Tuesday 22 September 2015

Soundtrack to... 1995: In 20 Albums

Finally, we fast forward ten years from our last trip in the Intravenous Magazine time machine (FYI, we're using Back To The Future Rules here!). The year is 1995; MTV still has a generation grasped firmly in its neon claws feeding it a steady diet of alternative rock and electronic music. AOL and Prodigy coupled with Windows 95 and Yahoo! made home computing and access to the world wide web to millions. Richey Edwards form The Manic Street Preachers goes missing and is never seen again. Saddam Hussein is getting under the west's skin. Russian and US cooperation reaches new heights as NASA astronauts dock with the space station Mir. The DVD is announced as a new video and storage format. And the Million Man March happens in Washington D.C.

It was also another great year for music that saw heavyweights of goth, rock, indie, industrial, metal, and electronic music from the previous decade rub shoulders with a slew of hot newcomers and hungry young bands.

As with our previous outing we decided to keep it to just twenty LP/EP releases that stood out and set the standard for that year.

As with most of these kind of articles this is by no means the definitive releases of the year. Rather a cross-section of classics and other gems celebrating their 20th year. So sit back and relax as we take a trip back to 1995...

Siouxsie And The Banshees – 'The Rapture'

1995 saw the eleventh and final studio album from the seminal Siouxsie And The Banshees. Having formed in the crucible of punk, the band had become internationally renowned by the 1980s and Siouxsies iconic voice and style became a heavy influence on the gothic movement. The album showed that even after 20 years they were still able to pull a great album out of the bag, and one that continued to push the experimental ideas first heard on 'Peepshow', and blend them with the psychedelic pop of 'A Kiss In The Dreamhouse'. For some bizarre reason the band's label Polydoor would soon drop them, instigating the band's break-up after a world tour to support the album. Siouxsie and Budgie carried on as the Creatures, and seven years later the Banshees reunited for a tour and live album. But 'The Rapture', however lived up to it's title and is a fitting swansong for a band that is still sorely missed.

Swans – 'The Great Annihilator'

'The Great Annihilator' is a bit of an oddity in the Swans back catalogue but for good reasons. After a three year break, Michael Gira and Jarboe return with a refreshed core of musicians and some new ideas that they have had plenty of time to perfect. It is a wonderfully vibrant and experimental blend of post-punk, noise rock, gothic and industrial that sees a renewed and stripped-down approach and some of the band's catchiest songs to that point. The end result is something much more approachable than any Swans album before it, yet it keeps that uncompromising artistic integrity and apt for challenging songwriting. It's little swing towards some more commercial noises may have set off alarm bells for a few critics at the time. But there is no denying that 'The Great Annihilator' has held its own over the past 20 years as one of the essential albums in the band's catalogue.

Dark Tranquillity – 'Of Chaos and Eternal Night'

'Of Chaos And Eternal Night' was a crossroad for Swedish death metal outfit Dark Tranquillity. Having first dropped the super-technical, though unfocussed 'Skyflower' in 1993, the band subsequently lost their original vocalist and began to work towards the more disciplined melodic death metal that would become their forte. This EP has been maligned by a lot of people over the years, but it is still an important release not only in the development of the band, but of the melodic death metal genre as a whole. There is a defined sense of evolution over the course of the tracks here which range from the scatter-shot technical death metal sound of their first album, becoming more focused as they incorporate death-doom and more traditional rock songwriting elements into their sound. It may not be a definitive release for the ages, but for those with a love of melodic death metal, this EP perfectly distils the efforts of this generation of bands to move from their roots and form that sound.

Aphex Twin – '...I Care Because You Do'

Richard D. James returned in 1995 with 'Ventolin', one of the harshest techno singles ever, quickly followed by his third full-length album '...I Care Because You Do'. Blending his early hardcore techno roots with his more ambient leanings, James manages to create an album that is both comforting and unsettling at the same time. There are nods to the likes of Philip Glass and John Cage, as well as early drum 'n' bass elements making an appearance. There is an air of simplicity about the arrangements which only serves to heighten the disparate elements that James chooses. It isn't the mass appeal techno of The Chemical Brothers, Moby, or The Orb. It is a deeper more intelligent approach that owes just as much to avant-garde pioneers as it does to the dance floor. '...I Care Because You Do' is an important album in the development of IDM and bringing a more cerebral approach to electronica.

