Maybe everyone has the same emotional attachment to the decade of their youth, but for us, the 90’s felt like truly a magical moment in musical history. Alternative culture and music was on fire, from grunge to heavy rock to metal and beyond. The creative juices were flowing so heavy in the 90’s that it even birthed too many incredible side projects to name. To that end, here’s our picks for some of the best side projects to come out of the decade from the world of grunge, hard rock and metal.
Path of Resistance (Earth Crisis)
Formed by vegan straight-edge hardcore warriors Earth Crisis in 1996 in the wake of a horrible van accident that left them temporarily without a drummer, Path of Resistance was a 3-pronged vocalist assault of somehow even angrier straight-edge pit anthems. The band had a relatively short discography, but their impact is far-reaching. Essentially the Wu-Tang Clan of straight-edge militant hardcore in the 90’s, the band is still revered in spin-kicking HC circles to this day.
Handsome (Helmet, Quicksand, Cro-Mags)
Handsome came together in the ashes of Pete Mengede being asked to leave Helmet. Dissatisfied with the lack of creativity that Helmet allegedly allowed its members, Pete sought to create a more democratic musical project. Ironically, the band was rounded out with New York Hardcore veterans, but fit more in line with the post-hardcore stylings of Quicksand, Deftones, etc. Handsome dropped one major label full-length that was well-received, but their time together was short-lived. A disastrous tour with Silverchair where a piece of scaffolding from the venue fell on top of the drummer mid-set, followed by a cool but likely poor received tour with Wu-Tang Clan (wtf?), and the band called it a day not long after. Truly a 90’s gem that (still) doesn’t get the attention it fully deserves.
Bloodbath (Opeth, Paradise Lost, Katatonia)
A Swedish death metal ‘supergroup’ of sorts based out of Sweden (of course), Bloodbath first formed in 1998 and featured some pretty heavy hitters from groups like Opeth, Paradise Lost and Katatonia. While technically the band didn’t get to release anything until 2000’s Breeding Death EP, they’ve had a truly impressive musical output for a side project ever since, going on to release 6 full lengths, 2 EP’s and 2 live DVD’s. 2022’s ‘Survival of the Sickest’ even made many a metalhead’s best-of-year list last year as well. Truly impressive longevity here without sacrificing quality for quantity.
Temple of the Dog (Pearl Jam, Soundgarden)
Easily the most notable of 90’s grunge side projects, Temple of the Dog was stocked to the brims with Seattle musical superheroes. Formed in 1990 by Chris Cornell as a tribute to fallen Mother Love Bone signer, Andrew Wood, it was rounded out with the unreal lineup of Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament, Matt Cameron, Mike McCready, with some help from Eddie Vedder as well. They dropped one full-length album in 1991, and had a bit of a hit with ‘Hunger Strike’. However, Pearl Jam’s Ten dropped four months later, and Soundgarden’s mainstream ascension wasn’t long behind, so the band pretty much stayed as a short-lived, but incredibly memorable moment in musical time.
Blood from the Soul (Napalm Death, Sick of it All)
Blood from the Soul was (and still is) an industrial metal project founded by Napalm Death bassist Shane Embury. Interestingly, the 1993 debut, To Spite the Gland That Breeds, had legendary Sick of it All vocalist Lou Koller on vocals. Shane tried a few times in the years since to restart the project, and you might actually know it in its most recent form, which was a 2020 full-length that featured a pretty legendary lineup of Jacob Bannon of Converge on vocals, Dirk Verbeuren (Megadeth, Soilwork) on drums, and Jesper Liverod of Nasum and Burst on bass. That record is called DSM-5 and is also very much worth your time.
Disfear (At the Gates, Entombed)
A now legendary Swedish d-beat and death metal band that has existed in various bursts of activity since the late 80’s, Disfear is perhaps most widely known due to the fact that the legendary At the Gates vocalist Tomas Lindberg is on the mic along with Uffe Cederlund of Entombed fame. The band doesn’t sound much like their famous members’ other musical endeavors, though- it’s more of a polished version of Portland d-beat legends Tragedy (to our ears at least). They dropped two albums in the 90’s, but their magnum opus came later in the 2000’s with the album Live the Storm, followed by their incredible split with Doomriders featuring Nate of Converge (and now Cave In) fame.
Mad Season (Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, Screaming Trees)
A true 90’s grunge supergroup made up of the formidable Layne Staley of Alice in Chains & members of Pearl Jam and Screaming Trees. While not heavy in a sonic sense, lyrically it brought the devastation in true Layne fashion. Their one full length was not as widely heralded as the rest of the members’ musical outputs, but the album is considered a classic by anyone who has spent proper time with it.
Down (Crowbar, Pantera, Corrosion of Conformity, Eyehategod)
A band that probably needs the least amount of introduction or explanation on this list. You know ’em and the members. You know the origin story. But in the off chance you don’t, Down very much started as a side project. Hell, the demo and NOLA dropped at the height of Pantera’s arena-headlining popularity, so it was never meant to be a full-fledged band. The reality is NOLA was so lauded and well-received that the band kind of organically became it’s own beast as a byproduct of the public reaction. NOLA is an absolute classic and perhaps one of the best metal side ‘side projects’ of all time. So good that they’ve been basically functioning as a real band ever since the full-length dropped. Hail the Leaf forever.
Nailbomb (Sepultura, Fudge Tunnel)
Formed in 1994 as a side project by Max Cavalera (while still in Sepultura) & Alex Newport of Fudge Tunnel fame, the band’s recorded output only really consisted of one long-heralded full length called Point Blank. The album included appearances by some all-star peers like Dino of Fear Factory, but like most great side projects, basically vanquished after a few live shows around the time of the album’s release.
Tapeworm (Nine Inch Nails, Tool, Pantera, Prong, Helmet)
Ok fine. So maybe this one is cheating a little as technically, the long-fabled band never actually released any recorded music. But come-the-fuck-on- with a musical project with Trent Reznor and Maynard James Keenan as the foundation, with long-rumored contributions from Phil Anselmo, Page Hamilton and Tommy Victor, there’s not a chance in hell that this project wasn’t pure fire.
Legend has it that the band formed around 1996 right after The Downward Spiral sessions wrapped. NIN live band members Danny Lohner and Charlie Clouser would regularly pitch musical ideas to Reznor that he liked, but didn’t feel comfortable using for NIN. Apparently, three songs were recorded in 1999, but for reasons unknown, no actual music has been released to the public’s ears… yet.