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.
In Flames – Whoracle
Whoracle is In Flames (opens in new tab)’ heaviest album, venturing far closer to all-out death metal than anything else in their back-catalogue. Its production is raw, it boasts a plethora of guitar solos and the songwriting is much more direct in its aggression. Still, there’s just enough diversity to keep things interesting: Jester Script Transfigured is a fucked-up kind of ballad and cover of Depeche Mode’s Everything Counts shouldn’t work as well as it does.
Limp Bizkit – Three Dollar Bill, Y’All
Before the bullshit, before the overexposure, before everyone pretended to hate them, Limp Bizkit (opens in new tab) were a brilliant nu metal (opens in new tab) band churning out raw, primitive music that kicked arse. It doesn’t have the same swagger or blockbusting hits as Significant Other or Chocolate Starfish (opens in new tab), but Limp Bizkit’s debut oozes venom and invention. And yeah, their cover of Faith rocks like a bastard.
Machine Head – The More Things Change
Machine Head (opens in new tab)’s second album had a difficult birth, but but it was worth it: the opening four tracks alone are as eclectic as Robb Flynn (opens in new tab)’s mob have have ever sounded. While there might be more commercially successful and critically lauded albums in their back catalogue, there isn’t one that hits as hard, in so many different ways and as often as The More Things Change.
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.
Paradise Lost – One Second
Rather than continuing along the course they’d charted with Draconian Times (opens in new tab), Paradise Lost (opens in new tab) opted to overhaul their sound from the ground up. The result was Depeche Mode reimagined as a metal band, with keyboards and electronics given increased prominence, and any remnants of their old death-doom sound was junked. It worked brilliantly – the opening one-two of One Second and Say Just Words stand among the band’s finest songs.
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.