Faith No More – 'King For A Day... Fool For A Life Time'

Faith No More's fifth studio album was a serious departure that divided critics upon its release in 1995. The first of the band's album's recorded without Jim Martin, the heavy metal leanings of their previous output began to be mixed with elements of jazz, funk, prog rock and classical music. The result is a provocative and eclectic exploration of genre and songwriting conventions. It was perhaps a little ahead of it's time which is why it is so criminally underrated today. But with songs such as 'Ricochet', 'Digging the Grave', 'Evidence' and 'Just A Man' included, it is hard to resist its charms if you are open to them. It is one of the most accomplished and nightmarish albums in the brilliant Faith No More discography and one that definitely needs to be re-evaluated by critics for the progressive work it is that laid the groundwork for the final album of their original run and subsequent studio comeback in 2014.

Atari Teenage Riot – 'Delete Yourself!'

'Delete Yourself!' is part album, part political manifesto. Berlin's Atari Teenage Riot burst onto the scene in a big way in 1995 with their full-length début. Opening with the rallying cry of 'Start The Riot!' the Trio of Alec Empire, Hanin Elias, and Carl Crack unleashed an intense barrage of high BPM blends of jungle, techno, punk rock, and rave they christened “Digital Hardcore”. A reaction to the neo-nazi influenced Berlin techno scene of the time, the album's anti-fascist themes, slogan-like/sound-bite lyrics that sound as though they were recorded through a megaphone, and fast adrenalin fuelled rhythms combine to create an aggressive and powerful call to arms for cyberpunks. Though subsequent albums would further stylize and perfect the band's formula, 'Delete Yourself!' remains a pure expression of angst and political radicalism that stands on the barricade ready to take on all comers.

KMFDM – 'Nihil'

By the time 1995's 'Nihil' was unleashed, KMFDM were already a veteran band with seven albums under their collective belt. Seeing the return of Raymond Watts to the fold was a breath of fresh air for the band and the subsequent album 'Nihil' went on to produce one of the band's best known anthems in 'Juke Joint Jezebel', as well as 'Disobedience', 'Flesh', 'Beast' and 'Brute'. By the end of the year the album became Wax Trax! most successful release and KMFDM their most valuable asset along with it. Quite rightly the album saw critical praise for the both the songwriting quality and the high-tech production heaped on it from all sides. With this in mind you'd be forgiven that after 20 years it may not hold up to it's original hype. But it does. If anything it has matured and settled as a good album should and remains a vital record for fans of industrial rock to this day.

Strapping Young Lad – 'Heavy As A Really Heavy Thing'

Self-confessed “musical whore” Devin Townsend's first outing under the Strapping Young Lad moniker is pretty much the definition of a slow burn. Despite largely favourable critical review upon its release in 1995, it sold only 143 copies in its first six months on sale and it's creator has largely dismissed it as a collection of remixed demos with two great songs on it. Which is unfair. Sure the production is lacking, but 'Heavy As A Really Heavy Thing' is a genuinely great album. It's blending of thrash, death and industrial metal, along with the emphasis of intensity over song structure and a heaped dose of black humour makes for an absolute mind fuck of a roller-coaster ride. It hasn't aged particularly well, and it may be a sore point for it's creator who has gone on to do much bigger an better things with Strapping Young Lad, as well as under his own name, but there is something about 'Heavy As A Really Heavy Thing' that makes it a valuable listening experience.

White Zombie – 'Astro Creep: 2000'

With the surprising breakout success of White Zombie's previous album 'La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Volume One' all eyes were on the New York alternative metal outfit. The album they produced, 'Astro Creep: 2000', would go on to not only be their most successful album... but it would prove to be their last. Favouring a more industrial metal sound over their previous psychedelic-tinged groove metal it produced monster hits such as 'More Human Than Human', 'Electric Head', and 'Super Charger Heaven'. It is a thematic blur of horror, sci-fi and Americana set to down-tuned guitars and addictive keyboards that is both heavy and dance-friendly. It is the formula that would go on to inform vocalist Rob Zombies most successful solo albums. The album would go double platinum and see the band receive a Grammy for their performance of 'More Human Than Human'. It is a classic example of a band dissolving at the peak of their success. But what a way to go out.

Moonspell – 'Wolfheart'

Portugal's Moonspell made their début in 1995 with the dark 'Wolfheart'. Mixing gothic metal and black metal with elements of doom, the band thematically walked a similar path to England's Cradle Of Filth, though opted for a far more romanticised execution. Their first offering 'Wolfheart' is one of those wonderfully naïve recordings that take on and increasing charm as the band's evolve and grow over time. With songs such as 'Wolf Shade', 'Vampira', 'An Erotic Alchemy', and 'Alma Mater' the band blend morbid lyrics, death grunt and baritone vocals, sexy keyboards and addictive riffs to create a strong musical foundation from which to move forward. There are a few points where the formula slips into self-parody, but they are as previously stated mainly out of nativity. And to judge the whole album at their expense is an injustice. 'Wolfheart' along with Tiamat's 'Wildhoney', Type O Negative's 'Bloody Kisses' and My Dying Bride's 'The Angel And Dark River' provide the foundations for the gothic metal genre.

