Recently, on the wonderful invention that is Spotify, I came across a factoid concerning some of the greatest metal bands of all time. It turns out that back in 1986, not only did Metallica release their (arguably) best album “Master Of Puppets”, which quickly became the measuring stick by which all metal records are judged, Megadeth debuted “Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying” and Slayer put out “Reign In Blood”, which is often considered the greatest speed metal album ever. It’s amazing to think how these earth shattering records all showed up in the span of a single year, and how much they changed the scope of heavy music forever.
It’s easy to assume that this would easily rank as the greatest metal year of all time, and rightfully so, as these records became the defining works of their respective artists. Before 1986 metal had never been so ambitious, so striking, and just so damn good. I was quite young when these albums came out, but I remember going back to discover them later and instantly knowing why I’d been hearing about them for years. Yes, 1986 will probably go down in history as the most pivotal, important year for heavy metal.
But not the best.
No, something just doesn’t feel right about calling ‘86 the “BEST” year for metal, because when you zoom out a bit, and look a little further down the line, you’ll notice a thing. That thing, friends, is the year 1990, and I have to tell you from the bottom of my heart, I really think that it was the most exciting year ever for heavy metal.
Several things happened in 1990 that moved heavy music forward in a big way. Anthrax, who also had a considerable record back in ‘86 (Among The Living) hit their stride with “Persistence Of Time” which gave metal a polished, high tech facelift that was badly needed. It got airplay. Girlfriends liked it. Metal was crossing over, but because of quality, not from being dumbed down, or at least not yet. Slayer was back, and out for blood with “Seasons In The Abyss”, which boasted one of the best metal videos I’ve ever seen, “War Ensemble”. The big one, however, for me and many others, is the 1990 release of Megadeth’s masterpiece “Rust In Peace”. To be clear: I don’t just think it’s Megadeth’s best album… I think it’s probably Metal’s best album. The reasons are clear, too. Guitarist Marty Friedman absolutely rewrote the book on metal guitar with this record. No one’s topped it since. Now, if these aren’t enough to convince you about 1990, there was another thing.
A little band from Texas.
Pantera showed up, basically out of nowhere, and raised the bar on metal so high that nothing could stop them until they broke up, just prior to the murder of guitar enigma Dimebag Darrell. A long career followed this record, but it was “Cowboys From Hell” that gave Pantera artistic license to be considered among the greats.
All these things add up, in my opinion, to the best year of metal so far. Naturally, 1986 will be remembered for the groundbreaking metal debuts, but four years later these bands had grown into something wicked and formidable, and they were absolutely on fire.