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The Top 20 best metal albums of 1996

Ministry - Filth Pig

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After the breakthrough success of 1993’s Psalm 69, Ministry fucked everything up with Filth Pig – but in the best possible way. The bigwigs wanted soaring choruses, chant-along verses and radio fodder. What they got was one of the dirtiest, most rancid records to ever see release by a major label. 

 The samples were basically gone, the pace and thrash of yore replaced with dense, treacle-thick walls of noise. Much like Dark Side Of The Spoon, Filth Pig remains a stark, difficult record to listen to, even in 2016, but it’s one hell of a ride – even the cover of Bob Dylan’s Lay Lady Lay seamlessly slots into the album, unlike later covers the band recorded. Absolutely minging.

My Dying Bride - Like Gods Of The Sun

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My Dying Bride (opens in new tab)’s doom always had a powerfully gothic sensibility, but this was where the Bradford sextet most fully, and seductively, embraced the form. Pacier songs took on a more streamlined, accessible feel, while Aaron Stainthorpe’s lyrics were far more direct, especially A Kiss To Remember and For You, darkly erotic hits destined to moisten a thousand black panties.

Neurosis - Through Silver In Blood

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Having worked their way up through the crust punk scene in the late 80s, Neurosis began to evolve into a far more dangerous beast during the following decade. 

The album Through Silver In Blood finally captured the nightmarish hell inside their collective head in all its savage glory. A percussive, hypnotic sonic assault dressed up as post-metal, this was their pinnacle: metal reinvented as tribal ritual.

Pantera - The Great Southern Trendkill

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After three such groundbreaking and essential albums as Cowboys…Vulgar… and Far Beyond… Pantera (opens in new tab) were faced with something of a quandary. Should they stick to their guns and deliver another high-octane set of brutal, headcrushing metal, or try to do something slightly different? 

Brothers Dimebag and Vinnie Paul were both keen on the latter, singer Anselmo favoured the former. Bassist Rex, never the most voluble member, probably kept his opinions to himself. 

The resulting album proved the brothers had won out, and The Great Southern Trendkill is easily the most diverse of the modern-day Pantera albums, even dipping into balladry on the likes of 10’s and Suicide Note Pt. 1

Lyrically, Anselmo’s normal poetic angst was replaced by drug-related diatribes and rants at the media, showing something, somewhere, was very wrong indeed.

Rage Against The Machine - Evil Empire

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Rage’s second album fanned the flames lit by their debut. Money men, arms dealers, shock jocks – all were in their sights.

Evil Empire represented everything great about the band: the steadfast groove of its rhythm section driven by Brad Wilk’s urgent stop-start drum fills and the crunchy distortion of Tim Commerford’s bass, the unmistakable wah-wah guitar work of Tom Morello and his impenetrable solos that flip from explosive riffing to turntable scratching at the flip of a hat, and the rapid politicised polemic of vocalist Zack De La Rocha. 

Aside from that, it’s a scathing lambaste of US society, seething in anger and explosive in deliverance, and a fine example of the rousing mix of music and politics that made Rage Against The Machine (opens in new tab) such an unstoppable force.

Satyricon - Nemesis Divina

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Satyricon’s early output is extremely consistent in quality despite the obvious musical evolution taking place between each release. Third album, Nemesis Divina, captures the band at their most apocalyptic, marching toward biblical Armageddon with a definite sense of swagger and some seriously dramatic and dynamic numbers.

Sepultura - Roots

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First Sepultura (opens in new tab) smashed the boundaries between punk and thrash. Then they invented a whole new genre – the Brazilian quartet’s breathtaking musical vision came to full fruition here. 

The first song that anyone heard from the Roots sessions was, of course, the mighty Roots Bloody Roots (opens in new tab). To this day, the defining moment of both Sepultura’s and Max’s careers, this pummelling tirade of rumbling riffs, thudding percussion and Max’s throat-rending call-to-arms vocal was an instant classic when it was released as a single shortly before the album’s release.

The defining moment of the Roots recording sessions came at the very end of the process, when Sepultura travelled to the depths of the Brazilian rainforest to record Itsári in collaboration with the indigenous Xavante tribe; the fulfilment of the Roots concept. A glorious epitaph for the legendary Max Cavalera (opens in new tab) era.

Soundgarden - Down On The Upside

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The sessions for Soundgarden’s mammoth, self-produced fifth album were marred by stylistic disagreements. Listening to Down On The Upside now, with its shifts from urgent speed-punk to Beatles-y jangles to acoustic balladry to Tom Wait (opens in new tab)-style horrorscapes over its 16 tracks, you can only admire their audacity. But warts and all, frayed edges not neatly trimmed was how Soundgarden operated best. Down On The Upside isn’t perfect, but it’s exactly the sound that was in the band’s head, transplanted onto tape. No outside interference, no compromise and, a year later, no Soundgarden.  

Tool - Aenima

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The first Tool (opens in new tab) album to be recorded by the classic line up, with former Peach bassist Justin Chancellor joining the band for the first time, was to be the record that really established the band as genuine one-offs. 

Aenima is the first time where Tool sounded like nobody else but Tool. Weird, esoteric, sarcastic, unsettling, progressive, complex, involving... it is a masterclass in teasing the listener and keeping them on their toes. 

Stinkfist was the big single, but the nine-minute build of Eulogy (going from two notes to a wall of furious noise) or the psychedelic nightmare trip of the closing Third Eye (possibly their finest song) really showed the world the real Tool for the first time.

Ritual magick, sacred geometry and the comedy of Bill Hicks – like nothing before or since.

Type O Negative - October Rust

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After a prank opener and a jovial message of thanks from the band, this autumnal epic represents the culmination of Type O Negative (opens in new tab)’s progress from ugly ducklings to ugly swans, honing their dreamy alt-pop sensibilities while nailing some of their most affecting doom atmospheres in Red WaterWolf Moon and Haunted

But it’s the lush harmonic textures and radiant romanticism that proved the biggest revelation, holding the attention for 70+ minutes of unorthodox beguilement.

Peter Steele fleshed out his band’s grandiose vision here – and wrote the perfect gothic pop song in My Girlfriend’s Girlfriend.

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