The times, they were a-changin'. Put it down to post-nu metal burnout, the emergence of new scenes, or bands trying to make sense of a drastically changing geopolitical climate in the post-9/11 landscape, but alternative music was in a state of flux in 2002. Nu metal was rapidly falling out of fashion – though not entirely gone – and labels scrambled to nail the Next Big Thing, filling the charts with indie, post-hardcore, metalcore and pop-punk in the process.
While each of those genres had been steadily building momentum in the years prior, with pop-punk in particular having enjoyed renewed popularity thanks to NOFX, The Offspring and Green Day, 2002 was a breakout year for the bands who would define those genres for the post-millennial landscape. Whether it was Shadows Fall, 36 Crazyfists and Killswitch Engage reshaping metalcore into a more rock club-friendly form, or pop-punk positively exploding around Simple Plan, Bowling For Soup, Good Charlotte and New Found Glory, the borders of heavy music were about to change for good.
And that's to say nothing of the bands operating away from the safety of scenes. Opeth's Deliverance saw the prog metal masters capitalise on the success of 2001's Blackwater Park with an ambitious double-album concept that cemented them as one of metal's most formidable creative forces. Elsewhere, European power metal was rallying its support behind the likes of Dream Evil and Hammerfall, the dark days of the 90s seemingly forgotten as Dragonslayer and Crimson Thunder made songs about warriors, dungeons and dragons cool again. Kind of.
These were wild times: Johnny Cash was covering Nine Inch Nails on the last album released in his lifetime - American IV: The Man Comes Around, Rancid's Tim Armstrong was doing shampoo commercials (Transplants' Diamonds And Guns remains a banger, corporate rock or no) and Bon Jovi released their last classic-sounding album, Bounce. Even ska – the critically reviled scrouge the 90s punk revival – was making a comeback of sorts, Reel Big Fish's Cheer Up! and Spunge's The Story So Far gatecrashing the radio on both sides of the Atlantic. Altogether, it is testament to the 'anything goes' state of play the industry was in as a new decade got fully underway.
While the below list is by no means an entirely comprehensive run-down of 2002's best offerings – as we've outlined, there was a lot going on, meaning excellent, but somewhat obscure, records like Favez's From Lausanne, Switzerland and Mclusky's Do Dallas couldn't make the cut – we've trawled the annals of history to pick out 22 of the most important albums released in 2002.
1. Audioslave - Audioslave
A supergroup in the truest sense of the word, Audioslave's premise – Rage Against The Machine fronted by powerhouse former Soundgarden vocalist Chris Cornell – offered a creative rebirth for two of the most acclaimed forces in 90s alt-rock. The band's eponymous debut album did little to dampen enthusiasm, leaning hard on colossal 70s rock riffs while giving Cornell's rock star pipes a platform to truly shine after the more muted efforts of Down On The Upside and Euphoria Morning.
Catapulted into the top 10 of the Billboard 200 in the US, within a month of its release Audioslave had been certified gold by the RIAA, reaching triple platinum status in 2006. With colossal singles like Cochise, Show Me How To Live and What You Are leading the charge, it's little surprise that Audioslave's first record was a hit, the album's bombastic, somewhat nostalgic take on stadium rock still sounding fresh and exciting some 20 years on from release.
2. Murderdolls - Beyond The Valley Of The Murderdolls
With Iowa, Slipknot had taken death metal inspired blast-beats to the top of the charts, affirming themselves as the biggest new thing in metal. But the band were also at breaking point however, with the decision to take time out about the only thing that stopped them from murdering each other. Drummer Joey Jordison found the perfect way to blow off steam with Murderdolls, his new project combining a love for horror movies with Misfits-style horror-punk, worlds away from the intense pressure cooker of his main band.
Murderdolls' debut Beyond The Valley Of The Murderdolls largely revolved around re-worked songs from vocalist Wednesday 13's past acts, but was no less brilliant for it. Risque, macabre humour was the order of the day and proved to be a hit, albeit more in the UK where the album scraped into the Top 40. The likes of 197666 and Dead In Hollywood remain firm favourites today, proof of the talent gathered in the band.