Babes In Toyland – 'Nemesisters'

'Nemesisters' is another one of those great albums by a great band that unfortunately dissolved soon after release. American punk rockers Babes In Toyland achieved mainstream success on the back of the grunge and alt rock movements of the early 90s with their second album 'Fontanelle' showcasing a refreshingly raw and primal sound 'Their follow-up 'Nemesisters' walked a much more experimental path that blended their previous formula with heavy metal and power pop to create a deceptively slick but punishing album. Songs such as 'Hello', 'Sweet 69', '22' and 'Killer On The Road' are great and show a band having a bit more fun with their sound. While the de-constructed cover versions of 'All By Myself', 'Deep Song' and 'We Are Family are worth the price of admission alone. The anger of their first two albums that endeared them to so many at the time is largely missing in favour of more humour, which led to mixed reviews on its release. But it is long overdue a re-evaluation.

Opeth – 'Orchid'

Since their début album 'Orchid' in 1995, Sweden's Opeth have gone on to be one of the cornerstones of modern heavy metal. Progressive, cerebral and always interesting, their path started with the seminal 'Orchid'. Progressive rock, folk rock/acoustic, black metal, and death metal elements came together in a perfect storm that kicked both genres up the arse and made a lot of people take notice. Most of the songs exceed nine minutes in length and showcased a hungry young band with grand ambitions, but most importantly the talent to live up to them. Songs like 'In Mist She Was Standing', 'Forest Of October', 'Requiem', and 'The Apostle In Triumph' are grand evocations that foreshadow a long and eclectic career as they blend extreme metal with prog, jazz, folk and simply wonderful instrument ion. It is deeply introspective to the point of being awkwardly pretentious in places, however so strong is the band's conviction, you can't help but fall in love with it.

My Dying Bride – 'The Angel And The Dark River'

Yorkshire's masters of the morbid and morose, My Dying Bride, hit their stride with 1995's 'The Angel And the Dark River'. The third studio outing from the band created their most sumptuously melancholic expression up to that point. Moving away from their death-doom origins, they drenched themselves in gothic misery as though it was rain on the moors outside Whitby. Aaron Stainthorpe dropped the death grunts in favour of his anguished baritone, while the songs took their cues from the intricate violin and keyboard work of Martin Powell. The end result is seven tracks of epic proportion that ooze gothic melodrama in it's purest sonic form. It can be argued that this is the point where the gothic-doom genre solidified into a definitive formula, but it goes without question that this is one of the band's strongest and most strikingly original albums in their expansive canon. Quite simply put, if misery loves company, let this album be your companion is despair.

Nine Inch Nails – 'Further Down The Spiral'

“A remix album!” I hear you cry? Well yes, and with good reason. 1994's 'The Downward Spiral' by Trent Reznor and his Nine Inch Nails is undoubtedly one of the most important industrial rock albums of all time. But it is a testament to the original album and Reznor as a writer that the collaborative deconstructions and regurgitations on it's remix companion are so strong. What we have here is the experimentalism of the original pushed to the fore by a cohort of legendary names such as Rick Rubin, J.G. Thirlwell, Jhonn Balance, Peter Christopherson, Aphex Twin, Dave Navarro, Sean Beavan, Dave Ogilvie and the Nine Inch Nails crew themselves. The name of the game isn't the standard dance-friendly mixes that come to inhabit remix albums these days, but a purely industrial kind of anarchy that builds on the work seen on 'Fixed' and 'The Downward Spiral' to become its own monster. It's remixing done right.

Paradise Lost – 'Draconian Times'

They may have christened a new genre with there album 'Gothic' but it wasn't until 1995's 'Draconian Times' that Yorkshire's Paradise Lost began to reach their potential. The band referred to it as the missing link between Metallica and The Sisters Of Mercy, and that description holds up throughout. Spacious epic guitars, thunderous drums, brilliant riffs, sensual keyboards and anguished vocals make this an essential release in the gothic-doom/gothic metal genres. The arrangements are more rock orientated, and the performances more contemplative than previous albums. The album charted well across Europe and the subsequent touring sealed the band's status as a headline act to take note of. After this album the songwriting would veer more towards dark rock and electronic orientated sounds that would alienate some of their early audience, but in recent years the influence of this album has been felt increasingly amongst new Paradise Lost releases which have drawn those fans back.

