1998 might have been the year nu-metal stepped up to a whole new level thanks to the blockbusting success of Korn’s third album, Follow The Leader, but there was so much more going on than baggy pants and downtuned guitars. Marilyn Manson channelled the spirit of David Bowie on Mechanical Animals, Monster Magnet transformed from fuzzy-eyed stoners into leather trousered arena kings via Powertrip, Refused reinvented hardcore with the The Shape Of Punk To Come, and a bunch of American-Armenians named System Of A Down dropped their self-titled debut album on an unsuspecting public. These are 10 albums that did more than most to shape that seismic year.
Cradle Of Filth – Cruelty And The Beast
Coming up with ideas to follow Dusk… must have been a right old arse-ache, but Cradle Of Filth delivered with Cruelty And The Beast. A concept album based on Hungarian blood countess Elizabeth Báthory, the Filth’s third LP wrapped Dani’s sadistic storytelling into a fully blown narrative; with the legendary Ingrid Pitt voicing Báthory and the epic scope of Bathory Aria tucked into this hour-long bloodbath, it was never going to be anything less than extraordinary.
As perfect as Cradle’s craft is on Cruelty…, its imperfections are what make it even eerier. The production is all over the shop; Sarah Jezebel Deva’s lusciously libidinous tones are akin to, as she kindly put it herself, singing down a toilet and Barker’s drums are tweaked to sound like a tramp pissing on some cardboard boxes, providing a dirtier canvas to paint over rather than the polished pomp of later releases.
Musically it strips away much of the ethereal ambiance of Dusk… in favour of a more direct approach, with Dani’s Eric Cartman grunt entering the mix for the first time and tunes like Beneath The Howling Stars proving that Cradle could thrash with the nasties.
Death - The Sound Of Perseverance
1998’s The Sound Of Perseverance was Death’s final album – and Chuck Schuldiner’s last as a vocalist. Ever the innovator, Schuldiner took death metal into prog territory – a fitting swansong.
Full of awkward time changes and weird keys, it inspired a generation of slightly off-kilter metal musicians who didn't quite fit in to go forth and create with scarce regard for the boundaries of genre or the limitations of a prescribed sound.
Death still don't really get the props they deserve for pushing metal's next generation into experimentation and innovation like few other bands managed.
Korn - Follow The Leader
It was the album that took Korn from metal’s Great Pretenders to international megastars. The OGs of nu metal brought hip hop into the mix on their third album, and the result was the scene’s first true blockbuster.
The chaos – notably a predilection for partying and a lot of cocaine – which surrounded the making of this album is legendary now. Remarkably, in the midst of all this mayhem, a classic album was somehow taking shape, with Jonathan writing some of his deepest and darkest lyrics, like Freak On A Leash and Pretty – the horrific tale of the rape and murder of a baby, prompted by his time working in a coroner’s office.
As the title suggests, Follow The Leader was intended as a raised middle digit to the copyists, proof that Korn couldn’t be left in their own wake.
Marilyn Manson - Mechanical Animals
That’s the calibre of musicianship we’re talking about here; The Last Day On Earth and Coma White as a couplet could arguably be the band’s most emotional output to date.
As for club-ready, bigger-than-Jesus bangers? The Dope Show. Rock Is Dead. I Want To Disappear. Electronic-spiked, grunge-tinged, ever so slightly glammed-up heavy metal delivered by a Manson on unstoppable form – there’s even dashes of funk on I Don’t Like The Drugs. It’s completely fearless.
The Manson on Antichrist Superstar was a feckless, feral nihilist, but the flamboyant, completely unafraid vocal delivery on Mechanical Animals secured his place within the list of all-time greatest frontmen, on Planet Earth or otherwise. We were all stars in his Dope Show.
Meshuggah - Chaosphere
Ditching the vestiges of thrash for mind-bending technicality, the Swedish alchemists’ third album ushered in a new era for metal.
