Onto part three of my 90s album run-down. There is again a Spotify playlist accompaniment to it, which is only missing a couple of entries (it's remarkable how much is now on Spotify, actually!).
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.
/Vulgar Display of Power
There are few albums quite as extreme and as in-your-face as this – certainly few others that made the mainstream, anyway. A classically brutal album, Phil Anselmo flits between bellowing encouragement to to better himself (and others), and wanting to start a fight with the world. Particularly the opening half of the album, which brings a new meaning to the idea of front-loaded. This was front-loaded with a punch in the face.
The album that arguably opened the floodgates for alternative rock to rule the roost in the 90s, it's still a pretty special album. There are no bad songs, a fair number of classics, and moments of wracked emotion that still send shivers down the spine. And there are few other albums I can think of where anyone into alternative music will know just about every song by heart. There is a sad inevitability, I'm sure, that there will be a 20th anniversary edition next year. And I'm also pretty sure that this will ram home, more than just about anything else, that I'm getting old.
A huge album in every way – it was loud, sprawling and a massive success, this was a true blockbuster of an album. And yes, somehow, it was a little bit better than Badmotorfinger, partly because of that huge sound, but also because the songs were better underneath it all. Even if Black Hole Sun has been played to death…
/De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas
It might have one of the most troubled and controversial gestation periods of any album ever (featuring a suicide of one band member, the notorious murder of another – and the murderer also featuring on the album, links to church burnings and fuck-knows-what-else), but that sense of danger and chaos only adds to the incredible, charged atmosphere that this album has. Attila Csihar's vocals won't and don't suit everyone, either, but their tortured, painful sound works well with the buzzing guitars and rampaging blastbeats that litter the album. Oh, and if there is a better pair of opening tracks in Black Metal, I'm yet to hear them.
Billy Corgan's band always were a frustrating listen for me. For every brilliant album – like this, or Gish – he'd then release overblown double-CDs like Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, or turgid electro-goth-rock in Adore, and don't even get me started on what he came out with after that. But anyway, back to this. It was lumped in with grunge, but never really was. It's more rooted in classic – or prog at points – rock, with a gentle psychedelic edge that resulted in some wonderfully dreamy sequences (the lovely Today, Disarm, Rocket…), but also some crunchingly heavy rock numbers too (Geek USA in particular). Oh, and a special mention for the epic Silverfuck, a nine-minute monster that was so brilliant Corgan tried to repeat the same trick on each following album, but never really came close to the wallop of this. Billy, please put the Smashing Pumpkins to rest without sullying the name any further. Please?
/Ritual de lo Habitual
Jane's were way more than alt-rock throwaways like Been Caught Stealing. Not that you'd know from the first half of this album, track after track of classic hard rock (all of which is ace, by the way). Things take a darker turn after that, the centrepiece being the epic Three Days. Perhaps a test of the fairweather fan, that – if they appreciate tracks like that, they are really into the band.
/Music for Nations
Majestic, sweeping gothic metal that frankly is the band's pinnacle by a country mile. Yes, they were more raw and perhaps trailblazing beforehand – and opinion is bitterly divided (still!) over their more electronic phase that followed this, although for the record I'm someone who loved Host. Yes, I may be one of a handful. Anyway, back to the album in question, this was the perfect balance between their gothic and their metal leanings, the album was perfectly accessible to both sides and was full of cracking tunes (although I've always had a soft-spot most of all for the epic opener Enchantment more than anything else).
/Go! Beat Records
How this ever ended up being labelled as anything is quite amazing. A truly timeless album, that sounds like nothing of it's time or since, mixing up jazz, blues, hip-hop, electronics, and Beth Gibbons' extraordinary voice. It's no real surprise it took them so long to write a second album (and even longer for a third) – how exactly do you follow something so unique?
Only Nick Cave could possibly have got away with an entire album of murder, love and religion – in that order. There are new songs, adaptations of old folk standards, and some astonishingly funny lyrics. Not to mention some amazingly tender moments, too, like the gorgeous Where The Wild Roses Grow – possibly the most unlikely duet ever (Cave and Kylie Minogue, of course). What's even more amazing is that The Ballad of Robert Moore & Betty Coltrane was relegated to a B-side – a demonstration of just how brilliant this collection of songs was – and is.
More famous, perhaps, for the legendary studio and recording costs that this album reputedly racked up – and the fact that Kevin Shields has still not provided a follow-up to it. But then, really, how could he follow this? For an album that is technically "shoegaze", this is at points an unbelievably heavy and intense listen, with layer after layer of overdubs creating a soundscape that has elements of the sound swimming in something resembling chaos. The most remarkable thing is that it is clear that everything is in total control, despite suggestions to the contrary at points, and there is an extraordinary beauty in much of this too. True to form, by the way, the long-promised re-master and re-release is also over a year late, now, and the current release date is now August of this year!
