In 1990, the metal world was beginning the fight for its life, though it did not know it yet. The Bay Area metal scene was dominating metal at this time as many of these bands were in their primes. The difference in the 1990 top ten with the 1989 is staggering, with 1990 containing much heavier albums and 1990 had a more metal feel to it.
The grunge scene was born, and not being a big fan of the genre, no grunge albums made the top ten in 1990, though there will be some in future years I am sure.
10. Elixir – Lethal Potion
Choosing number 10 here was tough, as to me this album is clearly inferior to the top 9. I could have chosen any of several slightly above average albums to fill this spot, including Alice in Chains’ debut, No Prayer for the Dying, Spiritual Healing, The Eye, or even Cowboys from Hell , but being the Clive Burr fan boy that I am, I chose Elixir. Sue me.
9. Queensryche – Empire
I wanted to leave this album off on general principle, but I could not do it with a clear conscience. Despite the prosaic Silent Lucidity, Empire is quite a good album. Forgotten gems like Resistance and Anybody Listening? make this album what it is, while the most well known songs are probably the worst songs here, with the exception of the brilliant Jet City Woman.
8. Testament – Souls of Black
By 1990, everyone and their brother from San Francisco/Oakland were in a thrash band. Most of them were boring and non descript, and until this album (OK Practice isn’t bad either) Testament was in the middle of that pack of mediocrity. Souls of Black however, had a slightly different sound. A bit more polished, and slick, Souls of Black was the high point of Testament’s not so illustrious career.
7. Megadeth – Rust in Peace
Many say this is Megadeth’s finest moment, and maybe they are right, though I am somewhat partial to Peace Sells. Anyway, 1990’s Rust in Peace is a very good album, that features some great playing by the band, and some really well written songs that blend together very nicely. The final three tracks are what make the album, Tornado of Souls, Dawn Patrol and Rust in Peace.
6. Iced Earth – Iced Earth
Released in Europe in 1990, and in the USA in 1991, I have decided to include this with 1990. Iced Earth was at one time, a metal band that fell between the traditional Iron Maiden sound, and the Florida extreme metal scene. When the Night Falls alone would make this a cool album, but the entire album is full of good guitar work, and the vocals are sufficient.
5. Gamma Ray – Heading for Tomorrow
Perhaps the best thing to happen to Power Metal was Kai Hansen’s departure from Helloween. Heading for Tomorrow is not the best Gamma Ray album, but it is quite good. It is the transition between Helloween and Gamma Ray. Hansen’s playing is great, and Scheepers' vocals are real good too. The songs are diverse and the flow of the album is also very nice. To me, the title track is a bit of an earful, but it is still a very good album.
4. Bathory – Hammerheart
I am not a Bathory fan, but I really like this album. Quorthon’s vocals are bad, even for Black Metal, and usually Bathory’s production is even worse that the pitiful Black Metal norm. Here, the production is at the perfect level to give this album the perfect sound. The songs here are great, and the atmosphere is what makes this album so appealing. The whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts, and I prefer to put this disc on when I have enough time for the whole thing. Hailed as the birth of Viking Metal, Hammerheart is my favorite Bathory album, and really an essential disc in any extreme metal collection.
3. Judas Priest – Painkiller
Can an album be Number 3 on the list and still be way overrated? Yes. Painkiller is a very good album, no question. But many feel it is the best Judas Priest record. That is nonsense. What we have here is an album with great riffs, solos and melody lines. Musically it may be considered a great album. However, these may be the worst set of Judas Priest lyrics ever written. Any album that uses the term “Devil Dogs” has silly lyrics. Anyway, Tipton and Downing are brilliant here, and new drummer Scott Travis keeps thing moving along at a nice pace.
2. Death Angel – Act III
A bit of a surprise pick here, as anyone who has read these posts knows, I am not a fan of generic bay area thrash. However, after listening to this gem a couple of times I realized that this album is far from generic. This album is vastly different from the thrash by numbers mediocrity that was on DA’s first two albums. This album has it all, great guitar riffs and solos, interesting bass and drum parts and good vocals. Highly recommended.
1. Slayer – Seasons in the Abyss
By far, this is the best Slayer album ever. Here they combined everything that had worked on previous releases, and mixed them all together to come up with a brilliant album. The sound is rich and the riffs are chunky, while the songs move along at a great pace. Slick production is the icing on the cake. A great album for sure, and it is my choice for best of 1990.