Despite the fact that many of the so called ‘big hitters’ were having trouble (Metallica, Megadeth etc, we’re looking at you), metal and rock was actually in very rude health in 1995. Sub genre’s were being moulded and re-moulded into different shapes, new(ish) bands were breaking boundaries with alarming frequency and many well established bands were admirably navigating their way around changes in trends.
1995 may be remembered for the alt-rock craze that continued to capture the world’s attention but these 25 year old metal classics prove that the spirit of metal (even if it had retreated semi-underground) was as strong as ever!
At The Gates – Slaughter Of The Soul
At The Gates, the kings of underground European metal, kickstarted a revolution in the 90’s and their piece de resistance was Slaughter Of The Soul; a genre defining marriage of pulverising rhythms, sickle-sharp riffs and throat-thrashing vocals.
Intense, incendiary and stuffed to the the gills with irresistible and memorable twin-guitar led cult classics, the likes of “Blinded By Fear”, the title track and “Under A Serpent Sun” are a ‘Gothenburg sound’ manifesto; insanely fast, shockingly vicious and yet laced with enough fiendish melody to soften the uncompromising blow generally associated with death metal.
While their style of music may have become played to death over the years – bleeding into and highly influencing the Metalcore movement that held a strong grip over much of the 00’s – At The Gates, and particularly Slaughter Of The Soul, must be remembered for its seismic impact on a scene left shattered by the grunge/alt rock scene.
Extreme metal still owes this brave record a huge debt.
Monster Magnet – Dopes To Infinity
In 1995, Monster Magnet unleashed Dopes To Infinity upon an unsuspecting world and it was with this album that they took their first steps towards their short dalliance with the mainstream tastemakers and embraced a more straight ahead rock sound.
Dave Wyndorf and company fired up their cosmic rock sound with bombastic results whilst slightly reining in their psychedelic tendencies. Lead off single, “Negasonic Teenage Warhead”, is a case in point, expertly marrying pop hooks with lively stoner metal inspired riffs. “Look to Your Orb for the Warning”, on the other hand, is a bad trip set to music with the fuzzed up riffs adding a lewdly lysergic edge to proceedings.
With their next album, Powertrip, the band would streamline their sound even further but Dopes To Infinity was the album that forced people to sit up and take notice of the Space Lord!
25 years on, its status as a stoner metal classic is not up for discussion.
Faith No More – King For a Day… Fool For a Lifetime
With this, their fifth album, Faith No More released what is possibly their most versatile and wilfully perverse collection of songs. Whereas previous albums relied on Roddy Bottums keyboards to add pop hooks to their assault, King For a Day… Fool For a Lifetime was pretty much bereft of them….and all the better for it!
Whatever aspect of this schizophrenic band you enjoy the most, this album had it all. From the straight ahead rock of “Ricochet” and the almost Offspring-ish “Digging The Grave”, to the outright comical belligerence of “The Gentle Art of Making Enemies” and the lounge cool of “Coralho Voador”; all bases were covered.
Perhaps the departure of Jim Martin eased the pressure on his ex band members as there’s an experimental looseness and ease about each and every performance as they traverse through their myriad of genre changes. Drummer Mike Bordin is his usual unfussy self, while his rhythmn section partner Billy Gould underpins the music with numerous elastic and funky bass lines and replacement guitarist, Trey Spruance, marks his only recorded appearance with the band with an understated – yet forceful when needed – showing. However, the star of the show, as always, is the uniformly excellent and multi-voiced Mike Patton. From the psychotic “Ugly in the Morning” to the heartbreaking “Take This Bottle”, a performance as exemplary as this is exactly why Mike Patton is considered one of the finest vocalist in rock/metal.
Lacking any notable ‘hit’ singles, King For a Day…Fool For a Lifetime is the sound of a band making music for themselves and not giving a shit about anyone else. Nevermind one of the best albums of 1995, with this album, Faith No More created what is quite possibly the finest album of their stellar career.
Death – Symbolic
By 1995 Chuck Schuldiner had already steered Death into ‘proggier’ waters and while these death metal pioneers had undoubtedly progressed with each album, it was on Symbolic that the crystallisation of brain-frying technicality and songwriting nous reached its nadir.
Pitched perfectly as an intricate melding of classical, progressive, jazz, rock, thrash and death metal influences (never forgetting the impact Death’s own Scream Bloody Gore and Leprosy albums had on the nascent death metal scene and you can still sporadically hear the brutality of that era here), all 8 tracks on Symbolic came fully equipped with a shattering display of control, finesse and yet animalistic beauty.
Conjuring relevant superlatives to describe this genre-defining effort is a relatively redundant past-time, Symbolic‘s reputation speaks for itself. The outro to closing epic “Perennial Quest” was magnificent and mind-blowing, Gene Hogan’s drumming unmatched, Chuck’s vision unparalleled and the entire album had more depth than a hundred death metal albums combined.
“This is not a test of power” screamed Chuck on the exquisite “Zero Tolerance”. Well, it sure was a display of one! Operating within a finite group of musicians pushing death metals’ boundaries (Atheist, Cynic, Pestilence, Gorguts), Symbolic proved to be yet another milestone in death metal’s progression.
