Of all the many subgenres in the heavy-metal universe, metalcore may have the most convoluted history. Beyond modern production enhancements and slight stylistic shifts, death-metal bands today sound pretty similar to how they did in 1989. The same can be said for thrash bands, doom groups and many black-metal acts.
Those genres have certainly evolved over the decades, but they haven't gone as far astray from the source material as metalcore bands have. See, for example, the glaring differences between Earth Crisis and Ice Nine Kills — they might as well be from different galaxies, but somehow they both fall under the metalcore umbrella.
The origins of the subgenre are similarly fuzzy. Some would argue that metalcore began when Slayer started playing primitive breakdowns in the mid-Eighties, while others believe that the Cro-Mags' 1986 masterpiece, Age of Quarrel, was its genesis. Bands like Rorschach, Suicidal Tendencies and Agnostic Front are also commonly tapped as pioneering forces, and it's important to not discount any of those bands while taking a serious dive into the last 30 years of metalcore.
However, we decided to try and trace metalcore's entire, still-evolving history through a mere 10 landmark albums. The idea here isn't to name the best metalcore albums of all time or assert that these are even the most definitive ones in their respective styles. Rather, these are 10 albums that have each had the greatest quantifiable impact on the genre at large.
From metalcore's upbringing in the Nineties hardcore scene through its pop-minded explosion at the end of the 2000s, these are the 10 most influential albums in the subgenre's playbook.
It's legitimately jaw-dropping to hear how well Integrity's Those Who Fear Tomorrow holds up today. Released in June 1991, the Cleveland institution's debut LP sounds like it could've come out in 1996, 2006 or 2016 for that matter, and that's because it's influenced practically every breakdown that's been recorded since. Integrity's then-novel fusion of slowed-down hardcore riffs with both the heft and lead guitar work of metal created the template for Victory Records bands like Earth Crisis, Snapcase and eventually Hatebreed — some of the most seminal groups in the subgenre. Earth Crisis' 1995 opus, Destroy the Machines, may be the more recognizable reference point for this type of first-wave metalcore, but Integrity did that sound four years earlier on Those Who Fear Tomorrow. It all goes back to this.
Although they formed in 1990, it took Merauder six years to release their debut LP, Master Killer, and when it finally arrived, it hit like a ton of bricks. The band took the heaviness of fellow New Yorkers like Madball and beatdown originators Bulldoze to the next logical extreme, beefing up the most ignorantly brutal parts of Integrity and Earth Crisis and pushing the boundaries of what a hardcore band could sound like in the process. Merauder's influence didn't necessarily travel with metalcore once it properly split off from hardcore to become its own subgenre at the end of the Nineties, but any self-proclaimed "metallic hardcore" band of the last 25 years is indebted to Master Killer's steel-toed stomp.
By today's standards, Hatebreed's 1997 debut, Satisfaction Is the Death of Desire, is the least capital "M" Metalcore album in their imposing discography, but it's the one that had the most impact on the genre they'd go on to define. The Connecticut unit rounded up the building blocks of the aforementioned bands and stacked them a level higher — thunderous double-kick blasts, table-flipping breakdowns and an infectious charisma from frontman Jamey Jasta that was destined to extend beyond hardcore's ceiling. As ferocious as the songs themselves are, Satisfaction also sounded absolutely enormous from a production standpoint, which was crucial for proving that hardcore bands could compete with the sonic stature of contemporary metal bands like Sepultura and Machine Head — thus furthering metalcore's development as a unique musical idiom, not just a sub-style of hardcore.
If Integrity were the genesis of metalcore's first proper wave, than Poison the Well kicked off its second. Everything about the Florida band's 1999 debut was a complete game-changer, from its annoyingly long title, The Opposite of December ... A Season of Separation, and tender bridges, to its glaring lack of influence from traditional hardcore punk and thrash metal, which most strikingly manifested in the vocal deliveries. By trading tough-guy grunts for the ripe emotionality of Nineties screamo, Poison the Well made room for shaky cleans and speak-singing yelps, but they increased the number of chuggy breakdowns and turned down the noise to put even more the emphasis on the serrated metal guitar leads. For as unique as it was at the time, nothing about Opposite sounds groundbreaking today, which is a testament to the universal impact this album had on the decade that followed.
