In 2002, I was nineteen years old, some nine or ten years on from
having discovered Metallica’s “Battery”, my true initiation into metal
music – I could rock out with a tennis racket to them leads like nobody
else, and then when I was done with tennis rackets, my penis; simply
put, I’d never heard anything like it, the heaviest thing I’d listened
to before then was Guns N’ Roses. When scenesters approach me these days
to tell me that Metallica are a terrible, trendy band, I want to beat
them hard with my balls and shit on their grandmother.
By this point in my life I was living alone in my Dad’s apartment;
freedom is not a good enough word to describe what my living situation
had become, at 19 with my own flat, but suffice to say being able to
listen to music in ALL the rooms of the house
meant I downloaded a lot and started getting into heavier varieties of
metal, with growled vocals and such principally from Scandinavian bands.
Here’s thems that made the cut, that have had a profound impact on
either my life or the metal scene in general, I forget which.
In Flames: Reroute to Remain
In Flames had been gradually watering down their sound for some time by
the release of “Reroute to Remain”. While not nearly as much of a
departure from their roots as some would suggest (I blame such opinions
on the production), the Swedodeath scene was largely going through a
phase of trying to hit it bigger. It certainly worked for In Flames, the
catchy melodies being infused with even catchier vocal choruses proving
to fetch larger crowds.
For me, despite its detractors, “Reroute to Remian” is an experiment
that paid off, there still being the occasional atrocity as with cuts
like “Cloud Connected”, but at fourteen tracks long, the band clearly
provided enough value for money to stray some into unknown and horribly
Ultimately, this record stands as a bold move that gave In Flames
the wider recognition they so clearly deserved on the backs of their
Standout track: Trigger
Soilwork: Natural Born Chaos
This one came as a surprise way back, the masterful Travis Smith artwork
and high praise from the metal Pavarotti Rob Halford making me
anticipate the follow-up to a thrash melodeath masterpiece (2000’s “A
Predator’s Portrait”). The scene was going through some changes for
sure, and here we found yet another successful recipe of metal and
catchy, almost pop-driven vocal melodies.
This was either the influence of American bands such as God Forbid
or Shadows Fall, or early pioneers Dark Tranquillity with records such
as “Projector” and (most probably) “Haven”, but the knack for quality
and accessibility was coming to fruition at this stage in Gothenburg
(before it spiralled out of control and, while we’re all entitled to an
opinion, went to shit).
Although never hitting the heights like In Flames, this was probably
the final truly great record to feature Peter Wichers, who while a
phenomenal guitarist, lost the plot somewhere down the line in what was
morally accessible in the metal world. On top of it, Bjorn Strid can
actually sing, giving him an advantage over Anders of In Flames and
probably showing up a lot of his American melodeath contemporaries.
Stand out track: The Flameout
Dark Tranquillity: Damage Done
Trust Dark Tranquillity to set the trend and then go back to their
roots, setting yet another trend. In all seriousness, I’m sure that all
these bands just do exactly what they want to (or try to circumvent
label interference to the point they’re feeling they are doing), but
with metal taking a more lenient approach, DT released something that
was both infectious, a return to a heavier, more riff-oriented sound and
on top of everything yet another evolution for the band.
Honestly, DT are not only prolific, consistent, pioneering and
ever-evolving, but also Gothenburg’s best kept secret: underachievers
that have kept to the side of the scene only to morph it without anyone
knowing, just what an exceptionally talented outfit they are.
Stand out track: Cathode Ray Sunshine
Amon Amarth: Vs. the World
Amon Amarth release the album of their careers, unmatched since so long
ago. This was my initiation to the Amon world, a band that merged
melodeath, old school Swede metal/Bolt Thrower and hooks that awarded
them a much deserved popularity presently going from strength to
A band that somehow manages to condense the sense of epic, Amon
Amarth have made Viking battle re-enactments cool again, their brand of
metal finding its stride where previous records might have been too
rugged. From here onward it was simply a case of adding and subtracting
from this same formula of ingraining, grandiose, despairing and
unquestionably more metal than a battle dwarf’s scrote.
Standout track: Death in Fire
Meshuggah throwing a curve-ball? Have we heard of such a thing guffaw?
From thrash, polyrhythmic heavy-metal to the inception of djent, with
this album Meshuggah slowed it waaaaaay the fuck down to turn heads and I
dare say lose a fair number of followers.
In the ten years since its release, though, the first Meshuggah
album to feature the famous eight-string guitars has become yet another
classic, a masterpiece and once more an instance where people have said
“Hey, remember that time Meshuggah were so ridiculously ahead of the
game and we all thought they’d lost it?”.
Stand out track: Rational Gaze
I remember when this double-album project was brought to light, a risk
considering the success of a masterpiece like “Blackwater Park” and even
said album’s popularity with old-school fans of the band (although
you’re always going to get “Morningrise” and “Orchid” enthusiasts, and
really, for good reason too).
