10 essential groove metal albums

Emerging from thrash metal’s restless latter years, groove metal certainly sounded like the future when bands like Pantera and Machine Head changed the game in the early ‘90s. Unfortunately, like a lot of mercurial subgenres, it remains hellishly tricky to pin down.

Nonetheless, groove metal’s swift evolution certainly left its mark on metal in general, and there’s a strong argument to be made that records like Sepultura’s Chaos A.D., Fear Factory’s Demanufacture and others by Helmet, Biohazard and Meshuggah also played a part in defining it. But if you want the real, no-holds-barred groove metal experience, here are ten prime examples of the genre at it streamlined, uncompromising best. There will, we absolutely guarantee it, be riffs.

Pantera – Vulgar Display Of Power (1992)

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The groove metal blueprint may have been slammed down on Cowboys From Hell (opens in new tab), but it was Pantera’s sixth studio album that defined the genre once and for all. Without the sizzling interplay between brothers Vinnie Paul (opens in new tab) and Dimebag Darrell (opens in new tab), metal may never have got its groove on in quite the same way. Every single song on Vulgar Display Of Power (opens in new tab) has at least two riffs that will make you want to run through a brick wall. That’s the groove metal effect.

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Exhorder – The Law (1992)

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We could waste a few weeks arguing whether it was Pantera or Exhorder (opens in new tab) that truly first coined the groove metal sound (NB: it was Exhorder), but even the most devout Dimebag acolyte would have to admit that both of the New Orleans (opens in new tab) crew’s first two studio albums rip like absolute bastards (and last year’s Mourn The Southern Skies was even better!). The Law is more muscular and dark than seminal debut Slaughter In The Vatican, but you can take your pick from either for groove metal destruction at its most vicious.

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Machine Head – Burn My Eyes (1994)

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Pantera aside, no one defined groove metal with more singular intensity than Machine Head. Widely hailed as a classic upon its release, Burn My Eyes (opens in new tab) had all the necessary swagger and precision, but it also boasted absurd levels of none-more-punk energy, a very obvious debt to hardcore hip-hop /and/ some of the biggest hooks metal had ever heard. You know what, we thought at the time, this lot might have a future…

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Mary Beats Jane – Mary Beats Jane (1994)

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The opening band on Machine Head’s first European tour as headliners, Mary Beats Jane introduced the world to the raging fury of Peter Dolving, later of The Haunted. With a healthy dose of lurching hardcore thrown into their skull-rattling hybrid sound, the Swedes were clearly on much the same musical page as their US counterparts, but as you can hear on the likes of Grind and Hollowhead they were really US groove metal’s weird, volatile cousins.

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Skinlab – Bound, Gagged & Blindfolded (1997)

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Endorsed by Machine Head and very much from the same school of riff-driven thought, Skinlab emerged fully-formed on their furious and deeply gnarly debut. Songs like When Pain Comes To Surface may have lacked the anthemic bite of Davidian or Walk, but there was an relentlessness to the Bay Area band’s attack that made them one of the definitive groove metal bands of the ‘90s. Second album Disembody: The New Flesh (opens in new tab) is equally great, by the way. 

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Dearly Beheaded – Chamber Of One (1997)

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Briefly tipped as British metal’s next big things, Dearly Beheaded have been largely erased from our homegrown scene’s history, presumably by people with no ears. Both of the band’s albums are unsung gems, but Chamber Of One is a particularly monstrous and triumphant display of groove metal might, with a strong melodic core and plenty of atmosphere and dark charm thrown in. They should have been huge, but they were dropped by their label and split shortly after this album’s release. Fuck’s sake.

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Pissing Razors – Where We Come From (2001)

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Occasionally dismissed as Pantera/Exhorder clones, El Paso’s Pissing Razors simply went for the groove metal jugular every time, eschewing experimentation in favour of a bludgeoning torrent of unstoppable riffs and throat-shredding refrains. Where We Come From remains their finest work: an absurdly infectious eruption of balls-heavy head-nodders, all powered forward by the machine-like Eddy Garcia’s dagger-sharp drum patterns.

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Devildriver – The Fury Of Our Maker’s Hand (2005)

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Dubbed the ‘California Groove Machine’ by their diehard fans, Devildriver (opens in new tab) are part of the metal furniture at this point, but it was their neck-wrecking second album that first sealed the deal. Constructing their thunderous riffing assault around pummelling, pit-inciting grooves was a masterstroke: while many of their US peers chased the shiny metalcore dollar, Devildriver were skilfully updating something a lot fucking heavier.

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Byzantine – And They Shall Take Up Serpents (2005)

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Many metalheads will point to Lamb Of God (opens in new tab) as the rightful heirs to the groove metal crown, but they’re not the only band to fly the flag in more recent times. Fellow Virginians Byzantine have earned a fearsome reputation by warping groove metal to their own nefarious ends, resulting in an often epic and adventurous take on the genre. Still out there making people’s necks ache, Byzantine hit an initial peak of potency on this, their exhilarating second album.

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Trepalium – H.N.P. (2012)

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There’s something uniquely eccentric about French crew Trepalium’s riffs: audibly influenced by groove metal and a healthy dose of Meshuggah, they’re simply more bendy and wonky than anything that has gone before, as showcased on the deranged and infectious H.N.P. Like a jazz-driven take on Pantera’s stripped down riff assaults, songs like Heic Noenum Pax and Let The Clown Rise are designed get heads banging /and/ toes tapping.

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Dom Lawson has been writing for Hammer and Prog for 14 intermittently enjoyable years and is extremely fond of heavy metal, progressive rock, coffee and snooker. He listens to more music than you. And then writes about it.