The 50 best albums from 1999
For those of us who remember it, the eve of the turn of the 21st century seems about a heartbeat ago. In reality, it was a different, altogether more innocent time. These were the last years before the ubiquity of the mobile – never mind the smart – phone. Music was traded physically on fingerprint-smudged CDs – a commodity in which even casual fans still understood the real worth. Any kind of broadband internet was a tantalisingly rare resource. The terrible events of September 11, 2001 – and the rightward lurch of popular politics that terrible day would help precipitate – were still distant nightmares waiting to shift into focus. 1999 truly did feel like time to get the party started…
You can’t have a shindig without a soundtrack. A result of those – and so many other – variables, the final year of the 20th Century proved a fine vintage for rock music. Nu-metal was booming. The pop-punk floodgates were about to fall. The last men standing of ’90s alt.rock fought hard against the dying light, while a breed of ravenous upstarts laid everything on the line for their moment in the sun.
Music ties to memory for each individual differently, making retrospective ranking something of a thankless task. Still, we’ve never been fans to give up our seat on the nostalgia bus for a trip down memory lane. With that in mind, here’s our 100 per cent exhaustive, incontrovertibly, absolutely inarguable rundown of the best records of 1999.
We’ll see you in the comments…
50. Children Of Bodom – Hatebreeder
Believe it or not, Finnish melo-death metallers Children Of Bodom felt thrillingly cutting-edge back in 1999. Still as cutting as the reaper’s scythe, long before overfamiliarity dulled their razorblade impact, this serrated second album found the Espoo maniacs in delightfully bloodthirsty form. From the rabid gallop of Warheart through the faux-orchestral shred of Silent Night, Bodom Night to Black Widow’s bonkers crossover attack, it’d still draw blood today…
49. Clutch – Jam Room
There’s a clue in that album title. Having gotten pent up making a name for themselves with 1995’s self-titled sophomore LP and 1998 classic The Elephant Riders, Maryland groove-rockers Clutch needed to unwind. Album four feels like a living chronicle of that process. A loose, experimental, often unapologetically jazzy change of pace, it’s certainly not for everyone. As a mark of their slipshod evolution, however, it utterly fascinates.
48. The Donnas – Get Skintight
Late ’90s gender politics look positively prehistoric in this day and age. Kudos, then, to all-female Californian hard-rockers The Donnas for crashing the boys club. Sure, their good-time, retro rock stylings were all about stomping dancefloors rather than breaking ground, but tracks like Hook It Up and I Didn’t Like You Anyway left this third LP brimming with enough flair and enthusiasm to leave even the most jaded critics slipping into figure-hugging denim for a night on the town.
47. Burn The Priest (Lamb Of God) – Burn The Priest
Lamb of what, now? Before they’d even adopted their equally sacrilegious permanent moniker, everyone’s favourite groove-metal rednecks had blown a hole in the scene under the Burn The Priest banner with this ferocious debut. Raucous, unruly and absolutely untamed, tracks like Dimera and Goatfish were rough-edged lessons in violence, coming on like Pantera on speed – except twice as dangerous and half as listenable. Beneath their wilfully unpolished exteriors, though, world-beating promise was already writhing close to the surface.
46. Live – The Distance To Here
Where 1994’s 8x platinum-rated sophomore effort Throwing Copper promised the world for Pennsylvanian alt.rockers Live, two albums later they were fighting for their place on the mountaintop. Common knowledge tells us they didn’t manage to hold on. With an earnest, airy post-grunge vibe verging on folk rock, though, smooth tunes like Sparkle and Run To The Water go down as easy as cold beer on a sunbeaten beach.
45. Immortal – At The Heart Of Winter
Black metal fans wanted grim and frostbitten. On the fifth LP from Norwegian terrors Immortal, they couldn’t have asked for more. With founding guitarist Demonaz – victim of acute tendinitis – backing away to a writing role on the sidelines, frontman Abbath and percussionist Horgh were tasked with distilling the genre to its simplest base components. The result is a blast of BM brilliance that sounds immediately sharp and pure – anthems like Withstand The Fall Of Time and Where Light And Dark Don’t Differ quake with undiluted elemental power.
44. ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead – Madonna
Featuring a Hindu goddess on its artwork, and with tracks like Aged Dolls and A Perfect Teenhood plumbing the deepest recesses of its creators’ collective psyche, Madonna felt like …Trail Of Dead’s calm before the storm. Indeed, the Texan indie rock collective wouldn’t find their (as anyone could see: inevitable) acclaim until 2002’s Source Tags & Code. This cerebral, intricately layered sophomore release remains a waymarker worth revisiting.
43. A – A Vs Monkey Kong
If Suffolk rockers A were truly at their best when embracing their own gleeful sense of mischief, brilliantly-titled second album A vs. Monkey Kong was their magnum opus. Boasting bottomless amusement, current BBC Radio One Rock Show host Daniel P. Carter on bass and a genre-bending musicality that seemed to encapsulate pop-punk, grungy alt.rock and thrash metal, many labelled them directionless. To the contrary, AvMK felt like proof that it doesn’t matter where you’re going so long as you’re having fun.
42. Stone Temple Pilots – No. 4
The simply-titled fourth LP from San Diegan grunge icons Stone Temple Pilots was far more than the “good record of generic rock” frontman Scott Weiland would later brand it to be. Written at the height of the singer’s substance struggles and the acrimony with other members of the band, there’s a tense undercurrent to proceedings. Regardless, the massive riffage of Down – and that strange, Sarah Michelle Gellar-starring video for Sour Girl – endure.
41. In Flames – Colony
Some commentators view Colony as the end of an era for In Flames. Really, along with the following year’s Clayman, it’s a bridge. Where the astonishing early trilogy of Lunar Strain, The Jester Race and Whoracle perfected the almost classically-influenced melodies of the Gothenburg death metal sound, the unbridled likes of Ordinary Story and Behind Space ’99 were signs of their edging towards the modernism and more commercially-minded stylings for which they’re known today.
40. Staind – Dysfunction
With a 28-year-old Fred Durst – at the height of his obnoxious pomp – having muscled his way onto co-production duties alongside the legendary Terry Date, how good could the major label debut from Massachusetts alt.rockers Staind really be? Most excellent, it turns out. Marrying frontman Aaron Lewis’ unmistakable vocals to the slamming riffage of guitarist Mike Mushok, breakout single Mudshovel and its ilk saw them uncork fresh layers of emotional subtlety at the otherwise knuckleheaded nu-metal party.
39. New Found Glory – Nothing Gold Can Stay
New Found Glory guitarist Chad Gilbert described Nothing Gold Can Stay as “100 per cent, without a doubt, the most honest, simple, pure record,” to which the Floridians had put their name. Perhaps that’s a delicate way of acknowledging they were yet to perfect the charismatic, high-energy blend that’d later carry them to the top of the pop-punk mountain. Regardless, as an earnest portrayal of the rag-tag posse of suburban kids who authored them, songs like Hit Or Miss and You’ve Got A Friend In Pennsylvania continue to sound pretty fine.
38. P.O.D. – The Fundamental Elements Of Southtown
We’re guessing not many Christian rock records get censored in Christian bookstores. Thanks to its bonkers artwork, this third LP from SoCal nu-metallers P.O.D. gets that unusual honour, though. It’s just one aspect of a sort of chain-reaction musical identity crisis on show; one that was never more confounding than it was compelling. Mixing hip-hop, reggae and elements of world music in amongst the bombast, only-occasionally-cringeworthy cuts like Southtown and Rock The Party (Off The Hook) come on like unrefined strains of the Hybrid Theory Linkin Park would later perfect.
37. Testament – The Gathering
The 1990s weren’t a happy hunting ground for classic metal acts. Few comebacks were half as satisfying, therefore, as that staged by Berkeley thrash aristocrats Testament. With only singer Chuck Billy and guitarist Eric Peterson left from the classic eighties line-up, it took the recruitment of lead guitarist James Murphy, bassist Steve DiGiorgio and ex-Slayer sticksman Dave Lombardo to get the show back on the road. Tracks like D.N.R. (Do Not Resuscitate) and Legions Of The Dead loudly announced that business was about to pick up.
