Back in the mists of time (in other words, back in 2009), I did a rundown of – according to me – the best songs and albums of the past decade, and then followed it up with similar treatment of the 90s. Although, I only ever got the best songs done.
This was a really, really tough list to compile. To keep it to one hundred albums, I set one simple rule – each artist would only feature once. This has, of course, meant that a few obvious albums may be missing, and indeed there are a few others I had to cull too, as even with one album per artist I still had a "shortlist" nearing 150.
While I still try and keep the broad focus of the music covered here to the wider sphere of industrial music, I also listen to other music, and thus the spread here is perhaps a bit wider than you might otherwise expect. You know what, though? Try some of this music. Especially the stuff you don’t recognise or don’t know. Go for it – I love hearing new music that someone else has enthused about, trying to understand what’s so awesome about it. Sometimes it is obvious, sometimes it will take days or weeks to click, and hopefully, something here will do that to you.
Time to cue the music. You can listen along on Spotify or Youtube. Links to the right, and as the rest of the posts are added, the navigation links below will go live.
Industrial metal from Manchester? Not the most likely origin for this, but it worked, even if at points they sounded like their US peers anyway. Bulldozing metal riffs coupled with extensive sample use (and not to mention the marvellously effective, deadpan spoken word sections) and some rather outspoken lyrics (particularly on the subject of religion) made for an impressive album that was a quantum leap from their rather poor debut.
The album where the band finally transcended their "baggy" origins and moved to another level entirely. It's release was overshadowed by the death months before of keyboardist Rob Collins, and despite the album being nearly-complete by his death, the album had an extraordinary, defiant feel to much of it, shown most obviously in career high-point single One To Another. After this, they went a little too far down the white-boy soul route (and Tim Burgess's later change of vocal style really grated, too), but this album was the pretty much spot-on synthesis of indie-rock, soul and dabblings in electronics.
/Earth vs the Wildhearts
/East West Records
Ginger's combustible band have had highs and many lows over twenty years or so, but I'm pretty certain his songs never got any better than the collection on this album. Hard rock stuffed with hook after hook after hook, it's really quite sad that he squandered his song-writing talent (and bandmates) with his drug problems that never went away after this. One thing that was really tough here – picking just one song for the Spotify playlist…
/Music for Nations
As Anathema began to accelerate their move away from the doom-metal roots, it had become increasingly clear by Judgement that they were not going back. In it's place they had become an elegant, progressive rock band whose heaviness was implied by the soul-crushing failure often detailed in the lyrics, with the music itself teetering on the brink of mainstream accessibility.
/A Northern Soul
Richard Ashcroft's gang from Wigan were something special long before Urban Hymns made them the stars they had always proclaimed they were going to be. The recording and touring of this album caused so many ructions that they eventually split, before reforming to make Urban Hymns a year or so later, and the intensity of the period certainly shows through on this album. From the band manifesto of This Is Music, the reverb-drenched life journey of the title track, the astounding string-drenched weepathon of History (ballads don't get any better or more heartfelt than this) and then the psychedelic experimentation of stuff like Brainstorm Interlude, this was the album that should have made them stars. It's kinda miraculous that they got a second chance after what they went through with this.
An angry, seething pipebomb of a record by nine masked loons from Iowa, that might have been hyped beyond all compare at the time but was in retrospect about worth the attention, even if later material wasn't. Astonishingly extreme for an album that quickly made it into the mainstream metal scene, it's chaotic, creaking-at-the-seams sound and tortured, visceral vocals were pretty much like nothing else at the time. And never mind the better-known, endlessly played moshpit anthems, the real intensity is to be found when they slow it down (Purity, and in particular the freaky Scissors that closes the album).
/Available In All Colours
/Big Cat Records
Rap metal, as was all the rage through much of the nineties, was not a strictly US-thing. OMS was unashamedly from Northern Ireland, were political, and were a cracking live band to boot, and it was something of a relief to find that their debut album actually captured their live energy well. This album is stuffed with great tunes, a biting wit, and a great understanding of how their songs would explode in a moshpit. I may have seen them live more times than I perhaps needed over a few years (I saw them as a support act at least ten times), but it hasn't worn away at my love of this album.
His one truly great statement, the one that got him all the notoriety that he ever wanted and then some. Brian Warner's band, sound and image coalesced here into a spectacular, world-baiting whole, with a sprawling album stuffed with metal anthems, raging hatred, moments of introspection and more than a few tracks that should have been singles but never were. He's tried to top it since, but hasn't really come close.
/A Blaze In The Northern Sky
One of the few early-90s Norwegian Black Metal albums to truly get across the danger, fury and sheer murkiness of that scene. Yes, at points it sounds like it was recorded in little more than a shed – or maybe a bedroom – but it's grimy, lo-fi nature is part of the appeal here. It's dangerous, rough and more than a little threatening – and in tracks like the title track, some of the best black metal of it's time.
