By 1992, rock subgenres had well and truly come of age. And the record-buying public loved it – grunge, industrial, shoegaze, rap, and good old-fashioned metal all ruled the charts, airwaves, media and concert venues.
And while countless newcomers broke new ground and blazed fresh trails, several veteran acts seemed inspired, as well, regaining their focus and issuing their best releases in years.
Since 2022 marks the 30 year anniversary of this momentous year, now is as good a time as any to take a look back and analyze the most memorable rock albums of a year that leaned heavily on the electric guitar.
Disclaimer: only studio albums released in ’92 qualify. So, no compilations, soundtracks, unplugged and/or concert albums were permitted in this rundown…
30. Babes in Toyland – Fontanelle
One of the most explosive, rage-filled rock releases of ’92 was the sophomore full-length from Babes in Toyland, featuring singer/guitarist Kat Bjelland. Brace yourself when committing to such soothing lullabies as Bruise Violet and Handsome & Gretel.
29. Body Count – Body Count
The most controversial rock release of ’92 was the self-titled debut from Body Count, thanks to the inclusion of a tune titled Cop Killer (which was eventually deleted from the album). Rapper Ice-T’s first foray into metal was made easier by the capable guitar duo of Ernie C and D-Roc the Executioner, especially on the album’s best-known track, There Goes the Neighborhood.
28. White Zombie – La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Vol. 1
Combining B-movie and horror flick-isms with metal while dressed as post-apocalyptic bikers, White Zombie certainly stood out in the then-largely flannel-wearing crowd. And Jay Yuenger’s simple yet effective guitar parts fit Rob Zombie’s shouted vocals and lyrical imagery perfectly – particularly on Thunder Kiss ’65 and Black Sunshine.
27. Nine Inch Nails – Broken
Guitar might not always be the first instrument you think of when it comes to electro-rockers Nine Inch Nails. But there’s no denying that the band’s next release after their breakthrough, Pretty Hate Machine, rocked ferociously… and NIN mastermind Trent Reznor who provided guitar throughout.
26. Prince – Love Symbol
Although not as guitar-heavy a release as say, Purple Rain, Prince’s 14th studio effort had its share of guitar-in-the-spotlight moments. Particularly, the solo-heavy The Morning Papers and the clean, jazzy solo in the otherwise X-rated rap-funk romp, Sexy MF.
25. Sleep – Sleep’s Holy Mountain
Black Sabbath were still very much in business in ’92. However, their sound had moved away from the detuned ’n’ doomy sonics of their early ‘70s triumphs. Luckily, Sleep’s sophomore effort helped fill the vintage Sab void – most noticeably with Matt Pike’s plodding riffage throughout the album-opener, Dragonaut, which helped kick off the stoner-rock movement.
24. L7 – Bricks Are Heavy
Not all grunge bands hailed from Seattle – case in point, Los Angeles’ L7. And they couldn’t have picked a better time to issue the best LP of their career – which features the chug-chugging riffing talents of Donita Sparks and Suzi Gardner on the album’s best-known tune, Pretend We’re Dead.
23. Catherine Wheel – Ferment
Catherine Wheel’s debut full-length, Ferment, was a true sonic snapshot of shoegaze at its gaziest. Guitarists Rob Dickinson and Brian Futter continually strum away and hypnotize the listener on such spaced-out gems as Black Metallic and Texture.
22. Ride – Going Blank Again
While grunge mania was sweeping the globe in ’92, it wasn’t the only style aligned with alt-rock that gained steam – shoegaze was also on the rise. And that year, Ride issued one of the genre’s classics, Going Blank Again, which features the sometimes spacey/sometimes strum-y guitar stylings of Mark Gardener and Andy Bell – showcased on standouts Leave Them All Behind and Twisterella.
21. Sonic Youth – Dirty
Sonic Youth’s first release in the post-Smells Like Teen Spirit world wasn’t the big commercial breakthrough that some predicted it would be. But tunes such as 100% and Sugar Kane showed that the oddly tuned, badly battered guitars of Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo and Kim Gordon remained as noisy and experimental as ever.