36. Stereophonics – Performance & Cocktails
As they’ve subsided, over the decades, into dull, dad-rock ubiquity it can be difficult to remember a time when Stereophonics truly raged. Back in ’99, though, the Cwmaman trio made music fans could get drunk and fight to. Bringing together the sounds and swagger of T‑Rex, AC/DC, their own wildman drummer Stuart Cable, with a particularly British twist – and, yes, no small amount of indie-rock influence – songs like The Bartender And The Thief and Half The Lies You Tell Ain’t True punched well above their weight.
35. Unida – Coping With The Urban Coyote
To hell with the law of diminishing returns. Already an awkward desert-rock icon in his twenties, the legendary John Garcia was on to his third stab enduring success with Unida. Despite continued fallout from the dissolution of Kyuss, however, and difficult comparisons with his ex-bandmates’ work in the emergent Queens Of The Stone Age, he refused to reinvent the wheel. Ramping up where Slo Burn left off, the emotional overload and sexy, driving riffage of tracks like Black Woman and If Only Two duly confirmed that he had much left to give.
34. Lit – A Place In The Sun
Casting aside the heavier tendencies of their first two albums, the major label debut from Californian rockers Lit sounded a lot like selling-out. Elevated by the lyrical flair of the Popoff brothers – drummer/lead-vocalist A. Jay and lead guitarist Jeremy – however, their swerve into poppier territory still yielded much to love. From the angstily focused songcraft of Miserable to sun-dappled bangers like Quicksand, these were sounds to suck you in.
33. Dream Theater – Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From A Memory
Dream Theater found themselves at something of an impasse in 1999. Having (by their own exacting, unapologetically abstract standards) given in to record label pressure with 1997’s relatively mainstream Falling Into Infinity, they still weren’t making much ground. Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From A Memory felt like the overdriven backlash. A mind-blowingly complex conceptual masterpiece (and sequel to 1992 track Metropolis Pt. 1: The Miracle And The Sleeper), Metropolis’ subsequent triumph changed the landscape of progressive metal forever.
32. Silverchair – Neon Ballroom
‘The Australian Nirvana’ (as so many critics of the time referred to NSW trio Silverchair) were in that awkward stage of growing up on this fascinating third album: yet to truly understand who they wanted to be. From the epic scope of lead single Anthem For The Year 2000 through Emotion Sickness’ extravagant classical orchestration to the thrashier likes of Satin Sheets and Spawn Again, there were abundant ideas on display – it’s just they didn’t really know yet how to throw them together yet.
31. The Get Up Kids – Something To Write Home About
There really is something to be said for simple, unabashed emo. Expanding and elaborating on the foundations laid by 1997 debut Four Minute Mile, the sophomore release from Kansas City quintet The Get Up Kids saw a (predictable) skip into more melodic, commercial, radio-friendly territory. Rather than undercutting their credentials, however, the sugar-rush songwriting and polished production of tracks like Action & Action and Ten Minutes proved to be a crystallisation of everything good about The Get Up Kids and their poppier end of emotional hardcore.
30. Agalloch – Pale Folklore
The fusion of folk music and black metal was still in its prototypical era at the end of the century. Norwegian trailblazers Ulver had laid the groundwork with their ‘Three Journeys Through The Norwegian Netherworlde’ trilogy, but it was Portland, Oregon’s Agalloch who really saw things through to fruition. By turns insidiously intimate and utterly epic, this debut LP nailed down a template to be followed for decades to come. An atmospheric masterclass calling to mind the endless adventure of the far North.
29. Saves The Day – Through Being Cool
Is this sophomore offering from New jersey emo icons Saves The Day the ultimate benchmark for their ‘classic’ sound? Probably. Following quickly on from 1998 debut Can’t Slow Down, it saw them coming to terms with the bittersweet truths of everyday life – transporting listeners into a world of aimless road trips and low-key drama. Shoulder To The Wheel and Rocks Tonic Juice Magic (with lyricist Chris Conley’s unforgettable imagery ‘Let me take this awkward saw/run it across your thighs…’) feel as relevant today to the (extended) adolescent experience as it ever did.
