All kinds of notable events occurred in 1996, like when a blizzard hit the east coast region with a brutal 2 and a half feet of snowfall early in the year… which was followed up by the North Cape oil spill. Or in the spring of ’96, when the Unabomber is arrested in his cabin in Montana…
But, this article is not about those important events. What this is… is that there were so many albums that came out in 1996 that became some of the most heartfelt albums in my collection or memory… without further adieu:
Sepultura – ‘Roots’
‘Roots’ is probably the best thing to come out of the nu-metal craze by far, causing Sepultura to slightly alter their sound into a slower, thicker beast. At the album’s faster moments, the sound is almost like a sandstorm somehow attacking a jungle, the distortion being extremely grainy and visceral. The album contains much variety, and is less cohesive than say, ‘Arise’. What’s cool is that it is the band flexing its creative muscles, and stretching boundaries within the death metal and thrash genres. Here is Sepultura tearing it up at a hotel:
Many of these albums acted as the soundtrack to my 5 year college career, which was split between Black Hawk College and The School of The Art Institute of Chicago (or SAIC). The year 1996 was my last year at community college, living with my father. At this point I had upgraded from my incredibly crappy running ’77 Mercury Comet to a slightly better running vehicle, the ’88 Pontiac Grand-Am. Compared to the Mercury, it was almost like a Formula One car. Also it was the last car I owned, although I did get the chance to drive my parents’ 4×4 Toyota fairly often. At the end of 1996, I ended up selling my car and haven’t owned one since.
the melvins – ‘Stag’
Stag is perhaps an underrated Melvins album, sometimes written off as the tail end of their major label tenure. But I’d argue it is one of their best experimental studio outputs. Similar to their previous album, the melvins continued to push the limits of the high end studios at their disposal. The album touches upon classic melvins material such as the much-covered “The Bit”, pop styled offerings, live instrument noise/drone pieces, and much much more.
Ministry – ‘Filthpig’
To me, Filthpig is like Ministry trying to be more like The Melvins. Which may sound like an uncreative idea, but it is quite the opposite. The results are amazing, and easily Ministry’s most underrated album. The title track is the most obvious nod in the melvins direction, and it only gets better after that track. Well, except for the absolutely brilliant opening track, (although generically titled) “Reload” (without a doubt one of my favorite Ministry songs). My guess is that this album is not as well received because it is really damn noisy. It’s also perhaps their most metal album, but it really is just a continuation of the ‘Psalm 69’ mentality. I genuinely like every track on this album, but here is another favorite song (the youtube compression takes most of the life out of this one though):
Neurosis – ‘Through Silver in Blood’
Nothing really sounded quite like this album in the mid-90’s, so it really stands out in music history in my opinion. There were a few other bands stretching the sound of heavy metal, but none quite accomplished the crushing atmosphere of TSIB and its multiple levels of sonic layering. There were definitely other hardcore punk bands doing the slower sludge noise rock thing, but Neurosis enveloped this sound in a wall of effects, obscured samples and sound sources, tribal drumming, and even a live visual artist. (while on the topic of Neurosis, I must add one of the best live shows I’ve seen was them at the Fireside Bowl in ’97 I think it was)
rage against the machine – ‘Evil Empire’
I’d be remiss if I didn’t include Evil Empire, since it was played in my car very frequently in the mid 90s. Even remember it as a good soundtrack to driving to Florida… Another reason to include is that it is just as good as its classic predecessor (their debut) and sooooo much better than the 2 albums following it (which to me sound so overproduced that I can hardly listen to them anymore). Which brings me to their main appeal: their live energy. Here is a live video or two from ’96:
Meat Beat Manifesto – ‘Subliminal Sandwich’
Shifting gears a bit, and looking ahead into future listening, I first heard some MBM back in 1996, and after a few listens at a friend’s house I had to go out and buy the double cd album, which is part of a small trend of double cd albums from the late 90’s to the early aughts. Another really great live show, this group is mostly electronic and mainly just one guy (Jack Dangers). Here the band goes for more of a space/lounge/funk/jazz vibe and expands the sound into some new kind of fusion that really isn’t touched upon too often (an industrial group creating an ambient rave while imitating Bitches Brew?)…
Aphex Twin – ‘Richard D James Album’
This might just be (historically speaking) the big album of 1996. It is one of my favorite albums of all time by any musician, and one of Aphex Twin’s best. It’s also one of two full lengths since it was released (albeit, the other one was a double album) by the guy that is sometimes known as “the Mozart of our times“.
Stereolab – ‘Emperor Tomato Ketchup’
Perhaps the quintessential college art student album, it stands up well both among the band’s other albums and in general. It is poppy enough that a wide spectrum of people can enjoy it, and interesting enough to keep many people listening to the album for years to come. One of the most beautiful sounding albums of the 90’s… it would be very difficult not to like a band that sounds like this:
Carcass – ‘Swansong’
Another one of the 90’s most underrated albums, Swansong is a much more clever and classic-riff filled album than many would give it credit for. From one of the greatest extreme metal bands of all time, this one turns it down half a notch and is therefore at times labeled not as good. (or perhaps it is because of bad puns?) On the contrary, it’s a near-perfect metal classic full of cutting social commentary and super thick, catchy riffage that is evident in “Tomorrow Belongs to Nobody”. The most straight-up metal album by Carcass, but who cares? It’s great.
Unwound – ‘Repetition’
The year after 1996, ’97, was my first year as a Chicagoan. Sometime later in that year I began expanding my rock music tastes away from the usual metal and industrial bands. Some of my college friends were big Unwound fans, so I’d end up hearing them pretty often at their apartment. Eventually got to see them live at The Fireside Bowl, another insanely good show from that era. Unwound ended up becoming one of my favorite bands, and ‘Repetition’ is one of their greatest releases. Here is their college radio “hit” song… if it was I’m not really sure, but it certainly has the hooks. Another for your entertainment:
Dr Octagon – ‘Dr Octagonecologyst’
Both great for headphone listening or partying blasted out of some speakers, Dr Octagon was along with Stereolab and Aphex Twin what people were listening to at art college in the late 90s on a regular basis. The whole album is a classic and even the skits are great.
Fu Manchu – ‘In Search Of’
Speaking of art school parties, I first heard this at one. Super catchy, hugely fuzzed out guitars and 70’s style rock riffs played with 90’s gusto. It even has a millennium falcon reference. I once won tickets to see this band live at The Metro, and have seen them a couple other times, and I can say they are even better live than on the albums.
Tipsy – ‘Trip Tease’
Just got into this album recently and it is a really impressive collection of laidback lounge and exotica presented with a meticulously arranged collection of samples. Sort of like a seamless sonic collage of cool sounds both vintage and fresh-sounding.
*final note, I included a 1995 performance of a song from Tool’s ‘Aenima’ album, which actually was released in 1996 in the last post