The 1990s were an interesting time to grow up as a metalhead. At the beginning of the decade, Nirvana and Guns N Roses served a convincing deathblow to the glam metal scene. The end of the decade saw the mainstream dominance of nu metal and rap rock. In the mid ’90s, a style of groovy post-thrash metal came to prominence that served as a musical purgatory that bridged the gap between classic thrash-y heavy metal and angst-y, down-tuned modern metal of the 21st century.
It really was metal’s pimply-faced, peach-fuzz, awkward adolescent phase. That is not an admonishment of the style; it just didn’t have the legs to sustain as a movement, which is unfortunate because there were some really great bands. However, a handful of heavyweights managed to breakthrough in a very, very big way: namely Pantera, White Zombie, and Machine Head. It’s hard to put Fear Factory directly in this group as their origins are tied more to death metal and grindcore, although you could. You could possibly throw Biohazard in the mix as well, although they are often labeled as hip hop infused hardcore or rap-core. Biohazard is such a unique case because they were almost too ahead of their time to truly capitalize off of the rap rock explosion in the late ’90s. They are undoubtedly a groundbreaking band, and have been cited as huge influences on Sepultura’s Chaos A.D. album and Machine Head’s The More Things Change.
As always, I use this space to examine hidden treasures and under-appreciated talent that you may have either forgotten about or never heard of. Here are some of my favorite ’90s post-thrash groove metal bands you should definitely check out.
If you were like me and watched Headbanger’s Ball on MTV every Saturday night in early-mid ’90s, then Prong’s “Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck” was the soundtrack to your metalhead upbringing. I think people forget how influential Prong was in their heyday. The thing I like most about Prong is that despite attaching the ’90s post-thrash groove metal tag, they really existed outside of categorical restriction. While being a metal band at heart, there was a healthy dose of punk energy, industrial experimentation, and enough rock affection to be accessible and not be overly technical. I also love’s Tommy Victor’s signature, almost British sounding vocal delivery. It’s completely unique and crucial to Prong’s identity. Thankfully, the band has been very active in recent years with a new and vibrant rhythm section and releasing three very good albums since 2012.
Although Skinlab are technically a late ’90s/early ’00s band, they really capture the spirit of the style. I discovered them on the excellent 1999 release, Disembody: The New Flesh. The record was moody, energetic, and excellently produced by Andy Sneap. There was some beef between them and Machine Head as some claims were made that Skinlab was sonically a little too close to Machine Head’s sound, and it didn’t help that they were both Bay Area bands. These comparisons never bothered me. The band broke up following the more nu-metal sounding ReVoltingRoom in 2002, but I always appreciated what they did. They reunited in 2009 to release a follow-up album, The Scars Between Us.
Slapdash is about as under-the-radar as you will be able to find on this list. They are a Swedish band who only put out one full-length album called 240.25 Actual Reality in 1996. I saw their video on a Nuclear Blast music video compilation. 240.25 Actual Reality is really one of my favorite metal albums ever. The band’s sound is somewhere between early Meshuggah, Low-era Testament, and Snot. In many ways, Slapdash was doing a lot of things new wave of American metal bands were in the early 2000s by combining thrash with European influences, polyrhythms, and flashy lead guitar playing. After disbanding, members went on to notable Swedish bands like Carnal Forge and others. This is a true hidden gem.
San Francisco’s Forbidden is primarily regarded as a straight-up thrash band, but I am including them in this list for one record, 1997’s Green. I heard them on the local New Jersey college radio station, 89.5 WSOU, and immediately went out and bought the record. Forbidden’s former alumni reads like a Bay Area thrash metal All Star team: Paul Bostaph (Slayer, Testament), Robb Flynn (Machine Head, Testament), Tim Calvert (Nevermore), Steve Smyth (Nevermore, Testament), Glen Alvaleis (Testament). I know a lot of old school fans probably don’t like Green, but I think it’s one of the more underrated ’90s metal records. The production is fantastic, and singer Russ Anderson is one of the great unheralded talents in metal. The same could be said for excellent guitarist, Craig Locicero. This is becoming a theme in the article, but Forbidden also reunited in 2010, releasing Omega Wave, which hearkens back to their thrash-y roots.
