Metal’s doors were kicked off in 1997, and suddenly everyone was invited to the party. While Metallica towered above everyone else, at least commercially, with the Reload album, and the likes of Emperor and Electric Wizard flew the flag for the underground, elsewhere it was very much a case of ‘anything goes’, from the Foo Fighters’ polished arena-grunge to The Prodigy’s revolutionary rave-rock mash-up to the stentorian, German-language industrial blitzkrieg of Rammstein. It’s safe to say there really wasn’t another year like it, as these 10 killer albums prove.
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Deftones - Around The Fur
An album that turned Deftones (opens in new tab) into the hottest band on the planet (certainly in the UK), Around The Fur is more thoughtful and features greater depth than Adrenaline.
But they were still 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.
Electric Wizard - Come My Fanatics…
The misanthropic Dorset doom-mongers journeyed into metal’s darkest places on their second record. The music was fully enveloped in an impenetrable acrid haze – more so than just about any other record that dare tag itself as ‘stoner’.
The likes of fuzz-drenched opener Return Trip and the disorientating Doom-Mantia are the sound of your sanity drifting out of the window. Drugs may have been involved – and they were bad ones.
RIYL: Pot-induced psychotic breakdowns and Russ Meyer movies.
Emperor - Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk
Emperor’s second album was the point at which black metal (opens in new tab) discovered its ambition.
Following the ground-breaking majesty of In The Nightside Eclipse, Emperor’s second full album smashed the opposition with its intensely elaborate and literate re-imagining of black metal’s atmospheric principles and sublime intricacy.
After this point, where Emperor led, everyone else followed.
Foo Fighters - The Colour And The Shape
Although the Foo Fighters (opens in new tab)’ debut had promised much, few people anticipated the powerful step up that Dave Grohl (opens in new tab) made with this follow- up. Even though he hired William Goldsmith to play drums, Grohl ousted him as soon as recording began. Gil Norton was brought in for his work with The Pixies (opens in new tab), but the record was much tougher- sounding than them – slick, even.
Sounding like it was built with arenas in mind, it ushered in the post-grunge age with Grohl now a fully formed songwriter, and the heavily melodic groove of songs like Everlong and My Hero sat comfortably alongside the furious Monkey Wrench and the brooding Walking After You.
Incubus - S.C.I.E.N.C.E.
Surely one of the most diverse-sounding bands in nu metal (opens in new tab), Incubus owe a great deal to the pioneering spirit of Faith No More (opens in new tab), not least in the silky vocal stylings of Brandon Boyd and the left-field inventiveness with a high premium placed on strong melodies and instant hooks.
S.C.I.E.N.C.E. was the sound of a band clearly developing into a world-class act, and includes a number of tunes that still pop up in Incubus’s live shows over two decades on: Vitamin, Idiot Box and A Certain Shade Of Green.
For real feel-good innovation and a distinctly weird sense of humour, this record is pretty hard to beat.
Metallica - Reload
With Load (opens in new tab) front-loaded with the better songs, Reload picked up the slack from the writing sessions, and understandably suffers as a consequence.
While James Hetfield’s lyrics hit new peaks of maturity, too many of his riffs here are – to employ a Lars Ulrich passive-aggressive criticism – ‘stock’, and should have ended up in the Pro-Tools recycle bin. The Memory Remains is one hell of a tune though – ands let's be honest, a not great Metallica album is still a bloody good album by anyone else's standards, and was easily one of 1997's best records.
Load’s sister album had the same strengths and weaknesses as its predecessor, but when it was good, it was simply unstoppable.
The Prodigy - The Fat Of The Land
If Firestarter had laid the groundwork, then The Prodigy (opens in new tab)’s third album, The Fat Of The Land, sealed it for them. Released in June 1997, anticipation had reached fever pitch – the world was gagging for it.
Matters were helped along by another burst of controversy, this time surrounding the single Smack My Bitch Up and its no-holds-barred drug-taking’n’nudity video. After complaints about the track, the album was pulled from the shelves of certain record stores, but that didn’t stop it going to Number One in more than 20 countries including the US and UK.
The point at which rave culture collided with metal culture. Forget nu metal – this was the real sound of summer ’97, whether you approved or not.
Rammstein - Sehnsucht
The one with Du Hast (opens in new tab) on it. You know the one. Building on Herzeleid’s muscular sound, Sehnsucht delivers dollops of gothic noir alongside the usual punishment.
Spiel Mit Meir’s tales of incest are laced with Flake’s perversely playful keyboard, while Klavier’s dense, epic riffing showcases a mind-set that’d be properly addressed on Mutter.
Confrontational, provocative, utterly Teutonic: Sehnsucht proved there was way more to German metal than the Scorpions.
Symphony X - The Divine Wings Of Tragedy
The New Jersey band’s masterpiece was the point where power metal met prog.
It combined all the elements that make prog metal (opens in new tab) great – it was epic, slightly pretentious and overtly technical – and helped solidify the template for prog metal in the 90s and beyond.
An essential and important album that rarely gets the dues it's owed.
Strapping Young Lad - City
Taking the Fear Factory (opens in new tab) blueprint and extrapolating it, Strapping Young Lad (opens in new tab) read the rulebook, acknowledged it, wiped their arses with it and scissor-kicked it into the 41st millennium.
Gene Hoglan and Devin Townsend (opens in new tab) are the dream team here, melding steamy segments of double bass death and industrial metal to create instant-yet-terrifying anthems like Underneath The Waves and the spasmodic Oh My Fucking God.
This is the most intense, punishing and – thanks to Devin’s vocals – unique take on industrial you’ll ever hear, with the ‘skullet’-rocking Townsend in full on metal-god mode.
SYL’s debut was Heavy As A Really Heavy Thing, but this is where they cranked things up.