10 bands from the ’90s who have kept their original line-up together
Relationships are a complex thing, no matter what the situation. People and circumstances change with time. Challenges can take their toll on even the strongest of foundations and bands are notoriously fractious regardless. Very few last the distance beyond those initial bursts of excitement and adrenaline. Fewer still manage to stay the course over decades. Keeping the same line-up together over a long period of time without drafting in replacement members or just plain breaking up? That’s almost unheard of, frankly. Whether it’s the breakdown in communications, capitulation of friendships, the dreaded “artistic differences” driving people apart or even worse, someone sadly passing away, holding things together in a band long term is a tough business.
That’s why we set ourselves the maddening task of paying tribute to those rare few who have managed to keep the same set of players involved from back in their earliest stages in the ’90s. If we’ve forgotten someone, please don’t tell us. It won’t make up for all those lost hours trying to think of artists who might qualify for this…
Talk about a power trio! Maybe the key in keeping your band together for a long time is limiting the number of people involved? Teignmouth trio Muse formed in 1994, when vocalist and guitarist Matt Bellamy tried out for drummer Dominic Howard’s old band, Carnage Mayhem, swiftly rebranding as Gothic Plague and asking Chris Wolstenholme to join as bassist. A few more name and image changes later and Muse were on their way, working towards debut album Showbiz in 1999. Laughable as it is now, they were initially dismissed in some quarters as Radiohead copyists. The fact that they’ve evolved so much since then and they’re absolutely huge today is testament to their staying power.
Disclaimer: for the purposes of clarity, we’re not counting if bands existed in some nascent form while someone’s cousin, neighbour’s dog or dad stood in on bass in a garage way back when. We’re counting debut album onwards only. So shoutout to Boyan Chowdhury and his axe services on the good ship Biffy in the very earliest days, but it’s fair to say that the line-up of frontman Simon Neil, alongside twin brothers Ben (drums) and James Johnston (bass) is the true original and lasting Biffy Clyro line-up. That those three have held strong together since 1995 until the present day is remarkable. Considering where they started off and the gloriously unholy racket they made, their gradual and entirely natural transformation into festival headlining monsters is even more remarkable still. All hail.
Legend has it that when Butch Vig first tried poaching Shirley Manson from her old band Angelfish, she had no idea he was the man behind the production desk on Nirvana’s Nevermind. She would come to know him very well, however, over the course of the next couple of decades in fact, as she proved to be the missing puzzle piece in his own creative endeavour, Garbage. Alongside multi-instrumentalists Steve Marker and Duke Erikson, the quartet have been going strong for over 25 years.
Is this one cheating? It is a band of only two members – co-vocalists and guitarists Jack Black and Kyle Gass, after all. But hey, they are a band and they did start out in 1994. The duo came into the world as a comedy rock pair and their first forays into the world of rocking comically were consigned to TV spots prior to 2001’s self-titled debut album, but bands from the ’90s who are still going and kept their original line-up together are such a rare breed, we’re having this one. Allow us.
From the ridiculous to the sublime. Or maybe more accurately, the sublimely ridiculous, given how much of what Shellac do treads that finest of lines. Another trio (there’s something in this) and another band started by musicians who also worked behind the scenes on other records – note how careful we are not to fall foul of saying the word ‘producer’ here – the brilliant noise of Shellac has been clanging with mischievous glee since all the way back in 1992, in Chicago, Illinois.
Explosions In The Sky
This largely instrumental Texas quartet have been a going concern since 1999, juuuuust squeezing their way onto this list. Save for the addition of an occasional fifth member for their none-more-epic live shows, guitarists Michael James, Munaf Rayani, Mark Smith and drummer Chris Hrasky have flown the Explosions flag and been ever-presents to this day, releasing some of the most beautiful, evocative and moving post-rock music the world has ever known.
The German filth-masters have not had a single member leave their ranks since forming in 1994. Keeping any institution afloat, let alone thriving as Rammstein has over the course of almost three decades is no mean feat – especially so when you consider that there are six different people involved, with six different personalities, opinions, ideas, sensitivities and tastes. That’s a lot to balance, manage and maintain. Across seven full-length albums, countless explosive live shows and rivers of blood, sweat, tears and other bodily fluids later, the industrial metal merchants are somehow bigger and better than ever.
Rage Against The Machine
Okay, so the members of Rage Against The Machine have entered their third term together, having officially reformed for the second time at the tail end of 2019, but since 1991 it’s that quartet and that quartet alone who are responsible for creating their enduring appeal and legend. Prophets Of Rage (essentially RATM minus Zack de la Rocha with added Chuck D, DJ Lord and B‑Real) held it down for a few years, and music from WAKRAT and Tom Morello’s various solo ventures all filled voids during downtime, but nothing has or ever will come close to matching the incendiary power of Rage in full flow.
System Of A Down
The unhinged weirdo brilliance of System Of A Down simply wouldn’t be possible were any one of their number to leave or be replaced. Some bands are just destined to have to stay together if they’re to make any kind of noteworthy noise – whether they like it or not (and the jury on that in this case, remains out). These days, System are only sporadically active live of course, and they’ve not actually released a proper album since Hypnotize in 2005 – though we did get surprise singles Protect The Land and Genocidal Humanoidz in 2020 – but when the quartet who recorded that self-titled debut record together in 1998 are on a stage or in a room blasting music together, there’s a certain kind of magic created that only those four players can pull off.
This one’s all about friendship. Leaving their old high school band Pezz in the past in 1999, the abrasive punk squall of Billy Talent was born and the Ontario band have kept the same gang onboard ever since. The only disruption to that harmony has been due to an entirely reasonable health-related reason, with drummer Aaron Solowoniuk pulling out of recording 2016’s Afraid Of Heights album due to a multiple sclerosis relapse, with Alexisonfire’s Jordan Hastings manning the kit in his place.
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