3. Red Hot Chili Peppers - By The Way
The return of guitarist John Frusciante on 1999's Californication marked a second creative and commercial peak for Red Hot Chili Peppers, launching the band to superstardom. The band affirmed this status with 2002's By The Way, a commercial behemoth that topped charts around the planet – though was denied a top spot in the US by Nelly's Nellyville.
Frusciante's return marked a stronger stylistic focus on alt-rock guitars to balance out the band's usual funk rock assault, perfectly accentuating the more personal and reflective lyrical content provided by Anthony Kiedis. Though admittedly some of the lyrics were... nonsensical ('Steak knife/card shark/Con job/boot-cut'), the sheer success of songs like Universally Speaking, Can't Stop and the title-track confirmed that the Chilis were stronger and more stable than they'd ever been.
4. Killswitch Engage - Alive Or Just Breathing
2002 was a breakthrough year for metalcore. The genre's roots had been built around hardcore punk and abrasive noise, but by 2002 metalcore was ready to go mainstream, Killswitch Engage helping usher in the new revolution. Alive Or Just Breathing effectively re-shaped the metalcore sound to something more palatable, keeping in the hefty beatdowns and punk energy whilst courting radio play in the post nu-metal landscape.
My Last Serenade remains possibly the definitive Killswitch anthem (challenged only by The End Of Heartache), but the likes of Numbered Days and Life To Lifeless here show Alive Or Just Breathing wasn't entirely pinned on one single, instead representing the fullness of what early Killswitch could do. The album reached No. 37 on the Billboard Heatseekers charts and shifted over 114,000 copies in the US, showing that even if nu metal was grinding to a halt, the metal scene wasn't about the leave a vacuum.
5. Hundred Reasons - Ideas Above Our Station
Hundred Reasons were already building serious momentum before they released their debut album, earning accolades like 'Best New Band' even at EP stage. Ideas Above Our Station didn't disappoint – an explosive post-hardcore and rock concoction, the album was positively packed with anthems (I'll Find You, Falter, Silver) and achieved widespread success when it climbed to No. 6 in the UK music charts.
The band's rapid ascent put them at the head of a new breed of British rock that included future notables like Hell Is For Heroes, Biffy Clyro, Funeral For A Friend and Reuben, effectively offering a home-grown alternative to the sounds flooding in from the US. Though Hundred Reasons didn't get to achieve the international acclaim they deserve, Ideas Above Our Station remains an iron-clad classic, reflected in the band's decision to tour the album for its 20th Anniversary in February and March 2022.
6. Glassjaw - Worship And Tribute
Glassjaw's debut album Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Silence had established them as one of the brightest new forces in US post-hardcore. The album's brutal emotional candour – while tinged with misogyny – effectively laid the template for a legion of bands to lay their own failed romances bare in the following years.
An acrimonious split from former label Roadrunner pushed the band into the arms of Warner Bros. and their follow-up release Worship And Tribute peaked at No. 82 on the Billboard 200. Working with producer Ross Robinson, Glassjaw were said to be trying to 'destroy ADIDAS rock' – somewhat ironically considering Robinson had worked with most of the bands in the first place. While Everything... established the band's core post-hardcore sound, its chunky production still left it closer to that world than they might have been comfortable with. Conversely, Worship And Tribute was pure Glassjaw from top to bottom, chaotic in the right places (Tip Your Bartender, Mu Empire) but also reflective enough on the likes of Ape Dos Mil and Must've Run All Day to show the band's scope.
7. A - Hi-Fi Serious
Suffolk rockers A went through a curious transformation either side of the millennium, shifting from a harder pop-punk inspired sound on 1999's excellent A Vs Monkey Kong to a decidedly more nu-metal friendly stomp for lead single Nothing on 2002's Hi-Fi Serious. It wasn't a complete shift – the elements had always been there, and songs like Something's Going On kept the original A spirit alive – but it was enough to earn the band a sudden upswing in popularity that even saw Nothing break into the top 10 of the UK singles charts.