In 1995, few bands were capable of keeping up with Chuck Schuldiner and his hired hands and Symbolic was truly symbolic of the direction Death were heading….and that direction was into uncharted territory.
Death metal had never sounded so free of constraints.
My Dying Bride – The Angel And The Dark River
The Angel and the Dark River, the third release from Yorkshire death/doom-ers My Dying Bride, made their comrades in the Peaceville 3 – Paradise Lost and Anathema – sound like a bunch of comedians out for a summer jolly in comparison!
At a running time of just over 52 minutes, this was an unremittingly bleak affair from beginning to end. The exquisite, doom laden tour de force that is “The Cry of Mankind” had Aaron Stainthorpe sounding like a man whose whole world was collapsing around him and its repeated ‘horror-film’ guitar line emphasised the torturous nature of this magnum opus. At the other end of the spectrum, “Your Shameful Heaven” had a riff that could have been the bastard child of Sabbath’s “Sympton of the Universe”; the only real change of tempo in this otherwise uniformly depressing collection of deliciously gothic doom classics.
The key to this albums great success was the immersive integration of Martin Powells violin and keyboards to the bands overall sound; the mournful wails leading to a cloying sense of claustrophobia throughout.
An album that may take repeated listens to reveal its many delights, The Angel and the Dark River‘s status as a defining moment in gothic doom remains undeniable.
Deftones – Adrenaline
In hindsight, led by Chino Moreno’s semi-unique breathy/aggressive vocals and Stephen Carpenter’s stripped-back riffs may have swam a sea of nu-metal cliches but this was way before these cliches had become passé. So, there’s a little hip-hop, a little quiet/loud song structure, a little scat-gibberish from Chino and more than a little immature untapped aggression but that’s fine, Deftones were at the forefront of this new (nu) movement after all.
“7 Words”, “Bored”, “Engine No.9” and “Root” are are beloved by Deftones fans and have gone down as 90’s metal classics.
And to think, this was just the start of the most impressive artistic evolution of any band from the era!
Meshuggah – Destroy Erase Improve
Innovative, inventive, insane and completely at odds with all prevailing trends. Meshuggah have never released a bad album but, in 1995, Destroy Erase Improve was an assault on the senses precious few could have seen coming!
As a mantra, destroy, erase and improve surmised exactly what Meshuggah were doing with the thrash metal blueprint. 4 years prior they were just another thrash band, releasing – the admittedly challenging but nothing truly spectacular – Contradictions Collapse, an album that hinted at what was to come but in hindsight the progression was unfathomable.
Opener, “Future Breed Machine”, could be considered the quintessential Meshuggah song. Introducing an ill-prepared audience to a new breed of polyrhythmic battery featuring militaristic vocals, virtually stripped of any and all human essence, and a level of beautiful and off-kilter melody – an approach unwisely dropped on future releases in favour of an even more pummelling approach – that set them aeons apart from their peers.
Artificial intelligence infused, mechanised warfare set to inhuman levels of aggression and performance, Meshuggah were an anomaly in the extreme metal scene and while their sound can be described as repetitive that would be missing the point. They created an entirely new sound, one that went on to influence a generation and breed a new sub-genre and their single-minded journey down the path of experimentation – each track subtly toying with an obscure formula of their own conjuring – ultimately created a cohesive and hypnotic experience no band has been able to match ever since.
Paradise Lost – Draconian Times
The problem that faced Paradise Lost in 1995 was how to follow the metallic goth excellence that was Icon and Shades Of God? The answer would appear to have been easy enough; refine your sound, round off some of the rough edges and throw caution to the wind!
Producer Simon Efemey must take alot of credit for this groundbreaking album, endowing Paradise Lost’s sound with a stately elegance that barely existed before whilst retaining their ground-shaking heaviness. And then, of course, were the songs themselves. Is there a stronger first half to an album in their vast body of work? The answer to that is a resounding no. From the keyboard led grandeur of opener “Enchantment” to the soaring and anthemic “Hallowed Land” and “The Last Time” on to the depressing “Forever Failure” and rounded off by two relatively ‘speedy’ tracks in “Once Solemn” and “Shadowkings”; exquisite doesn’t quite do it justice.
Incidentally, when Draconian Times was reissued in 2011, a number of articles stated that the second half of the album was poor when compared to the first half. Anyone with half a brain will know this is bollocks of the highest order! In “Elusive Cure”, “Yearn For Change” and “I See Your Face”, the band fashioned three songs equal to anything loaded at the front of the album and while there may be a couple of missteps in the shape of “Shades Of God” and “Hands Of Reason”, these can hardly be construed as failures.
In hindsight, following Draconian Times seemed to prove problematic for the band as they took a few bewildering side-steps into electronica/synth-pop. However, the past decade or so has seen Paradise Lost reclaim their death/doom crown – none more so than with this year’s outstanding Obsidian – and twenty five years later Draconian Times still remains one of the brightest jewels in that crown.
