, vocal from frontman Nick Holmes.
52. Morbid Angel – Fall From Grace (Blessed Are The Sick, 1991)
After the chaotic energy rippling through their debut album, Florida's Morbid Angel learnt to bring a bit more control to their follow-up, but within Fall From Grace's sputtering blasts and Trey Azagthoth's luminous leads is a feast of death metal DNA.
51. White Zombie – More Human Than Human (Astro-Creep: 2000 – Songs Of Love, Destruction And Other Synthetic Delusions Of The Electric Head, 1995)
From the squelching synth intro to the slide guitar via a thundering, industrial rhythm and a riff that feels like Godzilla advancing, More Human Than Human sounded like music from another, more dangerous planet. Still Rob Zombie's best song.
50. Opeth – Demon Of The Fall (My Arms, Your Hearse, 1998)
A beautiful, from-the-depths display of progressive black metal from Mikael Akerfeldt and his Swedish comrades – before they abandoned the death growls in favour of prog-tastic noodlings. It remains a compelling highlight in the Opeth catalogue.
49. Entombed – Left Hand Path (Left Hand Path, 1990)
Entombed hadn't yet perfected the death 'n' roll formula that would make them a serious force to be reckoned with, but Left Hand Path's title track remains one of the most gruesomely perfect pieces of Swedish death metal ever committed to tape.
48. Pantera – Floods (The Great Southern Trendkill, 1996)
One of the more sprawling, steely-eyed cuts from The Great Southern Trendkill, Floods is one of the most commandingly ‘twisty’ things the groove-metal Texans ever wrote. You can practically hear that snake on the cover hissing through the brooding guitar chops and vocal snarls, and at 3:51 Dimebag Darrell tears into one of his best ever solos. Nice.
47. Monster Magnet – Space Lord (Powertrip, 1998)
A brilliant, blazing, space-travellin', psychedelic masterpiece, like a Stan Lee comic tugged and teased to vivid musical climax. That crunching riff doesn't arrive straight away but is all the more effective when it does, but be sure to listen to the uncensored version of Space Lord for the most celebratory use of the word "motherfucker" in the entire history of music.
46. Refused – New Noise (The Shape Of Punk To Come, 1998)
Taut songwriting, proficient musicianship and a passion for completely uninhibited punk-rock music resulted in this Refused track becoming one of the most exciting and unexpected songs of the ‘90s. Taken from the aptly-titled The Shape Of Punk To Come, this song is intelligent, forward-facing punk rock with its roots planted firmly in the genre’s past. Can I scream? Yes, you certainly can.
45. Type O Negative – My Girlfriend’s Girlfriend (October Rust, 1996)
This tongue-in-cheek anthem to fluid sexuality and polyamory found Peter Steele in full-on, gothic playboy mode. The bleepy intro, spacey bridge and distorted riffs combined with his deadpan lyrics to produce something simultaneously erotic and amusing.
44. Meshuggah – Future Breed Machine (Destroy Erase Improve, 1995)
As the album title suggested, Future Breed Machine's sputtering, off-beat grooves sounded like they were attempting to replace your nervous system with a hyper-tensile, alien construct your brain was desperately trying to assimilate. The woozy, jazzy interlude was a precursor to a range of insanely vivid senses suddenly coming online.
43. The Dillinger Escape Plan – 43% Burnt (Calculating Infinity, 1999)
The standard by which every band who consider themselves technical should live by. Calculating Infinity changed heavy music forever with its bonkers rhythms and time-signatures that somehow manage to form a cohesive landscape of beauty. What a band.
42. Marilyn Manson – The Dope Show (Mechanical Animals, 1998)
This is it, the moment Manson went full subversive and counter-everything. Strolling around the video in his female body suit, dyed hair and contact lenses, you either loved him or you didn’t get it. And despite the haunting visuals of Mechanical Animals era Manson, the genuine quality songcraft involved in The Dope Show and the glistening melody proves that he’s not just a shock machine.
