Following on from Tuesday, here's part two of my 90s albums rundown. This is fun, even if a little time consuming – and it's reminding me of songs I've not heard in a while, in some cases. As per Tuesday, there is a Spotify playlist accompaniment once again, with no omissions this time.
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.
/100-81 – /80-61 – /60-41 – /40-21 – /20-01
Pretty much the first nu-metal album, and despite the depths to which the genre eventually sank, this album has held up remarkably well. Back when this was released, the downtuned guitars were a real novelty, and frankly was something fresh and new. The angst that pervaded the record was not, mind, but when it exploded into outright rage (in particular on lead single Blind, and also on album centrepiece Faget) it made you sit up and take notice. Also of note for the first use of bagpipes in metal that I can recall, not to mention this band's seismic effect on the metal mainstream in the mid-to-late 90s – indeed arguably the scene is still feeling the effects of what Korn started even now, for better or for worse.
/Wax Trax! Records
NIHIL – and relatively big hit Juke Joint Jezebel really put KMFDM on the map, but I've always had a soft spot for the album that followed it – XTORT. Not really doing anything too different – opener Power takes up the gospel-industrial idea again, Son Of A Gun flashes by at hyperspeed as the beats strafe your ears, Inane contains the usual self-referential humour – but it's tracks like Dogma where things get really interesting. A snarling, hateful look at consumer culture, this worldview seemed to colour this album with an, um, power and fury that no other KMFDM album has ever come close to.
/Fear of A Black Planet
/Def Jam Recordings
Following up an album as astounding – and as game-changing – as It Takes A Nation Of Millions… was always going to be hard, right? Apparently not for Chuck D and the gang, who simply brought out an album almost as brilliant. I say almost, as it doesn't quite have the same number of instantly memorable tracks, but the level of lyrical dexterity and sampling dexterity on this album is still jaw-dropping. The album is nearly worth it alone for the raging Welcome To The Terrordome, too – was there ever a rap track with a backing so dense with samples, and so heavy?
/Vision of Disorder
A stampeding, snarling beast of a hardcore record, that's right up in your face from the very first seconds of the album, grabs you by the throat and doesn't let go until the twelve track album is finished. That's not to say it is all beatdowns and masculine rage – indeed it's surprisingly melodic – but then the testosterone count is probably increased considerably by the guest appearance of Phil Anselmo on one track. The band may dislike this album, following the issues with Roadrunner Records at the time, but I think it's by far their best album (and it's rawness actually adds to the appeal, I reckon).
The Pearl Jam of nowadays is very different from the arch-grunge band that they were when Ten was released. That's probably a good thing, as their ability to adapt and change their style incrementally over the years is likely the reason behind their longevity and continued critical respect. This album, though, was an impressive howl of anguish, with many memorable songs and an ability to look beyond the navel-gazing of some of their peers and write songs about subjects that mattered (homelessness, politics, school violence, "broken" families, amongst others) while still retaining an accessible edge to the songs.
/The Jesus Lizard
/Touch & Go Records
An album that certainly warranted a remastering recently, and said remastering only served to accentuate the blistering power that this album has. Only thirty minutes long, it's spiky, furious, lean and mean. Fuck knows what David Yow was on about in most of the songs, but this was the album that got me hooked on the band, and I still reckon it's better than Liar, too – even if the latter has the fucking astounding Puss – and I know some will disagree with me putting this in.
A class above what became Britpop, Suede's first album was chock-full of the darker side of London, the "love and poison" of the city as they referred to it. The imagery Brett Anderson's lyrics conjured up – and indeed the music that accompanied it – was hardly what you could call alluring, but it certainly encouraged a closer look and the songs that resulted were pretty much irresistible. Also of note is that the B-sides from this and the second album (all compiled on the stellar Sci-Fi Lullabies) are easily the equals of the albums.
Yeah yeah, NIN-copyists, yadda yadda yadda. Ok, so it might owe a debt to NIN, but Stabbing Westward's debut was a dark, brooding beast, staying hidden in the blackest corners of existence. The music is searing industrial rock, Christopher Hall's vocals dripping with regret and self-loathing (and not yet overstaying their welcome, as they did on the last album at points), and the result was an album that never quite got the attention it deserved.
/Modern Life Is Rubbish
Back BP ("Before Parklife"), Blur were still a band in thrall to London and the wonders that they found there, but they also married that wonder with a beautiful melancholy and an eye for detail that none of their peers had. Not to mention, a bloody marvellous way with a tune, as the standout tracks (For Tomorrow, Chemical World, Advert…I could go on) all proved in spades. Parklife was simply confirmation of what a number of us already knew.
