2003 was a transitional year for heavy music. The grunge and early nu-metal of the Nineties was being replaced on rock radio by new-gen hit-makers like Linkin Park and Evanescence, and the explosion of big-room emo was muscling metal out of the mainstream. At the same time, a fresh generation of talent was intent on making popular metal heavy again, metalcore was on the rise, and there was innovation aplenty — from alt-metal and prog to death and black metal. Here are 15 totally kickass albums from 2003 that still hold up all these years later.
Sing the Sorrow marks the second era in AFI's career — the one where they became huge stars. Many OG fans saw the band's titanically catchy, symphonically ambitious and unabashedly emo sixth record as a betrayal of their hardcore roots, but those old-timers are far outnumbered by the mass of listeners who rank this among records by My Chemical Romance, the Used and Thursday as the best 2000s post-hardcore had to offer. Let undeniable knockouts like "The Leaving Song, Pt. II" and "Silver and Cold" show up the haters.
A Perfect Circle's follow-up to their breakthrough 2000 debut, Mer de Noms, proved their chemistry wasn't a fluke. Written remotely at first, while singer Maynard James Keenan was on the road with TOOL behind their Lateralus LP, and then during much more collaborative in-studio sessions, the record debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and eventually went platinum on the backs of three singles, "Weak and Powerless," "The Outsider" and "Blue." It might be their best work yet.
Between its sheer aggression and unrivaled musicianship among their NWOAHM peers, Avenged Sevenfold's 2003 breakout, Waking the Fallen, is an absolutely wrecking ball of shreddy metalcore excellence. Packing in some of their best riffs ("Unholy Confessions"), gnarliest bangers ("Chapter Four," "Remenissions") and most breathtaking solos ("Second Heartbeat," "And All Things Will End"), it's not only the heaviest record in A7X's expansive catalog, but also one of their most downright fun.
Some bands made metalcore bigger and/or more melodic in the new millennium, but Between the Buried and Me made it freakin' proggy. On their 2003 sophomore effort, The Silent Circus, the North Carolina virtuosos injected dizzying tempo changes, complicated riffs and through-composed song structures into down-and-dirty metalcore madness. They'd go on to make even jazzier and more avant-garde albums down the line, but the Silent Circus strikes the perfect balance between meat-and-potatoes mosh and mind-warping technicality.
On Hate Crew Deathroll, Children of Bodom embraced everything their detractors tried to ding them for and ended up with one of the most balls-to-the-walls fun — and frankly, underappreciated — albums of its time. Alexi Laiho and his cohorts shred like fucking military-grade woodchippers on here, lunging into extended solos (on guitar and keys alike) and hammering out gleefully meaty riffs with huge chant-along vocals. Don't bother trying to intellectualize songs titled "Triple Corpse Hammerblow" and "Bodom Beach Terror" — just play it loud enough to make your neighbors want to move out.
Cleveland, Ohio's Chimaira established themselves as leaders of the New Wave of American Heavy Metal movement, with their second album, The Impossibility of Reason, a decisive step-up from the more nu-metal approach of their debut, 2001's Pass Out of Existence. Songs like "Down Again" and "Power Trip" are raging, industrialized groove-metal classics, but "Pure Hatred" was the hit, a Headbangers Ball staple that would later pop on the Discovery Channels' MythBusters, of all places, in a segment about "talking to plants."
Following up a universally hailed masterpiece like White Pony would be a challenge for anyone, but Deftones gave it their all with 2003's self-titled offering. It's the band's most diverse and eclectic album to that point, veering from the irresistible hook of shoegazing lead single "Minerva" to the post-hardcore ferocity of "When Girls Telephone Boys" to the smoky trip-hop of "Lucky You." The jarring transitions sometimes verge on discordance, but it's a captivating ride that captures Deftones at a pivotal point in their career.
On their breakthrough sixth album, Norwegian corpse-paint commandos Dimmu Borgir took symphonic black metal to its most epic and immersive cinematic heights — think IMAX 3D, directed by Peter Jackson. Just blast the record's band-defining single "Progenies of the Great Apocalypse," a majestic five-minute thrill ride, featuring backing vocals by Immortal's Abbath and instrumentation by the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, that would perfectly soundtrack a scene of Mordor in The Lord of the Rings.
First there are the numbers: Over 8 million copies sold in the U.S., over 17 million worldwide, making the Evanescence's Fallen one of the best-selling albums of the 21st century, just below Adele, Eminem and Nora Jones. "Bring Me to Life" is the mega-smash, of course, but deeper cuts like the punchy, imploring "Tourniquet" and the sorrowful piano ballad "My Immortal" showcase a band with striking range and staying power, thanks in large part to the powerhouse charisma of vocalist Amy Lee.
Hot Damn! is where Every Time I Die got their wings. The Buffalo hardcore crew's second record merged the manic, scream-sing fits of Glassjaw with the shin-splinting metalcore attack of Norma Jean and the Dillinger Escape Plan — and threw in a helluva lot of personality of their own. Keith Buckley huffs out swaggering hooks and then puffs plumes of youthful rage, and the band scrape Southern rock riffs against a cheese grater of skronks and chugs. It's sweaty, red-faced and always sounds like it's about to fall apart — but never does.
Revered by heavyweights including Metallica, TOOL and Nine Inch Nails, Killing Joke called on another famous fan for their second self-titled album: Dave Grohl. Nirvana had famously "borrowed" the riff to "Come as You Are" from the U.K. industrial-metal pioneers' "Eighties," and Grohl paid them back for it with his furious playing on every song here. Originally titled Axis of Evil then The Death & Resurrection Show, the album captures vocalist Jaz Coleman and Co. at their politically outraged best.
Lamb of God leveled up big on their uncompromising sophomore album, As the Palaces Burn. The lead guitar work became more intricate, the grooves got tighter and Randy Blythe chiseled his garbled growls into snarling barks that cut through the mix like flaming spears. Following 2000's raw, grindy New American Gospel, Palaces crystallized the Lamb of God sound we know and love today. And fortunately, the remixed and remastered 2013 edition cleans up the harsh, tinny production of the original mix. These songs are beasts.
The companion piece to 2002's Deliverance, Damnation was recorded during the same sessions but released five months later, when it completely re-defined what kind of band Opeth is. A shocking departure from the Swedish stalwarts' established death-metal attack, Damnation was the first Opeth album to use all clean vocals, clean guitars and prominent Mellotron, drawing heavy influence from Seventies prog rock. The band's fan base could have rebelled; instead, album standouts "Windowpane" and "In My Time of Need" now top the list of Opeth's most streamed songs.
As the title of Life is Killing Me suggests, the early 2000s weren't a joyous time for Type O Negative's members. Their sixth LP was written while Peter Steele was suffering from addiction and depression, and he and his bandmates were fighting constantly. Even so, this 15-track behemoth doesn't sound like a band in disarray. Opener "I Don't Wanna Be Me" is one of their most instantly gratifying songs ever, and others like "Nettie" and "Anesthesia" maintain the gothy, doomy brilliance of their signature Nineties material.