Alternative metal is one of those subgenres of metal that was posthumously born in the late 1990’s to help describe bands that had previously been called alternative rock, but were really too heavy to be categorized that way. Alternative metal is defined as heavy guitar riff driven music that has slight elements of alternative rock including occasional acoustic guitars, strange song structures, mostly clean vocals (although in the case of bands like Slipknot harsh vocals are used) and lots of experimentation. The subgenre encompasses a wide range of bands from Living Colour to Disturbed. Subcategories include rap metal and funk metal, so bands like Rage Against The Machine and early Faith No More are also put into the alternative metal category. Also later era bands like Drowning Pool and Kittie add groove metal riffs to the fray as well. Finally, early Alice In Chains and Soundgarden are constantly miscategorized as grunge because of where they came from and because of material they released later in their careers. However, their early albums like Facelift and Badmotorfinger have a lot more influence from sludge metal with alternative rock being much more in the background. So now that we’ve given you the explanation of what we’re looking at, here are the 25 best alternative metal albums of all time:
#25. Sinner – Drowning Pool
This is the debut album from the Dallas metal band that dropped at the end of the nu metal boom, evident by the fact that the album went platinum in only six weeks. The album is best known for the single “Bodies” (you know the one “Let the bodies hit the floor” or “let the bicycle go” or “let the pies hit the floor”. No one knew what the hell he was saying when this first came out). At the time this album was lumped into nu metal, but really has nothing in common with any of those bands with the exception of groove guitar. This would prove to be the band’s most successful album as original lead singer Dave Williams would pass away a year later from cardiomyopathy. The band had a few other singers, but could never rekindle the success of Sinner.
#24. Spit – Kittie
Here we have another debut album that was ridiculously thrown into the nu metal subgenre even though it had heavier riffs and grooves than anything nu metal could boast. Spit was really cool because it was the first highly successful album from an all female metal band, quickly being certified gold. There was a huge influence here from alternative rock acts like Nirvana, but the groove guitar was so heavy that many could hear a huge Pantera influence as well. Kittie has changed their style some since, adding in more groove metal and death metal elements, but nothing has ever reached the success of Spit.
#23. Come Clarity – In Flames
Yes, yes In Flames is mostly known for being one of the founders of melodic death metal. However, in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, they began adding elements of alternative rock into their music. Much to the dismay of many of their diehard fans, they pretty much made the full switch to alternative metal in 2004. Having said that since the change over, they have put out some really solid alt metal material and 2006’s Come Clarity is one of those. The album features the song “Take This Life” which was part of the video game Guitar Hero III. With this release, mainstream fans got a little taste of what melodic death metal fans had come to know for a long time before. In Flames are really accomplished musicians and song writers.
#22. Frizzle Fry – Primus
Released in 1990, Primus’ Frizzle Fry turned the world of metal on its head by adding in crazy bass guitar licks and more elements of funk than even Faith No More and Living Colour had ever previously used. This was a highly experimental form of funk metal that ended up becoming fairly popular. From here, Primus carved out a pretty nice career with six more well rated albums up to this point. However, after their second release Sailing The Seas of Cheese, they moved more in a funk rock direction leaving behind most of the metal elements that made Frizzle Fry one of the most interesting funk infused albums ever released.
#21. Earth Rocker – Clutch
Here’s the first modern day album on the list, Clutch’s 2013 release Earth Rocker. The Maryland based band has dealt in many different sounds over their 20 plus career including hardcore, groove metal funk metal and rock n’ roll. This album is the culmination of their entire career packaged into one amazing critically acclaimed musical trip. This marked the band’s first album where they spent a ton of time in pre-production instead of just jamming out the songs in studio, resulting in the band’s most well written and complete album to date.
#20. The Sickness – Disturbed
Here’s yet another band that debuted in the early 2000’s and was unfortunately tossed in with nu metal. That kind of categorization did not do any justice to the writing and musical talents of Disturbed. The Sickness is one of the first albums to have the absolutely perfect mix of early 90’s grunge elements, heavy guitar riffs and the original harsh raspy vocal style of Dave Draiman. The album contains the well known singles “Stupify” and “Down with the Sickness” helping to quickly launch the band’s popularity. Since its release, Disturbed has become one of the most popular and successful metal acts of the 21st century.
