Billboard’s No. 1 heaviest of all time?
Release Date Rivals is a feature that looks back to a specific date in history to note the simultaneous release of two albums – a well-known and historically beloved album by a commercially successful artist, and a lesser-known record that arguably deserves equal, if not more , moment in the spotlight as its best-known competitor.
Date: March 22, 1994
Champion: Pantera Way beyond driving
It doesn’t happen often, but metal – or, perhaps more accurately, sensibly accessible subgenres of metal – sometimes manages to achieve the rarefied tune of the number one spot on the Billboard 200, the chart ranking the most popular albums and EPs in the US, based on sales and streaming metrics. The rise of hair metal in the 80s ushered in a handful of top acts (Quiet Riot, Bon Jovi, Guns N’ Roses, Def Leppard and Mötley Crüe), while the 90s saw Metallica softening its sound and reaping the commercial rewards, as well as the rise of rap and Nü-metal in the latter half of the decade, with avatars of each (Rage Against The Machine in the case of the former, Korn and Limp Bizkit the latter) claiming the former place, some more than once. And in the early 2000s, Tools Lateral gave truly progressive and conceptual metal perhaps its one and only shot at the top of the throne, a record whose bright and intricate arrangements had more in common with Rush than the average nü-metal of the time. Since then, the 21st century has seen more metal and metal-adjacent albums reach number one than ever before – and some of them, like Slipknot All hope is lost, are damn heavy on time.
But nearly 15 years before this testament to the depth with which metal has managed to quietly (ironically, that) insinuate itself into the mainstream, Pantera Way beyond driving threw a molotov cocktail into the undisputed domination of alternative rock. The album seemingly came out of nowhere to reach number 1. 1 on the Billboard graphics in its very first weeks of release; it was a warning shot at the bow of Alternative Nation’s often emo tendencies, which alluded to the deep thirst for expressions of extreme angst and anger that also rattled windows far more violently than the contemporary sounds of a Pearl Jam or Stone Temple Drivers. There were plenty of innovative metal bands thriving beneath the surface of alternative rock at the time, but none had the same lightning effect on the charts. It also fits that it comes from a band that was originally a hair-metal act, before the members realized they were absolutely sick of this shit.
Pantera reinvented itself in 1990 with Cowboys from Helldistilling their particular version of groove metal into a powerful and intense wall of sound that became even heavier in 1992‘s Vulgar display of power. But Way beyond driving It was here that this sound received its commercial – and arguably critical – climax, an album that appealed to grunge fans, punks and hard-rock aficionados at a time when such music was often anathema to mainstream music media, with the exception of ghetto metal. by MTV The Headbangers’ Ball and magazines like Kerrang! Plus, it was a case of right place, right time; nestled between the start of alternative rock and the later rise of more guttural versions of metalcore, Pantera’s bombastic, more intense intensity appealed to the same brooding goths who had just opened their minds to the possibility of such hard-hitting riffs. and screams a few years earlier, as symbolized by the “To wish.”
From the outset, the record presented itself as a mission statement of everything the band had incorporated into their stylistic stew of aggro influences. Debut single “I’m Broken” remains a highlight for a songalong the song which nevertheless stomps and sways as brutally as anything in the band’s repertoire, but those playing on the album were immediately greeted by the opener “Strength Upon Strength”, which made best in its clever fusion of hardcore and metalcore. Time and again, the record nails its tone of deadpan fury and raw confessional, with vocalist Phil Anselmo’s exhortations successfully alternating between the grunts and low-pitched ferocity of “Becoming” to the cathartic, heartbreaking screams of his addictive opus, the seven-minute “Hard lines, sunken cheeks.” But everyone gets standout moments on leads, in particular the late guitarist Darrell Abbott, aka Dimebag Darrell (the first Pantera record to credit him as such); as we noted on the release of the 20th anniversary edition of the albumthe guitarist “gets his finest moments on Pantera’s must-have ‘5 Minutes Alone,’ where the swagger, fluidity and dark melody of his riffage are chopped up and sculpted into a monument to ugly menace.”
