Musical tastes are constantly in a state of flux and metal fans know that there will always come a time once a decade where it isn’t fashionable to admit that you’re a metal fan. The same thing happened in the late 80’s and luckily bands like Metallica, Guns & Roses and others managed to kill the Aqua-netted monster that we knew as “Hair Metal.”
Recently we had a similar experience towards the end of the last century and the beginning of this one in which metal became unfashionable among all of the Pop, Rap, and boy band crowds. Luckily, like a bad case of the crabs, metal will always have something in the pipe that will revive the genre enough to keep it going for a few more years.
I’ve compiled a list of 20 albums that, in my opinion, helped to keep the metal genre fresh and alive between the late 90’s and mid 2000’s. Many people will dispute this list and if you care to chime in you can do so in the comments section, however, if you feel the need to, please put some content in your argument. Saying “There’s not one Tool album in there” is not a valid argument (mostly because anything Tool does is pretty genre defying and amazing anyway).
These are in no particular order….
- Chevelle- Wonder What’s Next (2002):
With this being their second album you would think that the “sophomore curse” would affect their writing, however, Chevelle had not become overly popular yet so they had nowhere to go but up. This album was a good example of how you could meld pop melodies into metal songs and come up with something simple, catchy and oddly enough didn’t have a rhyming structure to the words. A lot of people will cite “The Red” as their song, but I lean towards “An Evening with El Diablo” because of its solid groove.
- Deftones- Around the Fur (1997):
While still working to find their sound the Deftones first two albums were considered to be one of the bands that defined the “Nu Metal” sound. However, Around the Fur is an example of how a blend of groove, melody, and heaviness can all mix well and create a cohesive album. The Deftones third album White Pony rocketed them into the spotlight but Around the Fur offers some of the staples of the Deftones’ setlist including “My Own Summer” and “Be Quiet and Drive” My favorite song on this album is actually the title track. This album helped expand the frontiers of metal that moved it into a more open and experimental format that would make it highly popular at the turn of the century.
- Disturbed- The Sickness (2000):
In the year 2000 Disturbed burst onto the scene with a highly successful debut album that was almost unheard of from any Chicago based metal band. The Sickness managed to keep heavy riffs in focus while David Draiman monkey OOOO ah ah ah ahed their songs into popularity. I remember that back when this album first came out, not of the radio stations were censoring “Stupify” even though the word fuck was said repeatedly. Disturbed managed to insert subtle electronics into their sound to expand their sound, which was nothing new at that point. However, the reason I think that this album deserves to be on this list is the fact that Disturbed was able to successfully catch women’s interest which, as any metal head knows, a band that your girlfriend can get into is one less Taylor Swift song you have to listen to in the car. I know it’s an obvious choice but my favorite song on this album is the cover of Tears for Fears “Shout” which was done very well. This was the first of many covers that Disturbed have managed to record that actually stand up to the original.
- Ill Nino- Revolution Revolucion (2001):
While Ill Nino may not be as mainstream as the bands preceding it on this list, they did make an important contribution to the genre. While Latin inspired drums were nothing new thanks to Sepultura, but they were very prevalent in the music of Ill Nino. Their debut album had one single “What Comes Around” however; the title track is a showcase of the heaviness the band is capable of. My favorite on this album is “I Am Loco” because of its simplicity but also its straight heaviness.
- Killswitch Engage- The End of Heartache (2004):
I think two words sum up why this album is amazing “Howard Jones.” The man is a beast. This album was actually my first exposure to the band (I have however become a huge fan of Jesse Leach as well) and to the New England heavy metal scene that included Shadows Fall as well as others. “The Rose of Sharyn” and the “End of Heartache” were the major singles on this album but I think the entire album is a great indicator of what was brewing up in North East. This album brought back huge anthemic chorus vocals back to the metal genre that had been missing for a while.
- Korn- Follow the Leader (1998):
Think back to the end of the century and could you point out a bigger metal act than Korn? This album finally focused all of the elements that made the early Korn albums so great. The heaviness of the self titled album meshed with the funky-rap elements Life is Peachy, it was bound to be a monster. This album spawned hits including “Freak on a Leash” and “Got the Life” as well as included guest appearances from Ice Cube, Fred Durst, and Cheech Marin on the Cheech and Chong hidden track “Earache My Eye.” Korn was probably the biggest reason the Nu Metal genre took off and while some people will bemoan its existence to begin with, you have to admit that the melding of styles managed to make heavy music exciting again.
- Linkin Park- Hybrid Theory (2000):
Not much can be said about Linkin Park that hasn’t been already. While we all got burned out on them at the time, they actually did metal a service by bringing in a lot of young people who otherwise would not have listened to any heavy music. While their style has grown outside of the heavy genre, they managed to have dedicated positions for both a rapper and singer that managed to play off of each other in a highly cohesive sound. It’s hard to point out any single song on this album because it is seriously one of the best debut albums front to back that has come out in years.
