The 15 Best OPM Bands From the '90s
The ‘90s was one of the most prolific eras in Filipino music history. There was a steady stream of pop hits care of balladeers and divas playing on the airwaves, but the so-called OPM alternative rock explosion—an influx of Pinoy bands that took over the music scene—made room for then unsigned bands to gain mainstream popularity, play in sold-out gigs, snag major record label deals, and enjoy massive radio airplay. Inspired by foreign acts, homegrown bands normalized genres that were new to Filipino listeners.
Some might argue that this list shouldn’t even exist, that it might merely contain subjective comparisons which won’t sit well with others. But this isn’t about pitting bands against one another; it’s about highlighting their achievements and recognizing their contributions to the Filipino music landscape, regardless of genre.
The list includes bands that saw prominence and produced outstanding music in the ’90s, and some may have been formed earlier. It does not include bands that were formed in the '90s but were at their prime only in the decade that followed. The bands on this list are referred to as "'90s bands" by the majority, and often if not always associated with the '90s era.
After careful consideration and a painstaking review of their discography, bands were selected based on the following criteria: quality of work, skill, and overall talent (Was their original material from the ‘90s any good? Were they exceptional as songwriters/musicians? Would you consider them talented and were they recognized for their work?); sphere of influence (To what extent have these bands touched the lives of listeners and inspired future generations of musicians?); and legacy (Have these bands helped define the music from that era, OPM as a whole, and Pinoy pop culture in general? Can their songs be considered masterpieces or classics 10, 20, or more years after they were written?).
Ideally, there should be a healthy balance across all four criteria, and levels for each criterion should be off the charts. In some cases, a band’s standing in one criterion may be exceptionally high but barely performing in another. In fewer cases, it can be high enough to compensate for and even override the other, less promising factors. We won’t specify which is which.
This list is non-conclusive. If you must, feel free to disagree.
15| AfterImage and Introvoys
From 1992 to 1994, these two bands conquered the airwaves with hits like “Next in Line,” “Line to Heaven,” “Habang May Buhay,” and “Will I Survive.” Introvoys was both popular and commercially successful, and was even tagged as “The No. 1 Band in the Land” by a pop radio station. They were often compared with each other, neck and neck. AfterImage won the first NU Rock Award for Artist of the Year, as well as an Awit Award for Tag-Ulan, Tag-Araw, their second album. And while their popularity waned with the emergence of new bands in the mid-'90s, they had their place in the sun, in their own time.
14| Color It Red
The year 1994 saw the release of Color It Red’s successful debut album, Hand Painted Sky, which yielded “I Need You Here,” a sweet yet catchy rock ballad; the title track “Hand Painted Sky,” an edgy manifestation of band’s early musical influences; and “Paglisan,” that song that you almost automatically hear during convoys to cemeteries—a sad, moving and beautifully written farewell that has been ingrained into the collective consciousness of Filipinos and remembered on the most unfortunate of occasions. Moreover, Color It Red, through its three founding members, bore a much-needed, refreshing female presence in a testosterone-dominated band explosion.
13| Side A
Like a few other bands on this list, Side A was founded in the '80s but figured significantly in the local music scene and hit peak popularity only in the '90s—thanks to the thousands of high school ingenues and co-eds who came in swarms and shrieked in pleasure during concerts. Side A maintained the pop sensibility quite a few bands formed in the '80s were known for, delivering original compositions and owning their remakes of classic OPM ballads. Timeless hits like “Forevermore” and “Set You Free” were among the band’s gig staples, as well as exceptional covers of Labuyo’s “Tuloy Pa Rin Ako” and Joey Albert’s “Tell Me.” Side A was in no way part of the burgeoning local alternative rock movement, and its success helped stabilize the platform for other pop, as well as RnB, bands like Freestyle and South Border.
Pu3ska was a grand spectacle—a pleasurable riot—on stage. The band even has two Best Live Act trophies from the NU Rock Awards to prove it. With the offbeat elements and the myriad of instruments involved, ska is never easy to pull off but Pu3ska did it so well that Pinoys learned to embrace it. “Manila Girl” made ska accessible to the masses and Tagalog songs like “Sirang Romantiko” declared the Philippines as fertile breeding ground for ska. More homegrown ska and ska-punk acts emerged as a result, presumably inspired by Pu3ska’s success. Meanwhile, a subculture was formed with ska, punk, and reggae gigs on rotation, and fans showing up in ska-inspired fashion to dance.
