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The 50 greatest cult metal bands of all time

O.L.D.

Starting out as Old Lady Drivers – a primitive grindcore parody with alarmingly obsessive geriatric fixations – these New Jersey weirdos momentarily hooked up with former Nirvana/Soundgarden guitarist Jason Everman before going fully gonzo under the O.L.D. moniker. Principally the brainchild of James Plotkin (guitars, programming) and Alan Dubin (vocals), the project lingered on the Earache label like a cankerous sore, pumping out occasional bouts of brain-frying industrial spew (try to imagine a kaleidoscopic Godflesh buzzing on a sugar rush). Albums such as Lo Flux Tube (1991) and The Musical Dimensions Of Sleastak (1993) – the latter boasting the marvellously-titled Backwards Through The Greedo Compressor – heralded inspired descents into more perplexing experiments, before O.L.D.’s career-high kiss-off, 1995’s Formula, finally drew a line under the spiralling madness. A bewildering dose of alien electro-pop drizzled with vocoder-processed entreaties, this last hoorah was the fittingly freaky full-stop to a flagrantly confusing existence.

Listen to: Freak Now (The Musical Dimensions Of Sleastak, 1993)


Warrior Soul

Warrior Soul are the greatest band no one ever gave a fuck about despite having every single thing going for them: an arsenal of killer early 90s alt-metal anthems, the muscle of Metallica’s management behind them and a fireball of charisma for a frontman. Kory Clarke was a new kind of metal idol: literate, furious, sarcastic and surreal, like William Burroughs in a second-hand biker jacket. He wrote songs that eviscerated America (Ghetto Nation), celebrated party drugs (Trippin’ On Ecstasy) and excoriated Donald Trump decades before everyone else (The Wasteland). Seriously, stick a pin in the tracklisting of any of the first four Warrior Soul albums and you’re guaranteed a stone cold classic. But a loudmouth punk shitting on his own doorstep wasn’t going to win any friends, and America threw the perfect shade by completely ignoring him. Kory Clarke took the hint and eventually retooled Warrior Soul as an apocalyptic biker bar party band. Nobody gave a fuck about them then either.

Listen to: The Wasteland (Drugs, God And The New Republic, 1991)


Videodrone

Videodrone were the band Korn could have been. They grew up alongside each other in Bakersfield, California, and Videodrone singer Ty Elam had been involved with Jonathan Davis’ pre-Korn outfit, SexArt. The big difference is that Korn founded a genre and sold millions of records and Videodrone… well, who the hell knows who they are these days? They had already released a bunch of gothy, industrial-tinged albums as Cradle Of Thorns by the time they signed to Korn’s Elementree label. With a change of name came a change in sound: a glitchy, synth-pop influenced take on nu metal, as embodied by the terrific single Ty Jonathan Down, which featured a guest appearance from JD and crackled with homoerotic tension. Videodrone put out an album, the public refused to bite, and they disappeared back into the Bakersfield shadows. Today, their biggest gift to the world is Jonathan Davis’s jerky-marionette dancing, which he copped from Ty Elam early on. Guess that‘s better than nothing.

Listen to: Ty Jonathan Down (Videodrone, 1999)


Human Waste Project

Nu metal didn’t happen all at once. Even before its commercial peak at the turn of the millennium, dozens of long-forgotten bands had already come and gone. Some were great, some were awful, and all of them have been lost down the back of the sofa of history.

Los Angeles’ Human Waste Project were one of the great ones. They received the nu metal papal blessing courtesy of Ross Robinson, who produced their sole album, 1997’s E-Lux, but real star of the show was electrifying singer Aimee Echo, whose distinctive voice wrapped itself around a sound that owed as much to the shapeshifting art-rock of Jane’s Addiction as it did Faith No More and Rage Against The Machine’s gonad-swinging thwunk.

Human Waste Project blipped out of existence in 1998, just before the nu metal gravy train left the station. They’re more than just a great lost band – they were proof there was more to that scene than bros in baggy pants and wallet chains. These days Aimee Echo is busy teaching yoga in Los Angeles. Healthy living’s gain is definitely rock’n’roll’s loss.

