The History of Rock Music: 1995-2001

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(Copyright © 2009 Piero Scaruffi)

Doom


(These are excerpts from my book "A History of Rock and Dance Music")

Grunge and metalcore, 1996-99

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The third generation of grunge was best represented by the mediocre Pearl Jam imitation of Florida's Creed on My Own Prison (1997) and Human Clay (1999). Grunge had been born in Australia (before it was reinvented in the USA) but the Pearl Jam-form of grunge came to Australia quite late. It never amounted to more than Silverchair's Frogstomp (1995) or Magic Dirt's Friends In Danger (1997).

An impressive work of gothic rock came from Switzerland: The Pleasures Received In Pain (1999), by Der Blutharsch.

Germany's Blind Guardian were the only significant addition to pomp-metal of the era, with Nightfall In Middle Earth (1999) winking at both Queen and Iron Maiden.

Hatebreed, from Connecticut, established "metalcore" as a major genre with Satisfaction Is the Death of Desire (1997) and The Rise of Brutality (2003). Towards the end of the decade, variants on the same theme were worked out by Missouri's Coalesce (1), who vomited the formidable metal-punk maelstrom of Give Them Rope (1997), by Massachusetts' Cave In with Beyond Hypotermia (1998), and by Los Angeles' Death By Stereo with their third album Into The Valley of Death (2003). Metalcore emphasized the breakdown: the section of a hardcore song with a slower drum beat and single-note guitar chugging that usually invites to dance. Defying the dogmas of the genre, Shai Hulud's Hearts Once Nourished With Hope And Compassion (1997), from Florida, managed to sound both catchy and inventive.

Florida's Poison The Well ventured beyond metalcore on their second album Tear From The Red (2002), exhibiting songwriting skills worthy of emo-pop and brutality worthy of death-metal.

Washington's Darkest Hour cemented the fusion of death-metal and hardcore with the vitriolic political concept The Mark Of The Judas (2000) and later accomplished the conversion of the genre to the mainstream with Undoing Ruin (2005).

New York state's Every Time I Die simultaneously joined the ranks of screamo and metalcore with the mini-album Burial Plot Bidding War (2000) and Last Night In Town (2001).

The chaotic hardcore of Japanese quintet Envy evolved into a hybrid of extreme screamo and post-rock on A Dead Sinking Story (2003) and Insomniac Doze (2006).

Whiplashís Thrashback (1998) in New Jersey launched a thrash-metal revival that would peak with Onslaughtís fifth album Killing Peace (2007) in Britain.

Stoned, 1995-2000

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The revival of psychedelic hard-rock of the 1970s picked up steam after the success of Kyuss, Monster Magnet and the grunge scene.

Ed Mundell's Atomic Bitchwax (1) offered a more experimental version of Monster Magnet's stoner-rock on Atomic Bitchwax (1999). Boston's Nightstick (1) even added elements of free-jazz and avantgarde noise to the "Black Sabbath meets Blue Cheer" formula of stoner-rock on Ultimatum (1998). Southern California remained throughout the decade one of stoner-rock's main centers, as proven by works such as Fu Manchu's In Search Of (1996), Unida's Coping With The Urban Coyote (1999), the new project of Kyuss' vocalist John Garcia, and Nebula's Charged (2001). Kyuss' influence on the new generations of stoner-rockers was not only obvious but even direct. Queens Of The Stone Age (1), the new band formed by Kyuss' guitarist Josh Homme and bassist Nick Oliveri, offered a consumable version of Kyuss (shorter songs, emphasis on the melody, streamlined dynamics) on Queens Of The Stone Age (1998). After the stylistic experiments of Rated R (2000), they achieved a sort of hard-rock classicism on Songs For The Deaf (2002), featuring Foo Fighters's drummer Dave Grohl and Screaming Trees' vocalist Mark Lanegan, the ideal balance of Cream and Nirvana.

Los Natas founded an important school of stoner-rock in Argentina with albums such as their third Corsario Negro (2002) and the three lengthy progressive-rock suites of Toba-Trance (2003).

Other notable stoners were Canada's Sons Of Otis, featuring guitarist Ken Baluke, especially on Spacejumbofudge (1996), Italy's Ufomammut, with Godlike Snake (2000), Wisconsin's Bongzilla, with their second album Gateway (2002), and Japan's Church Of Misery, with Master Of Brutality (2001).