After forking off from hardcore at the turn of the 21st century, metalcore itself quickly began to splinter. There was the cohort that remained under the hardcore tent pole (E.G. Buried Alive, All Out War), the more melodic sphere (E.G. Eighteen Visions, From Autumn to Ashes) and then the chaotic hardcore/mathcore/sasscore cadre, a realm that's most commonly associated with Converge. Sure, there are other bands like Botch and Zao who were also playing this type of music in the mid-Nineties, and of course Dillinger Escape Plan and Every Time I Die are also quintessential groups in this world. But Converge's Jane Doe is the nucleus, a still-unrivaled scrum of teeth-knocking intensity, jazz virtuosity and metal innovation that somehow blew the fuck up and spawned legions of imitators. Today, it remains a common entry point into the metalcore multiverse, and a reference so ubiquitous that it's practically taken as a given.
On their 2002 breakout, Alive or Just Breathing, Killswitch Engage made metalcore of stadium-sized proportions. The band's Roadrunner Records debut fused the scorching riff style of melodic death-metal greats like At the Gates and In Flames, the triumphant choruses of Nineties Roadrunner heavyweights like Fear Factory and Machine Head, and the skull-crushing breakdowns of a VFW hardcore band. The album finalized the divorce proceedings between hardcore and metalcore by reaching beyond Poison the Well's vulnerable emo yelps and planting soaring, anthemic clean vocals into the metalcore orchard. The album's clean-chorus/screamed-verse structure has become the genre's most distinguishing feature ever since, and an entire generation of bands — Darkest Hour, Unearth, Shadows Fall and As I Lay Dying, to name just a few — followed in its footsteps.
Norma Jean's 2002 debut, Bless the Martyr and Kiss the Child, was a landmark for numerous reasons. Culturally, its immediate popularity propelled the Christian metalcore movement forward and made Norma Jean co-figureheads of a "holy alliance" of bands that also included Underoath, As I Lay Dying and Demon Hunter. Faith-based metal and hardcore had been bubbling underground for years prior, but every Christian 'core act that was able to cross over to secular audiences owes something to Bless the Martyr. Musically, this album was also pivotal for the way it sewed together dark, chaotic instrumentation with palatable production (courtesy of Killswitch's Adam Dutkiewicz), and balanced nutty ambition (sticking a 16-minute epic five songs into the track list) with simplistic heaviness. The band would change after vocalist Josh Scogin left to form the Chariot immediately after this album, but it had an indelible influence on future stars like the Devil Wears Prada, Of Mice and Men, Bring Me the Horizon and countless others.
Love it or hate it, there's no denying that Attack Attack!'s 2008 debut — particularly its crown jewel "Stick Stickly" — is one of the most innovative and influential albums in metalcore history. This band of goofy teenagers from the middle of Ohio saw the way post-hardcore groups like Enter Shikari and I See Stars were blending gaudy techno and electro-pop with screams and breakdowns, and they decided to inject those elements into chug-addled metalcore. Within the next few years, countless bands were adding colorful auto-tuned choruses, neon synths and chintzy dance beats into their otherwise muscular onslaught, and the genre's overall shift toward a more pop-oriented direction could largely be traced back to Someday Came Suddenly. Even more than the music itself, Joey Sturgis' glitzy production on the record was years ahead of its time, and it created a new gold standard for sonic sleekness that 'core bands abide by to this day.
Someday Came Suddenly and other albums Joey Sturgis produced (The Devil Wears Prada's With Roots... and Asking Alexandria's Stand Up and Scream, in particular) were arguably more influential on the textural and instrumental choices of metalcore in the 2010s, but from a pure songwriting standpoint, no album has had more impact than A Day to Remember's Homesick. The Ocala, Florida, band's 2009 LP was by no means the first album to merge sing-song choruses with metal parts, but this record's extreme contrast between bright and brutal took things to another level — an album that sounded like the exact midway between 100 Demons and New Found Glory. Soon, there was an entire genre (easycore) coming up in this album's wake, and so many of the metalcore bands playing Warped Tour were obviously trying to write hooks that soared like the infectious "The Downfall of Us All."
If there's one word that best describes the last half decade of metalcore, it would be "experimental." After bands like ADTR and Attack Attack! signaled that there was rich crossover potential between contemporary pop (catchy choruses, flashy electronics and modern vocal effects) and tried-and-true metalcore, the 2010s saw an explosion of groups throwing things at the wall and seeing what stuck. However, it was Bring Me the Horizon's titanic 2013 album, Sempiternal, that showed just how far metalcore could travel without losing its core identity. The U.K. band's fourth LP infused dazzling keyboards, gargantuan chants and strikingly avant-garde production choices into their metalcore rippers, following in the footsteps of bands like Deftones and Linkin Park to make something that's as big, aggressive and emotionally pained as it is beautiful. We can already hear its mark on rising stars like Loathe and Cane Hill, and in another eight years, its lavish, orchestral swings may very well be spoken of with even deeper reverence.