Listen to: Dog (E-lux, 1997)


Deadsy

Hollywood synth-goth brats Deadsy had it all: a Type O Negative-gone-synth-pop sound, a celebrity parent (frontman Elijah Blue Allman’s mom is Cher) and nu metal royalty Jonathan Davis and Fred Durst in their corner. Except Deadsy were thwarted at every step. They made an epic self-titled debut album in 1997, only to be dropped on the eve of release. A retooled and improved version, titled Commencement, was greeted by tumbleweed when it eventually emerged five long years later. By the time they released their swansong, Phantasmagore, in 2006, even the handful of people who had been listening had wandered off elsewhere. As brilliant as they might have been, Deadsy were just too arch for their own good – or maybe they were way ahead of the curve. That hasn’t stopped Elijah Blue resurrecting the band in recent years, with the promise of a new album in 2021. We’re not holding our breath to see how this one goes.

Listen to: The Key To Gramercy Park (Commencement, 2002)


Bathory

The number of people who know Bathory’s name is in inverse proportion to those who could name even one of their songs. Like an extreme metal Ramones, they’ve become a cool name to drop for anyone looking for an instant shot of cool without actually having to listen to any of their music. A one-man project masterminded by teenage Swedish prodigy Thomas ‘Quorthon’ Forsberg, Bathory can lay claim to helping invent two separate genres. Their brilliantly raw mid-80s albums would be plundered for inspiration by every single black metal band in history; by the end of that decade, they were summoning Viking metal into being on such epically Odin-tastic albums as Blood Fire Death and Hammerheart. In a just world, Bathory would be lauded alongside Metallica as true metal innovators, but their influence barely extends beyond a cabal of extreme metal musicians – and even they’d be hard pushed to name a song from any of the albums Bathory released post-1990. Quorthon himself died of an undiagnosed heart problem in 2004 at the age of 38, ensuring his band’s cult-hood would be preserved forever.

Listen to: A Fine Day To Die (Blood Fire Death, 1988)


Acid Bath

Sludge metal’s crash-landing into the swamps of Louisiana saw the nascent genre undergo a forced, rapid evolution. But while Eyehategod, Crowbar and Soilent Green were finding ways to flavour the genre’s hardcore punk roots with everything from extreme metal and doom to stoner and blues, Acid Bath took the whole gumbo home and chewed it up until it came back out as the bleakest vision of a psychedelic trip. Acid Bath’s two records are a masterclass in how to disregard genre boundaries, flying from groovy death metal butchery in the likes of Jezebel or Cassie Eats Cockroaches to a strain of blues-tinged doom on Dead Girl and Graveflower that could best embody death gospel 30 years before the style emerged. Dax Riggs’ twisted, southern gothic poetry proved icing on the iconoclast cake, ensuring that even as sludge goes everywhere from the stars to a cyber-future, Acid Bath still inhabit a dimension entirely their own.

Listen to: Scream Of The Butterfly (When The Kite String Pops, 1994)


Failure

Such was the media’s obsession with grunge’s stripped-back approach to rock music in the mid 90s, that a band who played alternative rock inspired by a luscious base of Pink Floyd, The Beatles and Bowie’s Berlin period never really stood a chance. Failure were scandalously ignored by the mainstream but, to those in the know, they were one of the best bands of the decade. Their masterpiece, 1996’s Fantastic Planet, was tossed out with little promotional support from Warner Bros and barely heard by anyone. They split up a year later, with most people assuming they were another long-forgotten casualty of the music industry machine – though vocalist Ken Andrews has since blamed drugs. But as the years ticked by, their fans went on to form bands themselves; A Perfect Circle covered their song The Nurse Who Loved Me on 2003’s Thirteenth Step album, and everyone from Deftones’ Chino Moreno, to Limp Bizkit’s Wes Borland and Hayley Williams of Paramore have name-checked Failure as an inspiration, leading to a new generation discovering their genius. Fantastic Planet is now rightly lauded as one of 90s rock’s most definitive records. When they reunited in 2013, they were deservedly treated like the second coming.

