Following is a list of what Angelic Warlord considers the top 50 Christian metal and hard rock albums of the nineties. The same criteria I used to compile a similar list I put together for the eighties applies here: As my personal favorites, the selections in question mirror the Angelic Warlord style guidelines. Hence, well-known thrash acts from the time such as Tourniquet, Believer and Vengeance Rising are not included.
I also still gravitate towards excluding (with a couple notable exceptions) independent releases due to their obscurity and difficulty to obtain. Only albums released on vinyl or CD received consideration for potential inclusion.
Note that we continue to use the term ‘Christian’ subjectively in that the list includes not only what are commonly accepted as ‘Christian bands’, but also those from the time that fell under the ‘band of Christians’ and ‘mainstream act with Christian members’ categories.
The eighties are widely regarded as the ‘golden age’ of metal and rightly so when considering the foundational bands to have come out of the period: Stryper, Barren Cross, Bloodgood, Saint, Whitecross and a host of others. Unfortunately, the nineties found the scene taking a ‘grungy turn for the worse’, with many popular groups either disbanding or altering their sound to align with the more modern trends of the time. The good news, however, is that much of the momentum from the eighties carried over into the first half of the nineties, as the likes of Bride, Deliverance, Guardian and Ken Tamplin released what many consider career defining works.
It also saw a host of talented new bands arrive that possessed the ability to compete with the best of them: Holy Soldier, Veni Domine, The Brave, Novella and Die Happy put out at least two albums highly regarded by critics and fans alike. It was also a period of the ‘one and done’ group that recorded a single promising album only to disappear, as Red Sea, Recon, LoveWar and Fear Not aptly attest. The burgeoning grunge movement of the time, disappointingly, curtailed any potential forward progress of said acts either way.
One could suggest, as a result, that the talent base of the nineties was much deeper in comparison to the eighties in that it combined the veteran bands from the former decade with the new arising from the latter (referencing the acts mentioned in the previous paragraphs). Accordingly, one could also state that even though the metal light shined for a brief period in the nineties that the labels got it right this time in that they signed the most deserving acts. This contrasts with the eighties, a decade that could be described as the ‘one that got away’ in light of the talented bands the labels of the time passed over.
The upshot is that the overall quality to the product improved in the nineties. Production was better overall, in that you had veteran acts that already knew their way around in the studio, while many of the newer received the stronger label support (noting Holy Soldier and many of the albums on Pakaderm). Packaging also took the next step with the better cover art (remember several of the eighties releases on Intense that consisted of the bands logo over a black backdrop?) and multi-page mini booklets as opposed to a simple two page insert. Whereas in the eighties you might pay up to $18 for a CD with only 9 songs and 35 minutes of music (including a couple skip buttons), nineties albums were (for the most part) more consistent and likely to include 10 and 11 songs none of which were skip worthy.
All things added up, in my opinion, some of the best Christian metal and hard rock came out of the decade; I found it the greater challenge to put together the nineties list as opposed to that from the eighties as a result. Consider, for instance, how many of the nineties honorable mentions would potentially be included on the corresponding eighties list. As a matter of fact, at times I felt like a head coach deciding on the final roster of a football team- in other words, I had to make some very tough cuts!
50. Rez - Twenty Years
Double live album that includes one song from each Rez (Rez Band, Resurrection Band) studio album released at the time. TY also proves a significant upgrade in comparison to the group’s disappointing 1984 live offering Live/Bootleg.
49. Lightmare - The Fool
Epic power metal from Germany: Exuberant vocals, anthem choruses, keyed up double bass and neo-classical overtures. Life is good.
48. Tony Palacios - Epic Tales Of Whoa!
ETOW represents first and only instrumental rock release from renowned Guardian guitarist. Variety adds to its appeal, encompassing guitar shred, hard rock, jazz fusion and bluesy moments.
47 (tie). David Zaffiro - In Scarlet Storm
Former Bloodgood guitarist second solo project revels in commercial melodic rock and AOR accented by his delectable soulful vocal abilities. One cannot help but wonder if Bloodgood might have taken a similar musical heading if Zaffiro had remained within its ranks.