20. Rollins Band – The End of Silence
Having turned heads on the inaugural Lollapalooza tour in ’91 (which was no mean feat, as it was headlined by a at-the-peak-of-their-powers Jane’s Addiction), the Rollins Band offered up their heaviest LP yet with The End of Silence.
Andrew Weiss’s Butler/Burton-esque distorto-bass and Chris Haskett’s nifty six-string noodling contribute to what made tunes like Low Self Opinion, Obscene, and What Do You Do such good fun.
19. Ministry – Psalm 69: The Way to Succeed and the Way to Suck Eggs
Admittedly, these industrial metal trailblazers never featured guitar solos galore in their tunes. But the rapid-fire precision riffing on TV II remains awe-inspiring, as does such headbanging fare as Jesus Built My Hotrod and Just One Fix, with three gents credited as providing guitar: Louis Svitek, the late Mike Scaccia, and leader/founder Al Jourgensen.
18. Iron Maiden – Fear of the Dark
Iron Maiden’s ninth studio album had a decidedly '80s sound to it – which was surprising, as its predecessor, 1990’s No Prayer for the Dying, was a back-to-basics attempt, and most rockers circa ‘92 were trying to capture a live vibe in the studio.
Nevertheless, the album spawned several Maiden classics – featuring the talents of bassist Steve Harris and guitar duo Dave Murray and Janick Gers – including such epics as the title track and Wasting Love.
17. Black Sabbath – Dehumanizer
The first Sabbath album to feature Ronnie James Dio behind the mic in over a decade sounded like a band reinvigorated and refocused. And the respective guitar and bass work of Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler didn’t disappoint on Computer God and I. Unfortunately, Dio would depart once again not long after the album’s release.
16. Extreme – III Sides to Every Story
If you expected Extreme to issue an album full of More Than Words-style ballads on their third release, this was proven to be a woefully false assumption with their three-sided offering in ’92. And while most shredders who first arrived in the ‘80s were consciously dialing down their fretboard fury, Nuno Bettencourt shines on the Rest in Peace solo and riff breakdown in Cupid’s Dead.
15. King’s X – King’s X
Metal full of melody and harmony seemed to be growing increasingly extinct as the ‘90s pulled further away from the ‘80s. But the self-titled album by King’s X – their fourth overall – proved to be a welcome exception, and Ty Tabor’s Elite Strat simply sings on the solos in Black Flag, Prisoner, and The Big Picture.
14. Gary Moore – After Hours
After getting a blues makeover on his successful 1990 release, Still Got the Blues, Gary Moore wisely continued in this direction on its followup, After Hours. And his beloved “Greeny” Les Paul was up for the challenge once more, especially on Cold Day in Hell and Since I Met You Baby (the latter of which features special guest BB King).
13. The Black Crowes – The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion
Anyone longing for bluesy, retro rock-sounding tunes during the '90s flocked to Black Crowes – especially on their sophomore effort, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion. Newly welcomed guitarist Marc Ford – who joins forces with rhythm man Rich Robinson – gets to show his stuff on Sometimes Salvation and Sting Me, in particular.
12. Kiss – Revenge
For much of the ‘80s, Kiss more or less followed musical trends rather than standing out from the crowd as they had done in the ‘70s. But on their first studio offering of the ‘90s, Revenge, Kiss's sound was absolutely refocused and reinvigorated – especially on the gloriously demonic Unholy, which features one of Bruce Kulick’s best-ever solos. Easily one of the top non-make-up era Kiss albums.
11. Joe Satriani – The Extremist
In the late ‘80s, instrumental guitar shred albums were all the rage. But this was certainly not the case by ’92. Regardless, Satch stuck to his guns and issued one of the strongest albums of his career – which spawned one of his best-known tunes, Summer Song, as well as such standout guitar extravaganzas as the title track and Motorcycle Driver.
