Heavy Metal has certainly come a long way since the birth of the sound arrived with Black Sabbath’s self-titled debut album in 1970. The 80’s were revolutionary as we saw the emergence of Thrash with the explosion of the scene on America’s west coast, as the likes of Metallica and Megadeth took influence from the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal and bands such as Iron Maiden. While seriously increasing the speed of the riffs and ramping up the lyrical aggression. But as the 90’s rolled in the heavy musical landscape would change again and what was in vogue the decade before was now deemed unfashionable and cast back underground.
Alternative Rock and the ‘Grunge’ scene in Seattle hit the nail in the coffin as far as the popularity of Hard Rock bands such as Motley Crue and Poison were concerned. And with Metallica releasing their seminal ‘Black’ album in 1991, and beginning to move away from their Thrash roots with a more crossover sound, it would be a little known Texas Glam Metal band by the name of Pantera who would fly the flag for Metal. Mixing an inspiration of the heaviest bands around such as Slayer, with a classic Rock song writing influence of Van Halen and Kiss. Completely rewriting the rule book for where Heavier music could go with their ground breaking record Cowboys From Hell (1991).
Pantera all but invented the Groove Metal style with that album, before getting heavier and more extreme with each subsequent release and inspiring dozens of new bands in the process. And one label in particular would capitalise on the success of this new and changing Metal sound, and would end up leading the charge for Metal’s new 90’s revolution. Roadrunner Records were founded in Holland by Ceres Wessels back in 1980, as a business importing heavy and predominantly American music into Europe.
As a fledgling record label they found some early success with the release of albums from King Diamond and Annihilator, and then with the recruitment of A&R guru Monte Connor in 1987, started to seriously increase their profile releasing Obituary’s classic debut Death Metal record Slowly We Rot and Sepultura’s Beneath The Remains (both in 1989). But it would be throughout the 90’s that Roadrunner would discover and release music from a whole new generation of bands, with many putting out records that would define the various sub-genres they were purveying. At the time Roadrunner were virtually untouchable in terms of the body of work they were releasing, and their most important Metal records from the decade look a little something like this :
1. // Sepultura : Chaos AD (1993)
Linking up with Roadrunner following the reputation gained from their second album Schizophrenia (1987), and releasing Beneath The Remains saw Sepultura gain some serious recognition outside of their native Brazil. And the thrash metal legends would follow up and take another giant leap forward with next album Arise (1991). The band were poised to break through to the big time, and with the release of Chaso Ad (1993) they did just that. Perhaps influenced by the emergence of Pantera who at this stage had released A Vulgar Display Of Power (1992), the album that made them the undisputed kings of heavy music, Sepultura took a heavy swing in that direction. But they also added something unique that Pantera could not, by injecting the tribalistic elements of their homeland into the music. Chaos AD was totally unique at the time, still holding up now as one of the best records of the era bar none. And the lyrics were politically charged and anti-war, compared to the Death Metal – esq themes of their earlier work.
From the iconic opening of ‘Refuse/Resist’ with Max Cavalera shouting “CHAOS AD!”, you know that Sepultura meant business. The rolling riffs are incredible on tracks such as ‘Territory’ and ‘Nomad’, and on ‘Amen’ they also showed a maturity and signs of proto Post-Metal with a succession of un-repeating riffs and moments of downbeat in an almost Tool musical style. And this experimental vibe continues with the acoustic and tribal ‘Kaiowas’, and on the largely instrumental and doomy ‘We Who Are Not As Others’, while the use of samples littered throughout also convey this early Post style. ‘Propaganda’ harks back to their Thrash days but with a raging Hardcore influence, and continuing this theme they had Punk legend Jello Biafra (Dead Kennedys) guest vocals on ‘Biotech Is Godzilla’. Igor Cavalera’s incredibly intricate drumming and intriguing use of percussion stands out throughout the record, while the short sharp blasts of Andreas Kisser’s soloing still maintained moments of their early Death – Thrash Metal sound.
2. // Type O Negative : Bloody Kisses (1993)
In the same year that Sepultura were breaking new ground with Chaos AD, Roadrunner had another bonafide hit on their hands with Bloody Kisses, the third studio album from Brooklyn’s Type O Negative. Born out of the ashes of 80’s Hardcore outfit Carnivore, their singer & bass player Peter Steele maintained his record deal with Roadrunner and set up his new band with guitarist Kenny Hickey, drummer Sal Abruscato and keyboardist / producer Josh Silver. And on Bloody Kisses they created a masterpiece of originality which blended Hardcore with a Gothic and Doom-Metal influence. Steele brought with him the notorious tongue-in-cheek attitude Carnivore were known for, while blending all of the above to create this distinct new style. Providing Roadrunner with their first Gold record and propelling the band to worldwide acclaim in the process.