47 (tie). Petra - Beyond Belief
BB serves up a collection of catchy arena rockers from veteran Christian rock act. My favorite of the Schlitt era Petra releases (the track “Creed” is nothing less than inspired).
46. 20/20 Blind - Never Far
Groove driven melodic metal and hard rock that walks a fine line between Extreme and Stryper. Vocalist Mike McNeely is vastly underrated.
45. XT - Extended Empire
XT stands out as the heaviest album in which Leviticus guitarist Björn Stigsson has participated. Bonus points for the presence of talented vocalist Sonny Larsson.
44 (tie). The Brave - Trust
Gritty and driving blues based hard rock from second The Brave release. “Dirty Water” and “Can’t Let The Devil Win” are as good as it gets.
44 (tie). The Brave - Battle Cries
The Brave debut takes a commercial hard rock and AOR heading. Yes, melodic hooks galore but also soaked in a bit too much polish in terms of production.
43. Love Life - Goodbye Lady Jane
Love Life delivers streetwise hair metal featuring Larry Worley (Fear Not) on lead vocals. You have to see beyond the somewhat thin production to find the hooks but they are present (in abundance).
42. Siloam - Sweet Destiny
SD finds international super group playing up high-energy melodic metal. Quality songwriting and polished production are pluses.
41. Ransom - Soul Asylum
Soulful vocalist Lisa Faxon and underrated shredder Tony Ortiz display abilities on second eighties metal Ransom release. Lanny Cordola (Magdallan) handles production duties, while Oz Fox (Stryper) makes a guest appearance.
40. Die Happy - Die Happy
Roster on initial Die Happy offering includes all members of Vengeance Rising but with the extraordinary Robin Basauri on lead vocals. The result is groove based bluesy metal heaven.
39. Ken Tamplin - An Axe To Grind
First Ken Tamplin solo release stands out as a musical extension of his Shout days: Straight on melodic metal and hard rock but not as commercial, although better produced. Also notable is the eye catching cover art.
38. Bride - Scarecrow Messiah
Good but not on the same level as bluesy hard rock predecessors Kinetic Faith and Snakes In The Playground (SM includes a few too many filler tracks). Elefante production combines for just the right amount of grit and refinement.
37. M Pire - Chapter One
Guitar hero Joshua Perahia heads in the heavier (and bluesier) direction in comparison to previous releases. Perahia has rightly gained renown as ‘the fastest guitarist in the world’.
36. Bloodgood - All Stand Together
Bloodgood at its most polished and commercial, AST comes across as a musical extension of the group’s third album Rock In a Hard Place. Features best production of the prime Bloodgood era.
35 (tie). Kreyson - Angel On The Run
Traditional metal mixed with speed and power metal from Czech Republic based group debut. AOTR is a bit heavier and faster than follow up effort Crusaders.
35 (tie). Kreyson - Crusaders
Sophomore work from Kreyson gives rise to improved production (not to mention better album artwork) than AOTR while taking the more melodic heading. High-end vocalist Ladislav Krizek distinguishes himself on both albums.
34. Novella - A Liquid Earth
ALE maintains the melodic hard rock leanings of Novella first offering One Big Sky. While quite good, ALE does not match OBS in terms of continuity and overall great songs.
33 (tie). Stephen Patrick - Red Rein
Long out of print and hard to find independent solo release from Holy Soldier front man takes a classic rock influenced hard rock heading. “Run Like A Devil” could easily have been the tenth track on Holy Soldier sophomore album Last Train.
33 (tie). Holy Soldier - Last Train
Immaculate eighties melodic metal from one of the best in the business. Yes, I like self-titled Holy Soldier debut better, but LT is not to be overlooked either. “Gimme Shelter” is a cover of the Rolling Stones classic.
32. Teramaze - Tears To Dust
Classy melodic metal and hard rock from Australia based group. TDT contrasts with the speed metal and thrash of debut Doxology not to mention featuring upgraded production.
31. Xalt - History
A melding of metal and hard rock with technical groove underpinnings characterize History. A decidedly step forward for the group in comparison to debut Under The Ruins.
30. Atomic Opera - For Madmen Only
Atomic Opera presents with artsy metal and progressive rock with a strong King’s X influence, albeit a bit heavier. It should come as no surprise as a result that producer Sam Taylor has worked extensively with King’s X.