To split the ingredients that made Opeth such an intricately
captivating and haunting experience when most were probably pining for
more of the same was a gutsy choice, and something bands have followed
suit in seeing the “Deliverance/Damnation” split generally garnered
“Deliverance” is a dark affair with the exception of “Judgment”, a
track more of the emotional gold and despairing, dreamy weight of their
folkier, acoustic side, and features the truest indication of Mikael’s
love for death metal heavyweights Morbid Angel in the track “The
Few records can match the majesty of the end of the title track.
Upsettingly one of the last records to showcase Martin Lopez’s
exceptional style as the band’s explosion to fame forced him to depart,
along with Lindgren, the band’s most classic line-up redefined epic
prog-metal and flashy musicianship that was actually fucking musical.
Stand out track: Deliverance
Dream Theater: Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence
Dream Theater’s last truly great record, a double-disc affair, one of
which spanning the scope of “Scenes from a Memory” and the second more
tight-knit, accessible but still with the good ol’ nerdy prog
flourishings of a band of such vast musical calibre.
In my mind, John Petrucci has never been a great riff-writer, so to
find a record that is probably the last time they all blended as one
unit of massive, overwhelming shades of colour, emotion and, erm, girth,
DT showed here just how to make a classic concept prog record in making
every note as brilliant as the next.
Stand out track: The Glass Prison
Pain of Salvation: Remedy Lane
Okay, all the hoopla concerning the latest Pain of Salvation records,
namely “Be”, “Scarsick”, and the double-record deal of “Road Salt” is
because, while solid prog-rock records (in the case of “Be”, exceptional
concept records), the breadth of records like “Remedy Lane” had been
foregone; the emotional scope of this record cannot be understated, it
is purely one of the most humane aural experiences to be had, spanning
the gamut of hope, love, loss, fear, sadness, sexy-time and everything
else, ripping solos, spot-on musicianship and then of course, Daniel
Gildenow’s vocals, which come from another planet where there is only
one ringing, pure emotion – “balls-deep-throatin’-love”.
Stand out track: Rope Ends
Symphony X: The Odyssey
Symphony X took years to follow up “The Odyssey” because the record was a
shining light in the world of power, symphonic metal as with classic
Blind Guardian, maybe some Rhapsody and, dare I say, early Dragonforce
records. Romero is hardly a surprise discovery in the world of
virtuosos, but on this record the balance between crunch, heavy and
overbearingly cheesy was struck to perfection, setting a template for
power metal bands wanting to make their fans genuinely headbang while
keeping all the epic ingredients that make power metal such an escape, I
suppose, into the realms of Tolkien and other folklore/mythologies.
Stand out track: Inferno
Origin: Informis Infinitas Inhumanitas
I’ve always had a soft-spot for Origin, but they lost a fair bit after
their sophomore. Simply put, this is a mastery of crushing, blistering
speed, technicality and groove. After the record was released, they lost
Jeremy Turner and seemed to lose stride in the process. Regardless,
“I.I.I.” remains a peak of brutal, technical death metal that set
trends, and probably one of several records that broke in my BDM anus.
Stand out track: Portal
Nile: In Their Darkened Shrines
Arguably Nile’s best album, if not “Black Seeds of Vengeance” or
“Annihilation of the Wicked”; they honed their songwriting on this
record but kept each track just as demanding by making the riffs better,
the entire album consequently more engaging and less of a cacophony of
This was the tipping point for Nile before they became a slick,
well-oiled machine, and the end result is staggeringly complex,
thoughtful and hard-hitting while maintaining some of the intricacy of
their early days.
Take tracks with concepts, storylines and of epic length (including a
four-part closer), sludge-death trawls, and the astounding drumming of
Hammoura, and I think you have the best Nile record to date, and as such
the best death metal record adopting exotic, Eastern scales.
Stand out tracks: Kheftiu Asar Butchiu
Probably one of if not the best tech death metal albums; none sound like
Decapitated (except Vader… Vader sound like Decapitated), the
inimitable groove of Vogg’s riffing is simply one of if not the best
thing to have happened to the scene, in my humble opinion and a little
bit of my bell-end in your mouth.
If you check out the top contenders for tech death masterpieces, we
have Suffocation’s “Pierced From Within”, Necrophagist’s “Epitaph”,
Spawn of Possession’s “Noctambulant” and this here “Nihility” (and cough
Cynic wha-? Death whu-? Atheist hu-?). But I’m talking hard-hitting
tech death here, and “Nihility” delivers in catchiness,
hard-hittingnegness and musicianship all in spades.
Although it is like worshipping the shit out of “Stairway to Heaven”
as the definitive Led Zeppelin song, “Spheres of Madness” is one of
metal’s shining examples of kick the fuck you fucking awesome get outta
the fucking way-or-taste-dick, a definer of the genre – other bands have
imitated the riff but foolishly, needlessly, because it is like licking
a picture of a vagina in the place of fucking the real thing.
Stand out track: Mother War
Black metal-space-prog shit
Immortal: Sons of Northern Darkness
When black metal was entering the CoF/Dimmu popular phase, who better to
remind us that Norway is in fact a very cold place? Immortal have never
compromised their sound, they’ve always symbolised frosty weather with
galloping, black metal riffs, and Abbath’s trademark, reedy wails.
