1998 was the year nu metal finally boiled over into a cultural phenomenon, in no small part thanks to the blockbuster success of Korn's third album Follow The Leader. But even as dreadlocks and baggy jeans became the look du jour, the metal world was changing and rallying after grunge had effectively wiped the board clean at the start of the decade.
Monster Magnet transformed from fuzzy-eyed stoners into leather trousered arena kings via Powertrip, Refused reinvented hardcore with the The Shape Of Punk To Come, and a bunch of American-Armenians named System Of A Down dropped their self-titled debut album on an unsuspecting public. These 20 albums represent the very best of what 1998 had to offer.
Amon Amarth – Once Sent From The Golden Hall
It would take Amon Amarth more than a decade to truly kick into gear, but their 1998 debut did a great job of laying down the band’s template. A furious blend of death metal brute force, epic melodies and, crucially, Viking imagery, songs like Ride For Vengeance and the crushing, eight-minute Victorious March heralded the arrival of a unique musical force.
Extra points are awarded for another eight-minute highlight, Amon Amarth itself. Every great band should have a theme song, particularly one as atmospheric and thunderous as this one. From this point onwards, the Swedes’ trajectory was pointing skyward.
Blind Guardian – Nightfall In Middle Earth
Never knowingly under-the-top, Blind Guardian went Full Prog on their sixth studio album. An extravagant concept piece based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion (which also gave prog legends Marillion their name), Nightfall In Middle Earth was wonderfully ambitious.
Following up 1995’s widely acclaimed Imaginations From The Other Side was never going to be easy, but BG frontman Hansi Kürsch was plainly on a roll at this point, and from the explosive pomp of Into The Storm, to the epic crescendos of A Dark Passage, Nightfall was easily identifiable as another stone cold classic. It still doesn’t get much more sumptuous (or bonkers) than this.
Clutch - The Elephant Riders
From its quirky, iconic artwork to the cartoonish squall of its production, The Elephant Riders was the perfect follow-up to the trippy and rambling Clutch. Showcasing another side to the band, while still delivering another glut of ingenious mutant blues riffs, it probably should have made them international megastars. People are stupid.
Nonetheless, the third Clutch album rules hard for the entirety of its 51 minutes. It begins with the deeply funky title track, the turbocharged stoner rock of Ship Of Gold and the cracked-mirror blues of Eight Times Over Miss October. And then it continues to be awesome until the dying strains of low-slung jam The Dragonfly.
Converge – When Forever Comes Crashing
Three years after the release of When Forever Comes Crashing Converge would rip up the rule book completely, but here they were still just toying with it. But their second album is still a dizzy, whirlwind of a record. With a production job from Today Is The Day’s Steve Austin and featuring High On Fire man Matt Pike on backing vocals, songs like Conduit begin to really capture the band that Converge were about to become.
Cradle Of Filth – Cruelty And The Beast
Coming up with ideas to follow Dusk… must have been a right old arse-ache, but Cradle Of Filth delivered with Cruelty And The Beast. A concept album based on Hungarian blood countess Elizabeth Báthory, the Filth’s third LP wrapped Dani’s sadistic storytelling into a fully blown narrative; with the legendary Ingrid Pitt voicing Báthory and the epic scope of Bathory Aria tucked into this hour-long bloodbath, it was never going to be anything less than extraordinary.
Musically it strips away much of the ethereal ambiance of Dusk… in favour of a more direct approach, with Dani’s Eric Cartman grunt entering the mix for the first time and tunes like Beneath The Howling Stars proving that Cradle could thrash with the nasties.
Devin Townsend - Infinity
Coming off the back of the personal Ocean Machine and Strapping Young Lad’s crushing City, Devin Townsend's Infinity was a hybrid of both styles, with an adding helping of surreal mania. Taking inspiration from Broadway musicals – in particular Phantom Of The Opera on Christeen – it was by turns bombastic, arresting, danceable, silly and awe-inspiring. A window into the psyche of one of metal’s most interesting figures.
Bruce Dickinson – The Chemical Wedding
With fellow Iron Maiden alumnus Adrian Smith by his side and a batch of songs that were as brutal as they were unashamedly epic, Bruce’s fifth solo album combined old school musicality with new school sonic oomph.
Taking lyrical and artistic inspiration from 19th Century poet and painter William Blake and featuring crushing anthems like King In Crimson and The Tower, it remains the heaviest thing Bruce has ever been involved with. And one of the best.
Death - The Sound Of Perseverance
1998’s The Sound Of Perseverance was Death’s final album – and Chuck Schuldiner’s last as a vocalist. Ever the innovator, Schuldiner took death metal into prog territory – a fitting swansong.
Full of awkward time changes and weird keys, it inspired a generation of slightly off-kilter metal musicians who didn't quite fit in to go forth and create with scarce regard for the boundaries of genre or the limitations of a prescribed sound. Death still don't really get the props they deserve for pushing metal's next generation into experimentation and innovation like few other bands managed.
Fear Factory - Obsolete
Evolving the revolutionary sound they perfected on 1995’s classic Demanufacture, Fear Factory beefed up their sound, nodding towards the ongoing nu metal movement with the likes of Shock and moshpit fodder Edgecrusher while simultaneously branching out into more ambient realms. Album lynchpin Resurrection remains an anthemic classic – and then, of course, there’s that Cars cover.
Iron Monkey - Our Problem
Sludge had been predominantly an American art form until these Nottingham yobboes cornered it in an alley, roughed it up and pissed all over it. Apart from their visceral streak of urban nihilism, tempestuous chemistry and surreal, self-deprecating black humour, their approach was distinguished by the full-force delivery of much-missed frontman Johnny Morrow.