#19. Oddfellows – Tomahawk
Mike Patton has had a pretty great career in metal and heavy music. He can boast critically acclaimed albums with Faith No More, Mr. Bungle, Fantomas and more. He even put out a well received album of Italian love music with a full orchestra. Having said all of this, Tomahawk may be the place where Patton feels the most at home and has the most consistent collaborators. Their 2013 album Oddfellows is a perfect example of this. Its tightly written progressive metal/rock songs tow the line of alternative metal perfectly making progressive music much more accessible to the lay person. The entire album is wonderfully written, catchy and fun all at the same time. We even ranked it #3 on our list of The Best Metal Albums of 2013.
#18. Evil Empire – Rage Against The Machine
If you looked up the definition of alternative metal in the dictionary, there would probably be picture of Faith No More and Rage Against The Machine next to it. Rage took the rap metal created by the collaboration of Anthrax and Public Enemy and took it a few steps further adding in more intricate arrangements, elements of 90’s grunge and alternative and well written lyrics dealing with political and social issues. The result was a heavy and angry form of rap metal the likes that no one had ever heard. This is the band that most nu metal acts point to as a major influence, although Rage brought much more talent and writing ability to the table. Unlike nu metal bands Tom Morello used his guitar to make scratching sounds and not turn tables. The band’s innovation was never more on display than their 1996 album Evil Emipre featuring 1990’s radio classics like “Bulls on Parade” and “Down Rodeo”.
#17. City Of Evil – Avenged Sevenfold
After beginning as a metalcore band and before becoming a traditional metal/hard rock band that mostly pays tribute to past artists, Avenged Sevenfold was a metal band that mixed in elements of angsty alternative rock. Their 2005 release City of Evil not only received the most attention from critics, but remains one of their most popular albums with their fans. With instant classics like “Bat Country”, Seize the Day” and “Burn It Down” featured on one album, this kind of success should be expected for anyone.
#16. Mr Bungle – Mr. Bungle
Before joining Faith No More as their lead singer or starting any of his other many projects, Mike Patton was part of an experimental metal band called Mr. Bungle. Although their debut major label album, Mr. Bungle, was not released until a few years after Patton joined FNM, the band had been around dabbling in funk and even death metal. Their 1991 critically acclaimed 1991 debut is a clinic in what funk metal should be with great musicianship, crazy song structures and tons of avant-garde elements that pay tribute to all the craziness brought about by original funk music. The band released two more records after this that moved away from funk into the more avant-garde metal and rock planes, but Mr. Bungle along with Primus’ Frizzle Fry, Living Colour’s Vivid and FNM’s The Real Thing remains one of the quintessential funk metal albums ever.
#15. Koi No Yokan – Deftones
As most of us know Deftones were one of the founders of nu metal in the mid 1990’s along with Korn. However, unlike many of their nu metal brethren, the band was smart enough to always evolve their sound with each album. This foresight has helped them remain relevant in the world of mainstream metal. In 2000, even before the downfall of nu metal, the band made a full switch to more involved alternative metal. It’s like they saw the writing on the wall. Now fast forward to 2012 and the release of their album Koi No Yokan. Here the band built even further on their complicated form of alt metal by adding in unbelievable and foreboding atmospheric elements that helped make one of their best albums to date. The album was so good that we ranked it #3 in our Best Metal Albums of 2012. Koi No Yokan is the perfect example of how a band can evolve while still maintaining the elements that keep their fan base coming back.
#14. Soundtrack to Your Escape – In Flames
Here’s the second and final In Flames album on our list. Their 2004 release marked the big jump into the alt metal pool after being one of the biggest melodic death metal bands of all time. The great thing about Soundtrack To Your Escape is that much of their melodic death metal sound remained, just on a smaller level, helping to bring it to a much wider audience. For many, this is the album that got them into melodic death metal because it slowly introduced them to the much heavier subgenre by subtly adding in lighter elements of alt metal. Well known tracks include “The Quiet Place” and “My Sweet Shadow”.