Scandinavian horror, 1995-2000

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Sweden's Watain were emblematic of the continuity of black metal in Scandinavia, particularly on their second album Casus Luciferi (2003).

Scandinavia remained at the forefront of progressive metal.

Edge of Sanity (1), the brainchild of Swedish vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Dan Swano, pioneered the marriage of death-metal and progressive-rock on the melodramatic third album The Spectral Sorrows (1993) and the diverse Purgatory Afterglow (1994). The dystopian 40-minute suite of Crimson (1996) alternated blastbeats and midtempo, death growls and clean vocals, crushing and melodic passages.

Sweden's Meshuggah (2) better categorized their generation's experimental metal as a subgenre of post-rock with the angular and intricate compositions of Destroy Erase Improve (1995) and especially Chaosphere (1998), indulging in off-kilter time signatures and polyrhythmic assaults. The EP I (2004) was a seamless 21-minute orgy of post-metal ideas, with lots of loops, guitar drones, polyrhythmic progressions and abstract interludes, without surrendering the frenzy of death-metal.

Sweden's Opeth (2) the brainchild of vocalist, guitarist and composer Mikael Akerfeldt, penned majestic gothic fantasias that alternated between acoustic melodic passages and anthemic quasi-grindcore attacks, notably Forest of October from Orchid (1995), the monumental Black Rose Immortal from Morningrise (1996), Blackwater Park from Blackwater Park (2001), and Deliverance from Deliverance (2002).

Also innovative in Sweden was Pain Of Salvation's One Hour By The Concrete Lake (1999).

The super-technical style of Norway's Solefald (1) turned their third album Pills Against the Ageless Ills (2001) into a brainy exercise of fusion-metal.

For a country that had a population of less than five million people, Norway produced an amazing number of innovative metal bands. Norway's supergroup Ved Buens Ende pioneered the fusion between post-rock and heavy-metal on Written In Waters (1995). Beyond Dawn (1) invented trombone-based black metal, an unlikely juxtaposition that tinged their second album Revelry (1998) with ambient noir atmospheres. Ulver (1) created an "electronic black metal" with the colossal Themes From William Blake's The Marriage Of Heaven & Hell (1998) and Blood Inside (2005), that introduced elements of techno, industrial, ambient and trip-hop music as well as sampled snippets of jazz, blues, classical music, continuously recasting black metal into wildly different frameworks. Norwegian multi-instrumentalist Vidar "Ildjarn" Vaaer pioneered "lo-fi black metal" inspired by garage-rock on collections of very brief and brutal "songs" such as Ildjarn (1996) and Forest Poetry (1996). At the same time, he pursued ambient suites for electronic keyboards on Landscapes (1996) and Hardangervidda (2002). Norway's one-man band Furze (1) followed up the frenzied and cartoonish mini-album Trident Autocrat (2000) with the unorthodox doom-metal of Necromanzee Cogent (2003), containing the 23-minute post-psychedelic orgy of Sathanas' Megalomania.

New standards for the genre were also set in Norway by Arcturus' La Masquerade Infernale (1998), In The Woods' Omnio (1997), Borknagar's The Archaic Course (1998) and Carpathian Forest's Black Shining Leather (1998).

A new trend in black metal was orchestral/electronic arrangements: Norway's Dimmu Borgir, with Stormblast (1996), East Germany's Rammstein, with Sehnsucht (1997), Japan's Sigh, with Hail Horror Hail (1997), Finland's And Oceans, with The Dynamic Gallery Of Thoughts (1998). Tiamat, Therion, and Amorphis pursued a neoclassical version of death metal, which preferred the sound of keyboards. Norway's Theatre of Tragedy even adopted operatic vocals. Haggard indulged in symphonic arrangements.

Finland's Children of Bodom tempered their full-frontal assault with insanely fast neoclassical keyboards on Something Wild (1997).

European black metal, 1995-2000

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France suddenly became the stage for some of the most creative bands of black metal.

