Neurosis - Times Of Grace
Every post-metal band owes a huge debt to Neurosis, and to their momentous third album in particular. Times Of Grace wasn’t just heavy – it was as dense as a black hole, musically and existentially. But there was a weird delicacy to such slabs of noise as Under The Surface and End Of The Harvest - the Oakland six-piece may have wanted to crush you, but they wanted to crush you elegantly, a trick their legion of imitators have never quite mastered.
Nine Inch Nails - The Fragile
A sprawling double album that owed as much to Pink Floyd’s oblique soundscapes as techno-metal pummelling.
More nuanced, but no less harrowing than its predecessor, The Fragile (opens in new tab) can be viewed as a companion piece to The Downward Spiral (opens in new tab), chronicling one man’s (ultimately doomed) quest to find a sense of place amid the chaos of modern life.
Its isolationist anthems are by turns stark and disquieting (The Great Below, La Mer) or pained and desperate (The Day The World Went Away, We’re In This Together), presenting a fractured but fascinating narrative arc. Nine Inch Nails’ first US No.1 album, it’s a challenging and indulgent collection, but an undeniable artistic triumph.
Trent: miles ahead of the pack… again.
Opeth - Still Life
Opeth (opens in new tab)'s fourth album moved further away again from their death metal roots, and into a more progressive sound. It also showed evidence of Mikael Akerfeldt (opens in new tab)’s maturing skills as a composer and his band’s increasingly powerful identity.
It was the second time the band had gone for an overall concept, which they’d first done a year earlier with My Arms, Your Hearse. It was also the start of an ongoing relationship with Travis Smith, who has done the artwork for every subsequent Opeth album.
Suddenly, a prog-metal future opened up in front of them.
Rage Against The Machine - The Battle Of Los Angeles
RATM’s third studio album, The Battle Of Los Angeles, came out in 1999. That means it’s been over 20 years since we last heard new original material from the band. Yet here we are, still talking about them, two decades later.
What’s even more impressive is how fresh, vital and relevant their music still sounds, and The Battle Of Los Angeles was the moment the quartet perfected their art. The first three songs (Testify, Guerrilla Radio and Calm Like A Bomb) in particular are absolutely unstoppable, whilst the record as a whole serves as a lasting reminder of the groundbreaking music RATM created.
The agit-metallers’ third album was their confrontational peak. Over 20 years on, we need them back more than ever – which makes their recently announced reunion (opens in new tab) all the more welcome.
Satyricon - Rebel Extravaganza
As black metal’s original wave of enfants terribles grew up, they went on to produce some of the most fascinating and boundary-pushing music of the late 90s. The fourth album from Satyricon dispensed with lost-in-a-forest-at-midnight clichés and trite Satanic schtick, instead stripping the genre down to a stark, industrial core: Supersonic Journey’s jackhammer assault and the self-explanatory Filth Grinder sounded like they’d been recorded in a grotty, disused iron foundry. This was black metal on the cusp of a new millennium, and everything was up for grabs.
Slipknot - Slipknot
In 1999, nine men from Iowa gatecrashed the nu metal party with their ferocious, self-titled album.
In retrospect, Slipknot (opens in new tab)’s 1999 self- titled album was a major change in metal. Until then, bands were still caught up in the fallout from grunge, and while the lightweight pop-metal of bands such as Korn, Limp Bizkit and others were keeping hard rock alive and on permanent rotation on MTV, there was nothing outside of the underground to challenge the old guard of Slayer, Metallica and Megadeth, nothing with any real substance.
By the time Slipknot was finished, everyone else seemed a bit silly by comparison.
Static-X - Wisconsin Death Trip
Maverick of hair and extravagant of beard, Static-X were a cartoon Ministry for the nu metal generation. Lacking both Korn’s self-lacerating angst and Limp Bizkit’s obnoxious bro-dom, the Chicagoans’ debut album was never designed to be taken seriously. But Wisconsin Death Trip was a blast all the same - a glorious rush of grinding riffs and squelching electronics, with the much-missed Wayne Static howling about losers and serial killers like a swarm of hornets trapped in a wind tunnel.
Testament - The Gathering
So the ‘90s was a thrash wasteland, was it? Two years before Slayer (opens in new tab) came back all guns blazing with God Hates Us All, Testament (opens in new tab) refined their death/thrash fusion.
Featuring death metal luminaries Steve DiGiorgio and James Murphy on bass and lead guitar, and none other than Dave Lombardo behind the kit, The Gathering was a precision strike to the senses.
Testament’s eighth album forced those who wrote them off as a thrash metal relic to eat their words.
Type O Negative - World Comin Down
Although dominated by bitter melancholy and bleak, strung-out gloom, World Coming Down manages to advance the songcraft with the irresistible melodic beauty of Everyone I Love Is Dead and Everything Dies, plus the Into-The-Void-and-beyond riffing of Pyretta Blaze and a sludgy Beatles medley. Creepy ambient interludes add to the immersive atmospheres, and the tongue-in-cheek humour and libidinous braggadocio are cast aside for this heavily solemn and sombre Drab Four experience.
Will Haven - WHVN
Pals with post-hardcore heroes Far and the fast-rising Deftones, Will Haven too looked set to transcend the Sacramento alt-metal scene with the release of their second album, the tightly-wound WHVN. Pitched somewhere between Neurosis, cult Nottingham noise-rockers Fudge Tunnel and My War-era Black Flag (most potently on Jaworski, with its snarling, terrifying “Do you want a piece of me?” chorus), at their most intense - with vocalist Grady Avenell spitting oblique poetry and guitarist Jeff Irwin cranking filthy, down-tuned, looping riffage - Will Haven sounded suspiciously keen to offer up the final death rattles of a doomed century.