Metal is alive and well in 2021. But its roots go way back. Here’s a guide to the best metal bands from the ‘90s – my picks for the most influential artists from one of the best decades for music ever…
If you were born in the ‘00s, or mid-way through the 1990s, congrats, you’re a young pup. You might love metal too. And that’s awesome. But if you weren’t old enough to buy a beer in the ‘90s, you might have missed out on some of the best metal bands to ever grace the planet.
Because metal isn’t exactly mainstream and never has been, some of the most influential bands to come out of the ‘90s remain pretty unknown in 2021. I want to change that by pointing you in the direction of some truly amazing ‘90s metal bands, bands that helped create the sound of many of the modern metal bands we listen to today.
Please note, however, this is just MY pick. It is not based on anything but my own personal music tastes. This is not a best ‘90s metal band list. If it were, you’d see bands like Pantera, Metallica, and Slayer. Instead, this list focuses on smaller, less well-known but equally influential 90s metal and rock bands.
12 ‘90s Metal Bands Everybody Should Know
Fronted by Buzz Osborne, the Melvins have been making records and touring since the early 1980s. And they’re still going strong today. Arguably one of the most influential bands in metal, the Melvins are still relatively unknown compared to other, lesser bands from the era.
Without the Melvins, we probably wouldn’t have Nirvana. Buzz was Kurt’s hero and friend during Nirvana’s formative years when they were starting out in Aberdeen. Buzz is a legend. He basically invented modern sludge metal. And he’s an all-around lovely chap.
Best album to start with? Houdini – Melvins
Everybody knows Queens of The Stone Age, but before Queens Josh was the guitar player in a band called Kyuss. Kyuss produced four records in its short-lived career but its influence and legacy lives on, thanks to its legion of dedicated fans.
KYUSS disbanded in 1995, following creative differences between band members – notably Homme and Bjork. Homme and Oliveri went on to form Queens of The Stone Age, while Brant Bjork did his own solo stuff which is also well worth checking out.
Formed in the Palm Desert, KYUSS was made up of Josh Homme, Brant Bjork, John Garcia, and Nick Oliveri. The band was a big hit in LA and on the festival circuit, cementing them as one of the best stoner rock bands of the era. And, yes, KYUSS pretty much invented stoner rock, so if you’re into that kind of thing they’re essential listening.
Best KYUSS album to start with? Blues For The Red Sun – KYUSS
Trent Reznor is considered by many to be something of a genius, and while his newer NIN records aren’t all that, the first few NIN records are seminal albums that showcase just how talented the guy is.
NIN exploded onto the metal/industrial scene in the early-1990s. Its first record was huge, bringing together elements of metal, electronica, and industrial music. Trent played ALL the instruments on his NIN records too. And he produced and recorded them. All by himself.
Gifted with a beautiful voice and a keen ear for beautiful chord changes, Trent Reznor essentially turned NIN into one of the biggest and most influential bands on the planet during the 1990s. I mean, how many other artists can you name that Johnny Cash covered? Exactly.
Best NIN album to start with? The Fragile – NIN
You might have heard OPETH; the band is pumping out new records every other or year or so. Its latest, In Cauda Venenum, dropped in 2019, picking up where 2014’s Pale Communion left off.
But here’s the thing: the OPETH of today sounds NOTHING like the OPETH of the ‘90s. Old OPETH was heavy as hell, drawing its influence from black metal, thrash, and death metal. In fact, the band’s first five albums were essentially flawless metal albums.
Had OPETH jacked it all in after the release of Blackwater Park, it would have left an unbeatable legacy of music behind them. Instead, OPETH got into prog metal and the band changed its sound so dramatically that OPETH’s new record doesn’t even sound like the same band that produced Morningrise.
I miss old OPETH.
Best OPETH album to start with? Blackwater Park – OPETH
At The Gates
Formed in 1990, At The Gates was one of the key drivers of Gothenburg-style melodic death metal. If you like your music heavy and aggressive, you cannot really escape At The Gates’ influence. The band released four amazing records before initially disbanding in 1996, although by this point they were already legends in the metal scene.
At The Gates have broken up and reformed multiple times. The first time the band broke up, the ashes have birth to The Haunted which featured drummer Adrian Erlandsson, bassist Jonas Björler, and guitarist Anders Björler.