Upping the heaviness and technicality, New Millennium Cyanide Christ and Neurotica are still undeniably catchy despite sounding like a horde of sentient robotic vikings on a murderous berserker frenzy.
Listen to the end of closer Elastic and see whether your brain will be transported to a higher plane or simply dissolve under the strain.
Opeth - My Arms, Your Hearse
Black metal, death metal and traditional Scandinavian folk were all part of Opeth’s DNA – and few did it better than they did here.
Also wholeheartedly embracing the warm tones and sepia-tinted atmospheres of prog for the first time, Opeth came of age on their third album. The arrival of a stable rhythm section, Martins Lopez and Mendez, certainly helped, but the main contributory factor was the exponential growth in Mikael Åkerfeldt’s songwriting.
From the widescreen whoosh of April Ethereal to the crackling embers of sombre closer Karma and its grand attendant outro, Epilogue, these songs sizzled with intelligence and soul, as Opeth audibly transcended their death metal roots and entered an entirely new musical world that they would effortlessly claim as their own.
And, in the fiery barrage of Demon Of The Fall, the Swedes had created their first bona fide live anthem; a timeless piece of metallic mastery that continues to be a highlight of Opeth gigs today.
Monster Magnet - Powertrip
For the most part, stoner rock is seen as the province of the more weed-friendly US west coast. New Jersey’s Monster Magnet had their own, more diesel-fuelled approach, and Powertrip was the first record to prove that stoner music could sell – in its millions.
Dave Wyndorf and co. didn’t so much tone down their excessive jam-led style as allow it freedom within defined songs. Crop Circle, Space Lord and Goliath And The Vampires are brilliant examples of how to create a sense of adventure.
Some may prefer the band’s earlier, more experimental albums, but Powertrip is more exhaustive. It's also the point at which Wyndorf’s long-game vision came to fruition: this was epic space rock with Las Vegas bling.
Refused - The Shape Of Punk To Come
Refused only reached their creative peak when they hit the skids.
By 1998 – as portrayed in the documentary Refused Are Fucking Dead – this fine but fairly unremarkable Swedish hardcore band were burnt out and disillusioned by months on the road playing to tiny audiences.
And so, as a final raised finger to the world before they broke up, they created the thrillingly audacious The Shape Of Punk To Come, smashing together smart political polemic, punk rock, metal, poetry, jazz (the title is a nod to Nation Of Ulysses’ The Sound Of Jazz To Come, itself a reference to Ornette Coleman’s The Shape Of Jazz To Come), earsplitting noise, techno and a whole lot of righteous fury.
It was, at the time, a truly unique game-changer. It’s a testament to its brilliance that, after the band split, its legend grew until they eventually returned in 2012 to a worldwide hero’s welcome. Utter genius.
Rob Zombie - Hellbilly Deluxe
White Zombie were 90s players, but once Rob went solo, everything was amped up to make the definitive 90s rock club floor-filler album.
Much to the singer’s surprise and delight, his debut solo record out-sold all of White Zombie’s albums and remains his best-selling release to date, producing two hit singles – Dragula and Living Dead Girl – and establishing him as a successful artist in his own right.
As the mainman himself pointed out, “There’s not a long track record of people having more successful solo careers after leaving bands, especially in the hard rock field. It’s pretty much only Ozzy.” Well, Zombie followed in the footsteps of The Prince Of Darkness and smashed it out the park.
System Of A Down - System Of A Down
Even alongside the gang of misfits that came of age in the unruly era of nu-metal, System Of A Down always stood out from their peers.
Just as the genre was getting predictable, it took four batshit-crazy Armenian-Americans to rewrite the rulebook with help from the legendary Rick Rubin.
Indeed, their eccentric mix of prog, thrash, hardcore, funk, rap and Middle Eastern music took the best elements of the sub-genre – angular riffs, odd time signatures and manic vocals – and twisted them into something even more strange and compelling.