Blut Aus Nord played keyboards-tinged black metal on Ultima Thulee (1995), but began to introduce elements of industrial music into their fourth album The Work Which Transforms God (2003). After the ambient detour of Thematic Emanation Of Archetypal Multiplicity (2005), they abandoned black metal altogether for a new gothic genre straddling the border between post-rock and doom-metal with atonal guitars and grotesque keyboards, yielding the tortured Mort (2006).

Antaeus toiled at the border between black metal and grindcore with their fast, intricate Cut Your Flesh And Worship Satan (2000).

French multi-instrumentalist Stefan Kozak was the man behind two one-man bands. He coined his frenzied hybrid of classically-influenced keyboards and wall of fuzz and distortion a` la Burzum with Mystic Forest starting with Green Hell (1999). The sound on Eikenskaden's The Black Laments Symphonie (2001) and The Last Danse (2002) was even more grandiose, bordering on self-parody, and actually quite hummable and stately.

S.V.E.S.T. unleashed the black-metal equivalent of a chaotic psychedelic freak-out on their lo-fi cassettes Scarification of Soul (1998) and Death to Macrocosm (1999), later collected on Coagula (2005), before achieving pure hell with the three lengthy pieces of Urfaust (2003).

Deathspell Omega adopted a new format on their third album Si Monvmentvm Reqvires Circvmspice (2004) and on the mini-album Kenose (2005): midtempo songs that were hypnotic and brainy at the same time, and full of idiosyncratic stylistic detours.

German outfit Katharsis were to black metal what Captain Beefheart was to blues music: chaotic, demonic and hysterical. 666 (2000) was their manifesto, while the third album VVorld VVithout End (2006) showed quasi-progressive ambitions.

Germany's Nagelfar, featuring drummer Alexander von Meilenwald, experimented with progressive and epic forms of black metal that mixed Scandinavian frenzied gothic with both acoustic and symphonic (electronic) passages on Srontgorrth (1999).

Germany's Nargaroth competed with the Scandinavian masters of black metal via the satanic mass Herbstleyd (1998) and the four colossal suites of Geliebte Des Regens (2003). Germany's Necrofrost followed suit with their second album Bloodstorms Voktes Over Hytrunghas Dunkle Necrotroner (2001), a natural disaster of struggling growls, riffs and beats.

Romania's Negura Bunget mixed black metal, dark ambience and folk melodies in the four suites of 'N Crugu Bradului (2002).

Russia's Old Wainds epitomized the cold style of their generation of black metal on Zdes Nikogda Ne Skhodyat Snega/ Where The Snows Are Never Gone (1997) and Religion of Spiritual Violence (2001). Born from their ashes, Nav adopted a more majestic and melodic sound on Halls Of Death (2004).

On a totally different note, Benighted Leams, the brainchild of English guitarist Alex Kurtagic, played cartoonish black metal on Caliginous Romantic Myth (1996); and Austrialian one-man band Vorak delivered the spastic, childish Triumph Of The Will (1996).

Melechesh, the brainchild of the Israeli Arab vocalist-guitarist Melechesh Ashmedi, melded Middle-Eastern music with death-metal on the Assyrian concept As Jerusalem Burns Al'Intisar (1996).

Colombian guitar-drums duo Inquisition introduced a trancey quasi-chanting vocal style on Into The Infernal Regions Of The Ancient Cult (1998).

West-Coast black metal, 1996-2000

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San Francisco's Weakling, featuring keyboards and two guitarists (Fucking Champ's guitarist Josh Smith and John Gossard) concocted a twisted tribute to Scandinavian black metal: the five trancey monoliths of Dead As Dreams (2000).

John Cobbett was the anchor for a few "retro" groups based in San Francisco. The Lord Weird Slough Feg, fronted by metal baritone Mike Scalzi, harked back to the "heroic" style of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden on the mini-album The Lord Weird Slough Feg (1996) and the Celtic concept Twilight Of The Idols (1999), perfecting it into their own moderate, melodic format on Down Among The Deadmen (2000). The Hammers of Misfortune harked back to keyboards-based prog-metal with the rock opera The Bastard (2001), featuring dueling male-female vocals. Ludicra, a quintet fronted by two women (Christy Cather and Laurie Sue), displayed the influence of post-rock and space-rock on their Hollow Psalms (2002).