10. Helmet – Meantime
If you were to boldly claim that the importance of the (repetitive) riff replaced the significance of soloing in rock by '92, you could point directly to the sophomore effort by Helmet, Meantime, as exhibit A. Just listen to guitarists Page Hamilton and Peter Mengede grind it out on such standouts as In the Meantime, Iron Head, and Unsung – while Hamilton shouts most of his vocals a la an irate drill instructor – to hear the proof.
9. Stone Temple Pilots – Core
Although Stone Temple Pilots would go on to become expert songsmiths – covering a wide range of stylistic ground with their sophomore effort, 1994’s Purple, and subsequent releases – on their mega-hit debut, Core, they kept things pretty darn grungy for the most part. And Dean DeLeo’s Les Paul ignites such riff-led STP classics as Sex Type Thing, Wicked Garden, and Plush.
8. Blind Melon – Blind Melon
Some write off Blind Melon as one-hit wonders owing to their sunny little ditty, No Rain. They are mistaken. Guitarists Christopher Thorn and Rogers Stevens do an expert job of weaving together loose, jammy, and funky guitar lines throughout their self-titled debut – particularly within Tones of Home, I Wonder, Deserted, and Time.
7. Beastie Boys – Check Your Head
For most of the ‘80s, the Beastie Boys were known primarily as party hearty rappers. But with the arrival of their third full-length overall, they picked up their instruments once more, as they had done years earlier as a hardcore punk band.
With Ad-Rock/Adam Horovitz on guitar, the band offered up punchy funk-rock grooves on Gratitude, Funky Boss and Pow.
6. Megadeth – Countdown to Extinction
In the wake of Metallica's The Black Album, many metal bands refined their sound and approach. And perhaps sensing they had taken the complex thrash of Rust in Peace to the max, Megadeth managed to formulate the perfect balance of songwriting and riffing – courtesy of the Dave Mustaine/Marty Friedman guitar tandem – particularly on such classics as Symphony of Destruction and Sweating Bullets.
5. Dream Theater – Images and Words
With mainstream rock going quite minimalist in ’92, this did not seem like the perfect time for epic, challenging prog metal. But Dream Theater proved this hypothesis wrong by unleashing their classic breakthrough, Images and Words, which introduced many to the great John Petrucci – showing there was a new shred sheriff in town.
4. Rage Against the Machine – Rage Against the Machine
Rock guitar had been taken in every conceivable direction by ’92, right? Wrong. Tom Morello transformed his custom “Arm the Homeless” guitar into a true rhythm machine on Know Your Enemy, something akin to a DJ/record scratcher on the solo to Bullet in the Head and a theremin on the Rage classic, Killing in the Name.
3. Alice in Chains – Dirt
How could Alice in Chains get darker and heavier than their debut, Facelift? Somehow, they found a way on Dirt. As evidenced by the songs’ lyrical themes, hard drugs had taken hold of the band, and apparently, fueled the album’s creation. And, ultimately, they'd also prove to be the original lineup’s undoing. Nonetheless, Jerry Cantrell demonstrated he was one of alt-rock’s top riff-meisters on Them Bones, Rain When I Die, and Dirt, and a ripping soloist on Angry Chair.
2. Faith No More – Angel Dust
Faith No More could have easily played it safe on their highly anticipated follow-up to The Real Thing, and offer up a bunch of Epic rewrites. Instead, they created an all-encompassing masterpiece, which throws curveballs from beginning to end. And Jim Martin’s mirror-plated Flying V is spotlighted in the “anti-shred solo” of Be Aggressive, the ugly riffing of Jizzlobber, and the Nashville twang of RV.
1. Pantera – Vulgar Display of Power
For a spell during the ‘90s, metal looked to be in danger of extinction. Pantera was the antidote, as they unleashed the most potent album of their career, Vulgar Display of Power.
And a large part of what made Vulgar so powerful was the late/great, Dean ML-wielding Dimebag Darrell, who shows why he is considered one of metal’s all-time great guitarists with hair-raising solos on Walk and This Love, and relentless riffing on Mouth for War and A New Level.