Down – NOLA
Although a going concern for a number of years beforehand, sludge-supergroup Down seemed to come out of nowhere with the release of their debut album NOLA in 1995. With a line-up that screamed sheer class – Phil Anselmo (Pantera), Pepper Keenan (Corrosion Of Conformity), Kirk Windstein (Crowbar), Jimmy Bower (EyeHateGod) & Todd Strange (Crowbar) – Down were a metal fans wet dream and NOLA certainly didn’t disappoint.
Due to the exposure afforded by having the likes of Phil Anselmo and Pepper Keenan in their ranks, Down were able to open doors for those who weren’t overly familiar with metal of a ‘sludgier’ nature. Admittedly, while not as heavy as some of the sludge-encrusted filth rising from New Orleans at the time, the riffs of Pepper Keenan and Kirk Windstein were still tar heavy and the majority of the music found within NOLA is suitably oppressive; as if birthed by the primordial Louisiana swamps themselves.
The vocals of Phil Anselmo may have been a tad more melodic than the style he had been using with Pantera but the vast majority of his lyrics painted a familiar picture of a man operating in a drug induced haze. Fortunately, substance abuse didn’t affect the quality of the songwriting on NOLA which is home to some nailed-on belters. “Lifer” unveils an irresistible upbeat swagger while the bluesy “Eyes Of The South” and “Stone The Crow” are Southern metal juggernauts. However, it’s the laidback keyboard drenched melancholia of “Jail” (a finer reworking of Sabbath’s “Planet Caravan” you’d be hard pressed to find) and the stoner anthem “Bury Me In Smoke” that elevates NOLA to classic status.
Some may argue that Down have never bettered this album but thats another story for a different day.
Fear Factory – Demanufacture
Fear Factory blasted onto the metal scene with their 1993 debut album Soul of a New Machine and even with its revolutionary blend of brutal death metal and clean vocal harmonies, few could have predicted what was to come just two short years later. With the all-conquering Demanufacture, pretty much all traces of their death metal past were extinguished and replaced with an industrialised thrash assault; dubbed “Terminator Metal” by the press at the time. Here was something new and the world took notice.
Listening to Demanufacture today, it’s easy to see why it’s still held in such high regard. Simply put, this is one of those albums where everything just clicked into place. Burton C Bells guttural growls of old were replaced by a militaristic bark and his clean vocals were never better, just check out his performance towards the end of “Pisschrist” if proof is required. Dino Cazeres unleashed a barrage of twisted robotic riffs, while the whole enterprise was driven along by the superhuman double bass perfornance of must-be-a-cyborg drummer Raymond Herrera. Meanwhile, the production and mixing courtesy of Colin Richardson and Rhys Fulber gave the whole affair an icy machine-like precision.
All this is fine but would mean absolutely nothing if the songs were below par. Fortunately, it’s safe to say there is not a weak track here, from the full blown thrash assault of “Demanufacture” and “Replica” to the closing “A Therapy For Pain” – which is almost hymnal in delivery – Demanufacture is one of those albums that you daren’t skip through; each track proving as decimating as the last.
It all resulted in utter perfection.
Every few years an album catches the wider public’s conscious and, in 1995, Fear Factory came from nowhere to land at 27 in the UK chart; no mean feat for such an extreme album. Metal Hammer recently described the album best saying “An album so far ahead of its time that bands are still failing to convincingly rip it off today”. We can’t argue with that!
Suffocation – Pierced From Within (1995)
Suffocation have long been revered as brutal tech death kings and Pierced From Within is their definitive work. Very much in the same open vein as their classic debut Effigy Of The Forgotten and sophomore effort Breeding The Spawn, the band upped the ante on this, their most intricate and accomplished collection of crushing compositions.
Frank Mullen’s dense and guttural growl is as formidable as ever, clear enunciation and inhuman delivery providing a bruising experience while the band embrace song structures that ebb and flow through time changes, doom-passages and eerily-clean guitar intros (“Torn Into Enthrallment” & their re-working of their own “Breeding The Spawn” particularly showcasing the bands ability to meld beauty with brutality).
A masterpiece of 90’s Technical Death Metal, Suffocation reinvented what it meant to be heavy on Pierced From Within and their influence can still be felt in today’s deathly landscape.
Iced Earth – Burnt Offerings (1995)
As enamoured with power metal as thrash, Iced Earth’s 3rd album undoubtedly counts as a 1990’s trend-defying thrash experience that added oodles of depth to its powerhouse musicianship.
Dramatic and terminally unfashionable, it’s incredible such histrionic and horror-indebted heavy metal ever found an audience but Iced Earth have always been capable of releasing trend-defying thrash/power metal albums that appeal to those who long for immersive narrative, palpable atmosphere and epic songwriting alongside their staccato riffs and soaring vocal lines.
An often forgotten classic in Iced Earth’s formidable back catalogue, the dark and foreboding self titled track , the Thrash balladry of “Last December” and the bold, brave and adventurous closer “Dante’s Inferno” help to form an experience that may not be the greatest Iced Earth have delivered but in a decade that looked down upon this sort of progressive thrash with disdain, should be revered as a middle finger in the face of 90’s corporate metal.
Have we rudely ignored your favourite from ’95? Pop it in the comments below and we’ll have a friendly but old fashioned ding-dong about it!