Then, in 1999, I heard that founder Jeff Waters was putting the Alice in Hell lineup back together, and I was intrigued. The result was Criteria for a Black Widow, featuring three-fourths of the band responsible for their classic debut (bassist Wayne Darley didn’t return). Though my reaction to this record wasn’t quite as profound as the one to Alice in Hell, I was still impressed. This album brought the power back to the band and gave us some great new Annihilator tunes in the style of their first two records.
The dark, tough “Punctured” is the centerpiece of the record delivering a gut-punch bridge and chorus. “Back to the Palace,” a nod to the first two records, brings back the circus-y hook melodies, and “Loving the Sinner” is just a straight-up hard driving thrasher.
Sadly, the reunion was short-lived, but it did give us one hell of a record.
Overall, 1999 was kind of a weak year, I think. Here’s the rest of the field:
2. Zakk Wylde, Book of Shadows. It took me a long time to come around to this record. The cover had a very Black Sabbath vibe, and I picked it up expecting some heavy, gnarly metal. Instead, I got a country/Southern-rock flavored collection of mostly acoustic songs. I initially hated the record, and it was many years later before I finally came around to it. “Sold My Soul” is now one of my favorite Wylde songs from any of his projects.
3. Overkill, Necroshine. I was not a big Overkill fan growing up. They were one of those bands that kind of existed on the fringes of my taste. I didn’t dislike them when I heard them, but there was rarely a song that made me want to go out and pick up a record. The hard rock-style melodies of the title track and “Stone Cold Jesus” won me over to this record.
4. Testament, The Gathering. Testament’s output during the late 1990s remains highly underrated. While 1997’s Demonic was perhaps a little strange for fans, The Gathering saw a pretty much all-star lineup joining vocalist Chuck Billy and guitarist Eric Petersen, including legendary Death guitarist James Murphy, Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo and Death/Iced Earth bassist Steve Digiorgio. The result is a dark, fast, energetic thrash piece.
5. Hank III, Risin’ Outlaw. Hank III’s debut record was a far cry from what he would become, featuring many songs penned by other people, most notably fellow neotraditionalist Wayne Hancock. With the possible exception of a rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Cocaine Blues,” it’s III’s tamest outing by far. Still, some of what’s to come creeps in here and there.
6. Nevermore, Dreaming Neon Black. This concept record is a bit darker and slower than other Nevermore albums, but it’s one of my favorites from their impressive catalog.
7. Danzig, Satan’s Child. After heavy experimentation with electronic sounds on blackacidevil, Danzig starts to drift back toward his metal roots here. There’s still a lot of electronic stuff, but his version of “Thirteen,” which he wrote for Johnny Cash makes it worth owning this record.
8. Iced Earth, Alive in Athens. Iced Earth live and at their best. What more is there to say.
9. WASP, Helldorado. This is the last WASP album to really catch my attention. After the industrial experimentation of KFD and some heavy-handed concept work, Blackie Lawless returns to his hard rock roots for a simple, rocking record.
10. Angel Dust, Bleed. This record was a little darker and thrashier than previous release Border of Reality. It’s, in my opinion, the best release from an underrated band.
11. Metallica, S&M. There’s some crap here, but I admit to enjoying hearing the symphonic take on some of the older tunes.
12. Lacuna Coil, In a Reverie. The record that introduced us to Lacuna Coil and Cristina Scabbia, still the best female voice in metal.
13. Buckcherry, Buckcherry. I have a love/hate relationship with Buckcherry. This album of old school hard rock was just what I needed at the time, but the inane hit “Crazy Bitch” that I heard incessantly a few years ago kind of ruined them for me.
14. Sevendust, Home. Sevendust’s second record was good, though not nearly as good as their debut, but it was the last album they released that caught my attention.
15. Quiet Riot, Alive and Well. This pick is more out of nostalgia than a good record for me. It’s the reunion of the Metal Health lineup, which was one of my favorites as a kid.
Other 1999 records to check out: Amon Amarth, The Avenger; In Flames, Colony; Lillian Axe, Fields of Yesterday; Opeth, Still Life; Seven Witches, Second War in Heaven; Soilwork, The Chainheart Machine.