/Judgement Night OST
The mid-90s were a fertile period for Soundtracks. They weren't – yet – just a vehicle for promoting a particular artist's comeback, or whatever, and in the right hands at the time became a showcase of some great concepts. Some might blame this album for assisting with the popularisation of rap-metal, but the merging of the two genres in the way that this did – each song was a collaboration between a rock/metal and a rap artist – was still near-revolutionary at the time. The film sucked, of course, but the soundtrack still holds up today. ZRepresented on the Spotify playlist by the track credited to Living Colour\
/The Angel and the Dark River
Ploughing pretty much the same furrow for nigh-on twenty years has proven to be the right move for My Dying Bride – their regular output of romantic, gothic doom metal has proven to be remarkably resilient in a metal scene whose tastes and fashions change almost seasonally. It probably should be admitted, though, that their finest moment is now fifteen years old, and it's this album. The original version is just six songs and over fifty minutes long and relies heavily on the use of violins as backing to astounding effect. They rarely got as dark and as bleak as this and on the opening track The Cry of Mankind in particular, the only complaint can be that the twelve-minute meisterwerk isn't longer.
They weren't around for long, but the UK's finest sludge-metal band had no equals – on this side of the Atlantic, at least. The recording may have been rough as a dog, but as far as I'm concerned that only adds to the appeal. This kind of metal – slow, unrelenting, ground out riffs and an atmosphere of hate – could never be polished anyway. Not for everyone in the metal scene, they remain an astoundingly important part of the development of the slower, heavier forms of metal in the last decade or so, and this album is a good reminder of why this is.
Like all of the bands lumped in under "grunge", Screaming Trees had a style all of their own. Rather than metal or punk influences, these guys were more based around seventies hard-rock, with Mark Lanegan's deep, bluesy vocals only adding to the retro feel. For all their quality material released prior to this, though, it was Dust that gained an almost universally ecstatic reaction from the music press, and with good reason. The whole album was a stunning collection of soaring rock songs, and while Lanegan's voice was an important element, the musicianship of the rest of the band was impressive too. It's just a shame that drugs and internal tensions put paid to all the promise that this album had, and no further albums ever followed before they quietly dissolved as a band at the end of the decade.
/Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
God, this took me a while to settle on. Never mind other rap albums (this isn't the only one in the list, mind), I could have had any number of Wu-Tang affiliated albums (of the mid-90s stuff, Raekwon, Method Man and GZA's solo albums are all awesome too), but really, it had to be the one that started things. Sparse, clever and knowing, not to mention featuring a hugely entertaining obsession with kung-fu (samples from films fill many moments on the album) and a wry sense of humour, this was a massively influential album both within hip-hop and outside it, and unlike many of their peer's material from that period, this hasn't dated a single day.
/River Runs Red
NYC Hardcore with a unique soulful edge, this was a remarkable debut album that also appeared to be a loose concept of a "week in the life". Never mind the concept, though, it's all about the songs. From the sub-two minute blast of the title track, to the epic, soaring This Time and Through and Through, but in reality, there are no bad songs here. They certainly never topped this, though.
Never mind "Wake Up! Boo", The Boos were a far better band when they had the freedom to experiment, as they did on this extraordinary album. Taking in shoegaze, Beatles-esque pop melodies, noisy experimentation, acoustic laments and even moments of dub and funk. In fact the only thing wrong with this album was that they put an edited version of the peerless Lazarus on it, rather than the full near-seven-minute epic.
Rock music made with samplers, drums and voice was still something of a novelty by the time this album came out, and TYG's unusual mix of rock and dreamy ambience has remarkably stood the test of time. That's perhaps because the songs are so sodding good – there is not a single duff track here. Even the twenty-minute closer Summer Eyes doesn't test the patience.
Due to their connections to Korn, Orgy and Limp Bizkit, this very strange band got lumped in with nu-metal – as just about anything did at the time that record labels thought might sell. This one never did sell a lot, as I recall, and that might have been because it was rather, umm, different. Like the goth outsider in the corner of a nu-metal club might have felt, this album really didn't fit in. Slow, dark rhythms, cold electronics, vocals that were never really centre of attention, this was a fantastic album that was poorly-marketed simply because the labels and press clearly didn't have a fucking clue. I'll even forgive the boorish rap by Fred Durst that is an unwelcome intruder to one track, and instead point you towards Ty Jonathan Down or the industrial rhythms of The Devil's Sweepstakes.
I always have hated the term "Intelligent Dance Music", partly because of the highbrow connotations it suggests, and partly because so much of the stuff termed "IDM" could hardly be termed "danceable". Autechre's cold, ultra-smart Tri Repetae probably deserves the term, though. These are rhythms you need a good understanding of mathematics to get your head into properly, and while it's an easy album to admire, it's coldness pretty much keeps you at arms-length.
/Too Dark Park
Debate will rage, I'm sure, as to the SP album I've chosen. The insane, dense construction of the songs – and the edgy mayhem that always seems to be around the corner – is the bit that swung it the way of this album instead of Last Rights. It's not a perfect album, but none of the Puppy's 90s output is, but even so they were still streets ahead of most of their peers.