28. Korn – Issues
Korn were on top of the world in 1999. In the five years since dropping their debut, they’d managed to spawn an entire subgenre – without falling foul of its more OTT excesses. Picking up 15 months after uber-successful third LP Follow The Leader, Issues felt more like a continuation than a truly fresh statement in itself. Led by enormous single Falling Away From Me, it debuted at number 1 on the Billboard chart regardless, before going multi-platinum and copper-fastening a legacy that endures today. If it ain’t broken, why fix it, eh?
27. The Bouncing Souls – Hopeless Romantic
Hopeless Romantic is understandably underrated. Held up in comparison to 1996 classic Maniacal Laughter and 1997’s banging self-titled LP, the fourth release from New Brunswick punks The Bouncing Souls was always going to come off third best. Taken on its own ramshackle terms, though, there’s much to get the heart pounding. From working-week tirade Monday Morning Ant Brigade through the flagrantly nostalgic ’87 to the 100mph ardour of that title-track, there’re plenty of rabble-rousers to keep spirits high.
26. Machine Head – The Burning Red
Machine Head bit hard into the nu-metal pie for their uber-divisive third LP. Indeed, the furious groove-metal of Burn My Eyes and The More Things Change had dabbled in the emergent subgenre, but when Robb Flynn emerged in a red tracksuit with bleach-blonde hair in Pinhead spikes the metal fraternity simply weren’t ready. History has vindicated the Oakland raiders, of course. For every moment of bewilderment (we’re still not over that cover of The Police’s Message In A Bottle), there are three others of pure joyous bombast like lead single From This Day or fan-favourite The Blood, the Sweat, The Tears. Too hot to handle.
25. Type O Negative – World Coming Down
Perhaps the murkiest offering from alt.metal’s most gloriously gothic band, World Coming Down finds Type O Negative frontman Pete Steele painting in the deepest blood red and the darkest black. With instrumentation set to an unapologetic dirge and Steele’s mournful baritone ruminating (as one would expect) on the cheery subjects of depression and death, this fifth LP absolutely isn’t for the faint of heart. Still, the years since have cemented WCD as an increasingly poignant gaze into the abyss.
24. Will Haven – WHVN
It’s impossible to overstate just how exciting Sacramento noise-rock experimentalists Will Haven felt in 1999. Building around the heavyweight framework erected on 1997 debut El Diablo, the even-more-devilish, downtuned sounds of If She Could Speak and Death Do Us part left fans of really heavy music salivating. Okay, WHVN has since been eclipsed by 2001 classic Carpe Diem (and, indeed, 2018’s Muerte) but it still stands strong as an off-the-chain statement of intent.
23. AFI – Black Sails In The Sunset
Looking back, we find ourselves imagining what Ukiah collective AFI would’ve looked like as proto-pirate-metallers rather than slick horror-punks. We digress. Where 1998’s A Fire Inside EP left many fans scratching their heads at its covers of Misfits and The Cure, Black Sails In The Sunset (named after the 1987 Elvis Costello track) affirmed their updated plans, with newly-recruited guitarist Jade Puget steering the Californians into more bountiful waters on the likes of steamy ballad Clove Smoke Catharsis and depthless closer God Called In Sick Today.
22. Amen – Amen
Inexplicably lumped in with the nu-metal scene at the time, Los Angeles hardcore punks Amen had far more to offer than blunt-force riffage and wacky rap-rock vocals. With unstoppable frontman Casey Chaos leading the pack, there was a genuine sense of peril in their ferocious sounds. One exposure to the visceral force of tracks like Coma America and TV Womb and you’ll understand why even legendarily spiky Sex Pistols bassist Glen Matlock was blown away by the sheer vitriol when Amen supported the London punks at their 2002 reunion.
21. Incubus – Make Yourself
If 1997 breakthrough S.C.I.E.N.C.E. was the rough-edged alt.metal sound of Incubus announcing themselves on the world stage, Make Yourself was their attempt to take over. Streamlining their sound and drawing in elements of Chilis-alike funk-rock, tracks like Pardon Me, Stellar and hit single Drive found Brandon Boyd and the boys aiming for the stars. With the record eventually earning double-platinum status in the United States, they realised those stellar ambitions…
20. Neurosis – Times Of Grace
Neurosis had been blending metal, hardcore, industrial and post-rock for 10 years and five albums before Times Of Grace delivered their sledgehammer breakthrough. It’s easy to see why this record signalled an upturn in their fortunes, mind, as it overpours with sheer vertiginous quality. The cacophonous sprawl of tracks like The Doorway and Under The Surface could hardly be called accessible, but when they finally found their audience, it would be a watershed, not just for the Oakland avant-garde collective but for the post-metal movement as a whole.