41. Clutch – I Have The Body Of John Wilkes Booth (Clutch, 1995)
Only Clutch have the humour, lyrical prowess and musical intelligence to weave a tale that deftly manages to reference a fishing trip, Marlon Brando and body of the assassin of US President Abraham Lincoln (and also introduce the notion of selling said body to make a quick buck). All this is wrapped around one of their now-trademark bass-heavy, stoner grooves. Impeccable stuff.
40. Smashing Pumpkins – Tonight, Tonight (Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness, 1995)
BAND PICK: Sean Harmanis from Make Them Suffer
"I picked this song because not only is it hugely nostalgic for me, but it's a song that I've come to appreciate more as time has passed. When I initially heard this song, truthfully I didn't think much of it. I found the orchestral elements a little cheesy. As I've grown older however, this tune has become something of an anthem for me. It's an absolute must in the Pumpkins discography and I believe Tonight, Tonight is the best song of the '90s because of it's ability to age like a fine wine."
39. Slayer – Dead Skin Mask (Seasons In The Abyss, 1990)
The '90s weren't kind to thrash metal, but there were some diamonds in the rough, and this chilling track about notorious serial killer Ed Gein sits amongst some of Slayer's best material. Tom Araya's urgent snarls soar over the more expansive and less frantic guitars that we grew accustomed to in the '80s. It's wonderful.
38. Faith No More – Midlife Crisis (Angel Dust, 1992)
Possibly the only metal classic to sample a Simon And Garfunkel drumbeat, Midlife Crisis is a song built for huge arenas and vast, singalong crowds. Alongside A Small Victory and Everything's Ruined, it turned Angel Dust into a million-seller and the band into global stars.
37. Korn – Falling Away From Me (Issues, 1999)
As soon as you hear that guitar intro you know that shit is about to go down. The inherent groove that backs the haunting verses has soundtracked countless nights out, but there’s nothing like THAT chorus for cathartic release. Korn really are masters of the build.
36. Cannibal Corpse – Hammer Smashed Face (Tomb Of The Mutilated, 1992)
Pretty much the national anthem for brutal death metal, and a perennial reaction-tester for muggle mates and family members, this track opened Cannibal Corpse's third album in the manner of ribspreader attending a still-writhing host. The heaving riffs, churning grooves and rattling blasts have long since entered the DM bloodstream, surfacing in the likes Akercocke and many more.
35. Jane’s Addiction – Been Caught Stealing (Ritual De Lo Habitual, 1990)
How do you follow the masterpiece that was Jane’s Addiction’s studio debut Nothing’s Shocking? By recording a single with a barking dog! Taken from 1990’s Ritual de lo Habitual, Been Caught Stealing was massive. It was everywhere in the '90s – regularly appearing on TV, in films and video games, helping it earn its rightful place in pop culture.
34. Darkthrone – A Blaze In The Northern Sky (A Blaze In The Northern Sky, 1992)
Having transitioned from the abyssal death metal of 1990's Soulside Journey, Fenriz and Nocturno fried the guitar tone, whittled the vocals to a screech and helped create the volatile foundations of an entire sub-genre. This track's shifting sonic terrain and gabled sermons were nevertheless driven by an instinct and atmosphere that remains unmatched.
33. Tool – Stinkfist (Ænima, 1996)
Using a sex act as a graphic metaphor was clever enough, but it was the contrast between the rhythmic verses and impassioned chorus that grabbed and pulled at the emotions. Its disturbing video, directed by guitarist Adam Jones, added an extra layer of intensity.
32. Mayhem – Freezing Moon (De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, 1994)
Having offering a brief moment of respite amongst the forces raging around it, the transitions from Freezing Moon's dogged opening riff through heart-in-mouth velocity to dank sordid realms and a final burst into the beyond opened up a perennial rite of passage into black metal's soul-rupturing unknown.
