The millennium was in full swing and metal was healthier than ever. The seeds that had been planted in the 1990s were coming to fruition: bands such as Slipknot, System Of A Down and Rammstein hit their full stride, while the likes of Emperor and Opeth crawled out of the underground to deliver albums that redrew the boundaries of metal. There were many amazing albums released that year. Here are the 10 best.
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Converge – Jane Doe
Converge’s fourth album is one of the most important records in the history of underground music. The metallic hardcore that the band had been playing in the 90s had suddenly morphed into a beast of untamed savagery and wildly unique ideas. Vocalist Jacob Bannon had never sounded as feral as he does on the opening one-two of Concubine and Fault And Fracture, Kurt Ballou torments his guitar to the point where it seems to be crying for help on Homewreaker and the rhythm section of drummer Ben Koller and bassist Nate Newton treat the listener like their own personal punchbag. Today, Jane Doe still sounds heavier, more inventive, more destructive and more alive than almost any album by any band from the metalcore genre.
Dimmu Borgir – Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia
Grim to the core but proudly ambitious, Dimmu Borgir outgrew their shadowy origins on this impossibly bold and belligerent monument to the dark side. A significant part of this was down to a line-up change that brought in guitarist Galder, keyboardist Mustis, former Cradle Of Filth drum masterblaster Nick Barker, and bassist ICS Vortex join, the latter also adding his unique clean vocals as a foil for frontman Shagrath’s visceral shriek. Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia was state-of-the-art extremity, blacker than midnight on a moonless night but dazzling in its grandeur. The haters may scoff, but the charisma and class of the Norwegians brought black metal to an audience that would never have discovered the genre without them.
Emperor – Prometheus: The Discipline Of Fire And Demise
The idea of a bunch of black metal malcontents like Emperor making such a bold, ambitious albums as Prometheus The Discipline Of Fire And Demise would have been unthinkable even half a decade before. But anyone who had followed their career could see it coming: mainman Ihsahn had long bristled against the confines of that wilfully self-limiting.
Prometheus… still had its moments of jarring noise, but they were just part of a bigger, richer tapestry that owed as much to the visionary spirit of progressive rock as it did Venom or Bathory. Where it inspired a host of black metal bands to wiped off the corpse paint and busting open their sound. Emperor themselves knew they couldn’t top it, and promptly split up soon afterwards, leaving Prometheus as a stellar epitaph.
Opeth – Blackwater Park
A new millennium brought a new sense of urgency to Opeth’s bold musical efforts. Blackwater Park was not just a self-evident career peak from a young band with the wind in their sails for the first time, it also had a profound impact on the entire world of heavy music, as lengthy, elaborate epics like The Leper Affinity and The Drapery Falls reintroduced progressive ideals and creative bravery to the metal world, while acoustic reveries like Harvest showcased a desire to move beyond it.
Full of gorgeous melodies but still thunderously heavy, Opeth’s breakthrough album is widely and rightly revered as both a classic and a progressive metal benchmark.
Rammstein – Mutter
One of the greatest industrial metal albums of all time, Mutter cemented Rammstein as serious contenders, proving that Du Hast was no fluke. The album’s first half is literally just singles, even the ballad-esque title-track proving a hit; Adios blesses us with the greatest guitar line ever (2:08. You’re welcome) and Nebel eases us out, back into reality. Into safety. Mutter is Rammstein’s defining statement and a record that has yet to be bested by the band or their contemporaries.
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Slayer – God Hates Us All
Following the release of Diabolus In Musica in the late 90s, nobody was really sure what to make of Slayer’s future. Was this it? Why was there a nu-metal groove? What is going on!? Luckily, that all changed in 2001 with the release of God Hates Us All,
Released on September 11, 2001 – yes, 9/11 – the album had more realism in the lyrics, mirroring the uncertainty of the times. Musically, though, it was a return to the cold-eyed brutality that the band like no one else, not least on the stellar Disciple and Bloodline. With God Hates Us All, Slayer were back to their ferocious best, and thank Satan for that.
Slipknot – Iowa
Comfortably the heaviest album that has ever topped the UK album chart, Iowa is a genuine one-off. Released in an era when it seemed the best way for a band to achieve commercial success in a nu-metal dominated world was to make themselves seem poppier, cuddlier, cartoonish and maybe chuck an 80’s cover in there as well, Slipknot became the ugliest band on the planet.
Iowa is an astonishing piece of work, as bleak, seething, furious and hate soaked as metal has ever sounded in the mainstream. It’s no coincidence that in the album’s aftermath there was a direct rise in the amount of extreme metal that began to flourish within the scene – something that's hard to imagine happening without the blast-beats and death metal riffs of this record ushering it in. If that alone is Iowa’s legacy then it’s a pretty awesome one.
System Of A Down – Toxicity
Debuting at Numbe 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 bands quirks and oddness is a stunning achievement. Now that songs like the title track, Prison Song, Ariels 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 nearly 20 years ago.
Tool – Lateralus
Lateralus is more than one of the most groundbreaking albums of the 21st century – it’s one of the most groundbreaking albums ever made. A faultless, near 80-minute-long piece of music that still sounds like it’s been created by some kind of higher power, even 17 years after it was dropped on an unsuspecting world. From the second that The Grudge kicks into gear, it's hard to fathom where to start with high points, let alone entertain the idea that Lateralus drops anywhere below perfect at any point, but the swaying ocean of the title track or the measured post-prog metal machinations of Parabol and Parabola would be two moments that immediately spring to mind. A landmark band's landmark release.
Rob Zombie – The Sinister Urge
While it’s inaccurate to say that Rob Zombie embarked on a significant change in direction on his second solo album, there was plenty of evidence that The Sinister Urge heralded the first use of a more adventurous and eclectic sonic palate. Decorating his usual brew of throbbing riffs, whipcrack snares and mutant sampladelia with soaring strings, honking brass sections and the ultra- modern squeal’n’scratch of a deftly manipulated turntable, the bearded wonder’s first album of the new millennium amounted to an astute and twinkly eyed overhaul of past glories that breathed new life into a formula that could easily have started to smell funny by this point. And in instant crowd-pleasers like Dead Girl Superstar and Feel So Numb, Rob had clearly birthed some fresh anthems for the fang-sporting faithful.