Leviathan (1) was the original "one-man band" (Jeff Whitehead) of San Francisco's black metal that later inspired many more individuals. Inspired in turn by the sound of Burzum, Leviathan released 13 cassettes since 1998, partially compiled on the double-disc Verrater (2001). The official debut, The Tenth Sub Level of Suicide (2003), bridged the gap between the classic, "heroic" style of black metal and the progressive, dischordant, unstable style of the 2000s, and Massive Conspiracy Against All Life (2008) emphasized the brooding philosopher over the psycho via longer and weirder compositions.

Oregon's Agalloch (2) built upon the legacy of Ulver and Opeth with Pale Folklore (1999), and went on to the martial ominous lyrical folk-metal of The Mantle (2002), the elegant and melodic Ashes Against the Grain (2006), and the ghostly and cinematic Marrow of the Spirit (2010).

The revival of black metal in the USA was also signaled by Chicago's Judas Iscariot, in particular with their second album Thy Dying Light (1996).

International doom, 1995-99

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The greatest heirs to the throne of British doom-metal were Electric Wizard (2). Led by singer/guitarist Justin Osborn, they inflated the heaviness of doom-metal to the point that music did not flow anymore: it just boomed; a long, dull, oppressive sound. Electric Wizard (1995) blended the holy triad of stoner-rock (Black Sabbath, Blue Cheer and Hawkwind) in a new form that was an implosion of each of them, but its twin album Come My Fanatics (1997) was even more powerful (even heavier, duller, darker and more sluggish), a tidal wave of gloomy sounds. The colossal-oriented approach led to Dopethrone (2000), whose extended tracks towered over an even more apocalyptic wasteland.

England's Orange Goblin straddled the border between stoner-rock and doom-metal on Frequencies From Planet Ten (1997).

Following in the footsteps of Thergothon, Finland's bass-less trio Skepticism were the European masters of ultra doom, thanks to the massive medieval-sounding church-organ that depressed Stormcrowfleet (1995) and the EP Ethere (1997).

Georgia's Harvey Milk (1) drained the loud, slow, brutal and mean-spirited creatures of My Love Is Higher (1996) of any emotions, carving a niche between Type O Negative, Swans and Melvins.

Seattle's Burning Witch, featuring guitarist Stephen O'Malley, conceived doom metal as background music for the vocalist's histrionic psychodrama on Crippled Lucifer (1998).

Florida's Cavity, who were at their best on third album Supercollider (1999), were more hummable than the average doom band despite the massive riffs and drumming explosions.

After shutting down Obsessed, Scott "Wino" Weinrich formed Spirit Caravan, whose Jug Fulla Sun (1999) sounded like a compendium of his obsession with doom.

The lengthy pieces of Michigan's Paik (1) mixed My Bloody Valentine' shoegazing vertigoes, Sonic Youth's minimalist repetitions, and Earth's super-heavy distortions, peaking with their fourth album Satin Black (2004) after Corridors (2001) and The Orson Fader (2002) had transitioned from the soft to the hard edges of stoner-rock.

Earth's main followers were Seattle's Sunn O))) (3), the new project of Engine Kid's guitarist Greg Anderson and Khanate's bassist Stephen O'Malley, particularly on the four monumental concertos for bass and guitar only of Zero Zero Void (2000), even heavier and slower than Earth. By the time they perfected their formula with Black One (2005), via the super-heavy drones and sinister monoliths of cacophony of Flight Of The Behemoth (2002) and White2 (2004), the whole project sounded like the doom-metal equivalent of Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music. Their compositions were studies on how to combine the sound of a guitar and a bass to produce infinite loops of proto-riffs, moebius strips of distorted drones. Rarely had music sounded so ugly and hostile.

Outside the USA, the main stoners and super-doomers were Japan's Boris (2), whose terrifying monoliths Absolutego (1996) and Amplifier Worship (1998) indulged in the art of transforming colossal riffs into lengthy, dark and extremely dense drones. The five-movement symphony At Last - Feedbacker (2004) oscillated from dark to gentle to manic to ethereal and back, emphasizing texture over atmosphere.

