10. System Of A Down - System Of A Down (1998)
In 1998 the nu metal freight train was already running out of ideas; after the explosion of new sounds that Korn and Deftones brought in the middle of the decade, the bandwagon-hoppers were out in full force. It’s no wonder that System Of A Down’s self-titled debut album was so lauded in a scene that had come to rely on the likes of Coal Chamber and Spineshank, but that only really tells half the story.
System Of A Down is an absurdly brilliant record whoever you put up against it in competition. Spawning the anthemic likes of Sugar, Suite Pee and War, SOAD’s debut is one of metal’s finest opening statements, punkier and rawer than they would ever sound again (clearly owing a great debt to The Dead Kennedys), it still has moments of fragile beauty, likes Spiders, that pointed to where they could go next.
9. Deftones - Around The Fur (1997)
An album that turned Deftones into the hottest band on the planet (certainly in the UK), Around The Fur is more thoughtful and features greater depth than Adrenaline. But still was as heavy as any metal band around, as heard on the breakneck Lotion or hearing Chino Moreno trading vocal lines with Max Cavalera on Headup. Crucially, though, Around The Fur features at least two of the times' most anthemic songs in Be Quiet And Drive (Far Away) and the awesome My Own Summer (Shove It), which are still staples in their live set today.
8. Limp Bizkit - Chocolate Starfish And The Hot Dog Flavored Water (2000)
Its namesake is a jizzy arsehole but it sold over a million copies in its first week… so, yeah. Chocolate Starfish And The Hot Dog Flavored Water is possibly the most obnoxious rock record ever; the hits keep coming and there’s not a lull until the 13th track, and that’s just because Hold On’s subdued, Weiland-led tones aren’t riposted by a man bouncing around in baggy trousers shouting ‘FUCK! YEAH! ASS!’
This album is ridiculous. Hot Dog into My Generation into Full Nelson, My Way, Rollin’ (Air Raid Vehicle), Livin’ It Up… imagine having the cheek to think that’s acceptable behaviour. Experimentation was traded for songs basically everyone ended up knowing, whether they wanted to or not; so many people pretended to hate Bizkit at this point, stowing away copies of Chocolate Starfish… and doing the Rollin’ dance in private.
7. Linkin Park - Meteora (2003)
How do you follow an debut album that’s as successful as Hybrid Theory? If you’re Linkin Park, you don’t throw away the formula that made you instant superstars, but you do tweak the doses. Meteora continued in the nu metal vein but dials down some of the teenage angst in favour of electronic experimentation.
Lying From You and Faint were the sound of a band increasingly comnfortable in their own skin, though it’s album closer Numb – later reshaped as a world-beating collaborating with rapper Jay-Z - that rubber-stamped Linkin Park’s place in the pantheon of the 21st century’s greatest rock bands.
6. Deftones - White Pony (2000)
One of modern music’s most challenging and definitive statements. White Pony turned Deftones from one of the best bands in a rapidly oversaturated scene into a genre all of their own. New member Frank Delgado brought a whole new set of subtle sonic touches to the band, Chino Moreno captivates throughout with a haunting, beguiling vocal performance and drummer Abe Cunningham keeps an irresistible rhythmic tattoo rolling from the first second till the last and even guitarist Stephen Carpenter, the one member openly unsure of the band's attempt to break free from the shackles of metal, manages to crowbar in enough jaw dropping riffs into the album.
The closest thing metal has ever had to an album like Radiohead’s Ok Computer, and the most compelling reason for why Deftones exist in a bubble all of their own making.
5. Korn - Follow The Leader (1998)
Follow The Leader turned Korn into superstars. Freak On A Leash is almost certainly the song they are best known for, Got The Life is as bouncy as Korn have ever sounded, and, the likes of It’s On, Dead Bodies Everywhere and B.B.K. are the first time we heard Korn meld the huge, precision production of stadium metal with their boom-and-burst dynamics to such crushing effect.
