The Top 20 best albums of 1998

Korn - Follow The Leader

It was the album that took Korn from metal’s Great Pretenders to international megastars. The OGs of nu metal brought hip hop into the mix on their third album, and the result was the scene’s first true blockbuster. The chaos – notably a predilection for partying and a lot of cocaine – which surrounded the making of this album is legendary now. 

Remarkably, in the midst of all this mayhem, a classic album was somehow taking shape, with Jonathan writing some of his deepest and darkest lyrics, like Freak On A Leash and Pretty – the horrific tale of the rape and murder of a baby, prompted by his time working in a coroner’s office. As the title suggests, Follow The Leader was intended as a raised middle digit to the copyists, proof that Korn couldn’t be left in their own wake.

Meshuggah - Chaosphere

Ditching the vestiges of thrash for mind-bending technicality, Swedish alchemists Meshuggah's third album ushered in a new era for metal.

Upping the heaviness and technicality, New Millennium Cyanide Christ and Neurotica are still undeniably catchy despite sounding like a horde of sentient robotic vikings on a murderous berserker frenzy. Listen to the end of closer Elastic and see whether your brain will be transported to a higher plane or simply dissolve under the strain.

Metallica – Garage, Inc.

After a three-album run of Metallica, Load and Reload had seen them evolve from thrash metal’s greatest band to an arena rock behemoth, Metallica set about doing what they do best: blindsiding everyone with something completely unexpected. 

That “something” turned out to be Garage, Inc. – a monstrous double-disc collection of covers of seminal rock and metal songs that had inspired the Four Horsemen over the years. That there’s no real ‘point’ to Garage, Inc. is part of the appeal: this is the sound of four musicians kicking out the jams purely for fun, and as such, for all that it’s indulgent, it’s a hard album to dislike.

Monster Magnet - Powertrip

For the most part, stoner rock is seen as the province of the more weed-friendly US west coast. New Jersey’s Monster Magnet had their own, more diesel-fuelled approach, and Powertrip was the first record to prove that stoner music could sell – in its millions. 

Dave Wyndorf and co. didn’t so much tone down their excessive jam-led style as allow it freedom within defined songs. Crop Circle, Space Lord and Goliath And The Vampires are brilliant examples of how to create a sense of adventure. It's also the point at which Wyndorf’s long-game vision came to fruition: this was epic space rock with Las Vegas bling.

Nile – Among The Catacombs Of Nephren-Ka

Death metal was in a state of bewildered flux in the late ‘90s, but expert help was at hand. Led by powerhouse guitarist Karl Sanders, Nile took the genre to new levels of brutality, infusing their manic sound with the ambience, iconography and intrinsic eeriness of ancient Egypt. 

Their first full-length, Among The Catacombs Of Nephren-Ka features much shorter songs than would become the norm on Nile records, but there is no denying the feral power of dark blitzkriegs like Barra Edinazzu and the timeless Ramses Bringer Of War. Alongside the likes of Hate Eternal and Cryptopsy, Nile were bringing death back from the dead.

Opeth - My Arms, Your Hearse

Wholeheartedly embracing the warm tones and sepia-tinted atmospheres of prog for the first time, Opeth came of age on their third album. The arrival of a stable rhythm section, Martins Lopez and Mendez, certainly helped, but the main contributory factor was the exponential growth in Mikael Åkerfeldt’s songwriting.

From the widescreen whoosh of April Ethereal to the crackling embers of sombre closer Karma and its grand attendant outro, Epilogue, these songs sizzled with intelligence and soul, as Opeth audibly transcended their death metal roots and entered an entirely new musical world that they would effortlessly claim as their own. And, in the fiery barrage of Demon Of The Fall, the Swedes had created their first bona fide live anthem; a timeless piece of metallic mastery that continues to be a highlight of Opeth gigs today.

Refused - The Shape Of Punk To Come

Refused only reached their creative peak when they hit the skids. By 1998 – as portrayed in the documentary Refused Are Fucking Dead – this fine but fairly unremarkable Swedish hardcore band were burnt out and disillusioned by months on the road playing to tiny audiences. 

And so, as a final raised finger to the world before they broke up, they created the thrillingly audacious The Shape Of Punk To Come, smashing together smart political polemic, punk rock, metal, poetry, earsplitting noise, techno and a whole lot of righteous fury. It was, at the time, a truly unique game-changer. It’s a testament to its brilliance that, after the band split, its legend grew until they eventually returned in 2012 to a worldwide hero’s welcome. Utter genius.

Rob Zombie - Hellbilly Deluxe

White Zombie were 90s players, but once Rob went solo, everything was amped up to make the definitive 90s rock club floor-filler album. Much to the singer’s surprise and delight, his debut solo record out-sold all of White Zombie’s albums and remains his best-selling release to date, producing two hit singles – Dragula and Living Dead Girl – and establishing him as a successful artist in his own right. 

As the mainman himself pointed out, “There’s not a long track record of people having more successful solo careers after leaving bands, especially in the hard rock field. It’s pretty much only Ozzy.” Well, Zombie followed in the footsteps of The Prince Of Darkness and smashed it out the park.

Soulfly - Soulfly

Max Cavalera hadn't even stepped off the plane after his shock exit from Sepultura (at the height of their powers, no less), but he'd already got a vision for the future. His new group Soulfly quickly recruited guests ranging from Chino Moreno to Fred Durst, Christian Olde Wolbers and Benji Webbe.

Taking the tribal-beats-meets-nu-metal motif that had made Roots so seminal, Soulfly showed there was plenty in store for Max post-Sepultura, the likes of Eye For An Eye, Bleed and Tribe still sounding visceral and cutting edge today. With the full support of Roadrunner, Soulfly's debut broke into the Billboard 200 in the US, while making appearances in the top 20 in the UK, Belgium, France and New Zealand. 

System Of A Down - System Of A Down

Even alongside the gang of misfits that came of age in the unruly era of nu metal, System Of A Down always stood out from their peers. Just as the genre was getting predictable, it took four batshit-crazy Armenian-Americans to rewrite the rulebook with help from the legendary Rick Rubin.

Indeed, their eccentric mix of prog, thrash, hardcore, funk, rap and Middle Eastern music took the best elements of the sub-genre – angular riffs, odd time signatures and manic vocals – and twisted them into something even more strange and compelling.

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