29. Modest Attraction - Divine Luxury
DL sets itself apart with its seventies influenced hard rock leanings. One of the first projects to feature vocalist Christian Liljegren, who is better known for his work in Narnia, Divinefire and Audiovision.
28. Deliverance - Stay Of Execution
A musical transition for Deliverance in abandoning its melodic speed metal and thrash roots for the melancholic technical metal of SOA. “Ramming Speed” ranks with the groups best songs ever. Another notable cut is the Daniel Amos cover “Horrendous Disc”.
27. Die Happy - Volume II
I prefer the aptly entitled Die Happy second album from taking the next step in terms of songwriting and production while sustaining the groovy blues based metal leanings. Greg Chaisson (Badlands) replaces Roger Martin on bass.
26. Seventh Avenue - Tales Of Tales
One of my favorites from the German power metal act reflects the more melodic heading in comparison to earlier works. Gritty vocalist Herbie Langhans helps give the group its recognizable ‘earthier’ sound.
25 (tie). King James - The Fall
One of the better projects from renowned guitarist Rex Carroll- or at the very least the most musically consistent (in comparison to his work with Whitecross). TF mixes some darker, grungy aspects with the artists eighties melodic metal sensibilities. It does not get much better than “Pale Beyond The Door”.
25 (tie). Eden - Fan The Flame
FTF represents another highly acclaimed work from Rex Carroll, this time joining forces with vocalist Joe Dokken (no relation) to create melodic metal classic. Due to a lack of promotion, the album never received the acclaim it deserved (FTF was later re-issued twice following the turn of the century).
24 (tie). Mastedon - Lofcaudio
Former Kansas vocalist John Elefante features first class melodic rock and AOR on second Mastedon release. Lofcaudio takes the same ‘all star’ approach as debut It’s A Jungle Out There.
24 (tie). Fear Not - Fear Not
Some of the finest melodic hard rock you will hear outside Guardian and Novella at the top of their game. The Pakaderm production crew is at its refined best within the genre in question.
23. LoveWar - Soak Your Brain
Groovy to funky to bluesy to progressive hard rock with lower register vocals characterize first and only LoveWar work. SYB is for the King’s X, Galactic Cowboys and Atomic Opera crowd.
22. Fourth Estate - See What I See
One of my favorite instrumental rock acts, Fourth Estate breaks out of the one dimensional guitar shred mold prevalent at the time on SWIS. Plenty of variety is highlighted in the process, including jazz, fusion, blues, hard rock and all out jamming.
21. Resurrection Band - Lament
Rez Band at its artistic best on swan song concept album based upon “one man's disillusionment with the harshness and cruelty of life and his eventual realization that things will not change without his own spiritual redemption”. King’s X guitarist Ty Tabor ably handles production.
20. Haven - Your Dying Day
Classic US power metal act Haven entices with its front to back musical continuity, with lone detraction the somewhat thin production. Vocalist Kevin Ayers offers a unique quality with his raspy and emotional tinged vocals.
19 (tie). Recon - Behind Enemy Lines
Recon gained initial renown for pair of tracks it put on the California Metal II compilation but hit its stride with power metal of Behind Enemy Lines. Opening tracks “Lost Soldier”, “Ancient Of Days” and “Choose This Day” are as good as it gets as far as the genre is concerned. The group takes a similar high-end vocal approach as contemporaries Sacred Warrior.
19 (tie). Sacred Warrior - Obsessions
Obsessions might not be the best from Chicago based power metal act (that designation belongs to debut Rebellion) but features some of its finest power/progressive metal material ever (“Obsessions”, “Kamakazi”, “Remember Me” and “Mad Man” to name a few). Lone drawback is some thinness to production.
18. Zaxas - Zaxas
A complete front to back US power metal effort from Zaxas lone offering: Consistent songwriting, strong production and seasoned musicianship. Vocalist Dale Anthony lends a slight Dio-ish quality.
17. Bride - Kinetic Faith
A new musical heading for Kentucky based group as brothers Dale (vocals) and Troy (guitars) Thompson explore blues based hard rock territory for first time. “Everybody Knows My Name” is one of the more immediately identifiable songs from the decade.