What lets it down is the filler: Fred Durst’s turn on All In The Family has not aged well musically or lyrically, ditto the likes of Cameltosis and the cover of Cheech & Chong’s Earache My Eye. A classic, no doubt, and an incredibly important record, but it’s sounding slightly weathered in places these days.
4. System Of A Down - Toxicity (2001)
Debuting at Number 1 in the US, System Of A Down’s second album turned them from hot new band to one of the biggest names in the world of music. That it managed this feat without sacrificing one iota of the band's quirks and oddness is a stunning achievement.
Now that songs like the title track, Prison Song, Aerials and the career dominating Chop Suey! are so deeply woven into the fabric of metal it would be easy to forget just how bizarre and challenging those compositions are, but the fact they turned them into genuine generational anthems is a trick that maybe no other band can claim to have done. Toxicity has refused to age – it still sounds as weird, as wild and as inhumanly massive as it did 20 years ago.
3. Korn - Korn (1994)
A parade of copycats and bandwagon-hoppers who took the album’s sound and remodelled it without an ounce of innovation that Korn possessed, but the original’s legacy remains intact: This is a record that remains as integral to modern metal as the first Black Sabbath album or Metallica’s Master Of Puppets.
More than a quarter century after it was released, Korn’s debut album instigated a seismic shift in metal. From the moment Jonathan Davis asked us if we were ready on Blind he changed ouir scene forever. They drew on the influence of Faith No More, Rage Against The Machine and hip-hop, but turned it into something brand new. Ball Tongue, Divine, Faget and Shoots And Ladders seethed with pain, rage and self-loathing in a way that metal bands had never expressed before.
2. Slipknot - Slipknot (1999)
Slipknot would go on to change and mutate, variously upping the brutality, pushing their material to arena-level, writing skyscraper choruses and anthemic, generation-defining songs. But they would never again sound as unhinged, unpredictable and consistently effecting as they did on their 1999 self-titled debut.
Has there ever been a more perfect opening to any album in the history of metal as the five-song run that kicks off Slipknot’s self-titled Roadrunner Records debut? (Sic), Eyeless, Wait And Bleed, Surfacing and Spit It Out – If Slipknot’s career had ended right there then they would have done more than 90 per cent of other metal bands.
Despite protestations from a handful of nitpickers that it’s front-loaded to its detriment, the entirety of Slipknot is a hell of a ride. It starts with the most furious, white knuckle pummeling imaginable before slowly descending, via the creeping and psychotically sick likes of Tattered And Torn and Prosthetics, to the 8-and-a-half-minute long nervous breakdown nightmare of Scissors that closes the record.
1. Linkin Park - Hybrid Theory (2000)
Oh, Hybrid Theory. You brilliant, banger-stacked, emotional little beast. Just as it looked like nu metal was threatening to retreat back into metal’s peripheries in a haze of wallet chains, spiky hair and sweaty angst, along you came to put it right back at the very forefront of heavy music, outraging countless elitists in the process.
While Korn and Deftones had already undermined metal’s traditional themes and imagery and moulded its sound into curious new shapes, what Linkin Park created was something that would, in many ways, break the scene forever: a line in the sand drawn between those who ‘got it’ and those who abhorred it. The floodgates were opened for millions of new, unfamiliar faces to embrace metal’s latest evolution, while many who had championed heavy music from the start refused to accept Hybrid Theory’s inclusion into the genre’s storied ranks.
Ultimately, the gatekeepers lost that particular battle. Hybrid Theory still sounds like it was made yesterday and remains a flawless album: one that produced four blockbuster singles in the shape of One Step Closer, Crawling, Papercut and In The End, shifted upwards of 25 million copies and rocketed its creators to overnight superstardom. Chester Bennington’s tragic passing in 2017 - and the immense outpouring of grief that greeted it - only went to further show just how large the shadow of his most famous work loomed.