31. Nirvana – Heart-Shaped Box (In Utero, 1993)
Don’t let the fact that Courtney Love claims this song was written about her vagina put you off – Heart-Shaped Box is one of In Utero’s most arresting and intense songs. It made an artform of the loud-quiet formula, trading between verses lead by delicate, swirling arpeggios and a simple but formidable chorus.
30. Ministry – Jesus Built My Hotrod (Psalm 69: The Way To Succeed And The Way to Suck Eggs, 1992)
A surprise hit for Ministry back in 1991, the popularity of which has rightly endured, this track is a defiant, breakneck industrial punk metal stomper, which relishes in ostentatious, devil-may-care anarchy and features Butthole Surfers frontman Gibby Haynes on vocals.
29. Guns N’ Roses – You Could Be Mine (Use Your Illusion II, 1991)
Written at the same time as Appetite For Destruction, You Could Be Mine could have easily fitted on Guns N' Roses' debut album, but instead surfaced as the theme to Terminator 2. It's a furious, typically incendiary slice of GN'R sleaze based around one of Slash's greasier riffs, and "With your bitch slap rappin' and your cocaine tongue you get nothin' done" is one of Axl's finest lines.
28. At The Gates – Slaughter Of The Soul (Slaughter Of The Soul, 1995)
Go! yelled Tomas Lindberg, kicking off a song and a sound that changed everything. As the title track from the Swede’s seminal record, it helped lay the blueprint for melodic death metal, and basically everything else you love.
27. Pearl Jam – Alive (Ten, 1991)
Pearl Jam announced themselves to the world with this, their debut single in the summer of 1991. And what an introduction it was – a hugely memorable riff coupled with Eddie Vedder’s distinctive vocals thrust grunge into the spotlight… and things would never be the same again.
26. Rage Against The Machine – Bulls On Parade (Evil Empire, 1996)
BAND PICK: Briton Bond from Wage War
"To this day, I don't think I've heard a more angry song. There are a lot of bands out there that try write angry music, but I think Rage had the perfect formula for what was going on at that time. I don't think we'll see another band like this for a long time."
25. The Prodigy – Firestarter (The Fat Of The Land, 1997)
It's was the video of Keith Flint dancing like a tic-driven lunatic in an abandoned tunnel that made the band stars, but Firestarter also proved that "dance" acts were as capable of rocking as anyone, and The Prodigy turned out to be a devastating live act.
24. Soundgarden – Jesus Christ Pose (Badmotorfinger, 1991)
While Black Hole Sun might take most of the plaudits as Soundgarden’s finest, let’s not forget this monumental slab of grunge from 1991. The fat bass backs up the chaotic guitars before frontman Chris Cornell takes the song by the scruff of the neck and lets rip in spectacular style. Utterly ferocious.
23. Rob Zombie – Dragula (Hellbilly Deluxe, 1998)
If Harley Davidsons could play guitar, this is the song they would write. An ode to the drag racer from The Munsters (because of course it is), Zombie speeds down Route 666 at 100mph, dragging your lifeless body behind him. Revving the bollocks off his engine, the headbanging chugs and metallic grinds make this a stand-out within ‘90s industrial.
22. Body Count – Cop Killer (Body Count, 1992)
"I'd like to take a pig out into the parking lot," intones Ice-T during the intro to Cop Killer, "and shoot him in the motherfuckin' face." Did we mention this was a controversial release? The music – a fairly generic brand of hardcore thrash enhanced by the occasional gunshot – didn't break any boundaries, but the band's fury was palpable and only matched by the reaction. A glorious moment.
21. Korn – Freak On A Leash (Follow The Leader, 1998)
Don’t pretend that you don’t know all the words to Jonathan Davis’ scatting. The song that cemented Korn’s legacy as a band who don’t just write angsty aural attacks but they can write anthems. And it’s probably the best example of the Bakersfield boys’ guitar/bass trade-off when it comes to writing bouncing yet uncomfortable melodies.