The Japanese quintet Corrupted (3) propelled Boris' art of huge slow-motion dirges to another (very cold and very empty) dimension. From the 42-minute piece of Paso Inferior (1997) to the 71-minute piece of El Mundo Frio (2005) they patiently escalated a hypnotic post-rock suspense a` la Godspeed You Black Emperor or Mogwai only to crush every bit of emotion under catastrophic eruptions of guitars and drums a` la Boris. The two colossal suites of the double-disc Llenandose de Gusanos (1999) represented two sides of the same angst: a 74-minute black hole of ambient/cosmic drones and a 50-minute tsunami of evil riffs.

Towards the end of the decade the Finnish school of ultra-doom (Thergothon, Skepticism) started proselytizing around the world. The most faithful to the gospel were perhaps New York's Rigor Sardonicus, whose glacial Apocalypsis Damnare (1999) relied on apocalyptic cymbals and vocals that were so guttural to the point of becoming an incomprehensible rumble.

Graven (1999), by the Danish one-man band Nortt, was perhaps the work that best evoked the sense of utter depression.

Angst, 1995-98

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The intense, macabre, excruciating, self-flagellating music of Korn became the dominant factor for heavy-metal bands such as: Sacramento's Deftones (1), first with the harrowing psychodramas of Adrenaline (1995) and then with the sinister and titanic White Pony (2000); Michigan's Kid Rock (born Bob Ritchie), with Devil Without A Cause (1998); Florida's Limp Bizkit (1), with Three Dollar Bill Yall (1997), driven by Fred Durst's furnace of angst and anger and derailed by DJ Lethal's beats, scratches and samples, and with the ambitious and experimental Significant Other (1999); Los Angeles' Incubus, with Science (1997).

The Armenian-American outfit System Of A Down (2) was perhaps the most revolutionary of the Los Angeles acts, concocting with System Of A Down (1998), Toxicity (2001) and Mezmerize (2005) a sonic experience that was both extremely complex and extremely violent, evoking the punk barricades of the late 1970s with visceral, vibrant political anthems while upping the ante of prog-metal with disorienting rhythmic and melodic turns.

Soulfly (1), the brainchild of former Sepultura frontman Max Cavalera, heralded an even bolder degree of stylistic fusion (dub, drum'n'bass, hip-hop) with Soulfly (1998) and especially Primitive (2000).

Frenzy, 1996-2001

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Grindcore and death-metal, the most frantic of metal's subgenres, lent themselves to sonic explorations that their founders would not have imagined.

Sweden's Nasum had not the fastest but perhaps the busiest grindcore style of the late 1990s: the blistering Inhale/Exhale (1998) consisted of 38 micro-songs.

Maryland's Dying Fetus incorporated the breakdown into death-metal on albums such as Killing on Adrenaline (1998), thus pioneering "death-core".

Montreal's Cryptopsy de facto invented a new kind of death-metal with their chaotic second album None So Vile (1996), highlighted by Daniel Greening's tortured bark, Jon Levasseur's jagged guitar solos, Eric Langlois' abrasive jazzy bass lines and Flo Mounier's volcanic baffling blastbeats.

Iowa's Slipknot (1) played what was fundamentally death-metal, but they did so with a novel idea: Slipknot (1999) leveraged turntables, samples and percussions, not just guitars, to achieve maximum ferocity.

Die Apokalyptischen Reiter in Germany first coined an original form of epic and melodic (folk-ish?) death-metal, notably on Allegro Barbaro (1999), and then introduced non-metal instruments (harpsichord, harp, piano) to enhance the keyboards-heavy (and even catchier) All You Need Is Love (2000).

Germany's one-man death-metal band Necrophagist (Mohammed Suicmez) adorned the death metal of Onset Of Putrefaction (1999) with highly-technical guitar acrobatics.

Colorado's Cephalic Carnage perfected a labyrinthine sound on their third album Lucid Interval (2002) that blended metalcore, stoner-rock, jazzcore and death-metal.

At the turn of the century, the scene of death-metal was further destabilized by the arrival of South Carolina's Nile (1), the new champions of highly technical and innovative death-metal. Their experiments with keyboards, percussion and ethnic instruments peaked with lengthy pieces such as The Dream Of Ur, off Black Seeds Of Vengeance (2000), and Unas Slayer of Gods, off their supreme In Their Darkened Shrines (2002) that also included the 18-minute four-movement juggernaut In Their Darkened Shrines.

