The 1990s was a time of distinct evolution in music. Although grunge might have diminished the commercial viability of hard rock and hair metal, heavy music continued to thrive in the underground.
The concurrent rise of thrash metal and hardcore punk, two subgenres who were always more concerned with authenticity and quality than record sales, gave birth to the crossover movement. As crossover embraced speed, a similar group of thrash and hardcore musicians took their cues from the heavier side of their progenitors and created something entirely different.
Here are the ten best groove metal albums of all time
- Pro-Pain – Foul Taste Of Freedom
After the death of New York crossover legends Crumbsuckers, bassist Gary Meskil and drummer Danny Richardson slowed it down and formed Pro-Pain. Although their hardcore sensibilities were still firmly intact, Pro-Pain differentiated themselves from their previous band in a myriad of ways. With longer songs, hip hop inspired rhythms, and an unrelenting mid-tempo assault, Foul Taste Of Freedom embraced a changing sound in a changing city.
- Prong – Beg To Differ
Arguably one of the most underrated heavy metal bands of all time, Prong set the template for what Pantera would soon perfect. While their first record was an exercise in outsider thrash, Beg To Differ is a considerably more streamlined affair. In many ways, it’s the missing link between the industrial death metal of Godflesh and New York hardcore (which makes sense given guitarist Tommy Victor’s pedigree as a CBGB’s sound engineer and former member of Antidote and drummer Ted Parson’s time in Swans). An impossibly heavy, criminally overlooked album.
- Merauder – Master Killer
Although their proximity to the hardcore scene gets them characterized that way more often than not, Merauder are a metal band and Master Killer is a monolithic slab of terrifying groove metal. Although the music itself carries shades of their contemporaries, what truly sets Merauder apart from the rest is an unbridled display of rage. The riffs, the hooks, the solos, and the syncopated rhythms are all there in droves, but as impressive as their musicianship is it takes a back seat to sheer fury. The hardest of the hard.
- Exhorder – The Law
Along with Pantera’s Cowboys From Hell and Prong’s Beg To Differ, Exhorder’s second album is an essential component to the bedrock of groove metal. Although they had already carved a path for themselves in the thrash world with their debut Slaughter In The Vatican, Exhorder’s second record was a love letter to both Black Sabbath and Black Flag. Slowing things down did nothing to dull their edge, as The Law set the stage for what would become New Orleans sludge metal.
- Machine Head – Burn My Eyes
Resentment can be a powerful motivator. After Robb Flynn quit the legendary Bay Area thrash group Vio-lence, a simmering rage towards his former bandmates led him to form Machine Head. Taking thematic inspiration from the social unrest of the Los Angeles riots and the Waco siege, Burn My Eyes is a furious condemnation of the forces that set the world on fire. Although the tempos are much slower than their prior bands, the musical sensibilities of Flinn and former Attitude Adjustment / Verbal Abuse drummer Chris Kontos keep the thrash elements front and center, resulting in a sound akin to getting punched in the stomach while simultaneously having your face ripped off. “Let freedom ring with a shotgun blast,” indeed.
- Biohazard – Urban Discipline
The evolution of Biohazard is somewhat of an anomaly. The band started out as an ode to Carnivore, with fast and direct crossover fury and lyrics designed to push every button possible. By the time of their self-titled debut album, Biohazard had slowed their tempo all the way down and began incorporating heavy breakdowns, not to mention the occasional hip hop flow. Innovative as the debut was, Biohazard perfected the formula on Urban Discipline. Outside of the occasional collaborations of rappers and metal bands, this record is what brought that hybrid of style to the masses via Headbangers Ball and Beavis and Butthead.
- Lamb Of God – Ashes Of The Wake
Although the band had been perfecting their brand of slowed down crust metal for years, this cry of agony towards the injustices of the war in Iraq is when Lamb Of God reached their fully realized final form. Instead of sacrificing the bite of their previous records, the significantly cleaner production on Ashes Of The Wake serve to highlight the fury of a band operating at their musical and lyrical peak. A record that serves as the perfect vehicle for an important message.
3. White Zombie – La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Volume One
Having slugged it out for years in the New York noise rock circuit, White Zombie hit sonic and aesthetic paydirt with their breakthrough album La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Volume One. Although the band had flirted with heavy metal elements on their previous album, Make Them Die Slowly, it was their subtle incorporation of hip hop rhythms that created the groove element and elevated La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Volume One into an entirely new league. With relentless riffs, earth shaking bass, a penchant for camp and enough words crammed into the songs to put Marcel Proust to shame, White Zombie shaped the look and feel of horror-tinged heavy metal like no band since the Misfits.
2. Sepultura – Chaos A.D.
No band’s musical evolution is as seamless as Sepultura. Although they started out on the nastiest sonic ends of thrash and death metal, the band began flirting with industrial and punk elements on their third album, Arise. By 1993, Sepultura had naturally fallen into a new sonic world. Stylistically, Chaos A.D. owes as much to Amebix and Killing Joke as it does to Slayer and Possessed. It might very well be the best produced crust album of all time, which made Chaos A.D. the perfect Trojan Horse for Crass Records-influenced experimentation in the metal world.
- Pantera – Vulgar Display Of Power
Although Pantera had done their time in the Texas hair metal scene, it wasn’t until New Orleans native Phil Anselmo joined the band on the Power Metal album that hints of Pantera’s heavy future would begin to glisten. By the time Cowboys From Hell came around, very little of their former identity was visible to the untrained ear. As devastating as Cowboys might have been, it was the band’s follow up that truly changed the game. With ten-ton riffs, solos straight from an alien abduction, the barked vocals of a fighting dog and enough rhythm to shake a city to the ground, Vulgar Display Of Power put pure groove metal on the map.