Years ago I used to write for a blog called Lonesome Noise and we’d take turns writing pieces we dubbed “The Silver Chronicles” where we’d wax poetic about albums turning 25 years old that year. I loved it. It was one of my favorite exercises because it not only forced me to re-examine an album I assumed I already knew everything about, but it sent me down Memory Lane the way only good music can.
So when I launched this blog I decided to do something similar, only much less intensive, hence our annual “25 Years Ago” post where I take the time to highlight 25 classic metal releases turning 25 years old. This year we focus on 1998, a year that mainstream media started to pay just a little bit of attention to what was bubbling in the metal underground, while genres like black metal, doom/sludge, grindcore, and various styles of hardcore were consistently knocking it out of the park. Each one of these albums is a standout in their own right and I highly recommend you take the time to revisit them (or visit them for the first time).
Amon Amarth – Once Sent From the Golden Hall
By 1998 death metal had started to have a bit of a stale stench surrounding it. A lot of the great legacy bands who were dropping classic albums at the beginning of the decade had started to fade down the stretch. But as you’ll see from this list death metal was extremely far from the death knell that so many had rung for it and a new crop of bands sprouted up to begin usurping death metal’s fetid crown. Enter the Swedish horde Amon Amarth. Once Sent From the Golden Hall was their debut full-length and it was a brutal yet melodic affair. This is still by far their most raw and untamed album, especially when compared to their most recent outputs.
Benümb – Soul of the Martyr
One of the more underrated acts on this list is California hardcore/grind act Benümb. Flying out of a rich West Coast hardcore scene, Benümb mixed the frenetic madness of grindcore with crust punk aesthetics. Relapse Records took notice and in 1998 released their debut full length Soul of the Martyr. Like pretty much every hardcore/crust/grind band of the era their debut album would consist of new material, songs from various other splits/comps, and even some live tracks. Too heavy for the hardcore kids, and too “hardcore” for the death and grind kids, this band never got the respect they deserved.
Blood Duster – Str8OuttaNorthcote
I’m going to cheat just a bit here because the first release of this album in their native Australia took place at the tail end of 1997, but in April 1998 Relapse issued the worldwide version of Str8OuttaNorthcote, a 31 track barrage to the senses from the goofballs in Blood Duster. This album is all over the map. From straight grindcore to death n’ roll to something that resembled the most metallic hardcore, Blood Duster wrote what they wanted to write and gave zero apologies for it. Their lyrical content should also tip you off that they never took themselves too seriously.
Botch – American Nervoso
For a red hot second Tacoma, Washington’s Botch were everyone’s “it” band in the hardcore scene, and with just cause. It all started in ’98 with their debut full length album American Nervoso. Discordant, vitriolic, and cacophonous hardcore was melted down in a blazing fury of wild riffs, thundering bass/drums, and violent vocals. It helped their reputation that their live show always matched the intensity of their recorded material. While their follow-up album We Are The Romans often gets labeled their masterwork, I’d argue that this was their best album (and their heaviest at the very least).
Buzzov*en – …At A Loss
By the time this band would drop their third full-length album (four years after their previous effort and subsequent split from Roadrunner) North Carolina’s Buzzov*en were already in self-destruct mode. In fact, it would be their last full length album until their comeback record in 2011. But none of that had an affect on the material recorded for this release as they were still in peak form slinging 13 tracks of brutal sludge. This record often draws less attention than the two that came before it but I’d put up the argument that it’s actually the best of their catalogue.
Clutch – The Elephant Riders
Quick trivia for you – there are only two bands on this list who put out a classic record 25 years ago AND put out a record that wound up in my year-end top 40 in 2022. Clutch is one of those two bands. I’ve professed before that I don’t think Clutch has ever put out a bad record, but bands with a legacy as long as this one certainly have albums that stand out. For me this is one of those albums. As much as I liked the first two records, this was the album that took me from passing interest to full-fledged fan. It was their first and only album for the monolithic Columbia Records, and the production values belie the bigger budget. But not even their big name producer or recording budget could tame this band’s songwriting. While funkier and more accessible than their previous efforts its a record that still gets heavy as hell when it needs to. While stoner rock was enjoying a renaissance period at the end of the ’90s it was Clutch that helped lead the genre moving forward.
Coalesce – Functioning On Impatience
My Metal Dad Radio Show co-host once asked me on-air who my favorite hardcore band was/is. Without hesitation I rattled off two names and one of them was Coalesce. There were no bands like Coalesce and there may never be a band like them again, quite frankly. Some of the heaviest and most brutal music to ever explode out of the hardcore genre was held within the discography of this band and this is arguably the best album they ever made. Their history was fraught with line-up changes and constant break-ups/reunions, so much so that I felt like this band never really garnered the momentum to push them to the top of the national consciousness of their scene the way some of their peers would. Oh, and they were simply way, way too heavy and “metal” for a large swath of the hardcore scene as it existed in the late ’90s.