Hi-Fi Serious itself made it into the albums charts at No. 18, long overdue commercial vindication for a band who had been criminally overlooked in the mid-to-late 90s brit rock scene. While it may not have massive singles like Buck Rogers or Just The Way I'm Feeling, Hi-Fi Serious remains a fun and fascinating insight into the British rock scene's amorphous identity at the turn of the millennium: not entirely sucked into the nu metal void, but also unable to completely extricate itself from the wave of American-made scenes that emerged in the post-grunge landscape.
8. Korn - Untouchables
With nu metal clearly shuffling past its sell-by date, it made sense that the genre's biggest artists would jump ship and look to expand their horizons. Deftones had got well ahead of the game with 2000s White Pony, Slipknot following suit the following year with Iowa, both bands ditching the nu metal framework for something altogether more experimental and ambitious. Even Korn, one of the genre's founding pillars, were about ready to jump ship.
2002's Untouchables saw Korn unshackle themselves from the genre they helped shape, doubling down on their heaviest elements whilst also indulging a sense of eccentricity with gothic and post-punk turns that would signpost further genre exploration over the subsequent 20 years. Rather than being punished for transgressing, Korn climbed to #2 in the US charts, held off top spot only by Eminem's landmark The Eminem Show.
9. The Distillers - Sing Sing Death House
By 2002 a new age of pop-punk had begun. The likes of Sum 41, Bowling For Soup and Good Charlotte took clear cues from acts like Green Day, The Offspring and NOFX who had broken through to the mainstream in the mid-to-late 90s, but largely sidestepped the questions of authenticity that had dogged their forebears, ditching hardcore allegiances to break big with radio-friendly anthems. The Distillers were anathema to this; wearing their hardcore punk influences on their sleeves, the band were a barely contained ball of vitriol that single-handedly proved the original spirit of punk lived on and could still win over the masses with the right collection of songs.
Though production values on Sing Sing Death House were undeniably higher than on The Distillers' self-titled debut, the album sounded no less vital nor anarchic for it. Opener Sick Of It All captured Brody Dalle at her venomous best, snarling lyrics that covered everything from school shootings to eating disorders, while songs like City Of Angels showed the band could write massive anthems without diluting their core sound. The album managed to reach No. 29 on the Billboard Top Independent Albums, while the song Seneca Falls was featured on Tony Hawks Pro Skater 4 (effectively the platform for discovering punk and hardcore for an entire generation), signalling that The Distillers had managed to break into the mainstream without losing their souls in the process.
10. Foo Fighters - One By One
With 1999's There Is Nothing Left To Lose, Foo Fighters had leaned heavily on their most melodic inclinations, stripping away the punk elements that bolstered their first two albums and instead openly courting rock radio after the success of the likes of Everlong and My Hero. One By One was in many ways the band restoring balance, a harder record that put their rockiest elements front-and-centre again.
But as Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins would tell Classic Rock in 2018, One By One was also a fractious time in the band's history, Hawkins' drug use forcing him to "get his shit together". Entirely scrapping an early version of the album, Foo Fighters went back to the drawing board and wrote one of their most riff-friendly albums. Whether this was inspired by Grohl's decision to join Queens Of The Stone Age for their Songs For The Deaf tour is open to speculation, but either way the final version of One By One helped cement Foo Fighters as bona fide rock stars, topping the charts in the UK while achieving a No. 3 spot on the Billboard 200 in the US.
11. Hatebreed - Perserverance (2002)
Hatebreed were well ahead of the game when they released Satisfaction Is The Death Of Desire in 1997, the album laying a hefty hand on the scales when it came to shaping the collision of hardcore and metal. Whether you lumped them in with metalcore, metallic hardcore or just plain ol' hardcore itself, 2002's Perserverance showed the band were breakout stars of the form, elevating the genre to whole new audiences when the album reached No. 50 on the Billboard 200.
Sounding heftier and more focused than on their debut, Hatebreed were taking no prisoners with Perserverance. I Will Be Heard proved to be just the kind of massive anthem Hatebreed needed, becoming quite possibly the band's most defining track in the process (easily justifying its position on our 100 Best Metal Songs Of The 21st Century list), the song even making it onto the big screen when it was featured in the first XXX movie.