In all of heavy-music history, there are few years with a higher saturation of all-time great albums than 1993. By this point, hard-hitting rock music had split off in a hundred new directions that were growing into the complex web of subgenres we know today — Type O Negative's goth-metal psalms, Sleep's stonery excursions, TOOL's alt-metal oddities, etc. Meanwhile, grunge was bigger than ever, and everyone from Nirvana and Pearl Jam to the Melvins and Smashing Pumpkins unveiled immortal masterpieces.
Below, are 20 of the best albums that were released that year. Every single one is arguably a pinnacle of their respective styles. All heaters.
Hearing Butthole Surfers' major label debut, some critics accused main man Gibby Haynes of cranking out a full-album remake of his hit 1992 collab with Ministry, "Jesus Built My Hotrod" — as if that would be a bad thing. Anyway, Independent Worm Saloon is much more than just that. Produced by Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones, the album is a gonzo freak-metal masterpiece, from high-octane opener "Who Was in My Room Last Night?" to the dipsomaniacal "Alcohol" to the hilariously true-to-its-title "The Annoying Song." But "Goofy's Concern" contains the mission statement: " I don't give a fuck about anything."
Although death metal was only of primary school age in 1993, the genre was changing, and goregrind pioneers Carcass evolved along with the times on Heartwork. Their first and only major label release, the record opens with the planet-shattering blast of "Buried Dreams" — their catchiest, most bombastic song yet — and the thrill never dies down throughout Heartwork's 10-song tracklist. Bill Steer and Michael Ammott's dual-wielding guitars glimmer with a NWOBHM excellence, and Jeff Walker's grisly growls keep the whole sound anchored in death-metal hell. Naturally, Columbia's deranged hopes for a mainstream crossover didn't manifest — the record was too gnarly.
Crowbar had a very singular sound from jump, but their second album is when they began to harness its full powers. Here, Kirk Windstein became more confident busting out his soulful croak over sludgy plods that occasionally sped up to a husky jaunt, like on the album's breakthrough single, "All I Had (I Gave)," which nestled into MTV rotation alongside contemporary slow-riders like the Melvins and Type O Negative. It also didn't hurt that Crowbar was produced by Pantera's Philip Anselmo (who was simultaneously playing with Windstein in their sludge supergroup Down), lending Crowbar credibility and setting them up for even more successful records down the line.
Driven to fulfill his uncompromising vision, Chuck Schuldiner assembled a lineup for Death's fifth album that now looks like a supergroup in hindsight. Alongside the increasingly technically-gifted bandleader, Individual Thought Patterns featured King Diamond axman Andy LaRocque, prolific bassist Steve DiGiorgio (Autopsy, Megadeth) and powerhouse drummer Gene Hoglan (Dark Angel, Strapping Young Lad, Dethklok), so yes, the shredding is off the wall. In many ways heavier and nastier than Death's prior two records, but also their proggiest and most complex to date, Individual Thought Patterns musters the type of breathtaking feats that would solidify Evil Chuck's legacy as the Godfather of Death Metal.
Entombed's first two albums, 1990's Left Hand Path and 1991's Clandestine, are foundational Swedish death-metal albums — evil, croaking and cold. Their contentious 1993 pivot, Wolverine Blues, is a whole different beast. One of the first-ever death 'n' roll records, Entombed swapped their OSDM gloom for hot-blooded riffs and hoarse, hollering vocals of the American Southern variety. It basically sounds like if Integrity had Pantera riffs in their songs, which sounds weird on paper but works so well in practice. 30 years later, it's one of their most beloved releases.
If 1983 was the year metal acquired its need for speed (Metallica's Kill 'Em All, Slayer's Show No Mercy, etc.), then 1993 was when slow came into vogue. However, while a band like Sleep wielded trudging fuzz to bask in stoned euphoria, Eyehategod used depressive, caustic lurches to pick at the scabby underbelly of the American South. With songs titled "Sister Fucker" and "30$ bag," Take as Needed for Pain is a miserablist exposé of addiction, sexual violence and suffering, set to the tune of bog-humid simmerings that bubble and burst into frothy suds of noise. Sludge-metal you can practically smell.
In the early Eighties, Ian Mackaye's Minor Threat set a whole generation on a course of self-determination and destruction of norms — artistic, social and otherwise. A decade later, he made a similarly significant impact with Fugazi, particularly when they broke out of the punk underground with In on the Kill Taker, their third and, at the time, most fearlessly creative LP. Folding together riotous post-hardcore, squally noise-rock, tender instrumental detours, unclassifiable funk groovery and socially conscious lyrical incisions, In on the Kill Taker was a bastion of DIY resilience amid a storm of corporate savagery.
Having cut their teeth in the bruising NYHC underground, Brooklyn's Life of Agony took a massive creative leap on their full-length debut, River Runs Red, delivering a uniquely melodic and heavy sound with heart-wrenching, gut-punching anthems like "Through and Through" and the title track. Really, every song is a classic — which is why LOA have made a habit of playing the album in its entirety at shows — driven by Mina Caputo's soulful, emotional-but-never-emo vocals and elevated by the concept album's ahead-of-its-time narrative, addressing mental health and suicide head-on.
The Melvins were grunge's secret architects, and they were finally invited into the skyscraper's top floor with their major label debut, Houdini. Of course, the staunch corporate skeptics ensured 100 percent creative control in their Atlantic Records contract, which is why Houdini doesn't sound like a lame sellout move, but a kickass grab-bag of claw-scraping dirges and rollicking sludge-pop fiestas. Famously, Nirvana's Kurt Cobain was hired to co-produce the whole album before he was fired by the band for being unable to focus in the throes of drug abuse. They could've kept him around just for the name recognition, but the Melvins aren't phonies, and neither is Houdini.