16. Deliverance - Weapons Of Our Warfare
Melodic speed metal and thrash Deliverance sophomore effort is widely considered a classic, particularly in light of choice cuts “23”, “Slay The Wicked” and “Solitude”. A video for the albums title track received rotation on MTV’s Headbangers Ball. WOOW is also a concept album based upon spiritual warfare (a theme upheld in the eye catching cover art).
15 (tie). Impellitteri - Eye Of The Hurricane
Rob Rock and Chris Impellitteri are widely considered the quintessential melodic metal vocalist and guitarist combination. On EOTH, the two deliver perhaps the overall heaviest Impellitteri release.
15 (tie). Impellitteri - Screaming Symphony
SS borders on speed metal from the frenetic tempo set on third Impellitteri full length: Rob Rock soars with the best of them, while Chris Impellitteri showcases his virtuoso soloing abilities. Yes, a bit short at just 33 minutes but every moment stands out.
14. Alice Cooper - The Last Temptation
Stellar songwriting on straight on rock to driving hard rock concept album based loosely around Alice’s own life and ultimate return to Christianity. TLT is the precursor to turn of the century releases Brutal Planet and Dragontown, both of which also reflect Cooper’s faith.
13. Saviour Machine - Saviour Machine
Perhaps the most accessible and immediately recognizable album from renowned Southern California based theatrical Gothic progressive rock act. Front man Eric Clayton has one of the more distinctive emotive voices within the genre.
12. Galactic Cowboys - Galactic Cowboys
It can be problematic pigeonholing Galactic Cowboys, a group that has received recognition for running the gamut from progressive to thrash (and all things in between). Others have described them (accurately I might add) as ‘King’s X meets Metallica’. Regardless, one cannot deny the unique greatness that is the Galactic Cowboys self-titled debut.
11 (tie). Guardian - Fire & Love
Soulful vocal performance of newcomer Jamie Rowe helps lend to the Guardian turn towards melodic hard rock. Ten as fine a songs within the genre combine with refined production for what many consider groups leading effort.
11 (tie). Stryper - Against The Law
The musically strongest of the prime Stryper albums (in my opinion) exhibits the consistency group strove for in the past but did not always obtain. The Stryper penchant for covers starts with its rendering of the Earth, Wind & Fire hit “Shining Star”.
10. King’s X - Faith Hope Love
My love affair with King’s X continues, noting the pair of top ten selections the group received as part of my corresponding list for the eighties. FHL picks up where Gretchen Goes to Nebraska leaves off with its progressive-hard-rock-bluesy-groove-driven-funk-based but ever creative sound.
9. Deliverance - Learn
Second Deliverance post thrash effort finds the group at its moody and subdued technical metal best. “Sanctuary” is a fantastic Daniel Amos cover.
8. Impellitteri - Answer To The Master
ATTM stands out as my favorite of the 90’s era Impellitteri releases, with deciding factor being the extra dose of accessibility imbuing its material. “Warrior” is a classic if there ever was one, while “I’ll Wait” is perhaps the best ever Impellitteri ballad.
7 (tie). Magdallan - Big Bang
Creative, eclectic and experimental (all in the most positive sense) are first words that come to mind regarding progressive hard rock collaboration between Ken Tamplin and guitarist Lanny Cordola. Songwriting is stellar and production over the top huge.
7 (tie) Tamplin - Tamplin
Self-titled ‘green’ album (referencing cover art) challenges Magdallan for finest artistic achievement (and overall heaviest work) from Ken Tamplin. Yes, songwriting and production is top notch, but do not discount the choice vocalist and guitarist duo of Tamplin and Scott Van Zen.
6. Shadow Gallery - Tyranny
Tyranny is widely regarded as one of the most noteworthy progressive metal albums ever. A group with mostly Christian members has also delivered a deeply political concept release.
5. Bride - Snakes In The Playground
SITP proves the quintessential peak of Bride’s blues based metal and hard rock era- everything else produced by the group (while quite good) struggles to hold up in comparison. Too many great songs to mention but standouts include “Rattlesnake”, “Would You Die For Me”, “Fallout, “I Miss The Rain”, etc.
