Trying to boil down 25-plus years of music into 20 albums is a challenge. And there are some bands we’ve decided to omit, among them Agnostic Front (who predate the metalcore scene), Dillinger Escape Plan (who straddle way more genres than just metalcore), and Bullet For My Valentine (who lack the hardcore roots to make them a true metalcore band).
But there are still plenty of classic bands and albums to fit in. After much wrangling and several long, dark nights of the soul, we have finally managed to boil it down to a list of 20 albums that showcase the birth, growth and continuing expansion of punk rock and heavy metal’s bastard offspring.
Earth Crisis – Destroy The Machines (1995)
Earth Crisis’ debut EP Firestorm was one of the most important and influential hardcore releases of the 1990s, but the Syracuse agitators’ first full-length album,, Destroy The Machines is musically superior. Taking 90s groove metal (opens in new tab) and merging it with an aggressive, hyper-militant strain of hardcore, it they proved to be as divisive as they were impactful. Born From Pain and The Discipline don’t sound controversial as they once did, partly because the rest of the world has caught up with EC and partly they just sound like the absolutely crushing metallic hardcore bangers they always were.
Deadguy – Fixation On A Co-Worker (1995)
Another integral band in the melding of hardcore and metal, Deadguy only managed one full-length album before imploding, but Fixation On A Co-Worker is a milestone in the development of the metalcore genre. Take a listen to a song like Baby Arm, with its concrete heavy, hardcore stomp and technical metallic (opens in new tab) riffs, and try and tell us that Deadguy weren’t ripped off endlessly over the nex15 years. But few have bettered the original.
Integrity – Humanity Is The Devil (1996)
While it would be remiss not give a nod to Rorschach, Cleveland’s Integrity are often cited as the first proper metalcore band. Both 1991’s Those Who Fear Tomorrow and 1995’s System Overload are both essential pieces of metallic hardcore, but Humanity Is The Devil takes some beating for their finest 25 minutes. The jazzy solos on Trapped Under Silence, the opening double kick drum on Abraxas Annihilation, the manic performance of frontman Dwid Hellion… it still sounds killer today. Happily, Integrity have shown no signs of slowing down since.
Cave In – Until Your Heart Stops (1998)
From Converge (opens in new tab) and American Nightmare to Bane, the late ’90s Boston hardcore scene was the envy of underground music the world over. Cave In (opens in new tab) would go on to become a far more melodic and experimental band, but they may well have given that scene its most influential album with their 1998 debut. Taking the Boston HC format and making it wilder, heavier, more aggressive and noticeably more metallic, Until Your Heart Stops still sounds cutting edge. Stick on the grinding Juggernaut and see where a thousand bands that came after them learned their tricks.
Vision Of Disorder – Imprint (1998)
Vision Of Disorder (opens in new tab) were one of the first bands to introduce clean vocals to metalcore – and certainly the best. And they was never bettered than on their second album, Imprint. Frontman Tim Williams’ vocals were as hard and as heavy as any hardcore screamer, but he could also croon his way through the huge choruses of the title track and What You Are that gave them VOD an extra epic quality. Looking back, Imprint was light years ahead of the game.
Botch – We Are The Romans (1999)
A band and an album whose legend that continues to grow with every passing year. Tacoma’s Botch (opens in new tab) were nothing more than a cult underground band even at their peak, and they split up three years after this, their second and final studio album, but We Are The Romans has gone on to become a touchstone for forward thinking metal and hardcore bands. They Introduced the odd time signatures, bizarre noise-rock breakdowns and an unhinged vocal performance from Dave Verellen. Nothing else has come close to it since.
Poison The Well – The Opposite Of December (1999)
If you want to find an album that truly sounds like the modern metalcore of today from the pre-mainstream days, then The Opposite Of December is as close as you can get. The Florida quintet really should have been the first band to break metalcore to a significantly bigger audience with this album, due to it being packed to the brim with massive mosh calls, some savage beat down moments and the kind of huge, emotive swells of clean vocals that would turn a great number of bands into superstars in the next few years. The latter’s bank balances might be more impressive, but hardly any of them can match Poison The Well as they sounded here.
Drowningman – Rock and Roll Killing Machine (2000)
Drowningman were one of the early 00’s most underrated bands. Where Converge, Dillinger Escape Plan and Botch have gone on to get the dues they deserve over the years, the Vermont math-metalcore outfit remain perplexingly under the radar. Rock And Roll Killing Machine, the bands second album, is just as inventive and manic as anything their contemporaries released. But what really set them apart was the deep wells of spite that they drew from on The Truly Dangerous Nature Of A Man Who Doesn’t Care If He Lives Or Dies and My First Restraining Order, with vocalist Simon Brody plumbing the depths of nihilism, depravity and self-loathing in his lyrics.
Converge – Jane Doe (2001)
All these years later, it feels reductive to refer to an album as revolutionary as Jane Doe (opens in new tab) as a ‘metalcore’ album. Converge’s fourth album is a bona fide masterpiece, and the benchmark that any band trying to make forward-thinking heavy music must be measured against. From the breathless, rabid 71 second opener Concubine all the way through to the expansive, nightmarish, beauty of the closing 11-minute-plus title track, Jane Doe never ceases to inspire. A true landmark in the development of not just metalcore, but extreme music as a whole.
Hatebreed – Perseverance (2002)
Purists may be furious that we’ve picked Hatebreed (opens in new tab)’s major label debut over their massively influential 1997 album Satisfaction Is The Death Of Desire, but Perseverance is the better record. Leaning in on the metal side of things far more than ever before – particularly their love of Slayer (opens in new tab) riffs – it was a huge breakthrough for Jamey Jasta and co. It’s hard to imagine a Hatebreed set without the likes of I Will Be Heard, Proven or the title track, and it’s this album that kicked the hardest at the doors of the mainstream just before metalcore’s early 00’s commercial boom happened.