Mourning the tragic passing of Vinnie Paul, we were reminded to crank Pantera at full volume in tribute to a man who was such a recognisable face to the metal scene.
That leads us to lining up just a few of the best and most important metal songs of the 90s. We'll start with 10, but keep your eyes peeled for Part 2, cos metal in the 90s was just brilliant - this list could easily have 100 songs on it.
Pantera – Walk
When Vulgar Display Of Power was released into the wild on February 25th, 1992, the metal world lost its mind. We’d already been delivered some powerhouse metal albums in the 90s by this stage, which I’ll get to shortly, but this was an evolutionary step for Pantera from their previous release, Cowboys From Hell. "Walk" became one of the defining tracks of 'groove metal' and a signature song for the band and fan favourite. Heavy, groove-laden, and packed with attitude. Sofa King good.
Megadeth – Holy Wars…The Punishment Due
From Megadeth’s most revered album, Rust In Peace, this opening track is a monster. Speaking of evolutionary leaps, this was it for Megadeth. Two new band members Nick Menza (R.I.P.) and Marty Friedman were a ferocious addition to the Dave/Dave set up which resulted in one of the most important and influential metal albums of all time, and what better way to blow peoples hair back than with this six and a half minute opus that goes through time changes, multiple solos, and gut-churning riffs.
Machine Head – Davidian
From their debut album Burn My Eyes in 1994, Machine Head had clearly been taking a good look at Pantera’s success with groove metal and entered the scene in a BIG way. This album shipped over 400,000 copies becoming Roadrunners best-selling debut album until Slipknot took that mantle some 5 years later. This was an instant fan favourite with power, groove, stonking attitude, and the monstrous crowd chant "Let Freedom Ring With a Shotgun Blast!" Machine Head were here to stay.
Sepultura - Roots Bloody Roots
Choosing just ONE Sepultura song that ruled in the 90’s is near on impossible. But looking at it from the point of view that elevated the band into a more mainstream consciousness, then this would have to be it. It was a gateway song for so many who perhaps didn’t vibe on the power and rawness of Arise, or maybe didn’t catch the brilliance of Chaos AD. "Roots Bloody Roots", whilst still incredibly powerful, focussed more on the primitive sounds of the tribespeople of their native Brazil, a slower track, groove heavy, with wailing guttural sounds from Max Cavalera. This was a dense wall of sound, super interesting, still classically Sepultura, but accessible for a new audience.
Rage Against The Machine – Killing In The Name
The defining song from RATM, "Killing In The Name" changed the game. CHANGED THE GAME.
Funk, rap and metal fused together with a strong political message brought people together and was certainly unlike anything I had ever heard before. What Morello did on his guitar was brilliant and spellbinding and added so much to their sound. The beauty of this song, like "Roots Bloody Roots" for Sepultura, is that it brought in so many people who perhaps wouldn’t otherwise listen to heavy music. It was accessible, and hey, who doesn’t like a song that uses extreme profanity in the outro in context?!
Korn – Blind
Talk about game changers, this would go on to influence basquilions of people everywhere and firmly plant Korn into the psyche of metal listeners worldwide. This was flat out weird and new. Watch the clip, people dressed like that didn’t rock that hard, or so I thought. It was dark, moody and a little bit scary. Bass strings flopping in the breeze, little dissident jangles on the guitars, haunting high hat hits building into Jonathan Davis growling ARE YOOOUUU READY?!! This had everything. Not bad for a song that was originally written by Davis’ previous band SexArt, and one hell of a way to open a debut album.
Metallica – Sad But True
Whaaaat? How could you not pick "Enter Sandman"? Easy. Whilst there’s no doubting the enormity of "Enter Sandman", "Sad But True" really proved that Metallica could be super heavy, but slow and groove driven. The riff driving this one is so massive it’s got its own postcode. That riff would have influenced millions who were just getting into Metallica at the time because it wasn’t particularly difficult to play on guitar. That’s why it’s an important track, and let's face it, that self-titled (Black) album was seriously massive, it sold over 16 million copies in the US alone.
Judas Priest – Painkiller
If you start chanting “HE… IS… THE…” in your best Rob Halford voice around ANY metal head, you’ll be met with “PAINKILLER!” in chorus. Such was the impact of this song. The title, and opening track from Judas Priest's 12th studio album is an absolute screamer (literally) that emphasises everything great about JP, the twin guitar attack of K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton, and the screeching power of Rob Halford (one of the best voices in metal, not open for discussion).
Slayer – War Ensemble
1990 was a GREAT year for metal and Slayer’s Seasons In The Abyss album is here to prove it. Moreover, the opening track, "War Ensemble" proves it, leaving absolutely no shadow of a doubt that Slayer wasn’t going away or straying too far from their roots again. This is a breakneck speed, full-blown thrasher, with trademark twisted dark and heavy lyrics, delivered in the way that only Slayer can, Influencing countless bands and stunning fans the world over.
System Of A Down – Sugar
Another brilliant band with a political bent that delivered one of the best clips on the late 90s in Sugar. SOAD was, like Rage Against the Machine, completely different to what anyone had seen or heard before. Vocals delivered in a seemingly comical way by lead singer Serj Tankian, either endeared or repulsed metal fans. (Endeared for me, still love them). "Sugar" was the song that introduced us, initially to System Of A Down and prepared us for what was to come. The groundswell that this song generated informed us that something crazy was brewing, and we got it just a couple of years later with their album Toxicity.
Bonus track (because it was hard to stop at just 10)
Iron Maiden - Bring Your Daughter To The Slaughter