10 Best Metal Riffs of the 1990s
While the 1990s may not be held in as high regard as the ’80s when it comes to metal’s prominence, a look deeper into the decade proves that it produced some stellar music, not to mention some incredibly memorable riffs.
The decade was full of bands that did more than carry the torch; they kept the flame burning high and bright. Pantera laid down a groove like no other act before them, nu-metal was spawned from bands like Korn, and while not a pure metal band, Alice in Chains took on the heavier side of grunge. Here, we present the 10 Best Metal Riffs of the 1990s:
‘Dead Skin Mask’
Slayer‘s ‘Seasons in the Abyss’ is a moody album on the opposite end of the typical Slayer spectrum. Faster songs break up the tempo of what is an album dominated by mid-tempo. ‘Dead Skin Mask’ is one of those mid-tempo jams with an eerie guitar lead to boot. Known for creating chilling music through their feverish pace and lyrics, Slayer displayed their diversity by maintaining their trademark sound in slower songs like ‘Dead Skin Mask.’
‘Corporal Jigsore Quandary’
The evolutionary and pioneering goregrind turned death metal turned melodic death metal outfit Carcass are lauded for their riffing. ‘Corporal Jigsore Quandary’ is a song that all fans of the band can embrace. The unforgettable drum opening gives way to some savage rhythm riffing that is later textured by a bit of melody. While Carcass fans surely have their favorite riffs from different eras, ‘Corporal Jigsore Quandary’ says it all.
One of the most dynamic bands to come out of the 1990s was the politically charged Rage Against the Machine. Guitarist Tom Morello takes on an array of influences, including hip-hop, funk, fusion, and metal. His unique guitar playing has created some of the decade’s best music, especially when talking about the riffing on ‘Testify.’ While you can argue whether RATM are a metal band or not, ‘Testify’ has an undeniable metal groove that won’t leave your head for days.
Korn helped birth the nu-metal scene in 1994 with their eponymous debut release. The song ‘Blind’ starts things off, building up slowly to a riff that opened Pandora’s box to all things down-tuned and groovy. Within one minute, Korn had defined the genre on ‘Blind.’ Many have tried to imitate the band, but none are able to replicate the raw aggression this group had so early on.
‘Fear of the Dark’
The 1990s was a dark period for several of the traditional metal bands that dominated the ’80s. While Iron Maiden certainly had their missteps, they churned out what came to be a live staple and a fan favorite in ‘Fear of the Dark.’ The haunting lead sets up the mood perfectly, even more so when the entire crowd sings along with the riff, ringing in an even more sinister atmosphere. Watch the video from the band’s ‘Rock in Rio’ performance in 2001 for more convincing evidence.
‘Man in the Box’
Alice in Chains helped to blur the distinction between grunge and metal, taking a little from column A and a little from column B. The result was one of the most defining bands on the decade, in no small part due to the stomping riff in ‘Man in the Box’ off the band’s debut album ‘Facelift.’ Guitarist Jerry Cantrell’s riff blends perfectly with his wah-laden lead and Layne Staley‘s haunting vocals.
‘Hammer Smashed Face’
Cannibal Corpse wrote what many consider to be the greatest death metal song, ‘Hammer Smashed Face.’ When introducing someone to the genre, this is often the first song newbies will hear. It has all of the staples of death metal, including one killer riff. The hammer-on technique and chord playing alternate for one lethal combination, and guitarists seeking to play death metal flock to this riff as the first thing they want to learn, so they can play it over and over in their room.
‘Holy Wars…the Punishment Due’
We know what you’re thinking here: which riff from Megadeth‘s ‘Holy Wars…the Punishment Due’ comes in at No. 3 on the Greatest Metal Riffs of the 1990s? We can let you pick your favorite from this riff-fest of a song, but we’re namely talking about the one right after the intro bit. Dave Mustaine brought thrash to a new level with his technicality on ‘Rust in Peace,’ opening it up with ‘Holy Wars’ and helping to set the bar for heavy metal in the ’90s.
Firmly backing the adage of “less is more,” Pantera axeman Dimebag Darrell laid down one of the greatest riffs of all time. Simplicity is the key to ‘Walk,’ employing a simple hammer-on that pulls no punches and neither do the lyrics. Attitude was everything with Pantera and all Dimebag needed to do to get the blood boiling and the pit moving is heard right from the start on ‘Walk.’
Is there any metal riff from the ’90s more recognizable to people around the world than ‘Enter Sandman?’ Perhaps the most commercially played song in all of heavy metal, the Metallica riff and song are a stranger to very few. Closer Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees famously used the song as his entrance music, noting his lights out ability. The slow buildup in the beginning teases what is coming next before the riff literally explodes out to relieve the tension.