#13.Toxicity – System Of A Down
“Wake up!” Ah the classic start to the crazy song that is “Chop Suey”. This will forever be engrained in the head of the early Millennial metal fan. System Of A Down’s second album Toxicity built even more off of the success of their first release bringing their crazy and chaotic form of alt metal to the masses. The album was produced by consistent Slayer producer Rick Rubin, helping to give it a dose of metal authenticity. To this date, it it the band’s most successful album debuting at number one on the charts and reaching multi-platinum status.
#12. The Real Thing – Faith No More
We have already talked a lot about Mike Patton, but here we are again. 1989’s The Real Thing is the first Faith No More album to feature Mike Patton on vocals and his strong influence can be heard right away. Patton brought more funk and experimental elements to the band helping to create one of the most popular and well known funk/alt metal albums of all time. Many liken this album to the Red Hot Chili Peppers who were hugely popular at the time, but make no mistake, this album is much heavier with more complicated arrangements and better riffs than anything the Chili Peppers ever turned out. The one thing most people will remember from this album is the music video for the song “Epic” with the fish flopping at the end. On top of “Epic”, The Real Thing carries a ton of FNM classics like “From Out of Nowhere”, “Falling to Pieces” and the cover of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs”. This is easily the band’s most recognizable and successful album.
#11. Tomahawk – Tomahawk
Here we are again. Man, Patton has carved out a nice alt metal niche. Here we have Tomahawk’s 2001 self-titled debut featuring the massively popular song “God Hates A Coward” This debut began the excellent creative relationship between Patton, Duane Denison (The Jesus Lizard), John Stanier (Helmet) and Kevin Rutmains (The Melvins). This album has everything from progressive metal time changes to alternative style riffs and lyrics. This is a true Mike Patton classic.
#10. Astro Creep: 2000 – White Zombie
White Zombie rose to prominence with their debut album because of exposure on the MTV show Beavis and Butthead. However, it wasn’t until their fourth album in 1995 where they really hit their creative stride. Although the band has always used a lot of industrial elements, the underlying sound is groove metal guitar and elements of alternative rock. With Astro-Creep: 2000, White Zombie had a ton of radio hits like “More Human Than Human” “Super-Charger Heaven” and “Electric Head Pt. 2”. The album was the band’s most successful reaching #6 on the Billboard charts. Unfortunately White Zombie broke up shortly after, but lead singer Rob Zombie parlayed the popularity into quite a successful solo metal and movie directing career.
#9. Dirt – Alice In Chains
Alice In Chains is one of those bands that unfortunately gets lumped falsely into grunge because they were from Seattle and wore flannel. However, you can’t say that they sound anything like Nirvana or Pearl Jam. Early AIC and Soundgarden brought a much heavier, sludgier and raw sound to the table that can only be called heavy metal. Of course there were elements of Seattle alternative here like simpler arrangements and acoustic songs that put it in the mixed category of alt metal. To this day, the band’s most popular record is the 1992 release Dirt. This one has the best mix of everything that makes the band great including, heavy drudging riffs, angst filed lyrics and great vocal harmonies. The album also has a ton of AIC’s most recognizable songs like “Them Bones”, “Down in a Hole”, “Rooster”, “Angry Chair” and “Would?”. This is definitely their signature record and should not be missed.
#8. Vivid – Living Colour
“Cult of Personality”, ’nuff said. This is easily one of the most well known and classic 1980’s metal songs ever and it came from the critically acclaimed debut album, Vivid, from African American metal band Living Colour. This album was one of the first of its kind to blend heavy metal, funk and emerging alternative rock into one sound. In 1988 no one really knew what to call it, but when the subgenre of alternative metal was posthumously born in the late 1990’s, this album fit perfectly. Vivid was a huge influence on bands like Primus and Faith No More as well as entire subgenres like rap metal and nu metal. Of all the albums on this list, this has the be the most influential and could be called the first alternative metal album in history.
#7. System of a Down – System Of A Down
Now we get to the debut self-titled album from the chaotic System Of A Down released in 1998. With the album’s release, SOAD cemented their place as one of the best alternative metal acts of all time. System Of A Down rode the success of the songs “Sugar” and “Spiders” to platinum status helping to launch the career of the arguably the most successful modern day metal bands.