- Mudvayne- LD 50 (2000):
It is fair to say that there was something weird in the water in the Midwest at the turn of the century. One of the bands that managed to stand out in the mask/makeup wearing bunch is Mudvayne. The band burst onto the scene with the leadoff track “Dig” and didn’t really look back. As far as pure musicianship this band was like Tool only heavier. While the album may not have as many catchy songs as people would like it does have some great moments throughout. The band continued to define a genre and push the boundaries of experimentation and musicianship for another four albums before going on hiatus, but their pure talent started a trend that put musicianship back into the metal genre after the Nu Metal bands proved that you can do anything with a dropped tuned guitar.
- Nonpoint- Statement (2000):
This little known band from Florida managed to put out a number of good records with its original lineup before members started to leave. Their debut Statement stands out because of Andrew Goldman’s unique approach to guitar. Goldman managed to change the focus of riffs from being a chug-o-riffic entity the like in which 7-string playing bands were playing to something in a higher register. The album had two singles that I can recall, one being “What a Day” and the other being “Endure.” Blending funky with heavy the debut album had a number of standout tracks (in my opinion) and honestly the band should have been more popular than it was (I bought this album for $7.99) at the record store because they hadn’t had a big hit yet. This album helped push metal forward by bringing it out of the low register dirge it had been stuck in for five years.
- Powerman 5000- Tonight the Stars Revolt! (1999):
It isn’t very often that a band manages to create its own sub-genre but PM5K managed to create “Action Rock.” This album was a stark departure from their sound on their debut album Mega! Kung Foo Radio. Gone was the percussionist and the funk influenced songs based on cartoons and comic books and the arrival of straightforward sci-fi rock had come. Bringing the entertainment factor that his older brother is known for (Spider One is the younger brother of Rob Zombie) PM5k managed to create a high-octane form of metal that managed to get you to sing along while rocking out. The album managed to put out a number of singles, however, my favorite song is “Operate, Annihilate.”
- Rammstein- Sehnsucht (1998):
This fucking album… what can I say about this fucking album…? Rammstein proved in 1998 that it doesn’t matter if you can understand one goddamned word being said you can still rock out. This album is full of great songs that put the band on the map in America (along with their highly unusual stage show). Rammstein is a band that you either love or hate. I had an ex that wouldn’t let me listen to them in the car because the music gave her a headache. Rammstein’s uniqueness as well as their huge guitar riffs managed to endear the band to American audiences who don’t speak a word of German. Notable songs that people will remember is “Du Hast” which sported some Reservoir Dogs references in its video, “Engel”, and the now infamous “Buck Dich.”The band has had a steady output of albums since 1998, unfortunately, because the douchebags who shot up Columbine were fans the band got a bad rap and haven’t managed to regain a mainstream foothold in the states since. Sehnsucht helped save the genre by allowing a breakdown in language barriers which allowed other European bands to have a shot at popularity in the states including bands like Japan’s Dir En Grey. It doesn’t matter what you sing about as long as you rock right?
- Sevendust- Home (1999):
Sevendust is a band whose mainstream popularity has been a yoyo over the years. Despite (or possibly because of) this the band has one of the most intensely loyal fan bases I have ever seen. As a diehard “Duster” since the self titled debut in 1997, I can honestly say that this is one of the best live shows going in metal. I’ve seen them three times and never get tired of paying to see them live. Often Sevendust is hard to define because they manage to keep a heaviness that is not overbearing while providing melodies and singable choruses that are easy to remember. Home was the sophomore effort from the group that managed to have a few hits including “Waffle” and “Denial” as well as introduced the audience to a female singer with a killer voice (Skin from Skunk Anansie) on the song “Licking Cream.” For me the highlight of the album is the duet track with Chino from the Deftones titled “Bender.” Sevendust is one of those bands that doesn’t change their sound very much from album to album, but the consistency is what makes the band great and they continue to fly the flag for metal without compromising.
- Slipknot- Iowa (2001):
Say what you will about Slipknot, the fact still remains that they are probably one of the hardest metal bands to create and maintain a mainstream success that has lasted two decades. While their incendiary debut album put them on the map, Iowa was their finger to the mainstream that shouted in defiance that they would continue to make their brand of metal and the maggot masses would continue to love it. Slipknot managed to save the genre by making people scratch their heads at their approach. Nine members?! How can you afford to live having to split shit nine ways? Yet somehow they managed and also managed to combine all of the elements the nine members contributed to create a hard charging, in your face kind of metal that tells you it’s ok to scream “People = Shit” out of your window at full volume while stuck in traffic. Slipknot have managed to have socially conscious lyrical content without coming off preachy or overbearing. Every metal head should be able to relate because most of us are pissed off and intelligent enough to see what is going on.