Pig Destroyer, a bass-less trio from Virginia that featured guitarist Scott Hull, popularized grindcore as a less extreme genre with their third album Prowler in the Yard (2001), despite retaining the key attributes of the genre (vomiting vocals, lightning-speed blastbeats, insane/brutal guitar noise).

Agoraphobic Nosebleed, featuring Pig Destroyer's guitarist Scott Hull and a drum-machine instead of a live drummer, embellished the grotesquely-short miniatures of Honky Reduction (1998) and especially Frozen Corpse Stuffed With Dope (2002) with lots of samples, electronic noises and digital processing of guitars and vocals. Altered States Of America (2003) packed 100 songs on a short EP, most of them lasting between four and ten seconds.

Poland's Decapitated performed surgical death-metal on Winds of Creation (2000).

In Flames' school of melodic death-metal in Sweden fathered Arch Enemy, the leaders of the new generation with Stigmata (1998), and especially Soilwork, with their torrential Steelbath Suicide (1998) and the more complex The Chainheart Machine (2000). Anata unleashed a catchy dual-guitar attack on The Infernal Depths Of Hatred (1998) and Dreams Of Death And Dismay (2001).

Japanese quartet Bathtub Shitter, fronted by psychotic shouter Masato Morimoto, delivered a screwball amalgam of noisecore and death-metal on Wall Of World Is Words (2000).

Other impressive grindcore/death recordings at the turn of the century included: Gore Metal (1998) by the Bay Area's Exhumed, that invented its own subgenre; Mondo Medicale (2002), the second album by the Bay Area's Impaled with their triple vocal attack; and Circle Of Dead Children's EP Exotic Sense Decay (2000).

Progress, 1999-2001

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A virtually infinite number of variations on the innovations of the early 1990s came to light in the second half of the decade.

By reinterpreting Dazzling Killmen for the crowd of metal-heads, New Jersey's Dillinger Escape Plan (1), with the unstable metal-jazz compounds of Calculating Infinity (1999), virtually invented a subgenre, a new form of prog-rock with the "heaviness" of metalcore: "mathcore" (already pioneered by Converge and Rorschach). Seattle's Botch, especially with their second album We Are The Romans (1999), offered an alternative take on the same idea.

Vermont's Drowningman offered a convulsive blend of metalcore, emo and noise-rock on their second album Rock and Roll Killing Machine (2000).

The prog-metal concept album Leitmotif (1999) by San Francisco's Dredg (1) boasted intricate multi-layered sonic patterns.

The super-fusion of New York's Candiria became denser and denser, eventually reaching full maturity on their fourth album 300 Percent Density (2001), that incorporated death-metal, hip-hop, jazz and industrial music.

Canada's Strapping Young Lad (1), the brainchild of veteran vocalist Devin Townsend, reached a new level of sonic savagery on City (1997) while coining an influential huge, gloomy sound with industrial overtones.

Discordance Axis (1) played grindcore influenced by Japanese noisecore on brief albums such as Jouhou (1998) and especially The Inalienable Dreamless (2000).

Boston's Isis (2) debuted with Celestial (2000), an album of brutal post-industrial electronic-metal sludge in the vein of Neurosis and Godflesh, but later shifted the emphasis towards atmospheric and textural elements, notably on third album Panopticon (2004), taking the post-rock dynamics of Godspeed You Black Emperor and Mogwai as new reference points.

The Neurosis-sanctioned confluence of grindcore and industrial music was explored by Australia's Berzerker on their second album Dissimulate (2002), an unstable and explosive mix of android clangor and distorted fury.

Boston's Maudlin Of The Well, fronted by vocalist, guitarist and keyboardist Toby Driver, were an eight-piece ensemble on two complementary albums that mixed highbrow chamber music with bursts of death-metal: the dense, dark and expressionistic Leaving Your Body Map (2001) and the humble, ethereal and spiritual Bath (2001).

Other post-metal albums at the turn of the century included: Spiral Architect's A Sceptic's Universe (1999), sleek jazz-metal from Norway; and Mudvayne's second album The End of All Things To Come (2002), prog-metal from Illinois.


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