Of course, the production here is vastly superior to “Pure
Holocaust”, and they’ve developed in their songcrafting skills for
certain, but the tracks on “Sons…” hold up, despite what puritans might
say, just as well as anything off the band’s back catalogue.
Stand out track: Tyrants
Arcturus: The Sham Mirrors
Arcturus are space prog black metal. With Garm of Ulver. They are genii
in the same vein as Virus or Ulver of today; forward-thinkers,
exceptionally gifted. I don’t know what else to say, for those expecting
“La Masquerade Infernale II”, they didn’t get it (that record was a
curve-ball to life itself), but while the record is toned down in scope,
it is still very much quirky, spaced-out and above all else sheer
eerie-prog-rock-delicious and perfect. A band forever ahead of its time…
Stand out track: Kinetic
Down: Down II – A Bustle in Your Hedgerow
An overlooked gem, in my mind, and probably better than “Nola”; this
record defines sludge in ways the band’s debut’s classic nod to Sabbath
failed. Phil became the anti-hero of vocalists, drawling his way through
thick layers of whiskey and smoke, the epitome of stoner metal mixed
with blues-rock sensibility.
Stand out track: New Orleans is a Dying Whore
The Southern-rock prog/metal scene with gargly vocals was forever
changed with this record. When I first heard “Remission”, it was too
unusual for me to digest, but the clash of Metallica, Neurosis,
mellow-rock and progressive elements set a precedent that I don’t think
has been bettered since (with the exception of “Leviathan”, which is
equally brilliant and unique for its time).
To have developed their own sound so early on, Mastodon became an
“it” band in no time at all despite being so unusually abrasive – you
simply cannot argue with the quality of the music, both
thought-provoking and brash, and insanely heavy on quality riffs.
Stand out track: Where Strides the Behemoth
Jerry Cantrell: Degradation Trip
This is a grunge/metal/rock masterpiece in every sense of continuing the
Alice in Chains legacy. Get the double album edition if you can, it is
heaps better, more rounded, simply classic; normally I wouldn’t give two
shits about special editions, but this is how it was envisioned in its
entirety by Jerry and anything less is doing it and yourself a
Back in my student stoner days, I thought I’d discovered a band that
represented me as a person in Alice in Chains, a band that got me
(hence why I would fuck a handful of lube to “Down in a Hole” and
“Nutshell”), so, it being pre-reunion, I was mighty upset in having
listened to what then had been their entire discography. Then someone
played me “Spiderbite” with a big fucking grin plastered over their
face, and I could but join in – two stoned oafs nodding their heads in
unison and grinning at one another, but the moment was indeed a magical
Stand out track: Spiderbite
Rotten Sound: Murderworks
Rotten Sound had been a crust-punk band for some time, with Murderworks
they became a self-confessed ‘proper band’, and all the better for us.
None could foresee the tragedy that swept the metal scene in 2004 with
the death of metal mastermind and riff-writer extraordinaire Mieszko
Talarczyk, but thankfully his legacy lived on in bands like Rotten Sound
that picked up the gauntlet to once inimitable powerhouse grind outfit
Nasum. “Murderworks” is a good mix of Rotten Sound’s early,
rough-around-the-edges days and the too slick for its own good killing
machine that it is presently.
Stand out track: Obey
Shit that should probably be included if it weren’t for my complete lack of professionalism as a musical journalist:
Immolation: Unholy Cult – At a stretch the final masterful Immolation record of their classic era.
Agalloch: The Mantle – A classic Agalloch
record; I dunno, never understood much of the fuss with Grey Metal, but
this is a favourite metal record of all time to many folks (or just
Smalley… I meant if only Smalley).
Daylight Dies: No Reply – Debut record for
Daylight Dies, thought it representative of melodoom bands breaking
their way in around this time with other outfits such as Insomnium and
to a lesser extent Omnium Gatherum, carrying the torch of Katatonia, My
Dying Bride, Amorphis, Edge of Sanity, who’d moved on from their classic
Insomnium: In the Halls of Awaiting – Oh, well here we are again then…
Thyrfing: Vansinnesvisor – an underrated
gem of Viking metal; from the strength of this record Thyrfing should
have hit it a shit-tonne bigger, but some outfits are just unfortunate
in their missing the boat. The Viking boat! Oh, I’m killing myself here.
Queens of the Stone Age: Songs for the Deaf – Queens of the Stone Age are apparently a good band (I’ve heard many say the best band of all time), so this belongs here.
Nightwish: Century Child – the band that
introduced me to Global Domination ten years ago. Anything they release
is worthy of mention on any list. Elves.
Bathory: Nordland I – The final couple of
albums from the Grandfather of black metal. I’m more of a fan of the
earlier records if anything at all, but R.I.P. sweet, dark Princeling
And there you have it. 2002 was not exactly the most striking of
years when it comes to metal, but there were certainly some gems that
took the genre forward and showed the scene’s unwavering determination
to be recognised as one of the truest, most exhilirating artforms on the
planet. Fuck this.
drops microphone, walks out