- Soulfly- Soulfly (1998):
Soulfly managed to take everything great about Sepultura and bring it into the new era. Max Cavalera managed to break free from his former band and create new and exciting music that brought his musical roots more into the forefront. I saw Soulfly in 2000 and was amazed by their stage show and intensity. Unfortunately, Max also managed to take a promising new band and fuck it up by writing basically the same fucking album for the next decade. The poly rhythmic style of Latin beats set Soulfly apart from Sepultura in a way that made it its own entity. While lumped in with the unfortunate Nu Metal sludge riffed masses, I think that the first Soulfly album helped the genre by showing that embracing your cultural roots and including them in the metal genre could work and work well. Ill Nino owe a lot to Soulfly for creating an audience of Latin American metal heads for them to convert into fans. One stand out song on this album is “Tribe” which I managed to see live once where Max brought out a number of drummers to do a drum line.
- Staind- Dysfunction (1999):
Of all the albums on this list I think this one will be the one I get the most shit for. ‘It’s just a guy whining over heavy music’ some might say, but the honest truth is that Aaron Lewis is baring his soul for people. This album is important to the genre because it showed that you can have the realness and emotionality that made a band like Alice in Chains so great and still manage to make it heavy. Their rotation on MTV (back when they actually played music videos) may have burned people out on them, but those who loved it understood that you can use lyrical content as therapy, and a lot of people will be able to relate to it. With a number of great singles to choose from, oddly enough, my favorite song is the hidden track “Excess Baggage” because it was a representation of my feelings at that time in my life (all 19 years of age of me).
- Spineshank- The Height of Callousness (2000):
My god what an album… While some people will argue that Spineshank was another Nu Metal band that utilized electronics to augment their sound, the truth is they were much more than that. Spineshank managed to bring heavier screaming vocals to the Nu Metal genre, which was very focused on rapping at the time. Pure and simple, this album is heavy as fuck but doesn’t sacrifice listen-ability for weight. Some people may remember “Synthetic” being on the MTV back in the day but the last few songs on the album are the strongest for me. “Seamless”, “Negative Space”, and “Transparent” are probably the strongest three songs to end an album of this weight in the era it was release.
- Stabbing Westward- Darkest Days (1998):
Stabbing Westward was always an odd duck on the landscape of heaviness. They managed over time to carry the torch of industrial while infusing elements of pop and funk into their sound. Darkest Days is probably remember most for the song “Save Yourself” which was a big hit in its own right, but the lyric and musical content was more expansive in terms of covering mileage in the sonic landscape. “Everything I Touch” harkens back to the days of early grunge while “Haunting Me” manages to add some industrial/dance elements to the album. Stabbing Westward contributed to the metal genre by blending everything going on musically at the time into a dark landscape and spitting it out to create a Tim Burton-esque land of Oz. While SW has been done for a while The Dreaming (which consists of the singer and keyboardist from SW) continue to carry sonic contributions that Stabbing Westward left us with.
- Static-X – Wisconsin Death Trip (1999):
Speaking of genre creating bands… Fuck! Static-X created and owned “Evil Disco” until the end of the band. I had the pleasure of meeting the original lineup before they were an MTV hit and can honestly say that they were the most down to earth, endearing, and funny guys I ever met. This album was like a star exploding, because with the force it hit MTV it caused an impact that the band managed to maintain for the life of the project. While their style changed and grew heavier the deeper you go in their catalog, there is something about the birth of Evil Disco that was just amazing. Static-X managed to add some excitement back into the genre at a time when everybody was depressed and bitching about their parents. Nonsense lyrics, Zombie-esque audio samples, a straightforward guitar attack made the male fans want to bang their heads and the females shake their asses and any music insider can tell you that that is a hit. Bar none my two favorite songs on this album are “Trance is the Motion” and “December.”
- Strata- Strata (2004):
I don’t expect many people to know about this band, but they are important in the fact that there was elements of all three things that I consider important to music. 1. Emotionality, 2. Musicianship, 3. Power in the message. While they might be considered a “screamo” band by some, I classify Strata with the likes of the Deftones or Evans Blue as a genre I call groove metal. There is a definite groove to the music, but there is a connection to the emotion that is conveyed in the songs. I think that Strata made a contribution to the genre by bringing an arena rock element in the big choruses and subdued verse formula. It could be that I’m just emotionally attached to the album due to its significance at a point in my life but I don’t care, fuck it, it’s a good fucking album. “The Panic” was the one video I ever saw on MTV from these guys but with the exception of “Trustkill” the entire album has a high level of repeat listenability. By far my favorite song on the album is “When It’s All Burning.”
- Trivium- Ascendency (2005):
Last but not least is Trivium’s major label debut Ascendency. With one album these young guys from Florida (WTF is it with the swamp?) managed to reignite the fire of thrash in the new century. I remember hearing “Pull Harder on the Strings of Your Martyr” for the first time and being blown away. The best of thrash without all the bullshit.
These guys can flat out play period. Don’t believe me? Check out Matthew and Corey from the band rip a solo for the King Diamond song on the Roadrunner United album. Their most recent three albums In Waves, Vengeance Falls, and Silence in the Snow have been fucking amazing and they continue to grow musically with each release. Trivium is important to the genre of metal because these are the guys that are going to fly the flag for years to come and hopefully inspire the next generation of guitarists to learn how to circle head bang while shitting out riffs from hell.
Well that is my take on shit. If you feel compelled to contribute your voice to this then leave a comment.