If the comments posted below this week's Inventory are any indication, quite a few people out there disagree with our admittedly rickety hypothesis that 1997 might have been a banner year for music. Count me among the doubters. Don't get me wrong–there were plenty of stunning albums released that year, as our list more than proves. But while researching my own entries for this Inventory, I kept running headlong into a rock-solid fact: Some of my personal favorite albums of the time came out in 1998 and 1999. In fact, a tiny revolution happened those two years. But I'm not talking about indie rock: I'm talking the heavy stuff.
Let me back up just a step. Like many of my fellow A.V. Club types, '90s indie rock will always hold a dear place in my heart. By 1997, though, I was pretty damn sick of it. So many of the big bands–Pavement, Archers Of Loaf, Superchunk–seemed to be either coasting or limping, and the new bands popping up sounded far too precious and self-indulgent. I'll admit, it was probably me: I was just tired of the whole thing, tired of the smugness and blandness that I felt had crept into indie rock. (Little did I know it'd get 50 times worse the following decade.) So I found myself turning to a genre that I loved in my kidhood but seemed like a joke or an afterthought in 1997: Hardcore.
In my feeble defense, I'd never totally given up on hardcore. In fact, the mid-to-late '90s was a bit of a golden age to me when it comes to post-hardcore and (yes, I'll say it) emo. But bands like The VSS and The Promise Ring just weren't heavy. Heavy music as a whole was in sad shape at the time. Arguably, Deftones and Rage Against The Machine were still making decent heavy stuff on a mainstream scale, but the level playing field that grunge cleared was being overrun by the perennial schoolyard bully: This time, though, the bully wasn't called butt-rock. It was called nü-metal. In a surprisingly short time, heavy music regressed to thuggish, atonal idiocy, and indie-rock fans (myself almost included) wanted nothing more than to cocoon themselves in the latest Belle And Sebastian import and pretend nothing else existed. Hell, it wasn't even cool to listen to Soundgarden anymore.
A world where it's uncool to listen to Soundgarden is a world I don't want to live in. So, being the (anti)social retard that I am, I decided to rebel. "I," I said to myself, perhaps while blasting Louder Than Love lovingly, "am going to get back into some seriously heavy shit."
The problem? It was 1997. There wasn't much going on in the world of heavy music–or at least in my insular idea of heavy music at the time. As I would come to find out when I picked up The Haunted's skull-scouring debut the following year, Scandinavia had all kinds of amazing metal going on, and champions like Pantera and Sepultura were still arguably going strong. But I was never into metal per se–I was a punk and hardcore kid. If I wanted metal riffs, I listened to Integrity and Neurosis. Both of those bands–as well as fellow vets like Today Is The Day, Snapcase, Bloodlet, and Eyehategod–were around and making thunderous albums in or immediately prior to 1997. But where were the brand new bands spitting fire and shitting lava?
Revelation came in 1998 in the form of one record: Until Your Heart Stops by a relatively unknown group of Boston teenagers called Cave In. The album absolutely floored me: Taking cues from Coalesce and fellow Bostonians Converge–both of whom had yet to release their own masterpieces–Cave In launched a blitz of Slayer-sized riffs, Failure-level melody, and progressive electronic flourishes straight out of OK Computer. And from there, the floodgate burst: Between 1998 and 1999, a torrent of utterly rad records started pouring into the local record shop and into my heart. The Shape Of Punk To Come by Refused. Jerusalem by Sleep. Calculating Infinity by Dillinger Escape Plan. The Fine Art Of Original Sin by Ink & Dagger. The Opposite Of December by Poison The Well. American Nervoso by Botch. Choke by Kiss It Goodbye. The first two Isis EPs, Mosquito Control and The Red Sea. Self-titled debuts by The Locust and Queens Of The Stone Age. The list goes on and on.
It's staggering to realize today, but these classics all really came out in a mere 24-month span. And while lots of other great groups–Threadbare, Grade, Candiria, His Hero Is Gone, Brutal Truth, Shai Hulud, Damnation A.D., not to mention all the crust, grind, powerviolence, death metal, black metal, and stoner rock of the decade–had a head start on this '98-'99 flood, there's no denying that something crazy and special was in the air during those two years. Heavy music was being mutated, deconstructed, cross-pollinated, and reclaimed from nü-metal mooks with a vengeance, and the groundwork was laid for the epic renaissance it's enjoyed in the new millennium. (For better or for worse… but that's a whole other blog.) So yeah, I'll admit that I still love lots of indie rock circa 1997. In fact, I'm glad it had that little heyday–because in my mind, the entire genre got totally bulldozed and mostly invalidated by Cave In and all the bands that came crashing through in their wake. Modest Mouse? You're kidding, right?