In 1998, Bill Clinton claimed he "did not have sexual relations with that woman." The Goo Goo Dolls' "Iris" was the most played song of the year. Saving Private Ryan ruled the big screen; E.R., the smaller screen. The Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl. Frank Sinatra died. And a slew of heavy-music artists released badass albums — including the 15 below.
There are very few names as revered in the hardcore world as that of Seattle's Botch, who created a unique amalgam of math rock and 1,000 other ideas with their debut LP American Nervoso, released on a little label called Hydra Head Records. American Nervoso not only kicked things off for Botch, it helped do so for a then-mostly unknown group of maniacs called the Dillinger Escape Plan, who hit the road with the band on its tour in support of the album.
Featuring future members of abstract-doom earthquakers Sunn O))) and Khanate, Burning Witch were the epitome of slow-mo riff torment for a hot second in the late Nineties, recording two EPs, Towers... and Rift.Canyon.Dreams, that went out of print as quickly as they developed a cult following. Compiled as 1998's Crippled Lucifer album (which was reissued as deluxe double-disc set in 2008), "Stillborn," "Sea Hag" and the miserablists' other anguished anthems seethe and moan like Sabbath slowly sinking into a sulfurous bog.
To a certain batch of people, it's not a debate as to whether Cave In were one of the best band in the post-hardcore and metalcore genres, it's whether their key album was Until Your Heart Stops or its follow-up Jupiter. Wherever you fall, it all started with Heart, a four-on-the-floor monster that is one of the most revered heavy albums in underground music.
Before Ben Koller and Nate Newton joined, and they dropped their all-time-great Jane Doe LP, Converge were a completely different animal but no less venomous. Featuring Aaron Dalbec (who went on to form Bane) and Steve Brodsky (Cave In, Mutoid Man) alongside Jacob Bannon and Kurt Ballou, When Forever Comes Crashing is unique, incredible and light years away from most of their hardcore contemporaries — even if it isn't quite the revolutionary Converge sound that the band would cultivate in the years to come.
The influence and importance of Florida-based progressive death metal act Death cannot be overstated. Over 10 years and seven albums, the band — led by mastermind Chuck Schuldiner — elevated the extreme metal style to never-before-reached heights. The Sound of Perseverance is considered by many to be the pinnacle of the guitarist-vocalist's vision: adventurous structures, technical, brutally sublime solos and expressive razor-sharp vocals. The album would ultimately be Death's swan song, as Schuldiner was diagnosed with cancer the year after its release, and passed away from complications from the disease in 2001.
The Dillinger Escape Plan embodied utter chaos when they released their watershed Under the Running Board EP in 1998. Though their sound would evolve over the years, Running Board laid the blueprint for what would eventually be one of the most complex, challenging and confounding bands to ever rattle the Billboard 100. R.I.P.
Obscura, Gorgut's last LP before an extended hiatus, still stands as a landmark of technical death metal. Yet, while the level of guitar wizardry exhibited by Luc LeMay and Co. is nothing short of dizzying, the album's focus on strong songwriting admirably keeps the release from careening into the "Guitar Center clinic" mode of instrumental wankery.
In 1998 Marilyn Manson morphed from goth-rock Antichrist into a red-haired alien with nipple-less boobs and made one of his best albums, the sleazy, glammy Mechanical Animals. Manson's Ziggy Stardust-esque incarnation may not have survived long, but classic cuts like "The Dope Show" and "I Don't Like the Drugs (But the Drugs Like Me)" might just live forever.
Meshuggah's third release, Chaosphere, built on the foundation of 1995's Destroy Erase Improve, which heralded the Swedish band's departure from its earlier thrash-influenced work. Chaosphere solidly established their ascent into a realm of progressive, far-out rhythmic mathematics, technical/groove insanity and space-jazz solos (epitomized on the crushing track "New Millennium Cyanide Christ") — an avant-garde metal kingdom over which they still reign supreme.
After Metallica's back-to-back release of the hard-rock/alt leaning Load and Reload, many hardcore fans wondered if the thrashers had completely lost the grit and spit that fueled their earlier efforts. But in late 1998, the foursome ditched their bloated, big-budget recording process, hit the studio and quickly banged out 11 inspired covers — ranging from a snarling version of Misfits' "Die, Die My Darling" to a heartfelt reading of Bob Seger's "Turn the Page" to a groove-heavy take on Sabbath's "Sabbra Cadabra" — that not only showed the breadth of their creativity and killer musicianship but captured the brash excitement and "Fuck it all and fucking no regrets" attitude of their early years.
By the time that Nile's debut LP Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka burst upon the scene in 1998, death metal was ready for a bit of a new approach. Nile's instrumental virtuosity on the record was staggering, but what elevated the band — and its genre, by association — was its unique theme: the intersection of Lovecraft and Egyptology.
Following the dissolution of Kyuss, a certain red-headed guitar player of imposing stature set out to make melodic records using heavy guitars while abandoning some of the stoner grooves that had defined his work previously. That man was none other than Josh Homme, and the resulting milestone album, his first with new band Queens of the Stone Age.
To gen pop, it's all about "New Noise" and it's accompanying video, but to real heads, the Swedish band broke down the barriers between hardcore, electronic, punk and a zillion other genres with their LP/mission statement The Shape of Punk to Come. "We want our airwaves back," indeed.
Down-tuned to the extreme and bursting with groove riffs, Diabolus in Musica is arguably Slayer's most experimental record to date. Not surprisingly, as a result it was met with mixed reviews upon its release, with critics suggesting the group was pandering to the nu-metal trends of the day. While the LP's mid-tempo pacing does drag, standout cuts like "Bitter Piece" and "Stain of Mind" make it an album worthy of serious reconsideration.
Makeup-slathered, politically-charged Armenian spaz-nu-metal — on paper, it doesn't sound like a surefire formula for success. But in the hands of Serj Tankian, Daron Malakian, Shavo Odadjian and John Dolmayan — with a little help from a guy named Rick Rubin — that shit came off like fucking genius. Indeed, in 1998, System of a Down stormed the metal world with their self-titled debut and came off smelling sweet as — wait for it — SUGAR!