Garbage – 'Garbage'

Out of an anarchic sea of band break-ups, suicide, and heavy experimentation, the eponymous début album by rock super-group (of sorts) Garbage in 1995 and the band members never looked back. Spear-headed by ex-Spooner hand and producer Butch Vig and fronted by the indomitable Shirley Manson the band produced a richly layered, grungy and dark album that innovated on every single track. The album with songs such as 'Vow', 'Only Happy When It Rains', 'Queer', 'Milk', and 'Stupid Girl' tearing up radio stations worldwide was an instant hit and made Garbage a household name over night. It charted high and achieved gold and platinum status in numerous countries around the world, and is still considered one of the most innovative and strong débuts of the 1990s by many critics. Even after 20 years, it is an album that still holds up.

My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult – 'Hit & Run Holiday'

Most often associated with the early years of Chicago's Wax Trax! Records, My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult had since made the move to Interscope by they time they dropped 'Hit & Run Holiday'. Already infamous for psychedelic industrial hits such as 'Kooler Than Jesus', 'A Daisy Chain 4 Satan', and 'Sex On Wheelz', the band threw in generous helpings of surf rock, motown and good ol' fashioned American fun for their answer to a concept album. The album is far sunnier than its predecessors with a kitsch b-movie party atmosphere that frames the band's usual themes of camp excess. It may be somewhat over shadowed by classic albums such as 'Confessions Of A Knife...', but this is a damn fun album that has aged really well. It was critically well received at the time of its release and is easily the most accessible of the band's discography for newcomers to get in to. It is definitely one to explore if you haven't done so already.

Rammstein – 'Herzeleid'

Ah Rammstein, where would modern metal be with out those industrial Teutonic pyromaniacs? I dread to think. The band are international arena headliners, selling out venues all over the world and have become one of the most successful heavy bands on the planet. But it comes from such an unlikely source. Born from the German Neue Deutsche Härte scene, the band's first album 'Herzeleid' is a fairly standard mix of industrial metal, European techno and dark, sexual German humour. The album is very easy to get into with singles such as 'Du Riechst So Gut', 'Seemann', 'Asche Zu Asche', and the disturbing 'Rammstein', which featured on the soundtrack to David Lynch's 'Lost Highway'. It's frenetic, heavy, and easy to dance too. But once again it is a very naïve début album that shows the seeds of the later genius. The band definitely had some growing to do between this and their breakthrough 'Mutter', but Herzeleid is a charming and catchy first outing from these future powerhouses.

Marilyn Manson – 'Smells Like Children'

Another remix album?! Yes! 1995's 'Smells Like Children' is a real oddity in the Manson discography, and one that was meant to be far darker and more conceptual than it actually turned out (see Manson's autobiography 'The Long Hard Road Out Of Hell'). It bridges the gap between the nightmarish psychedelic rock of his début album with elements of a nastier, thrash-industrial metal sound that would characterise his follow-up, 'Antichrist Svperstar'. Featuring remixes, crazy instrumentals and warped samples, the album's biggest selling points are its brilliant covers of 'Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)' – which gave the band their first heavy rotation on MTV – 'Rock 'n' Roll Nigger', and 'I Put A Spell On You'. It is a confusing, and odd collection that received mixed to negative reviews upon release. But it has a genuine character to it that is hard to find on remix albums these days, and for that it is a must listen.

Fear Factory – 'Demanufacture'

Cyber metal outfit Fear Factory unleashed their sophomore album 'Demanufacture' in 1995 and with it etched their place in metal history. The conceptual storyline is pure Terminator as man goes head to head with the machines set to a blistering display of heavy riffs, pounding rhythms and scathing synthesizers as thrash, industrial and groove metal elements are churned up within. It is a landmark industrial metal album that was years ahead of its time, spawning a host of imitators over the years while tracks such as 'Demanufacture', 'Zero Signal', 'Replica', 'Piss christ' and their cover of 'Dog Day Sunrise' have gone on to become genre standards. Fear Factory's career may have been subject to its ups and downs in the years since, but this album is the linchpin (no pun intended) of their discography that captures the band at their best in terms of songwriting quality and level of performance.

Right, that's our countdown of 1995 in 20 albums. We hope you enjoyed it and we're sure you have your own picks to add to the list. If you want to make your voice heard leave a comment on this post on our Facebook page. We'll be back with another countdown next year when we look back at 1986 and 1996.

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