/Touch and Go Records
The reference point for oh-so-many post-rock bands in particular, this taut, sometimes understated album really does deserve the plaudits that still head it's way nearly twenty years on. What's odd, though, is that this is simply sparse, spiky alternative rock – that takes quiet/LOUD to staggering extremes – where songs are allowed time to unfold and the vocals rarely rise above a murmur, meaning that you have to listen quite hard to decipher them. And they are worth hearing, too, with the subjects of the songs being utterly intriguing (in particular Nosferatu Man referring to the legendary '20s film, and Good Morning Captain being based upon The Rime of the Ancient Mariner). An album that really deserves a wider audience than it's ever had – particular with the massive influence this had in the years following it's release.
/To Bring You My Love
The transformation from the raw, punkish feel of Harvey's first few albums to this were one hell of a leap. Gone was the screaming and squalling, in the main, for a pitch-dark, bluesy rumble that perhaps fitted her voice better than what she had done before. Two contrasting tracks are the picks for me – the creepy lead single Down by the Water (that deals with infanticide), and the swamp-blues-rock of Long Snake Moan. Neither sound anything like she'd tried before, and were a signpost to the rest of her career to date – a fearless experimental streak that has seen Polly Harvey try any number of styles since and come up smelling of roses, as it were, every time.
/ΚΕΦΑΛΗΞΘ ZPsalm 69\
The last truly brilliant Ministry album, before Al Jourgensen disappeared into a something of a creative desert, partly caused I suspect by the drugs being consumed. Things may have picked up a bit before he called it a day the other year, but it's this that remains the high-water-mark, not that the previous two albums of the classic trio were any worse. More "metal" than the previous two, this had an unbelievable crossover potential and realised it all. The three singles, of course, are the first to mind – the political fury of N.W.O., the drug-induced chaos of Just One Fix, and the demented Jesus Built My Hotrod. But then there are two really awesome moments later on – the terrifying, nightmarish Scare Crow, and the mighty title track where Al manages to bring together thunderous industrial metal and choral hymns, with tongue-deeply-in-cheek.
/Morning Dove White
/Boy’s Own Productions
After any great rave must follow the comedown, and this album was released as the fabled rave scene of the turn of the decade was beginning to ebb away. And what a way to come down, too, onto a featherbed of blissed-out ambience and breathy, seductive vocals. The edginess of any comedown, though, wasn't ignored with the occasional move into darker, grittier realms, but broadly this was gorgeous stuff. Sadly all kinds of issues put paid to a follow-up, although Dot Allison's solo stuff is well worth a go. Well, except those later bits involving that fucknut Pete Doherty.
This came to my attention, I'll admit, through the glorious Angel's appearance on the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack. And it was something of a red herring. Much of the rest of the album was darker and sexier – actually, no, sleazier. With a voice at points that sounds like Jarvis Cocker (in particular when he drops down to a whisper), Gavin makes all manner of suggestions and demonstrates a razor-sharp wit, and you get the feeling that if he (or you or I) actually tried some of this as chat up lines, a slap would quickly result. But tracks like Little Black Dress are marvellous descriptions of the attractiveness of the female, and the female form, and you can't fault him for trying. A bit of a lost gem, this.
Ultra-clean, clinical and gleamingly sharp, the industrial sheen that this album has made it a striking album to listen to. It's groovy, danceable and heavy-as-fuck, features all of Prong's top-five tracks as far as I'm concerned, and is yet another album that is name-checked more than people have heard it (with the exception of the dancefloor anthem Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck, of course). Other bands were lumped retrospectively under the genre of "groove metal" – this is the real thing.
Way, way darker than Nevermind ever could be, much of this album was a hellish descent into the world of a heroin addict. That's not to say there aren't chinks of light, it's just that the album could be considered heavy going. Persevere, though, and you get a heck of an album from start to finish. No front-loading here, every song is a classic.
Umm, what else is there to say about this that I haven't already? The dark, brooding soundtrack to a filmic apocalypse, this was the sound of the world as it took it's dying breaths, and staggering musical movements, found sounds and vocal samples were the accompaniment. Split on CD into three tracks over way beyond an hour, in reality it was a collection of a number of movements which had an incredible flow and demanded to be listened to as a whole. Their unexpected return this year to the live arena is something I simply must catch.
/Visual Audio Sensory Theatre
The insanely talented Jon Crosby has been around for twelve years now under the VAST name, fighting against record labels and the industry in general, while releasing a steady stream of albums to a dedicated fanbase. Most of us were hooked back in '98/'99 by this debut album, a pretty much unprecedented mashup of industrial rock, delicate acoustic songs, orchestral interludes, oh, and choral samples. Lyrically he reveals more than we perhaps need to know about his mental state, but they fit the music just right.
/Burn Out At The Hydrogen Bar
/Fifth Colvmn Records
Machine-rock, Industrial-rock, whatever you want to call it, this is ace. The direct precursor of the industrial-metal/rock revival, of sorts, in the US (Cyanotic et al), this is a cracking album that doesn't sound like it's seventeen years old at all. That's partly down to the crisp, processed edge to the production, but also perhaps because the songs are so sodding good. And also, that it's not all about the electronics and the samples – they enhance the sound, but are never the centre of things – that's Jared Louche's vocals, every time. Well, ok, maybe except the brutal Rivet Head…