At The Gates reformed in 2007 for a series of shows but didn’t release any new records until 2014’s At War With Reality. They then followed this record with To Drink For The Night Itself (2018) and The Nightmare of Being (2021).
Best At The Gates Album to start with? Terminal Spirit Disease – At The Gates
There are many bands on this list that are still around today, but one of the most consistent, meaning they’ve produced killer records, one after the other for over two decades, is Converge.
The first time I heard Converge it nearly blew my head off; it was literally the most aggressive, heavy music I had ever heard. I was around 14 years old at the time. And it was the track Concubine off their seminal album, Jane Doe.
Converge’s music is not accessible. It is very, very heavy, making it very much an acquired taste. But the band is incredible, both on record and live, thanks in no small part to the genius songwriting and production skills of its guitarist, Kurt Ballou.
If you haven’t heard Converge, stop what you’re doing right now, and listen to them. I guarantee they will go on to become one of your favorite bands. They also have a MASSIVE back catalog to work through.
Best Converge album to start with? Jane Doe – Converge
Formed in 1995, Will Haven come from the same town as the Deftones, Sacramento. And Will Haven and the Deftones are fairly good buddies too; Chino even appeared in one of the band’s biggest videos too, for the title track from its outstanding Carpe Diem album. You can check that out below.
Will Haven was one of the most influential noise bands of the early 1990s. The first time I heard them, I thought it sounded like Rage Against The Machine after several bottles of whiskey and some PCP.
The band never made it into the big leagues, but they did a tour with Pantera in the late-1990s – this is how I found out about them. Sadly, the OG Will Haven disbanded in 2003. They did reform in 2007 but they never managed to capture the kinetic energy of their first incarnation.
Best Will Haven album to start with? Carpe Diem – Will Haven
Electric Wizard hails from Devon in the UK and is largely responsible for the rise of doom and sludge metal during the 1990s. The band, while not exactly mainstream, even in the metal community, is now a pretty big deal, selling out venues and tours both here and in the UK.
Formed out of the ashes of Lord of Putrefaction, Electric Wizard has been consistently pumping out outstanding records since the early-1990s. Fronted by guitarist and singer Jus Oborn, the band is legendary in the doom and sludge scene.
If you like doom metal and slow, riffs drenched in fuzz, Electric Wizard will be right up your street. The band took its name from two Black Sabbath songs – The Wizard and Electric Funeral – and has been active and touring since 1990.
Best Electric Wizard album to start with? Dopethrone – Electric Wizard
The Dillinger Escape Plan
The Dillinger Escape Plan somehow managed to become one of the most well-known and best-loved metal bands of the last 15 years. And considering their sound, this is a very impressive feat.
Combining elements of jazz and thrash metal, The Dillinger Escape Plan essentially created a brand new, totally unique style of metal and this earned them plenty of fans and notoriety.
The original lineup on the band’s break-out record, Calculating Infinity, started out in the early-1990s. They self-produced Calculating Infinity and it somehow found its way to Mike Pattern’s desk. The Faith No More and Mr Bungle vocalist loved it so much that he did vocals on the band’s next LP, Irony Is A Dead Scene.
Greg Puciato joined in the wake of Irony Is A Dead Scene, taking on full-time vocal duties for the band. Dillinger’s next record with its new vocalist was Miss Machine, released in 2003. Extensive touring followed and a bunch of killer records. DEP eventually called it quits in 2016.
Best Dillinger Escape Plan album to start with? Calculating Infinity – Dillinger Escape Plan (for its original jazz-spazz sound); One of Us Is The Killer (for its newer, but equally amazing sound)
You probably haven’t heard of Iron Monkey, most people haven’t. But this band is one of the coolest and deeply influential sludge metal bands that ever walked the earth. Formed in Nottingham in 1994, Iron Monkey’s carrier short but it did produce one of the best sludge metal albums of all time, Our Problem.
Iron Monkey split in 1999, although a new version of the band returned with a new album in 2017. Sadly, the original Iron Monkey vocalist, Johnny Morrow, passed away in 2002.
Best Iron Monkey album to start with? Our Problem – Iron Monkey
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