Were the 1990’s Really that Bad of a Time for Heavy Metal?

The Blind Eternities forum

Posted on Nov. 22, 2022, 10:10 p.m. by DemonDragonJ

Conventional wisdom among fans of heavy metal is that the 1990's were not a particularly good decade for that genre of music, and it is easy to understand that sentiment upon taking a cursory glace at the music scene of that time period, with alternative rock, grunge, and hip hop dominating the music scene, a sharp contrast to the explosive growth of heavy metal in the previous decade, and many traditional metal bands softening their sound to keep current with musical trends.

However, I wonder how much of that common sentiment is actually true, and how much of it is merely a popular conception derived from the most popular music of that decade, since a more thorough examination shall reveal that heavy metal was still alive and well during the 1990's, but it simply was not as popular as it had been in the 1980's.

The most commonly-cited examples of heavy metal bands softening their sound in the face of grunge are Metallica and Megadeth, whose respective fifth albums, Metallica and Countdown to Extinction, were nowhere near as fast or "thrashy" as their previous albums, but I think that those albums still were quite heavy in their own rights, and feature some of those bands' best-known songs.

Obviously, no discussion of heavy metal during the 1990's would be complete without mentioning Pantera, who did the opposite of what Metallica and Megadeth did on their own fifth album, Cowboys from Hell; instead of making their sound lighter and softer, they made it darker and heavier as an act of direct defiance against the rising tide of alternative rock and beginning a new chapter in the story of heavy metal.

In addition to Pantera, the 1990's saw numerous other bands begin their careers; although death metal officially began with the release of Death's debut album, Scream Bloody Gore, in 1987 (some people may say that _Seven Churches__ by Possessed was the first death metal album, but I consider that to be merely the transition between thrash metal and death metal), it was in the 1990's that death metal gained greater popularity and solidified itself as a new sub-genre of heavy metal, with bands such as Morbid Angel, Cannibal Corpse, Deicide, Entombed, and Autopsy beginning their careers in that decade.

Finally, one of the most significant developments in heavy metal during the 1990's was the development of alternative metal and nu metal as new sub-genres, with Korn, Slipknot, and Godsmack being some of the best examples of those new genres.

What does everyone else say about this subject? Were the 1990's really that bad of a time for heavy metal?

Abaques says... #2

There was great, amazing and phenomenal metal in the 90's. I think most of the people who say the 90's were metal wasteland base that belief on what the big metal acts of the 80's (Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, Slayer, Iron Maiden, Ozzy, Sabbath, etc.) put out. And yes, the 90's releases for those bands weren't as strong as their releases in the 80's for the most part. Just about all those groups did put out some good or even great stuff in the 90's (I will die on the hill of Seasons in the Abyss being one of the best metal albums of all time), but they also put out some stuff that was certainly weaker than what their fans hoped for.

But that all ignores some of the amazing metal that got released in the 90's. You brought up Pantera, and I think their influence can't be praised enough. Cowboys from Hell, Vulgar Display of Power, Far Beyond Driven and The Great Southern Trendkill just dominated the 90's metal scene. Just about everyone who liked metal in the 90's would listen to Pantera.

There were so many sub-genres that really grew up in the 90's. Death metal really grew up in that decade and spawned melodic death metal and metalcore as the decade wore on. Slaughter of the Soul by At the Gates influenced a whole generation and defined the the sounds that dominated the 00's metal scene in a lot of ways. Satisfaction is the Death of Desire by Hatebreed is one of the heaviest and most brutal albums ever and influenced countless metal and hardcore bands. And we can even blame the 90's for Djent because that's when Meshuggah released Destroy Erase Improve.

I think the 90's was a breeding ground for great music that drove the metal sound for the next 20 years.

November 22, 2022 11:37 p.m.

KongMing says... #3

Yngwie still played & wrote the classic thrashy heavy metal in Europe and Japan. Dropped like an album a year

November 23, 2022 11:15 a.m.

Any time people talk about things like this I like to point out that we tend to forget exactly when things happen; the seventies didn’t (socially) end until apprx. 1984, the 80s didn’t end until about 1994, etc. “50s Music” went well into the 1960s. Having said all that: Pantera really is a fixture in music. A towering mountain crag at one end of the world map of music, forever jutting its chin into the wind. Totally solid.

November 23, 2022 5:17 p.m.

TypicalTimmy says... #5

I'm willing to bet that people are observing "metal" through a foggy lens.

Back in the 80s and 90s, metal was metal. You had punk, metal and rock.

Nowadays, you have subsets of entire subsets of entire genres of music. You have stuff like Folk Punk, Folk Rock, Metal, Heavy Metal, Death Metal, Goth Metal, Norse Metal, Black Metal, etc.

Like with many current, shall we say... whimsical interpretations, people feel the need to segment something into smaller and smaller bits to be "unique" and "stand out from the crowd".

  • Everyone is searching for their own 'identity', and compulsively seeks to formulate an 'identity' for others, as well.

If you take that lens to view the world through, and apply it to the past, you'll begin to forcibly fit things into categories that never existed before, and as a consequence you'll end up fighting and bickering over them.

November 23, 2022 6:19 p.m. Edited.

AstroAA says... #6

I spent over an hour and typed out an essay and lost it because I wasn't logged in to post it apparently. RIP.