#6. White Pony – Deftones
2000’s White Pony marked a full move from nu metal to alternative metal for Deftones helping to keep the band relevant in the ever changing world of metal. The band also began to experiment more by adding more sounds and styles to their repertoire. Song arrangements became more involved. They grew by leaps and bounds as musicians as evidenced on songs like “Change (In The House of Flies)”, “Elite” and “Digital Bath”. White Pony had so many different things going on that simply just calling it alt metal would be wrong. However, because of the underlying base sound this has to be considered one of the best alt metal releases of all time.
#5. Rage Against the Machine – Rage Against The Machine
The self-titled debut from Rage Against The Machine is the one that brought rap metal and aggressive alternative to the forefront in 1992. Songs like “Killing In The Name”, “Freedom” and “Bombtrack” had metal fans and non metal fans alike rocking out helping it to reach multi-platinum status. The band showed that you can blend metal with more popular forms of alternative rock and hip hop while still maintaining loudness, complicated riffs and structures. This is the one album that many can point to for birthing their love of heavier music.
#4. Vol. 3: The Subliminal Verses – Slipknot
Iowa from Slipknot topped our list of the 10 Best Nu Metal Albums. Their next album, the Rick Rubin produced Vol. 3: The Subliminal Verses saw the band make a full move to alternative metal. Nu metal elements like sampling, turn tables and profane lyrics were toned down in favor of better riffs and a higher concentration on song writing. Corey Taylor’s harsh vocals were still present, but he added in more clean vocals and voice harmonization. It features arguably Slipknot’s most well known song “Duality”. The album was a major hit with critics and fans alike helping it to reach platinum status. All the time and effort put into this Vol 3 resulted in the band’s most well crafted record overall.
#3. Facelift – Alice In Chains
Earlier we discussed AIC’s miscategorizaton as grunge. Well their debut album, Facelift is about as far as you can get from grunge. Yes there are some slight alternative rock elements present from the Seattle music scene, but for all intents and purposes this is a straight forward metal album with a ton of sludge metal influence. This was really before the band really started using a ton of vocal harmonization with lead singer Layne Staley and guitarist Jerry Cantrell. Therefor what we get is amazing heavy metal riffage mixed with extremely raw vocals carried for the most part by Staley. Since its release, the album has reached double platinum status and has become famous for sludgy tunes like “Man in the Box”, “Sea of Sorrow” and “Bleed the Freak”.
#2. Badmotorfinger – Soundgarden
Soundgarden is another band in the vein of Alice In Chains that is thrown into the category of grunge. However, that is mostly done because their later material is more grunge and alternative rock driven. Yet that general categorization does not do any justice to their first few albums that were all undeniably metal with very slight bits of Seattle alt mixed in. Soundgarden’s third album, Badmotorfinger is their most well know and successful heavy album reaching double platinum status. It features the songs “Rusty Cage”, “Outshined” and “Jesus Christ Pose”. Lead singer Chris Cornell shows off the best vocal range of his career and guitarist Kim Thayil displays major down tuned sludge riffs that show you why he has one of the most recognizable guitar sounds of all time. Dive deep into this one and all it has to offer and you to will realize it is true metal.
#1. Angel Dust – Faith No More
The Real Thing is certainly a more popular FNM release than 1992’s Angel Dust. However Angel Dust is the band’s most complete album with all members seemingly on the same page. The funk metal sound of The Real Thing is all but gone in favor of a more pure alternative metal sound with even more experimentation. The album even features some harsh vocals and a country music infused track. Although not as popular, it received the most critical acclaim of any FNM album and it did reach platinum status in Europe and gold in the US and Australia. Featured songs included “Land of Sunshine”, “Midlife Crisis” and “Caffeine”. This is certainly the band’s magnum opus and truly shows the skills that every band member has to offer. If we could recommend one alternative metal album to check out, Angel Dust would surely be it.
What did you think of the list? Would you add any other alternative metal albums to it? What is your #1 favorite alt metal album of all time? Tell us in the comments section.