20. Rammstein – Du Hast (Sehnsucht, 1997)
Combining deliriously silly, Nintendo-style keyboards with the kind of industrial riffs that sound like a Detroit forge churning out cement mixers. Du Hast is music you can dance to, and also music perfect for soundtracking displays of great military strength.
19. Judas Priest – Painkiller (Painkiller, 1990)
Irresistible machine-gun riffage? Check. Rob Halford’s throat-lacerating falsetto cranked up to 11? Check. Deliciously face-melting solo? Check. The title track of Priest’s 1990 LP might be batshit crazy but it’s also rather brilliant.
18. Sepultura – Refuse/Resist (Chaos A.D., 1993)
BAND PICK: Larissa Stupar from Venom Prison
"When it was released I must have been four years old. I discovered Sepultura through Slipknot when I was browsing Roadrunner Records to find new bands to listen to. Sepultura have influenced me more than I first realised, it's probably the first band with political content that I was aware of."
17. Pantera – Cowboys From Hell (Cowboys From Hell, 1990)
BAND PICK: Alex Canion from Voyager
"Cowboys from Hell encapsulates Pantera to a tee. Brash and confident; this song writes the book on how to use hooks, melody and groove in the genre of metal. The addictive main riff can be still be heard being playing in guitar shops, even 27 years after its release!"
16. Emperor – I Am the Black Wizards (In The Nightside Eclipse, 1994)
Arguably Emperor's most famous song, and for good reason. The penultimate track on the band's debut album, it's a six-minute flurry of destruction and violence with barely a pause for breath. Ihsahn's barbaric howls and barks are still some of the best in the game, and it's his first foray into the darker realms that truly showcase his vocal ability.
15. Megadeth – Hangar 18 (Rust In Peace, 1990)
Mustaine was hitting his stride in the early '90s and Rust In Peace still holds up as one of the greatest heavy metal albums of all time. Based around UFO conspiracy theories, it’s a runaway train of thrash metal with ripping guitar lines and fist-pounding drums that make you want to run through a wall screaming about the existence of aliens.
14. Marilyn Manson – The Beautiful People (Antichrist Superstar, 1996)
If you don’t like this song there is probably something wrong with you music senses. The military industrialism is a far cry from his debut album but the spookiness and coolness has been turned up to eleven. Practically oozing aggression, this song puts one fist up and one in the face of conformity, creating a generation of devout followers in the process.
13. Deftones – My Own Summer (Shove It) (Around The Fur, 1997)
BAND PICK: Carl Gethin from Fire Red Empress
"This track seemed to come out of nowhere and was just a great song! Deftones always seem to get lumped in with nu metal, but they have so much more about them than that. The contrast between the ethereal vocals and the nasty riffs is perfect. They were a huge influence on us."
12. Alice In Chains – Rooster (Dirt, 1992)
BAND PICK: Elijah Witt from Cane Hill
"I know it's their 'mainstream hit' which could make it fuckin' 'lame' for me to choose it, but it blew them even further into the mainstream, and no matter what any prick says about selling out and reaching mainstream audiences, it's a fucking beautiful moment when underground music gets recognition from the normies. That means you're doing something so right! Not only the freaks like you get it, but the people who aren't outwardly admitting they're problematic because it isn't cool relate to your art. An on top of that it's what got me into Alice – a band that helped me find, and be happy with, myself."
11. System Of A Down – Sugar (System Of A Down, 1998)
SOAD’s first ever single set their stall out from the very beginning, taking aim at global corruption as they saw it, while concocting a soundtrack unlike anything we’d really heard before. An essential and pioneering part of the nu metal movement, there was, however, much more to their sound than that. A frantic blend of unpredictable and satisfyingly heavy alt metal, Sugar was a fine indication of the chaos that would follow throughout their career.
10. Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nevermind, 1991)
BAND PICK: Greg Kubacki from Car Bomb
"Seriously, is there any other answer? All of those spandex sweat shops, hairspray factories, Yngwie Malmsteen VHS instructional video duplication centres – that whole ecosystem of hair metal was completely destroyed overnight with four simple chords and Kurt’s voice. I can’t think of another song that came out of nowhere like that and single-handedly annihilated a whole genre of music."
9. Slipknot – (sic) (Slipknot, 1999)
BAND PICK: Ben Bruce from Asking Alexandria
"While the song was released at the very end of the '90s, I feel it is one of the best metal songs of the era. The song is just so aggressive and so energetic, it's unlike anything else from the '90s, and still holds it weight almost 20 years later."
8. Soundgarden – Black Hole Sun (Superunknown, 1994)
The anthem for the grunge generation arrived on Soundgarden’s 1994 album Superunknown and became an instant classic. It starts with a psychedelic vibe coupled with woozy guitars – and then comes THAT chorus. Its impact cannot be overstated and influenced a whole generation of musicians. It was the track the majority of artists chose to cover in honour of late frontman Chris Cornell earlier this year.
7. Nine Inch Nails – Closer (The Downward Spiral, 1994)
Once again proving that metal is a glorious sum of its disparate parts, NIN’s standout track from The Downward Spiral is almost bereft of searing guitar riffs, relying heavily on industrial electronica, explicit lyrics, samples and a hypnotic squelchy bassline to bury itself into our collective consciousness. It was (and remains) a standout dance floor filler at metal clubs the world over. And with very good reason.
6. Metallica – Sad But True (Metallica, 1991)
BAND PICK: Tobias Young from Our Hollow, Our Home
"The first time I heard the main riff to Sad But True, I felt like I'd been hit in the face by a train. Repeatedly. And it felt mighty fine. The Black Album slays, but for me Sad But True is the train-shaped icing on the cake."
5. Sepultura – Roots Bloody Roots (Roots, 1996)
The definitive Sepultura song and Max Cavalera's finest moment as a musician. There's nothing like bellowing the chorus out as loud as your lungs can manage, while immersing yourself in the tribal sounds inspired by indigenous Brazilian tribes.
4. Rage Against The Machine – Killing In The Name (Rage Against The Machine, 1991)
If ‘90s metal had a slogan, ‘Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!’ would arguably be it. This track – furious, focussed and expertly executed – didn’t only provide a soundtrack to thousands of pissed off teenagers being forced to tidy their rooms, but had a worthy message at its heart, taking aim at the institutional racism which plagued the American police force – a matter which, if you’ve been paying attention to latter-day RATM incarnation Prophets Of Rage, is still depressingly prescient today.
3. Machine Head – Davidian (Burn My Eyes, 1994)
It’s often said that grunge killed metal, but that would be bollocks. Machine Head’s debut album Burn My Eyes is pretty much flawless and the opening track is a real statement of intent. The unrelenting thrash that’s fuelled by a neck-breaking groove and Robb Flynn’s signature bark is just one of the many reasons Machine Head are still kicking arse over 20 years later.
2. Pantera – Walk (Vulgar Display Of Power, 1992)
BAND PICK: Vogg from Decapitated
“That song brought a new level of groove, heaviness and power to the metal scene, and completely changed it forever. That track has been a huge inspiration for thousands of musicians – specifically for me as a guitar player and songwriter.”
1. Korn – Blind (Korn, 1994)
ARE YOUUUUU READDDYYYYYY??? The opener to Korn’s debut album and a quintessential part of every nu metal playlist for the next 20 years. That slack bass-line alone is enough reason to include this song, but when you factor in Jonathan Davis’ nightmarish vocals and the impact that both had on metal for the next decade and beyond, it’s not hyperbolic to say Blind was a game-changer.
Words by: Luke Morton, Briony Edwards, Fraser Lewry, Polly Glass, Sian Llewellyn, Merlin Alderslade, Eleanor Goodman, Jonathan Selzer and Stephen Hill.