It’s not a success from start to finish. “Good Friends and a Pill Bottle” is downright embarrassing in hindsight, the nadir of Anselmo’s swaggering machismo that now looks like the kind of thing Mike Patton would do as a parody. And the repeated lyrical bluster can be a little tiresome at times, for those who have actually discerned the words contained in Anselmo’s guttural howl. But the record remains one of Pantera’s finest achievements, where their frenzy, selection of buffet-style metal influences, and rock-solid groove beats all came together to top anything in American popular music. . It’s heavy in more ways than one.
The rival: Dénoué, New Plastic Ideas
Time has been extremely kind to Unwound’s reputation and legacy. Since breaking up in 2002, the Portland-based band have achieved cult legend status, with this very site making the case for the trio as the best group of the 90s. Whether that’s true is debatable, but it’s undeniable that the band’s influence has grown far beyond the size of its fan base over the course of its existence. There are indie rock bands from this decade, there are art rock bands from this decade, and there are noise rock bands from the same era, but few bridge the gaps between these disparate genres with as much of invention, passion and musical catharsis than Unwound.
New Plastic Ideas was technically the third feature film the band had written and recorded, but when Unwound shelved its debut album following the departure of drummer Brandt Sandeno (the self-titled record was eventually released in 1995, after The future of what), it all started again with new drummer Sara Lund, who brought with her a very different style and feel to the drums. The trio’s first album together, fake trainwas a heady stew of Sonic Youth guitar shredding and almost post-punk rhythms, executed in a deliberately looser, rawer way that felt worlds away from, say, Fugazi’s metric precision, but was unmistakably linked .
But if this record was good, New Plastic Ideas was where it all came together. From the opening riff of “Entirely Different Matters,” which explodes into a jagged, stomping number – as representative of the band’s sound as one can say anything – the record is a two-sided document of a group entering the best version of itself. And it’s a real album, in that it goes up and down, up and down, all in one singular piece, with songs that complement each other, recall different times, and hook together with a conceptual base that prevents it from fragmenting into an array of competing sounds and arrangements. Yes fake train aimed to abandon the postures and false narratives of rock music and its associated scenes, in order to travel to a more authentic place (even if that effort is doomed), here the band takes on the messy and universal insecurities of identity and impostor syndrome, and transforms them into something new.
“Envelope”, Hexenzene”, “Abstraktions” – these weren’t just songs that reversed the grunge-rock tactic of thick distortion and quiet-loud-quiet dynamics. Instead, the band took these techniques and subtly subverted them, allowing spacious gaps between riffs over otherwise monstrous choruses, or shifting from a deceptively sweet, lo-fi drum beat to a melody-like whine almost a shoegaze. Vocalist and guitarist Justin Trosper could go from a near-mumbled whisper to a raspy screech in the course of a single bar, let alone a verse; The album’s highlight “All Souls Day” shows how the band could take what seems like a pure wall of noise and harness it for a downright hummable melody, all in the same song. And Trosper’s lyrics, confessional in an honest and direct way (“I won’t pretend to know what to do / About death and death more than you do”), help to weight down the more abstract and elliptical elements of the disc, reminding listeners that underneath the noise and artistic experimentation, there is another confused person just trying to make sense of things.
Unwound’s legacy seems assured, but even casting a shadow over today’s noise and indie-rock scenes doesn’t seem to have made them as much a part of the rock canon as they deserve. Spotify streams are a loose metric for sure, but to compare Unwound’s numbers (only two songs passed the million stream mark, Repetition“Corpse Pose” by and the understated beauty of The leaves turn inside you“Look A Ghost”) to that of Pantera is to see the obvious contrast: each track on Way beyond driving more than triple those numbers, with the biggest songs, like “I’m Broken”, getting more than 60x Unwound airplay. It’s apples and oranges – no one could mistake the tense back and forth of Unwound’s loudest work for the titans of groove metal – but New Plastic Ideas deserves a place on any short list of the best albums of that year, and the band themselves a place alongside their biggest influences, Sonic Youth and Fugazi, as an act that changed rock. for the best.