4. Veni Domine - Fall Babylon Fall
A progressive epic doom metal masterpiece from Sweden with high-end vocals and lengthy songwriting achieves a well-deserved top five selection. Choice cuts include “Wisdom Calls” and “O Great City”, but twenty-minute Book of Revelation themed epic “The Chronicle Of The Seven Seals” tops them all. The fact production is merely very good as opposed to great stands in the way of a higher ranking.
3 (tie). Red Sea - Blood
Vocalist Robin Kyle Basauri (Die Happy) is back, this time with guitarist Chris Howell (Fear Not) and bassist Greg Chaisson (Badlands) to create impassioned bluesy metal meets hard rock on first and only release. “Tears Of Joy” was penned by Joshua Perahia and later recorded for the debut of his M Pire project, Chapter One.
3 (tie). Novella - One Big Sky
OBS ranks with the best commercial hard rock and AOR I have heard, proving you can mix faith with a definitive artistic and creative statement. “Do We Just Surrender”, “Running Home” and “Fire Eyes” should have been radio hits.
2. Holy Soldier - Holy Soldier
The highest professional standard manifests itself on self-titled Holy Soldier debut, from not just songwriting and production but (and every bit important) packaging as well. It is the crime of the century “Eyes Of Innocence” was not a top ten hit (and that the album did not go multi platinum).
1. Veni Domine - Material Sanctuary
Yes, better than FBF (if that can be imagined), MS tightest up production while maintaining (if not upping) quality to songwriting in same epic progressive doom metal format. Orchestral, operatic and classically influenced but always inspired, MS ranks with my all time favorite albums.
Angelica - Rock, Stock & Barrel
Solid Angelica third album I rate a notch below the self-titled debut.
Barren Cross - Rattle Your Cage
RYC includes some excellent material but also a few too many filler tracks.
Bride - Drop
Bride at its acoustic based and laid back best.
Cordola, Lanny - Electric Warrior, Acoustic Saint
A bit eclectic and offbeat at times, but there is a lot to like about mostly instrumental solo project from Magdallan guitarist.
Deliverance - River Disturbance & Camelot In Smithereens
Three top 50 selections and 2 honorable mentions should make Deliverance fans happy.
Eternal Ryte - World Requiem
Good but not quite great melodic metal (it would have made my eighties Top 50 list if that is any consolation).
Guardian - Miracle Mile
I know somebody would complain if I did not include this.
Jet Circus - Step On It
Heavy groove and funk based rock from former Leviticus member’s bassist Ez Gomér and vocalist Terry Haw.
King’s X - King’s X
A list of this sort would not be complete with only one King’s X album!
Legend - Legend
I like Legend, but Fear Not, Guardian and Novella do the melodic hard rock thing better.
Nouveaux - Beginnings
Rez - Civil Rites
CR stands out as another quality work from bluesy hard rock veterans.
Scheetz, Jeff - Woodpecker Stomp, Dig! & Pawn Shop
Three very good instrumental rock albums I rate a close second to Fourth Estate and Tony Palacios.
Whitecross - In The Kingdom
ITK feature some great songs and best production on a Whitecross album, but somebody needed to tell Rex Carroll and company the syrupy ballads do not work and that a rap-rock tune with D.O.C. members might not be a good idea.
Missed The Final Cut
Crystavox - The Bottom Line
I did not warm up to Crystavox until the 2010 re-mastered and partially re-recorded Roxx Records compilation The 20 Year Mix.
Dreamer - Full Metal Racket
Bassist Dan McCabe is much better off when making music with Daniel Band-mate Tony Rossi (and visa versa).
Jerusalem - Prophet
How hard does a band need to try to sound exactly like U2?
Lordian Guard - Lordian Guard & Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God
Musically stellar epic metal but production leaves somewhat desired.
Narnia- Long Live The King
Many consider this the best Narnia album but I digress: Too many keyboards!
X-Sinner - Peace Treaty
The polished Elefante production clashes with the high-energy sounds of X-Sinner
Whitecross - High Gear
Rex Carroll era Whitecross had pretty much run its course at the time of High Gear.