Converge – When Forever Comes Crashing
I’ll fully admit to you dear reader that I really haven’t been a huge fan of this band’s output for…checks notes…almost two decades now. I have a huge amount of respect for them as artists. They continue to take their music in interesting directions, it’s just not any directions I’m interested in. It happens. However, their earliest releases are still some of my favorite albums of the late ’90s/early 2000s. When Forever Comes Crashing was their third album and the one, whether it’s just my perception or not, that seemingly took them to new heights. (I mean, prior to this record I was still watching this band live at VFW halls and dumpy little clubs all over southern New England. After this record, not so much.) It’s best defined as an absolute wall of noise that just crushes you from note one and never really relents. Still one of their best in my opinion.
Crowbar – Odd Fellow’s Rest
New Orleans’ Crowbar is another band whose back catalogue is littered with albums I consider myself a fan of. Maybe it was the addition of Sammy Duet (Acid Bath, Goatwhore) on second guitar, or maybe it was because this was the only album to feature both Duet and Jimmy Bower (Eyehategod, Down) on drums, but to me this album always felt like one of their most focused, and in turn, heaviest releases. It’s sludge with a capital ‘S’ and there are points where you can just feel this album pouring itself all over you. This might be my all-time favorite Crowbar record.
Diabolical Masquerade – Nightwork
Most metal fans know Anders Nyström (aka Blakkheim) for his work with Katatonia and Bloodbath. What some might not remember is his ’90s symphonic/avant-garde black metal project Diabolical Masquerade. This was one of several Scandinavian acts who took the second wave of black metal on interesting, and often bizarre rides. Nightwork was arguably the best album he released, and included production and session assistance from Dan Swano. Fans of late ’90s European black metal who haven’t heard this record yet are truly missing out.
Enslaved – Blodhemn
You could make the argument that the greatest second wave black metal band of all-time is Norway’s Enslaved. Surely no band from that scene has had the continual run of brilliant albums like Enslaved have had for the last 30 years. While their output over the last two decades has grown more and more progressive, in 1998 they were still firmly planted in the Viking black metal realm. One of their greatest releases from this period, maybe even their greatest, was Blodhemn. It’s a fantastic record that captures the raw, unmistakable essence of black metal at the time, yet also gives a peek at their progressive leanings on several tracks. If I were to rank all of Enslaved’s records this one would still be somewhere near the top.
Exhumed – Gore Metal
I mentioned earlier that there were only two bands on this list who also had albums appear on my annual year-end list in 2022. Exhumed are one of those bands. Exhumed is another band who’s discography dots my record collection, and it all started with their full-length debut in 1998. Gore Metal was (and still is) over-the-top in the best way possible. From the goofy, B-movie album cover to the galloping goregrind held within (drill into skull sound effects included), this record is non-stop action and I’ve been here for it from the jump. There are very few albums on this list that I can say with all certainty that I’ve listened to as much as this one over the ensuing decades.
Flesh Parade – Kill Whitey
We’re going to get a little kvlt on you with this entry. In the early 2000s I helped to form a short-lived grindcore band called Black Stool. One of my vocal/lyrical/musical inspirations was New Orleans’ grind merchants Flesh Parade. This band was so fierce and featured some of the most throat shredding vocals I had ever heard up to that point. This was pure, unadulterated grind in its most primal form and I used to rock this record all the time. In fact I can remember one beautiful summer day pulling up to a stoplight with my windows down and this record blasting. The looks of horror coming from the vehicle next to me were fantastic. Full disclosure, I’m cheating a little bit by including this record because it’s actually a comp record that featured material from an EP of the same name and various demos.
Gorguts – Obscura
This is arguably the most critically acclaimed album on this list, and possibly the most critically acclaimed album to have come crawling out of the extreme metal underground in 1998. There was really nothing like this album upon its release. Hell, there wasn’t even anything like it in the band’s own discography up to this point. I remember it being a divisive record at the time. There were death metal purists who hated the discordant nature of it (and still do), while there were those that thought it was wholly groundbreaking. I think at the time of its release I existed somewhere in the middle, yet over time I’ve grown a larger appreciation for this record. Mostly because I’ve spent the last decade plus listening to death metal bands try their hardest to recreate this thing in their own vision. Good luck everybody.
Haemorrhage – Anatomical Inferno
Exploding out of a rich Spanish metal scene, grind act Haemorrhage spent the late ’90s releasing some seriously brutal albums before finally having a bigger and deserved spotlight shine down on them in the 2000s and 2010s. Anatomical Inferno was their third full-length album (along with about a half dozen split releases) and it very well may be their best release of this era. A highly underrated record from a highly underrated band.
Krisiun – Apocalyptic Revelation
By now Brazil’s Krisiun are a household name in death metal circles. In 1998 they were one of the hottest new(ish) bands on the international scene and were blowing away first time fans at places like Milwaukee Metalfest. Apocalyptic Revelation was their second full-length album, but was really the one that put them on the radars of several larger labels and the international press, several of whom dubbed them “the next Morbid Angel”. In fact I can distinctly remember the label I was working with at the time trying very, very hard to woo this band into signing with them. (They would instead sign with Century Media, the label they are still working with today.) If you like your death metal brutal and unapologetic then you could do a hell of a lot worse than this record.