19. Therapy? – Suicide Pact - You First
Five years on from their astonishing 1994 masterwork Troublegum, Northern Irish rockers Therapy? were already sounding like a very different band. Where their breakthrough releases welded metal heft to punk attitude, Suicide Pact – You First saw them go all in on the devil-horned influence. The Technicolor malevolence of He’s Not That Kind Of Girl and sheer filth of Ten Year Plan might’ve put off a few older fans, but underwritten by frontman Andy Cairns’ cutting wit, they still sounded like diaries from a band tiptoeing the cutting edge.
18. American Football – American Football (I)
American Football changed emo with their self-titled LP. Even as the rest of the rock fraternity found itself fixated on juvenile extroversion, the quartet from Urbana, Illinois turned their gaze inward. Dissolving away the sugar-stickiness with which pop-punk had coated everyday experience, tracks like The Summer Ends, I’ll See You When We’re Both Not So Emotional and Honestly? (frontman Mike Kinsella dispensing classic lines like ‘Honestly I can’t remember all my teenage feelings and their meanings…’) were new benchmarks, after which adolescent angst would never sound the same.
17. Opeth – Still Life
In retrospect, it’s dumfounding that Opeth weren’t always regarded as part of the prog-metal aristocracy. Still Life – their first masterpiece – began to right the injustice. Boasting only seven songs, it took listeners on an epic journey, from The Moor’s atmospheric grandeur to the shapeshifting vision of Moonlapse Vertigo. It’s no coincidence that the first LP featuring the classic line-up of Mikael Åkerfeldt, Peter Lindgren, Martin Mendez and Martin Lopez hit the mark; a collective of virtuosos finally capable of bringing Åkerfeldt’s sprawling vision to life.
16. Feeder – Yesterday Went Too Soon
It’s easy to forget that Feeder were about so much more than hit-single Buck Rogers. Still a couple of years off that all-conquering earworm, the second LP from the Newport post-grungers hinted at the hookiness to come, while revelling in melancholy atmospherics all its own. Combining angsty bombast and a potent strain of nostalgia, songs like Picture Of The Perfect Youth and Tinsel Town smouldered away amongst more roof-raising likes of Day In Day Out and Insomnia. That formidable dynamic brought to life one of the most underrated Brit-rock albums ever.
15. Muse – Showbiz
It seems utterly absurd, now, that so many critics saw the emergent Muse as nothing more than half-baked Radiohead clones. Quirkier and rougher-edged than what would follow, there is little of the machine-tooled excellence of Absolution at play on Showbiz, nor the OTT grandeur of Black Holes & Revelations. In tracks like Sunburn and Muscle Museum, however, there were blinding flashes of the high-drama and boundary-pushing musicality that would end up on top of the world.
14. Sevendust – Home
Even as far back as 1999, the nu-metal sound had begun to stagnate. Atlantan alt.metallers Sevendust were the band to shake things up. Where 1997’s self-titled debut had laid out their blastbeat-and-chug-laden stall, this uncompromising follow-up perfected the formula. With the inimitable Lajon Witherspoon front and centre, tellingly-titled tracks like Denial, Headtrip and Reconnect dared to deal with psychological trauma with more compelling murkiness than so many of gaudy contemporaries.
13. Static-X – Wisconsin Death Trip
Named, strangely, after author Michael Lesy’s non-fiction chronicle of harsh 19th Century life, this debut LP from Californian monsters Static‑X found the sweet spot between testosterone-fuelled aggression and the industrial aesthetic. Tracks like Push It, I’m With Stupid and Bled For Days saw them supercharge their sonic creation with an almost cyborg-like sense of purpose. Wayne Static’s untimely demise adds a bittersweet tinge to the bangers, but WDT remains a trip worth taking.