Listen to: Stuck On You (Fantastic Planet, 1996)


Beherit

Even by the individualistic standards black metal has always laid claim to, Finland’s Beherit remain one of the most obstinately strange and divisive bands in the scene’s 30-year history – a strand of rogue code written into its DNA. While Norway’s second wave of black metal was still rearing its head in the early 90s, a parallel movement was springing up elsewhere; bands such as Canada’s Blasphemy and America’s Von were still inspired by the unruly, lo-fi racket of Venom, Hellhammer and their successor, Celtic Frost, but determined to use their primitivism not as a base but as a hammer to wield with ever greater force. If the influence of Blasphemy on Beherit was marked, along with Brazil’s Sarcófago, Beherit’s core duo – vocalist/guitarist Nuclear Holocausto Vengeance and drummer Sodomatic Slaughter – took the impervious repetition and gargled, sulphur-circulating vocals into yet more hermetic and otherworldly realms. 

Beherit’s reputation as the most cult of kvlt bands rests on their debut album proper, 1993’s Drawing Down The Moon, which was so entranced by its own arcane sacraments that it even sounded like the practice of a cult. Initially, it also sounds like an affront, wherever you fall on the metal spectrum. Its monotonously parched, locked grooves and slavering, parallel-universe rasps no longer relied on the visceral, untamed rampage of their demos, but on an inhuman, primordial power that sounded like it was being stirred and brewed over the course of aeons.

Riling up parts of the Norwegian scene no end, becoming an object of mystical awe for others, Drawing Down The Moon is a singular black hole in the black metal firmament – opaque to outsiders, and an inescapable realm where all rational laws of music break down for those who ventured over its event horizon.

Listen to: Werewolf, Semen And Blood (Drawing Down The Moon, 1993)




Watchtower

Watchtower have been in a dreaded ‘indefinite hiatus’ holding pattern for the past half-decade, but ever since originally forming in 1982, the Texas outfit have positioned themselves atop the über-technical/progressive thrash mountain. And whether this hiatus eventually leads to a break-up or reunion, on top of that world the band remains. Bassist Doug Keyser, drummer Rick Colaluca, guitarist Ron Jarzombek and vocalist Alan Tecchio (along with previous members guitarist Billy White and vocalist Jason McMaster) may have had musicians’ jaws unhinging since the first notes of their 1983 demos all the way through to their classic full-lengths – 1985’s Energetic Disassembly and 1989’s Control And Resistance through to final release 2016’s Concepts Of Math: Book One EP – but those same slack-jawed fret watchers have also been humming earworms like Meltdown, Asylum, Mayday In Kiev and The Fall Of Reason all along. Herein lies the primary distinguishing factor separating this quartet from the competition: their ability to imbue mind-melting intricacy with dexterous hooks. 

Also working to Watchtower’s advantage – or detriment, according to your local po-faced thrash metal gatekeeper – and elevating this lot above their fellow prog-minded peers is how they counterbalanced prodigious talent, erudite skill and the cranial workouts of their compositions with trope destruction and a mile-wide irreverent streak. Rick Colaluca’s drum kit was half-acoustic and half-electronic, their live show offered as many lessons in musical scholastics as circus clown tomfoolery, and they were known to write songs in adherence to self-imposed rules pertaining to key, note usage and chord selection. The carpal tunnel-inducing musicianship, Alan Tecchio’s cloud-scraping warble and a steadfast adherence to their own path (witness the unreleased noise/improv track Ballad Assassin, which took violent umbrage with thrash metal’s chasing of Metallica’s success) made them outliers at a time when their testosterone-driven peers in Slayer, Destruction and Kreator were primarily thinking heavier, faster and meaner.

Listen to: Instruments Of Random Murder (Control And Resistance, 1989)