11| Sugar Hiccup
Sugar Hiccup was '90s dream pop—yet another deviation from the riff and distortion driven alternative rock sound people were so hooked on at the time. However, it got the angst-ridden part right. There is so much emotion in the band’s breakthrough single “Five Years,” a haunting soliloquy that builds up over ascending musical patterns and has no decipherable lyrics except for one line towards the end. The song is a cut from the album Oracle, which also includes the relatively more radio-friendly track “Moden De.” Sugar Hiccup’s music has always been appealing to audiophiles with discerning taste. The band may not have as many followers as its alternative and pop rock-churning counterparts, but what it lacked in mass appeal, it compensated for in the form of unquestionable musical talent.
10| True Faith
True Faith perfected the formula for creating radio-friendly, easily digestible, endearing, yet cool love ditties, and proof of that is the song “Perfect.” People are still playing or trying to figure out the chords to acoustic guitar ballads “Muntik Nang Maabot Ang Langit,” “Kung Okay Lang Sa ‘Yo,” and “Huwag Na Lang Kaya”—proof of the timeless appeal of True Faith’s music. A look at the band’s discography will reveal continuous releases over the years, which hints at True Faith’s efforts to remain prolific by producing their own albums, albeit independently. Now if that isn’t faith…
9| Hungry Young Poets/Barbie’s Cradle
The story is that Barbie Almalbis was not allowed to use the name Hungry Young Poets when she left the group, so she formed a new band with a new name: Barbie’s Cradle. As she played new songs with her new band, Almalbis continued to perform the songs she wrote while still with HYP, such as “Torpe” and “Firewoman.” The beautifully written songs in Barbie’s Cradle’s eponymous album seemed even more personal, the most popular of which were “Goodnyt,” “Tabing Ilog,” and “The Dance.” Barbie’s Cradle was a breath of fresh air in a music scene dominated by men, and an inspiration to female singer-songwriters who would eventually form their own bands.
8| Parokya ni Edgar
It might be hard to take Parokya ni Edgar seriously due to the very nature of their songs, but you have to hand it to them: they have evolved from a bunch of carefree high school students who used tongue-in-cheek humor during performances, to one of the most successful OPM bands to emerge from the '90s. They managed to bridge listeners who were on opposite sides of the spectrum for socio-economic reasons. The masa, middle-class, and the elite listened to Parokya’s songs, watched gigs together, and enjoyed every minute.
Parokya ni Edgar used satire to tell sob stories (“Buloy”); bring novelty to the mundane (“Inuman Na”); and create superheroes. On occasion, the band could melt or break hearts (“Harana,” “Halaga"). People loved their songs and loved them even more on stage.
Sandwich joined the '90s rock scene a little later in the game but made up for lost time almost immediately. “Butterfly Carnival” was the band’s breakthrough hit. Like the other tracks on the maiden album, it sounded different from the band’s more recent material. Guitar parts were reminiscent of indie-rock American band Pavement—something you wouldn’t normally hear in the band’s current sound. Marc Abaya was still the vocalist and Mong Alcaraz hadn’t joined Sandwich yet.
More than two decades and nine albums later, Sandwich continues to be a force in the local rock scene, producing albums and playing gigs left and right, and inspiring others to do the same.
Most people remember Teeth for “Laklak” and “Prinsesa” and nobody could argue that these were anthems for the young, beer-guzzling, love-striken/lovelorn generation. Fans just couldn’t get enough of the band’s alternative-grunge feel and infectious lyrics, and hearing the songs’ opening riffs these days can still make middle-aged folk feel they could rush into a mosh pit one more time. Yes, “Laklak” and “Prinsesa” are easily Teeth’s claim to fame—and maybe “Shooting Star,” too—but what not as many people know is that the band recorded quite a few other songs that are as good or might even be better than the two instant hits. It’s just sad that when the band inevitably turned a different leaf, showcasing depth, skill, and maturity in follow-up albums Time Machine and I Was a Teenage Tree, people weren’t as receptive. Laklak ka nang laklak, mukha ka nang parak.