12. Chris Cornell – Euphoria Morning
The years since might’ve been woven-through with the triumph and ultimate tragedy of Chris Cornell’s story, but it’s difficult to overstate the sheer anxious uncertainty that hung over his first solo LP following the 1997 disbandment of Soundgarden. We needn’t have worried. Collaborating with Alain Johannes and Natasha Schneider of Eleven, Euphoria Morning marked a dazzling new sunrise for one of rock’s most distinctive voices: tracks like Preaching The End Of The World and Pillow Of Your Bones managing to hang tough with even the best of the Soundgarden, Audioslave and Temple Of The Dog songbooks.
11. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Californication
Lightning rarely strikes twice. Still, though the return of prodigal guitarist John Frusciante to the Red Hot Chili Peppers fold failed to rekindle the freewheeling funk-rock of 1991 classic Blood Sugar Sex Magik, it did put the ‘chill’ in Chili, leading to what arguably their most iconic release. Setting their more confrontational whims and stylistic fireworks aside, the laid-back likes of Scar Tissue, Road Trippin’ and that title-track were allowed to unfurl in their own time on an sunbleached love-letter to their home state.
10. Mogwai – Come On, Die Young
For a band with so few lyrics, Glaswegian post-rock titans Mogwai sure had big mouths. Mercilessly lambasting vacuous musical peers, the political establishment and anyone else unfortunate enough to stumble into their line of sight, the great Scots needed exceptional sounds to back up the gobby sentiment. On Come On, Die Young – its title a glib riposte to the trite ‘Live Forever’ sentiment of Britpop – they had them in droves. From the suffocating build of Punk Rock through Cody’s timeless decompression right to mesmeric highlight Christmas Steps, this was post-rock on Mogwai’s own, brilliantly odd terms.
9. Limp Bizkit – Significant Other
It’s safe to say, Limp Bizkit were a little divisive. On one hand, there were those who viewed frontman Fred Durst as a drywall-punching Chad, unworthy of his seat at metal’s top table. On the other were fans enamoured with this larger-than-life personality whose absurd extra-curricular exploits (gallivanting from Hugh Hefner’s Playboy mansion to George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch) only heightened the madness of their music. Wherever you stand, it’s impossible to deny the peanut-butter-and-chocolate genius of pairing Durst with guitarist extraordinaire Wes Borland when tracks like Nookie, Break Stuff and Re-Arranged burst into life.
8. Metallica – S&M
Okay, the sheer inconsistency of Metallica’s orchestral experimental outing with renowned composer Michael Kamen and the San Francisco Symphony gives the impression that this was very much a case of the Bay Area giants asking whether they could rather than whether they should. Despite being a concept lifted from Spinal Tap, however, it unfolds as the sort of gloriously overwrought success only the biggest metal band on the planet could even hope to pull off. The unreleased tracks – Human and No Leaf Clover – are worth the asking price alone, while ramped-up versions of Nothing Else Matters and Battery feel like exotic thrills. Two decades down the line – with this September’s anniversary shows having sold out in seconds – its outrageous influence endures.
7. Nine Inch Nails – The Fragile
Arriving at the height of Nine Inch Nails’ commercial powers, this monstrous double-album – clocking in at almost 104 minutes – made absolutely no concessions to commercial viability. Gazing back now, it very much looks like Trent Reznor the artist pushing himself to the edge and daring us to join him for a glimpse over the precipice. From the defiant vitriol of trademark lead single Starfuckers, Inc. to the nightmare melodies of We’re In This Together and the unapologetically cinematic sweep of Just Like You Imagined, no nook or cranny of Reznor’s twisted psyche goes unrummaged.
6. Rage Against The Machine – The Battle Of Los Angeles
Sometimes, perspective is everything. Had the world known that the drum-tight sound and political rhetoric of The Battle Of Los Angeles would be the last we’d hear from rap-rock’s great renegades, perhaps more would’ve sat up and taken notice. Unleashing the full force of Tom Morello’s six-string genius – by turns spring-loaded, scratchy and utterly bamboozling – alongside Zack de la Rocha’s fiery agitprop sloganeering, tracks like Testify, Guerilla Radio and Ashes In The Fall felt ferociously rousing and (particularly with the benefit of hindsight) grimly prophetic. It’s a furious parting gift from RATM, albeit one undercut somewhat by the band’s (or rather, Zack’s) disappearance as the world has really gone to shit. Even still, there’s plenty to draw listeners back to where the fire once burned.