One of the best-selling death-metal albums of all time, Morbid Angel's Covenant turned the Floridian angels of disease into unlikely MTV stars, with the videos for "Rapture" and "God of Emptiness," getting regular Headbangers Ball play and a loving Beavis and Butt-Head lampoon, respectively. The album's success was particularly remarkable considering its uncompromising occult themes, drawing from theistic Satanism and Sumerian religion, and equally uncompromising music, full of ferocious riffery and queasy leads. For many Nineties headbangers, this was their gateway to death metal, and what a gateway it is.
Like many great works of art, In Utero wasn't given the reverence it deserved when it arrived in 1993, two years after a noisy punk trio from Seattle unexpectedly became the new faces of rock & roll. Nirvana's third and final studio album didn't have another "Smells Like Teen Spirit" or "Come As You Are" in its ranks; rather, it's a ragged and painfully raw document of a generational voice coming apart at the seams, and a reflective work that features some of Kurt Cobain's most astute — and brutal — songwriting. Now, it's bittersweet allure is blindingly obvious.
Pearl Jam's 1991 debut, Ten, instantly made them the biggest new band in the world, second only to Nirvana. By 1993, they were so overwhelmed by fame that they refused to produce any music videos for its follow-up, Vs. — a ludicrous marketing plan in the eyes of record execs who recognized MTV as a chief launchpad for Pearl Jam's career. But Eddie Vedder and Co. didn't need any more hype, and Vs. still sold a record-breaking number of CDs in its first week of sales (nearly a million). The songs spoke for themselves, similar enough to the soul-bearing rock classicism of Ten but fanned out enough to not ring as carbon copies.
What a magical time 1993 was, when a song as weird and fucked-up as "My Name Is Mud," a funky, freaky tune telling the River's Edge-esque tale of two tweakers, one of whom ends up killing the other, could be an MTV hit. And when an album as twisted and surreal as Pork Soda, which contained said song, could debut in the Billboard top 10 and end up going platinum. Primus' third album was their darkest to date, a surreal carnivalesque side show touching on suicide ("Bob") and alienation ("Nature Boy") as well as the aforementioned homicide. 1993 gobbled it all up.
A supergroup of sorts featuring players from the NYHC scene — most notably, Gorilla Biscuits and Youth of Today's Walter Schreifels — Quicksand burst onto the scene with an explosive post-hardcore sound that has influenced everyone from Torche to the Deftones, the latter of whom would borrow bassist Sergio Vega for over a decade. They've never sounded better than on their scathing, noisy, hook-filled debut full-length, Slip. From band-defining opener "Fazer" to fiery closer "Transparent," it's post-hardcore perfection.
Chaos A.D. was a huge breakthrough point for Sepultura. The Brazilian mavericks decided to refurnish their sound on their fifth LP and major label debut, slowing down portions of their death-thrash riffage into groovy, gnashing power surges. Fusing death metal's intensity with the articulate musicianship of thrash and the pulverizing groove rhythms that Pantera used to dominate, Chaos A.D. was a defining metal record of its time. It still stands as undeniably one of Sepultura's finest achievements — if not their single best.
Sleep's hour-long composition "Dopesmoker" is their most iconic exhale, but Sleep's Holy Mountain is their most accomplished spread of songs. The second album from Matt Pike and his merry band of bongrippers is stoner-metal incarnate, a record that's so hot, humid and hazy that you can practically smell the flower pressed into the center of its eye-aching cover art. Between the sludgy thwack of "The Druid," the bluesy swagger of "Dragonaut" and the nail-digging crawl of "From Beyond," Sleep's Holy Mountain is potent enough to make a straightedge punk feel impaired.
At a time when grunge bands were a dime a dozen, Smashing Pumpkins proved themselves to be a silver dollar. Compared to their good-but-not-great debut, Gish, Billy Corgan's second record was a jawdropping masterpiece that spawned several radio hits while also pushing alt-rock to its most glorious, maximalist limits. Combining the most visceral tenets of grunge — gigundo power chords, Zeppelin-esque guitar heroics, lung-busting screams — with the breathy coos and lullaby melodies of shoegaze, Siamese Dream captured a level of heart-piercing tension and release that they've only matched once: on their next record, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.
TOOL have never been more terrifying than on their breakthrough first full-length, the relentlessly brooding Undertow. From the unnerving and controversial artwork to mercilessly dark songs like "Prison Sex" and "Bottom" (the latter featuring an inimitable guest turn by Henry Rollins), Undertow represents the encompassing vision of the band before they found any light at the end of the tunnel. While most TOOL die-hards will agree that it set the stage for a leap into even greater and much more transcendent heights, there's a reason why, for some old-school fans, this is the one.
More than just one of 1993's greatest albums, Bloody Kisses is one of the defining — and also hardest to define — heavy records of the Nineties. On their third LP, Peter Steele and Co. transformed themselves from hardcore edgelords into goth-metal auteurs, finding unlikely harmony between Sabbathian darkness and beatific psychedelia, and writing some of the most progressive music of Type O's era. Bloody Kisses is sexy, eerie, humorous, poignant, hooky and destructively heavy — as graceful as it is clobbering.
Judgment Night, the 1993 mystery thriller starring Emilio Estevez and Denis Leary, may not have been Oscar bait, but its soundtrack is gold trophy-worthy. The contributors list says it all, an utterly stacked pile of A-list rappers collaborating with gritty underground rockers: Slayer teaming with Ice-T, Helmet with House of Pain, Biohazard with Onyx, Sonic Youth with Cypress Hill. The list goes on, each pairing more confoundingly brilliant than the last. It's basically Anthrax and Run DMC's "Bring the Noise" — for an entire fucking album.