TLDR of what I wanted to say: TypicalTimmy is 100% right. Abaques is 100% right. Pantera is GOATed and bands like Metallica and Megadeth chased a more accessible sound probably ushered in by hard rock bands like Guns N' Roses.

November 23, 2022 8:07 p.m.

TypicalTimmy says... #7

RIP essay. You will be missed.

November 23, 2022 8:20 p.m.

TypicalTimmy says... #8

Here is Wikipedia's list of different genres of Metal there are, and this is not an all-inclusive list.

Just to kind of touch a bit more on what I was talking about.

So, here's the reality of what actually happens - and it is in no way the fault of anyone in particular, nor is it necessarily a bad thing. What ends up happening is someone out there is musically inclined and loves a particular genre. They become better, formulate a band and they want to make an identity for themselves to stand out from the crowd.

In pop music, being formulaic is a good thing because it means low risk and high reward. It's easy to sell the same sound in pop across dozens of labels, and so that's exactly what they do - all pop music basically sounds in the same, because it is designed to. The same happens with a large portion of rap, country and many other genres of music.

And please understand that I do recognize that I am using unnaturally broad generalizations here. But what you must understand is that record label companies are run by corporations who have a funny little thing called "risk management". Taking upon a "new sound" is risky, because they could have millions of dollars at stake and lose it all. But, on-boarding something that sounds exactly like what they already produce? Slap a name on it and ship it all day.

Consider the following: McDonald's is in the business of selling cheap, crappy cheeseburgers and (comparatively) really good chicken sandwiches. We are ignoring their breakfast menu for the time being.

  • (Actually, McDonald's files their taxes in a very specific way. They are actually the world's largest real estate company, who just so happens to sell cheap burgers. This is because nearly 90% of all McDonald's on the planet are franchised out, meaning the true source of revenue for the company is actually rent... not cheze borger sales.)

Now, Wendy's sells chili. It's really freaking good chili, for being what it is.

McDonald's wants to compete. But, is losing millions in investors pulling out of shares from the failure of a new McChili item worth the potential revenue a McChili option could bring?


Risk management.

So, the same applies to music. If a record company wants to onboard a new artist, you bet your sweet, innocent little mind that the company is going to try and do everything to ensure that this new artist sounds exactly like whomever their several top leading artists are, currently.

So, what does this have to do with the several dozen genres of metal? Well, simple. These particular people want to stand out from the crowd. They want to write music for themselves. They want to use a different conglomeration of instruments. They want to physically "sound different". To express their artistic ability in a true fashion.

To put the art before the profits.

So they do, and thus they "invent" a new sub-genre of metal. Then, their fans become inspired, pick up the same instruments, follow and adhere to the same music theory and become carbon copies of the original. Now, you have dozens of bands, each expressed by dozens of sub-genres, each under the umbrella genre of "Metal".

And the point of this long-ass rant / essay that I am writing while hopped up on pain killers, having been awake for nearly 48 hours after cleaning 35 gallons of raw sewage out of my basement after my septic line clogged and back-filled?

If you take allllllll of what I just outlined above and look to the past at the 80s and 90s and apply it to them, you'll find it is 100% incompatible.

Were there sub-genres? Sure. Glam rock is an example. Twisted Sister and KISS are prime examples. It's still rock-n-roll, but it's Glam rock.

But these dozens upon dozens of sub-genres? They didn't exist. While it is true that a band would have "sounded different", they didn't have all of the categories that we have today.

So what happens is you have people, today, fighting and bickering over trying to put bands such as Anthrax, Judas Priest, Ratt, Dio, Venom, Poison and W.A.S.P. into neat little boxes.

That isn't how things worked back then. A genre was a genre was a genre. Each band had their own unique sound, but they were all the same genre. Subs didn't really exist, and if they did they were extensions of the umbrella - not a departure of.

So, taking how things are now and applying them to how things were then?

That's why people disagree and argue.

And when thousands upon thousands of fans sit there and argue into the void over literally nothing, because it literally never existed to begin with, you come to the result that the 80s and 90s were just "bad" for music. When in reality, today's style of categorizing everything into little boxes is what's bad for it - and everything, for that matter. The same thing applies to everything out there.

We all need to collectively step back, take a breather, and stop trying to put everything into their own unique box.

Because when everything is "unique", then nothing is, and you just become another nameless face screaming into the void.

November 23, 2022 11:28 p.m. Edited.

Abaques says... #9

I'm gonna sum up TypicalTimmy's post by saying that metal is for everyone.

November 23, 2022 11:36 p.m.

TypicalTimmy says... #10

I'll see your Freedom Call, Abaques, and I'll raise you a Flogging Molly.

November 23, 2022 11:44 p.m.

AstroAA says... #11

I'll raise you both TypicalTimmy and Abaques with some good old Manowar.

November 24, 2022 11:01 a.m.

Last_Laugh says... #12

Spice Girls ftw... ok that was tough to even type with a straight face lol.

November 24, 2022 12:20 p.m.

TypicalTimmy says... #13

  • "If you wanna be my lover, gotta get with my friends"

  • Me: Shocked Pikachu face when she broke up with me for sleeping with her friends

November 24, 2022 12:26 p.m.

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