Alternative metal arrived on the scene in the late-’80s and can really be best explained as the result of a hangover from the ’80s hair band fad. It was precisely this hangover that allowed for the ’90s musical climate to be as bizarre it tended to be. The metal part of this is obvious, but many different bands took many different styles into their own fusion of metal under the ‘alternative’ umbrella, everything from funk, hip hop, punk rock, post-punk, etc. You name it, it had a place under the broad alternative metal umbrella.
Here are the ten most essential records from this wide-ranging genre:
- ‘Betty’- Helmet
This record is where Helmet broke through to the masses in 1994 behind the strength of their famous track, “Milquetoast”. This is a highly diverse record, featuring all of Helmet leader Page Hamilton’s influences, especially those of which that fell into the jazz and blues categories. Arguably the most wide-ranging Helmet record.
- ‘Cleansing’- Prong
Prong moved away from their earlier more straight thrash influence to make a staple of the alternative metal scene with this release in 1994. Call it groove metal? Post-thrash? Sure, but this list would be incomplete without it. Tommy Victor, the band’s leader, even cited the Sisters of Mercy as the main influence on the record.
- ‘The Real Thing’- Faith No More
This landmark release in 1989 is the main reason why Faith No More are held up as the leaders of the alternative metal pack and with good reason. This is the peak of the funk influence within the format, as well. After the release of this record, any band that played alternative metal was compared in one way or another to Faith No More.
- ‘Badmotorfinger’- Soundgarden
This 1991 release is equally as essential as a grunge record, but it showcases way too much metal to just be grunge. Unlike the funk influence of bands like Faith No More or Living Colour, Soundgarden’s main influence is more of a Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin-style traditional metal sound. Any doubts? Check out “Jesus Christ Pose”.
- ‘Vivid’- Living Colour
Living Colour represent the culmination of traditionally black musical influences within the alternative metal format, and this record being released in 1988, they were definitely at the forefront of the scene. This record sports influences of everything from hip hop to old-school soul singers like Sam Cooke. Essential; a hodgepodge of musical force.
- ‘Rage Against the Machine’- Rage Against the Machine
Rage Against the Machine unleashed this uncompromising debut record in 1992, and in doing so, they gave a powerful anti-establishment message to listeners all over the world. While many alternative bands wore this message before, no one wore it with as much pride and as much unapologetic force as these guys did.
- ‘Portrait of an American Family’- Marilyn Manson
The obvious Manson choice would’ve been ‘Antichrist Superstar’, so to keep things fresh I’ll go with ‘Portrait’. Released in 1994, Marilyn Manson brought the shock rock aesthetic to alternative metal. Often overlooked because of its successor, this record is an undeniable accomplishment in Manson’s varied, profound catalog.
- ‘Angel Dust’- Faith No More
Faith No More strike again with this 1992 record which never quite saw the reaction from the public that ‘The Real Thing’ did a few years prior. Nevertheless, it’s an equally important fixture in this list. Perhaps not as provocative as ‘The Real Thing’, there remains an argument to be made that this is a more mature record.
- ‘Meantime’- Helmet
Though it isn’t nearly as diverse of a record as ‘Betty’, many will argue that this 1992 release is superior overall and a better staple of alternative metal’s legacy. One thing is for sure, it certainly has a much more commanding vibe than ‘Betty’. Whether that makes it a better record is debatable, nevertheless it’s spot on this list isn’t debatable.
- ‘Sailing the Seas of Cheese’- Primus
Is this the best alternative metal record? In my opinion, no. It is however, without a doubt, the silliest record that the genre had to offer. This 1992 release is totally absurd. Think of Frank Zappa, mixed with Funkadelic, mixed with Metallica, and you’ve got the essential ingredients of what makes up the bizarre musical world of Primus.