/Red Hot Chili Peppers
/Blood Sugar Sex Magik
/Warner Bros. Records
The beginning of the end of the party phase that the Chilis spent the early part of their career in, this album was a monstrous success on the back of a string of big, big singles that still get played to death even now (hello, Give It Away and Under The Bridge). It wasn't just the singles, though – there were shit-kicking, sometimes rude funk-rock tracks (Suck My Kiss), tender ballads (Breaking The Girl), funk silliness (Funky Monks) and mixing up of the styles on most of the rest of the album. A rare near-eighty minute album that never felt too long, indeed it always felt like a party that instead ended too soon. And frankly, the Chilis have mostly been deathly boring since they stopped their partying ways after this album, too.
/100-81 – /80-61 – /60-41 – /40-21 – /20-01
Less of the grind, more of the songs. A controversial release at the time, as I recall, as it marked a departure from Carcass' roots into a more melodic – but no less heavy – arena. This is top-quality death metal either way and the first half of this album, in particular, is abso-fucking-lutely bulletproof.
/Attack of the Grey Lantern
Not your average indie band, Mansun appeared with a string of strong early singles, not all of which made it to this bizarre concept album that appeared to detail pretty much the most dysfunctional village you could ever think of. Featuring stripping vicars, BDSM, egg-shaped characters, as well as Bond theme and Beatles pastiches, and then hidden away at the end – a biting dig at fans who look a little too deep for meanings in the lyrics. Ambitious and strikingly self-assured for a debut, it could perhaps be said that they took the experimentation a little too far with follow-up album Six…
The impact this band had on industrial metal, in particular, is fucking huge, in fact almost as big as the sound the band managed. Even if it is cheaply recorded, it still sounds like a lumbering juggernaut about to run you down at any time, not to mention sounding very, very evil indeed. There was no room for love in Justin Broadrick's world, really, only hate. And going on the results that this produced, I'm saying this was a good thing overall.
A beautifully controlled exercise in tension, this album seethed. That is, seething with a rage that Emma Pollock delivered in particular through her sweet voice, while the music was equally restrained indie-rock, with excursions into noisy, shoegazing experimentation (Blackpool, Russian Orthodox). The band never got better than this, even if they gained a bigger following with the marginally safer The Great Eastern.
No messing around here, thirteen songs in barely forty minutes. At points it's punk-metal with massive vocal hooks, at other points – like the rapid-punch-in-the-face that is opener Knives – it's ultra-focussed rage in punk form. There are no bad songs here, and they even got away with the Joy Division cover Isolation in some style. Apparently, the band are intending on playing the whole album at Sonisphere, and I'm intending on being there to see it.
/Under The Pink
As a follow-up to her debut-album-proper Little Earthquakes (let's ignore the stuff before that – she did too, after all), this was a big success, and with good reason. A little less of the confessional, perhaps – some of the lyrics are seriously oblique – but then there are also moments of startling malice, too (none more so of the latter than the gloriously catty The Waitress). But this was a well put together album that had no filler, and was also proof that Tori was more than just a "crazy" singer with a piano.
/The Afghan Whigs
Talking of confessional…Greg Dulli put his heart into this album and wore his heart on his sleeve, too. Admitting that yes, men can be shitty, but still trying it on all the same. And the songs…what songs. Rock and soul and a merger of the two has never been done better.
/Front Line Assembly
/Tactical Neural Implant
/Third Mind Records
The second album of a run of brilliant albums from FLA (I defy any FLA fan to disagree that the four albums released between 1990 and 1996 are the best they released), and this is the pick of them. Only eight tracks, but they are eight peerless industrial tracks, made before the band began to include guitars and more "metal" structures. There are, needless to say, more than a few highlights too – three of the songs are still permanent fixtures in the live set (and stone-cold industrial classics) twenty years on.
While I love more individual songs from The Coiled One, as an album this one holds better together, I feel. Darker, more introspective, and a much better job was done here of merging the (still unexpected) dub and house influences into the industrial sound – there perhaps wasn't a more open-minded "industrial" band that existed in the 90s when it came to expanding their sound. The unusual sound that resulted certainly wasn't to all tastes, but if you've never had the pleasure before, they are well worth a listen.
Watching the underdog reach the top is always a positive, uplifting thing, and perhaps there was none more gratifying than seeing Jarvis Cocker's band finally reach the masses after years of trying. And what songs! Single after single was top notch from this album, with Common People being arguably the finest Britpop song of all, and also perhaps one of the most accurate observations on the class divide in music, too. But look beyond the singles, and there are yet more delights. The seething I Spy, the dark, sleazy F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E., the one-last-weekend-blast of Monday Morning, and the closing Bar Italia, the lovely, relaxing comedown that ends the album gently. Pulp, and "Britpop", never got better.
/100-81 – /80-61 – /60-41 – /40-21 – /20-01