From what we can tell, being a heavy metal band at the turn of the millennium was like running naked across a paintball field. Everywhere you turned, someone was either telling you that you were finished, demanding you adhere to the latest trend, or calling you a poser for switching up your sound. The result was a lot of confused, questionable albums where classic bands did their damnedest to get with the times. And as you’ve probably guessed, rarely did this tactic work as planned.
But even an outhouse grows flowers in it from time to time. On every band’s questionable turn-of-the-millennium album, there is at least one song that isn’t that bad, and is occasionally awesome. Of course, these tracks are rarely given the respect they deserve, because the record surrounding them is historically regarded as terrible. Everyone tells you to buy the scrappy debut, not the bloated, aimless 2001 crapshoot with the two killer tracks on it.
Here are 12 underappreciated classics from famous bands doing their best to understand the brave new world ahead of them…
Alice Cooper, “Cold Machines” (Brutal Planet, 2000)
While some call it his “nu-metal album,” Brutal Planet has remained an important release for Alice Cooper — he still opens many a live show with the title track. That said, the real unsung gem on this agro Discman classic is “Cold Machines,” the closer. With its swinging rhythm and teenage-leaning lyrics about being a zombified drone in some sort of apocalyptic complex, it’s surprisingly relatable, even if it’s totally far out. Listen to this chorus and try not to imagine a line of skeleton Rockettes.
Slayer, “Death’s Head” (Diabolus In Musica, 1998)
Diabolus In Musica has its place in Slayer’s pantheon these days (yeah, in the fuckin’ Ladies Room, BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAH), but at the time of its release, it got torn to pieces. That said, the album has a handful of awesome cuts, and “Death’s Head” is chief among them. The song just comes in swinging a lead pipe and never lets up, even during the churning hardcore breakdown that closes it. It’s not a breakneck thrash anthem, but it still scratches the itch ’til it bleeds.
Mötley Crüe, “Anybody Out There?” (Generation Swine, 1997)
Unlike some of the other albums on this list, there’s no hemming and hawing about fans versus critics here – Generation Swine is a total mess, front to back. But “Anybody Out There?” shows off how Mötley Crüe were trying new things with this release, and some of them weren’t terrible. The song’s punk rhythm and speedy, straightforward approach make it refreshing and fun in this parade of slogs. Not a perfect track, and arguably not really a Mötley Crüe song, but one that could make it onto the occasional sleazy playlist and not raise eyebrows.
Kreator, “Passage to Babylon” (Endorama, 1999)
Okay, we admit, a Kreator goth album: not a good idea. And yet “Passage to Babylon” is somehow both the band’s gothiest track and also the most compelling one on the record. Maybe it’s because Kreator give themselves entirely over to the theme, embracing their inner goth with the stark opening beat and the Coal Chamber-esque chorus explosions. The album is deeply imperfect, without a doubt, but if you’re going to listen to one song from it, this is the one to get into.
Iron Maiden, “The Educated Fool” (Virtual XI, 1998)
“The Educated Fool” begs for what all of Blaze Bayley’s tracks in Maiden beg for: Bruce Dickinson’s voice talent. The song’s steady, rhythmic vocals just need that extra bit of operatic power to launch them to another level. That said, the track itself is truly solid, the kind of song that would be right at home on either of Iron Maiden’s last two albums. Definitely not an era of the band we delve into very much, but one which we should, because the diamonds in there shine bright.
Metallica, “Prince Charming” (ReLoad, 1997)
My love of ReLoad has been an ongoing topic during my time as a MetalSucks writer, and I stand by the album’s strong points (of which I think there are many). And “Prince Charming” is definitely one of them, the track going all-in on James Hetfield’s “Big Daddy” Ed Roth nastiness. The song has an excellent chorus, and gets Trendkill-level dark at times (“I’m the one who doesn’t look quite right as children play…” Yeesh, Metallica, let’s not go full Korn here). While thrashers will never accept it, fans of garage rock’s sneer will get a kick out of this lesser-known number.
Motörhead, “Red Raw” (Hammered, 2000)
Hammered found Motörhead at a weird point in their career, embracing metal proper yet not quite sure how to handle it without feeling aimless. But damn, “Red Raw” is as a flawless thrash metal track as one can find, furious and merciless at every turn. The song feels deeply Slayerized, telling the tale of an insatiable serial killer who wants nothing more than to sate his thirst for carnage. Simply put, even as people who worship the ground Lemmy walked upon, we didn’t know he had it in him!
Destruction, “God Gifted” (The Least Successful Human Cannonball, 1998)
At least Destruction went even heavier than usual with their questionable turn-of-the-millennium album. Sure, The Least Successful Human Cannonball, the last album the band released without longtime frontman Schmier, is a bad Pantera rip-off. But on “God Gifted,” Destruction bring together the bits and pieces of groove and alt-metal they were experimenting with in a perfect, frantic way that fans of Prong and Corrosion of Conformity might dig. Overall, this whole record ain’t bad — it’s just a departure from the norm that the band would never mess with again.
Anthrax, “Nobody Knows Anything” (We’ve Come For You All, 2003)
It’s sort of a shame that we don’t talk about We’ve Come For You All more, because the album is really killer, and showcases the versatility of Anthrax‘s songwriting. But the track that always gets stuck in our heads, and which really brings the speed and fury, is “Nobody Knows Anything.” There’s a bounce to that riff, but in a purely thrash way that reminds one of Anthrax’s legendary ability to incite mass stomping. Meanwhile, the vocals are as exciting as they’ve ever been, reminding us that while Joey Belladonna is the man, Anthrax’s Bush administration produced some of their raddest stuff. Relistening to it now, it could be the MetalSucks anthem.
Testament, “Demonic Refusal” (Demonic, 1997)
While Demonic is very much Testament’s “death metal album,” it proves that the band’s seasoned songwriting shines through no matter what the genre. The opening track, “Demonic Refusal,” also adopts the rare and awesome point of view of someone conferring with the forces of darkness…and telling them to back off. The throbbing, chunky song is life-affirming in that respect, telling the listener that they don’t need a deal with the Devil to be a god of their own world. And man, does that chorus fucking crush!
Scorpions, “Mind Like a Tree” (Eye II Eye, 1999)
No matter how much you dislike any of the other albums on this list, none of them are as dire in their departure from their makers’ classic style as Eye II Eye is. Why Scorpions decided to release a U2-style sex-rock record, we’ll never know (hey, it was the late ‘90s), but the album is straight-up baffling. That said, “Mind Like a Tree” has a pretty heavy central riff, and illustrates what these guys were trying to do with this new sound by adding a glossy sense of style to their big proto-metal. That said, oof, what a chocolate diamond among turds this song is! Listen to the album, just to know.
Misfits, “Dust to Dust” (Famous Monsters, 1999)
Famous Monsters is caught in a bit of an historical limbo – this obviously wasn’t the Misfits’ Danzig-era punk, nor was it quite as spunky as Michale Graves’ debut on American Psycho, and yet it remains one of their most beloved records. That’s due to the songwriting on tracks like “Dust to Dust,” a Frankenstinian hand-jive anthem that swings while it still roars. While ‘50s-reminiscent tracks like “:Descending Angel” and “Saturday Night” were the widespread winners for this release, “Dust…” fell by the wayside to everyone but the fully-initiated, who appreciated it for its short, sweet shock to the neck bolts. Say it with me, now: we belong dead!