“It was so terrible that they couldn’t even finish it.” The story of the band who made the worst metal album ever – on purpose

Photos of Kurt Ballou and Stephen Brodsky
(Image credit: Kurt Ballou: Olly Curtis/Total Guitar Magazine/Future via Getty Images | Stephen Brodsky: Katja Ogrin/Redferns)

The New England metalcore scene is one of the most underrated yet significant movements in heavy metal history. It’s from it that we got the hardcore masters Converge and the genre-agnostic Cave In, then later such New Wave Of American Heavy Metal pioneers as Killswitch Engage, Shadows Fall and All That Remains. One band also screaming out with excellent music from that part of the world in the mid-to-late-’90s were Drowningman.

Although their stop-start career prevented them from ever truly reaching superstar status, Drowningman made some top-shelf metalcore. Their debut, 1998’s Busy Signal At The Suicide Hotline, was mathematic, melodic and straight-for-the-throat aggressive at the exact same time. In its fallout, the band signed to punk label Revelation, but after second album Rock And Roll Killing Machine, they grew dissatisfied with their new home.

“We had some issues with Rev after the bungled release [of Rock And Roll Killing Machine],” singer Simon Brody said on the New Scene podcast in 2023. “Papa Roach asked us to go on tour, but our label would have to rent the bus – they didn’t pony up for it. That was our fucking big shot!”

The band wanted off – however, they still had one album left in their contract with Revelation. So, Drowningman hurried into the GodCity recording studio in Massachusetts with scenemate, Converge guitarist and producer extraordinaire Kurt Ballou. The explicit goal was to make the worst music they possibly could, for a project sarcastically titled Best Record Ever.

“[Kurt] was a very willing participant,” remembered Simon. “On a few tracks, he played some saxophone. He soloed over some 12-bar blues. Kurt conceptualised a song called Guitar Center Duel: it was somebody playing [Aerosmith’s] Sweet Emotion in one speaker, badly, and somebody playing [Led Zeppelin’s] Stairway To Heaven, badly, in the other speaker.”

Through Kurt, Stephen Brodsky of Cave In also caught wind of this uniquely, wilfully dreadful project. “Kurt was great for that, because he’s always good for these wild, wacky ideas, like mosh parts with horns and tracking vocals with a weedwacker,” the singer/guitarist told this writer in spring 2023. “I think it was so terrible that they couldn’t even finish it.

“I got involved and agreed to contribute something to The Best Record Ever,” he continued. “I came up with the idea to cover [David Bowie classic] Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars and change the lyrics to be about Simon Brody. It was Simon Brody And The Pill Poppers From Mars. Ben [Koller, Converge’s drummer] played drums on this bastardised version of Ziggy Stardust… and I remember submitting it to Kurt. He was like, ‘This is too good, man!’ Ha ha!”

Unsurprisingly, when Drowningman played the fruits of their labour to Revelation, the label was less than thrilled. “They were, uh… not excited,” said Simon. “We were on tour, in our van, and playing it to the A&R person. [Their reaction was] not great. They knew what was coming. They did not care for it.”

Even less surprisingly, Best Record Ever was never released. Drowningman then broke up in the summer of 2002. Although the band would briefly reform on a handful of occasions (most recently from 2021 to earlier this year), it was a sad and premature end for an outfit capable of both incredible metalcore and, apparently, some of the worst sounds to ever disgrace human ears.

Matt Mills
Contributing Editor, Metal Hammer

Louder’s resident Gojira obsessive was still at uni when he joined the team in 2017. Since then, Matt’s become a regular in Prog and Metal Hammer, at his happiest when interviewing the most forward-thinking artists heavy music can muster. He’s got bylines in The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Guitar and many others, too. When he’s not writing, you’ll probably find him skydiving, scuba diving or coasteering.