Grunge may have ruled the airwaves at the start of the 90s, but by the decade's mid-point new regional scenes and subgenres were clawing for the spotlight. Nu metal might have eventually taken the throne for the rest of the decade, but in 1995 it was all to play for; Gothenburg was about to revolutionise death metal with the advent of melodeath, while elsewhere on the continent Germans Blind Guardian helped wave the flag for power metal.
Industrial metal ran rampant with landmark releases from Fear Factory, White Zombie and Rammstein, while the stoner throne was about to be vacated by a departing Kyuss. With so much ground to cover, consider these 20 albums your guide to the best 1995 had to offer.
Alice In Chains – Alice In Chains
Alice In Chains’ collective demons were threatening to overwhelm them by the time they made their self-titled third album, and they knew it. If the gloomy majesty of Dirt was absent here, the hollow-cheeked darkness and overbearing sense of fatalism that characterised Alice In Chains was equally compulsive in its own grim way.
The band themselves weren’t unaware of their own situation, as the darkly ironic and aptly-titled Grind proved: “You’d be well advised not to plan my funeral before my body dies,” sang guitarist Jerry Cantrell, clapping back at those that would bury them. For all that, the sun did occasionally come out, as on the southern-tinged ballad Heaven Beside You, adding poignancy to what would effectively be Layne Staley’s swansong.
At The Gates - Slaughter Of The Soul
The influence of At The Gates' mighty fourth album can be heard in a vast amount of metal from the last 20 years, not least the entire post-Killswitch metalcore movement in the US. A flawless masterpiece that hammered home how distinctive the Swedes’ sound was, and how brutally effective it could be. Massive tunes, terrifying levels of aggression and precision… it’s an all-time classic.
Blind Guardian - Imaginations From The Other Side
Imaginations From The Other Side created its own abstruse, metaphysical concept about a boy glimpsing other dimensions, cementing these German veterans (who formed in 1984 as Lucifer’s Heritage) as more restlessly creative and cerebral than the average headbanging fare. Make no mistake, the likes of Script For My Requiem or Born In A Mourning Hall are as vicious and breakneck as any power metal, but there are ingenious melodic ideas pinging everywhere, like sparks from a Catherine Wheel.
Cathedral – The Carnival Bizarre
Cathedral truly hit their stride with their third record. Their Sabbath worship was more apparent than ever in the abyssal riffs and rumbling grooves of their sound, but by now the band had found a sweet spot for Hammer Horror imagery that gave them a distinct flavour from many of their doom peers.
Blurring the lines between stoner and doom, the galloping pace of Vampire Sun and Hopkins (Witchfinder General) fit more snugly with the likes of Kyuss than Paradise Lost or My Dying Bride, while Garry Jennings' guitar leads could happily be adopted by any 70s guitar god.
Clutch - Clutch
Clutch have never been a stoner rock band in the strictest sense, but their self-titled second album offered a peculiarly Clutch-ian take on the same, rudimentary musical ideas. The irresistible grooves of Big News and 7 Jam were as stoner-friendly as it gets, and perennial live favourite Spacegrass doesn’t really require an explanation. Jesus, as they say, on the dashboard.
Death - Symbolic
Since Death’s debut album Scream Bloody Gore eight years earlier, Chuck Schuldiner and the revolving line-up of musicians he used to bring his vision to life had showed that death metal could evolve into something new.
Symbolic was a labyrinth of technicality and cerebral lyrical meanderings, displaying unsurpassable musicianship yet all the while managing to remain incredibly accessible. A quarter of a century after its release, and two decades after the tragically premature demise of Schuldiner, Symbolic remains the pinnacle of the entire death metal genre.
Deftones - Adrenaline
One of the great debuts of the 90s. Nu metal wasn’t a 'thing' until Korn and Deftones arrived on the scene and changed everything. Whilst both bands were responsible for shifting metal’s aesthetics, Korn dealt purely in nihilism, pain and brutality. Deftones, on Adrenaline, showcased influences from gangster rap to skate punk. Songs like Bored and 7 Words became anthems of youthful alienation for a whole new group of kids, who were bored of grunge and wanted their own sound. They soon got it.
Down - NOLA
If Sabbath, Zeppelin and Lynyrd Skynyrd decided to hot box their rehearsal room and record the results it’d probably sound something like Louisiana supergroup Down’s debut record. Along with the sludgy, pot-hailing Hail The Leaf and epic closer Bury Me In Smoke, the likes of the languid, blissed-out Jail and the crushing Eyes Of The South combine to make NOLA a stoner classic. RIYL: Smoking sticky buds out of a Pabst Blue Ribbon can.
Faith No More - King For A Day, Fool For A Lifetime
An often underrated classic, King For A Day... is easily the most schizophonic album Faith No More ever produced. Musically it was cleaved right down the middle, alternating between ice cold cooler-than-cool lounge funk and frighteningly ugly jackhammer thrash-punk.
New guitarist Trey Spruance makes the existing heavy bits in FNM’s sound 10 times heavier, and the weird bits weirder. Evidence is beautiful liquid soul, while Just A Man is anthemic funk-pumped cabaret, but the flip side to this set-piece whimsy is demonic, neurotic whirlwinds such as Ugly In The Morning – Patton flipping painlessly between soft soul-boy crooning and gibbering, demented, frenzied ecstasy.
Fear Factory - Demanufacture
On their second album, Fear Factory refined and sanded down the rougher elements of their sound. The results were simply groundbreaking. There isn’t a wasted moment on this virtually flawless LP; from the kick drum extravaganza Self Bias Resistor to the contorting synth-infused New Breed – the band compress their steely sound into burning molten rock.
But the best song plaudits go to the devastating metal classic Replica for its effortless balance of melody and dissonance. The nodes aligned perfectly on Demanufacture, leaving an indelible mark on the decade and remaining to this day one of the most forward-thinking metal albums ever created.