Grip Inc. is mostly known as the band Dave Lombardo started the firs time he left Slayer in 1992. At the time, the band’s greatest appeal was that it sounded like enough like Slayer to attract old fans, but that is really doing the band a disservice. There was an epic European melodic quality in the band that distinctly separated the sound from Lombardo’s old band. While researching this article, I found some incredible live performances of the band on YouTube and it made me sad I never got to see them. Not to deflect attention from Lombardo’s brilliance, but guitarist Waldemar Sorychta and vocalist Gus Chambers were equally talented. Unfortunately, Gus Chambers passed away in 2008, so we will probably never see this band again. My favorite Grip Inc. record is 1997’s Nemesis. Check it!
Also hailing from Texas, it’s hard not to hear the links between Pissing Razors and Pantera. Sonically, there is a similarity in the tones and grooves, but the similarities melt away once you dig under the surface. Pissing Razors just brought an aggression that was rarely equalled in this era of groove metal bands. They were also a crushing live unit that elevated the intensity onstage from their already caustic recorded material. In my opinion, their finest hour was 1999’s Cast Down The Plague.
Merauder has the reputation of being a hardcore band and existing in the hardcore scene, but their classic 1996 album Master Killer sounds like metal to my ears. They were huge influences on metalcore crossover bands like All Out War, Hatebreed, and even my old band, God Forbid. We actually covered “Master Killer.” According to my old buddy Beto —who played guitar in Merauder and Madball— Merauder was presenting themselves as a metal band in the hardcore scene for years: wearing all black and playing full guitar stacks on stage. Not too many people know this, but Merauder lead singer Jorge Rosado was the runner up to replace Max Cavalera in Sepultura, and is actually the original singer for Ill Nino (at the time called El Nino). If that isn’t metal, I don’t know what is.
Pro-Pain is a very interesting band as they are kind of metal and kind of hardcore, but not definitively either or. I will say their existence only could have sprouted from this era of post-thrash groove metal. I caught wind of them on their first album and title track “Foul Taste Of Freedom.” It’s heavy, groovy, and catchy as all hell. Despite flying under the radar for many heavy music fans, Pro-Pain has released 15 albums. That is not a typo: 15 FULL LENGTH ALBUMS including Voice Of Rebellion released in 2015 on SPV Steamhammer. They are as blue collar as their appearance suggests, and have maintained a career by building a steady fanbase in Europe, which is not dissimilar from many crossover bands from this era. Check them out if you are into no frills hardcore-tinged groove metal.
Again, this is a band I was exposed to by my local metal radio station, 89.5 WSOU. G/Z/R, whose name was later changed to Geezer and then GZR, is the brainchild of Black Sabbath bass player, Terry “Geezer” Butler. Their first album Plastic Planet (1995) featured Burton C. Bell of Fear Factory on vocals. Plastic Planet was the only album Bell appeared on and is the heaviest and most metallic of their three records. G/Z/R became more industrial and grungy with subsequent releases, although replacement vocalist Clark Brown did an excellent job. I just think that it’s amazing someone like Geezer Butler, who had a hand in metal’s creation, stayed artistically viable into the later years of his career. One of the tracks on the debut is called “Give Up The Ghost,” which I’m sure is a reference to not living in the past. I admire and can identify with this sentiment.
Although Stuck Mojo is often categorized as a rap rock band, that characterization does not tell the whole story. Their lead vocalist, Bonz, was a rapper, but the instrumentation itself was more akin to Black Label Society or Pantera. Musically, it’s wasn’t as hip hop oriented as Rage Against The Machine or Downset’s version of rap rock. I fell in love with the band on their 1996 LP, Pigwalk, whose producers, Devin Townsend (Strapping Young Lad) and Daniel Bergstrand, have true metal cred. The band went more southern rock on their 1998 follow-up, The Rising, and later incorporated some very catchy melodic vocals on Declaration Of A Headhunter (2000) before they broke up. Like Biohazard, Stuck Mojo never fully capitalized from the overall mainstream success of rap rock. They may have also been a little bit before their time as well. You can see the magnificent guitarist and songwriter Rich Ward currently playing in Fozzy with famed wrestler, Chris Jericho.