5. Foo Fighters – There Is Nothing Left To Lose
Scoring Kerrang!’s Album Of The Year title at the end of 1999 – as did both its predecessors in ‘95 and ‘97 – Foo Fighters’ third LP concluded a remarkable trilogy of releases and provided Dave Grohl with a set of bangers on which he would finally hoist himself out from the shadow of Nirvana to properly begin his (second) ascent to superstardom. From the body-slamming catharsis of Stacked Actors and Breakout, through the wry radio rock of Learn To Fly, every track seemed loaded with that unquantifiable superstar spark. Even Aurora’s soaring balladry was held aloft on a sense of sheer, effortless enjoyment. The world’s stadiums were beginning to call. This was the answer.
4. The Dillinger Escape Plan – Calculating Infinity
The Dillinger Escape Plan’s furious debut is not an easy listen. Pushing the possibilities of heavy music to their extremes, however, and sparking the mathcore movement in the process, it is one that demands to be heard. “Calculating Infinity was us effectively ripping up the rulebook,” guitarist Ben Weinman told The Independent in the aftermath. “It sounded disgusting, but we did it.” A storm of mind-mangling rhythms, disjointed harmonies and labyrinthine sonic savagery, there was a catharsis within the chaos, and twisted structures onto which hardcore adherents could grasp. Songs like Sugar Coated Sour and Weekend Sex Change saw their creators emerging from places of personal and financial instability ready to torch their amassed powderkegs of mixed emotion. That fire would rage for the next 18 years, stubbornly unchecked.
3. blink-182 – Enema Of The State
Featuring pornstar Janine Lindemulder in a provocative nurse’s outfit on its front cover, and the band themselves gawkily in the nude on its back, the third LP from San Diegan clown princes blink-182 was never going to please punk’s high-minded gatekeepers. Instead, the 12 tracks of Enema At The State were targeted at punk’s lowest common denominators: the kids packing out their shows. There’s a weird righteousness in that. Skewering the pre-millennial adolescent male mindset perhaps better than any other outfit, the boorish cod-chauvinism of Dumpweed, the tragic vulnerability of Adam’s Song and the sheer goofy exuberance of mega-singles What’s My Age Again and All The Small Things distilled teenage suburban life, with all its petty spectacle, to a spectacularly overdramatic essence.
2. Jimmy Eat World – Clarity
Marking its 20th anniversary earlier this year, Kerrang!’s Ethan Fixell argued that Clarity was “the perfect record: perfectly written; perfectly performed; perfectly produced.” It’s hard to argue. Before the commercial watershed of 2001’s Bleed American, this was Jimmy Eat World at their purest and most unapologetically awkward: unrefined and utterly heartfelt. Capitol Records, of course, promptly dropped the band – arguably the first emo outfit to have signed to a major – the following year. From the rough-hewn post-hardcore of tracks like Believe In What You Want and Goodbye Sky Harbour, to airier, iridescent interludes such as Just Watch The Fireworks, this was the sound of a band – nay, a genre – reaching its uncompromising creative peak.
1. Slipknot – Slipknot
More than an album, Slipknot’s self-titled debut was the start of a movement. Tumbling like a grenade in amongst the empty bombast and surface sheen of the nu-metal era, where the safety of similarity had consumed so many of their contemporaries, there was once again a sense of real danger. Metal – indeed, the world – had never seen anything like the 18-legged Iowan monster; a closed gang reclaiming the keys, turntables and ramped-up percussion of heavy music’s swerve towards the mainstream with far more destructive purpose. Unease over their genuinely intimidating aesthetic and nihilistic lyrical themes only bred more excitement. In the schizoid bombast of Wait And Bleed, the incendiary energy of Surfacing and Prosthetics’ creeping threat, they burned with real misanthropic purpose that lingers on today. Crucially, the whole unhinged package connected with fans. Those on the outside never truly got the (ostensibly condescending) ‘maggots’ tag. No-one understands better than Slipknot themselves, though, that it was on those maggots’ relentless pulse that they invaded popular culture. This remains a thrilling first step.
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