Short-lived and not nearly as prolific as the other bands on this list, but this band came out with that one studio album that added a unique dimension to '90s OPM. P.O.T. covered all the bases for what made a great band with songs that stuck thanks to profound songwriting and musical arrangements; and the monster presence of the enigmatic Karl Roy and the rest of his skilled super-bandmates. They made funk and Pinoy rock accessible to everyone. They owned “Yugyugan Na” like it was theirs in the first place and made straight up classics like “Piece of This,” “Fishcake,” and “Panaginip.”
Social and political themes and sincere yet amusing depictions of the Filipino condition made Yano comfortingly appealing to listeners. “Banal na Aso, Santong Kabayo” speaks of holier-than-thou hypocrites; “Esem” and “Tsinelas” are songs on less-than-ideal, sobering realities; “Senti” is a love song on unrequited love. Yano’s songs reminded you of what was wrong with your life and you loved hearing it because everything is just poetic and melodic and the storytelling is clear. And those stories? They still happen in real life.
You don’t have to be a fan to acknowledge what a good band Wolfgang was in its heyday. The band released one breakthrough album after another—from the self-titled debut in 1996 and 1997’s Semenelin, to 1999’s Serve in Silence. Hard-hitting hit after hit, they came. The jolting “Arise” and “Halik ni Hudas.” “Center of the Sun” and “Cast of Clowns” which are relatively more relaxed than the others. The haunting “Mata ng Diyos” and the slow-burning yet satisfying “Atomica.” Wolfgang has won Album of the Year, Artist of the Year, Listener’s Choice, Best Live Act awards, as well as Vocalist, Drummer, and Bassist of the Year trophies from the NU Rock Awards. Albums reached platinum status and Semenelin and Wurm were released internationally. Wolfgang impressed listeners, live audiences, and even critics. You could listen to Wolfgang albums in their entirety and be tempted to say, “walang tapon,” so long as you like your rock music hard and heavy; and if you don’t, you’d still have to admit the band’s pretty damn good.
From the day the initial lineup of the band was formed years ago, Rivermaya was destined for greatness. The members were selected to be part of a supergroup, not a bunch of kids who one day decided they would form a band even if they could barely do scales on a guitar. Young as they were, there was an understanding that they were all good and they ought to perform. Cream of the crop. And when the first solid lineup composed of Bamboo Mañalac, Rico Blanco, Nathan Azarcon, Perf de Castro, and Mark Escueta came together because other members of the original lineup had to leave, it triggered a steady stream of beautifully written songs varying in character, but with common traits: being catchy, endearing, and radio-friendly. From odes and rock ballads to what sounded like non-secular hymns. A song that made you feel beautiful. A song that reminded you it was time to let go—or not. That made you jump and dance in a crowded venue, but whose message brought you close to tears. So many stories were folded into Rivermaya’s songs, it was possible more than one of them were yours. Some were pools deep with emotion while others were just easy to relate to. It didn’t matter if the song was written in English or Filipino—it was almost always certain that it would be a hit among fans and critics.
Self-explanatory why it’s impossible not to include the Eraserheads in this list, but let’s try to put it in perspective anyway. Who else has been as successful and prolific, has had an intense social and cultural impact, and touched the lives of listeners and succeeding generations of musicians? And yes, they won plenty of awards, too.
Other bands from the '90s and succeeding eras have cited the ‘Heads as an inspiration. It has been almost three decades since the band released its first album and yet people still lose their shit when they get to cuss aloud to “Pare Ko.” “Spoliarium” is still intriguing, “Alapaap,” controversial. “Magasin” and “Ang Huling El Bimbo” still breaks your heart a little while “With a Smile” makes you smile a little. And what’s that song about wanting to go on a road trip kahit walang kotse?
There were happy stories and there were stories that normally wouldn’t be told. But the Eraserheads made them so easy to understand and appreciate, you’d wish you’d met all the characters in their songs, too. These songs have become an integral part of Pinoy pop culture, resonate with listeners today, and without anyone intending to, have been embedded into our consciousness as a people.