By 2002 nu metal had almost huffed itself out, leaving giants such as Korn to fight a rearguard action. Thankfully there were a whole host of bands - and scenes - ready to step up to the plate, from the metalcore scene emerging from America’s East Coast in the shape of Killswitch Engage and Shadows Fall to the weird and wonderful glimmerings of 21st century prog metal courtesy of Opeth and Mastodon. Here are the 10 best albums from those 12 thrilling months.
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Audioslave - Audioslave
When Audioslave were touted as Chris Cornell fronting Rage Against The Machine fans of alternative rock couldn’t help but salivate at the prospect, but, just like most supergroups, there was still an air of trepidation that hung around the band at first, with many wondering if the pairing could gel.
The band’s debut album dispelled such concerns instantly. This was the rare case of a supergroup living up to its billing. Cochise and Like A Stone became huge hits and propelled Audioslave into the same positions on festival bills as their previous bands had afforded them, but less talked about numbers like Gasoline and Light My Way are every bit as good.
Down – Down II: A Bustle In Your Hedgerow
It may have taken its subtitle from a line in Led Zeppelin’s 1971 epic Stairway To Heaven, but there was nothing celestial about stoner-sludge supergroup Down’s belated second album. This was an ungodly trip through the dank bayous of Phil Anselmo’s mind. Where the band’s debut album, NOLA, had been wreathed in hash smoke, this was fuelled by something darker: Lysergik Funeral Procession, New Orleans Is A Dying Whore and Beautifully Depressed sounded like a man trying to keep his head above water. Not an easy listen, but a magnetic one.
In Flames - Reroute To Remain
After introducing elements of arena rock on previous album Clayman, In Flames started tasting serious success. They cracked the Top 20 in Sweden before being offered a tour supporting Slipknot. So, the natural next step was to take the user-friendliness even further on Reroute To Remain. This gave us songs like the Korn-esque System and the electronic-tinged Cloud Connected, which angered allegiant followers but also got the band touring the US, so what do they know?
Isis - Oceanic
If Neurosis spawned the beast, then Isis moulded it into the monolith that it would become. Oceanic was the band’s second album, and inflated the work on their debut Celestial into a vast, considered concept album that introduced a generation of progressive fans to the appeal of grinding, mesmerising heaviness.
Isis frontman and Hydra Head label owner Aaron Turner has been attributed with using the phrase ‘thinking man’s metal’, which would eventually morph into the ‘post metal’ label. In the hands of a less capable band, this would sound pretentious and overwrought. In the nu metal hangover days of the early noughties, Isis looked and sounded like the saviours of heavy.
Killswitch Engage – Alive Or Just Breathing
The album that established Killswitch Engage as one of the most exciting metal acts on the planet, and was partially responsible for hastening the demise of nu metal. Alive Or Just Breathing is an absolutely monstrous set of songs. The riff that opens Numbered Days, the rhythmic battering of Life To The Lifeless and, of course, the generation defining anthem My Last Serenade are pretty much as good as metalcore has ever got. It may only have been their second record, but Alive Or Just Breathing set a benchmark for the emergent metalcore scene.
Korn - Untouchables
Korn have estimated Untouchables cost over $3 million to make. It sounds like money well spent, with the crunch of Brian ‘Head’ Welch and James ‘Munky’ Shaffer’s guitars as savage as they have ever sounded, and Fieldy’s bass low enough to shake the floor of the ocean. But that would be nothing without the songs themselves. Hollow Life was the first time the gothic noir that they now employ so well was heard, Alone I Break was unthinkably close to ballad territory for Korn, and yet it worked, and, of course, the mountainous groove of Here To Stay is one of the most loved moments in the bands career.
Mastodon – Remission
Mastodon had marked out their territory as one of metal’s most intriguing new bands with a pair of EPs that suggested there was more to them than just mangled underground noise. Their debut full-length album delivered on that promise. March Of The Fire Ants and Trampled Under Hoof took jagged shards of noise and rearranged them into brand new shapes which seemed to shift and change depending on the angle at which you looked at them. The awkward time signatures and Brann Dailor’s restless drumming hinted at the progressive leanings that would surface on later albums, but Remission’s main aim was to reinvent brutality for the new millennium. On that front, it was job done.
Opeth – Deliverance
Often overlooked due to following the much-loved Blackwater Park and preceding the acoustic curve ball Damnation, Deliverance is a much stronger and more substantial record than legend has it. For a start, the album’s monstrous, 13-minute title track is still the closest thing Opeth have to a hit, and it remains a live staple.
But the rest of the album is equally dazzling. For best results, check out the 2015 remixed version: from the windswept fury of Wreath to the intricate melodic churn of the closing By The Pain I See In Others, Deliverance is Opeth’s heaviest record and also one of their most cohesive.
Queens Of The Stone Age – Songs For The Deaf
As if to underscore ex-Kyuss man Josh Homme’s more-the-merrier approach to music-making, chums Mark Lanegan, Dave Grohl and The Cramps’ weirdo-in-chief Lux Interior are among those lending weight to this concept piece that traces a journey through the Californian wilderness, interrupted by mock broadcasts from small-town radio stations. It proved to be QOTSA’s lift-off album, cracking both the UK Top 10 and the US Top 20. Grohl’s muscular drumming propels the whole thing forward, with No One Knows and Go With The Flow’s near-perfect marriages of raw melody and granite-hard rock.
Shadows Fall – The Art Of Balance
The Art Of Balance is a reference to the Buddhist themes contained in the lyrics and art, but the title of the Massachusetts metalcore pioneers’ third album also refers to SF’s attempt at finding a happy medium between the aggression of its two predecessors and a more melodic future. Thankfully they do a damn good job of it, moving from fluid leads to memorable choruses to hardcore chuggery with ease on songs such as Idle Hands and A Fire In Babylon. The fact that it’s not more celebrated today as a landmark in the emergent metalcore genre is a crime.