Opening with the orgasmic ‘Machine Screw’, the album soon drops in with ‘Christian Woman’ and Pete Steeles soft vocals over an organ-synth, while his rumbling bass hits like a rhythm guitar. There is an 80’s Sisters Of Mercy & Bauhaus flavour which continues into one of their best known songs ‘Black No.1’, their ode to goth girls which features an instantly recognisable bass line and a feel of The Munsters theme about it. There are blasts of Hardcore on the record with tracks such as ‘Kill All The White People’ and ‘We Hate Everyone‘, and a moment of pure calm with their cover of Seal & Croft’s ‘Summer Breeze’, a sound they would explore further on their next album October Rust (1996). And Type O Negative provide a pure Dirge-Doom sound on the meandering slowburn of ‘Bloody Kisses (A Death In The Family)’, as Steele cemented himself as the godfather of gloom!
3. // Life Of Agony : River Runs Red (1993)
Out of the same Brooklyn Hardcore scene that brought us Type O Negative and the likes of Biohazard and Sick Of It All, Life Of Agony arrived on Roadrunner with their debut album River Runs Red in 1993, delivering an instant classic. The record introduced a band who took the Hardcore sounds of their peers on tracks like ‘Respect’ and ‘Method Of Groove’, and blended this with a dark Alternative Rock sound influenced by the likes of Alice In Chains and Soundgarden. The record is a concept album with a depressive and melancholic look at mental health and suicide, as the tracks are spliced together with a number of interludes. Which tell the bleak story of a teenager living in a home rife with domestic violence, and who’s world unravels around him over the course of a week, before he cuts his wrists during the albums finalè.
The music opens with a raging riff on ‘This Time’, a song with a highly memorable chorus which introduces the switch in style and the deep crooning voice of Keith (Mina) Caputo, who’s tortured sounding vocal performance really dominates the album. There are elements of Doom throughout which sound on par with the music Type O Negative were also creating at the time, on tracks such as ‘Underground’. While the title song is perhaps the most iconic moment of Life Of Agony’s career, condensed down into an intoxicating two minutes. ‘Words And Music’ is another classic that ebbs and flows through different tempos and styles. While ‘Bad Seed’ and ‘My Eyes’ highlight sumptuous riff writing from guitarist Joey Z, who delivers a beautiful tone on his instrument throughout.
4. // Machine Head : Burn My Eyes (1994)
Machine Head released one of the strongest debuts in Metal when they dropped Burn My Eyes in 1994, achieving instant success and propelling them into the big time by becoming Roadrunners’s best selling debut album for many years. Their roots were stuck firmly in the San Francisco Bay Area Thrash scene that produced not only Metallica, but the likes of Exodus and Death Angel. Singer / guitarist and principle songwriter Rob Flynn had cut his teeth playing guitar in local Thrashers Violence, but had been writing his own material that was heavily influenced by the sounds of Pantera and Sepultura. Lyrically the album would deal with events such as the Waco Siege of 1993 on ‘Davidian’, and the LA riots of 1992 on’ Real Eyes, Realise, Real Lies’, with the album heavily featuring the use of samples and a trademark sound to the riffing, created by guitar harmonics.
Machine Head introduced themselves to the world with the absolutely crunching riff of album opener ‘Davidian’ and Flynn’s iconic lyric in the chorus of “Let freedom ring with the shotgun blast!”. A sumptuous bass line opens ‘Old’ before the groove heavy riffing enters with another strong distinctive vocal performance from Flynn, as he screams “Jesus Wept!” The extraordinary guitar effects created by Flynn and lead guitarist Logan Mader are really evident on ‘A Thousand Lies’, which is another track that once again highlights the incredible songwriting throughout Burn My Eyes, with an incredibly infectious vocal hook on the chorus. The intoxicating guitar riffs continue throughout, and Machine Head mix the album up with eerie melodic intros on ‘None But My Own’ and ‘A Nation On Fire’, extraordinary guitar solos, and an intriguing mix of clean and heavier vocals.
5. // Fear Factory : Demanufacture (1995)
Fear Factory’s second album Demanufacture was a vast change of gear for the band, who with the iconic release pioneered a blend of Thrash and Death Metal with the heavy use of synths and Electronica. They created a vast concept album based around the classic Sci-Fi theme of a war between man and machine, influenced by movies such as The Terminator (1984). And in the process provided one of the more unique records to be released on Roadrunner during this prime era, as they created their career defining work and established themselves as the kings of Industrial Metal. Demanufacture also gave the Californian natives crossover appeal, with tracks appearing in video games and on the Mortal Kombat movie soundtrack.
The album opens with a juddering riff and the machine like drumming of Raymond Herrera on the title track, with the heavy use of synths helping separate what Fear Factory were doing compared to many of their label mates at the time. Singer Burton C Bell showed the two sides of his vocal prowess with strong clean singing as well as his aggressive Death Metal style. ‘Self Bias Resistor’ shows intricate riffing from guitarist Dino Cazares and a verse of pure industrial aggression, before leading into a melodic and dreamy chorus. There is beautiful atmosphere on ‘Zero Signal’ provided by the Vangelis – Blade Runner style synths, while ‘Replica’ is one of the stand out cuts of Fear Factory’s career, and immensely funky for a heavy track with a memorable and robotic rhythm. Fear Factory also showed they were capable of dropping the pace on the more ethereal sounding ‘Dog Day Sunrise’, whilst finishing the record on more of a mellow tone.