Marduk – Nightwing
One of my favorite black metal bands of the great second wave is Sweden’s Marduk. In my head I often break their discography up into eras based on who the vocalist was at the time. The “Legion era” consisted of five album spread out between 1996-2003. You could make the argument that Nightwing was the best of the lot. The album is a pseudo-concept record with the second half revolving around the history and lore of Vlad the Impaler or Vlad Dracula. Musically it bounces back and forth between sheer, blasting mayhem and more melodic portions, making it an album that has never grown stale over the years.
Mortician – Zombie Apocalypse
My favorite parts of Mortician albums have always been the horror movie samples they include on literally every track. That’s not a knock on their music, just more so reflects my love of horror movies. If you’re looking for brutal death metal you’d be hard-pressed to find a band that plays it with more intentional brutality than Mortician. I’m cheating a little bit by including this record because it’s technically an EP, clocking in at only about 28 minutes in length. You also apparently can’t find it streaming anywhere except as part of a split release with their 1996 full-length Hacked Up For Barbecue. (Hence the bootleg YouTube link below.)
Naglfar – Diabolical
By 1998 there was a glut of melodic black metal bands, and it honestly felt at time like every band coming out of Scandinavia was doused in corpse paint. But there were still some gems to be found, including the second album from Sweden’s Naglfar. For me one of the selling points of this album was the guitar work. Killer riffs abound with and some excellent soloing, which was unique for average black metal standards at the time.
Nasum – Inhale/Exhale
If you asked me which of these albums I listened to the most since their 1998 release this album would have to place somewhere in the top three. It is not hyperbole when I tell you that this is the greatest grindcore album of the ’90s, and easily one of the greatest of all-time. It is honestly the perfect blend of death metal-like brutality and the ferocity and vitriol of hardcore punk, with a just enough groove thrown in for good measure. Plus it’s production is absolutely pristine. How influential was this album? Shane Embury of Napalm Death was a massive fan and I’m convinced this record is the reason why Napalm started making grind records again. I had the absolute pleasure of driving this band out to their first Milwaukee Metalfest appearance and getting to see them perform live over multiple nights. They absolutely crushed this material in the live setting in ways most bands only dream of.
Nebula – Let It Burn
I went hard into the stoner rock scene in the late ’90s spurred on by my love of Kyuss as they were imploding and I was looking for something or someone to fill the void. I wound up hitting that scene at the right time, as in hindsight that really was a golden age for stoner rock jams. For me one of the bands that really defined that era was California’s Nebula. In 1997 they would release their Let It Burn EP, and a year later Relapse would reissue it with two bonus tracks. The reason why I’m including the reissue on this list is because those two tracks might be the two best on the album. If you’re looking for bad ass, guitar driven, space age rock ‘n’ roll of the highest order you can do a lot worse than this record.
Nile – Amongst The Catacombs of the Nephren-Ka
I can appreciate a band that derives lyrical content from the same well over and over, and yet somehow keeps things fresh. Egyptian mythology and history are a pretty deep well and South Carolina’s Nile have been excavating it since at least the mid-’90s. Their debut full-length album was released through Relapse in 1998 and made an immediate impact on the death metal scene. A subsequent tour opening for the mighty Morbid Angel, as well as several festival appearances, would really put them on the map and they had the chops to back up the hype. Easily one of the more memorable death metal albums of the late ’90s and an album that helped revive the genre heading into the next decade.
Opeth – My Arms, Your Hearse
I absolutely adore this era of Opeth when their black/death roots began colliding in earnest with their progressive tendencies. Before they’d go full on prog rock they made a series of albums that I thought were absolutely untouchable, and this was one of them. There’s a reason why decades after its release they were still pulling songs off this record for their live set. If Opeth were to do one of those festival appearances where they picked one album to play front-to-back I wouldn’t be mad if this was the album they chose.
Phobia – Means of Existence
After a handful of well-received EPs, California crusty grinders Phobia dropped their debut full-length album Means of Existence in 1998. Mixing grindcore with a distinct crust punk/d-beat aesthetic, Phobia were the type of heavy band that could appeal to metalheads and hardcore/punk kids as well. Their lyrical content was super political which endeared them especially to the crust punks. These guys continued to spent decades putting out quality material, but this remains one of their best releases to date.
Soilent Green – Sewn Mouth Secrets
I can remember when I was working in college radio and this band dropped its debut album. I thought it was solid and showed a ton of potential. In 1998 I became a huge fan of Soilent Green thanks to a fantastic EP at the beginning of the year and their second full-length Sewn Mouth Secrets released towards the end of the year. One part sludge, one part groove, one part death metal, with snippets of thrash, grind, and doom, this band mastered the art of ridiculous time changes and breakneck songwriting. This album might still be my favorite of their entire discography.