6. // Sepultura : Roots (1996)
Having established themselves as one of Metal’s premier outfits following the success of Chaos AD, Sepultura were under pressure to follow up with something special, and the Metal world waited with bated breath at what they would produce on their sixth album. The band had been impressed with a hot young producer by the name of Ross Robinson, and the work he had done on Korn’s debut in 1994 which had kickstarted the Nu-Metal revolution. The signature sound he produced on their record was down tuned and muddy, with a bass heavy style that Sepultura wanted to emulate. Whilst they also wanted to tap even further into the tribal roots of their Brazilian heritage than they had with on Chaos Ad, and broke the mould by visiting the indigenous Xavante Tribe to record the authentically tribal instrumental ‘Itsari’.
Opening with possibly their most iconic song in ‘Roots Bloody Roots’ the album immediately showed the production prowess of Ross Robinson, creating the desired heavier down-tuned sound and where Max Cavalera’s voice sounds absolutely incredible. ‘Attitude’ shows their world music influence on the intro, before dropping into an insanely grimy riff with the vocals tuned to perfection once again. On ‘Ratamahatta’ they provide a truly original and tribal concoction with Igor Cavalera’s remarkable drumming showing why he was always such an important part of the Sepultura sound. ‘Straighthate’ harks back to the Groove- Metal style of Chaos AD. While there is straight up Hardcore on ‘Spit’ and a Nu-Metal Sepul-Korn link up on ‘Lookaway’, with Jonathan Davis and Faith No More’s Mike Patton guesting on the mic.
7. // Coal Chamber (1997)
By 1997 Nu-Metal was big business. Korn were at the peak of the summit following the release of their hugely successful sophomore album Life Is Peachy (1996), and Deftones were about to join them at the top with the imminent release of their second album Around The Fur (1997). Roadrunner were looking for their share of the prize and dropped their own serious entry into the scene with the debut album of Coal Chamber. A band fronted by singer Dez Fefara who purveyed the insanely heavy down-tuned music that both Korn and Deftones were known for, but with an image that stood-out with a more of a gothic and theatrical style, that took influence from the likes of Marilyn Manson and White Zombie. And there was already a heady buzz around the band by the time the record dropped, who had amassed a cult like following in their native LA.
The album opens with ‘Loco’ and one hell of a chugging heavy groove alongside singer Dez Fafara’s distinctive scatty vocal tone. There is no Nu-Metal Hip-Hop influence or use of a DJ’s electronic trickery at work here, just very heavy down-tuned guitars and wonderfully crisp riffs. ‘Bradley’ is a straight mash up of Korn and Deftones with a lyrical theme of mental health, which the mascara wearing and heavily pierced Fafara executes perfectly with the crazy persona of his style and image. ‘Big Truck’ stands out as another absolute belter of a track, with the album relentless in its delivery of Coal Chamber’s heavy interpretation of the Nu-Metal style. While the iconic ‘Sway’ has a wonderfully filthy riff and the unforgettable building vocals of Fefara, with lyrics taken from ‘The Roof Is On Fire’ by Rock Master Scott & The Dynamic Three.
8. // Slipknot (1999)
As the decade drew to a close the musical landscape was changing once again, Thrash Metal was now truly retro and Groove Metal had fully given birth to Nu-Metal, which was the unquestionable money maker at the time. And where the possibilities were endless with no boundaries as to where the music could go, or what influence it could take on. And in 1999 a band were going to arrive on Roadrunner that would lead the way for Heavy Music into the new era. Slipknot was a band made up of nine masked individuals, who wore prison style boiler suits on stage, and with each elusive member given a number rather than a name. Their music was loud and abrasively heavy, but with some fantastic melodies on songs that stuck long in the memory.
‘(Sic)’ opens their debut record with furious drumming from Joey Jordison alongside sampling and DJ scratching from Sid Wilson. ‘Eyeless’ features more scratching and electro beats, alongside tribal drums and stabbing heavy guitars from Mick Thomson. And just a few tracks into their debut it was clear that Slipknot sounded something like early Korn on steroids, with vocalist Corey Taylor also impressively switching up the sound of his voice throughout with distinctive screaming and impressive cleaner vocals, ‘Wait & Bleed’ is the perfect example of this with a sumptuous clean vocal hook showing that Slipknot were far from being a one trick pony. The record progressively gets more experimental as it goes on, and it was clear that in 1999, Roadrunner had unearthed the band that was going to take over in the Heavy Metal scene, and continue the labels success into the new millenium.
Words by – Abstrakt_Soul
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