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Opinion: The Year Was 1998, The Genre Was Hard & Fast

There are years that can define an entire genre of music. Times when everything in the cosmos align just so that year. Times when one album can drop, and the entire spectrum of the climate has changed like 1992 with Nirvana’s “Nevermind”, or 1995’s release of At the Gates’ “Slaughter of the Soul”. Woodstock was the end of the hippie generation, but that one occasion became the cultural lynchpin to a notion that was already five feet deep in the dirt, but no one sees it that way. Most people see Woodstock as the defining moment of the generation, even eclipsing The Beatles debut on the Ed Sullivan show only a few years prior. This was 1969.

Hardcore music always calls back to 1988, the year when the genre had finally earned its own identity instead of just being Punk’s pissed off little brother. The songs became more introspective and communal. The music was pivotal instead of simply just, available. Metal officially popped out of the womb on Friday the 13th, 1970 with Black Sabbath’s masterpiece of the same name. That single album spurred an entire genre and created an arena for kids who wanted to frighten their parents to do so with outstanding results. Metal changed again, when four dudes from Texas named Pantera hit the studio in 1992 with their mind numbing “Cowboys from Hell”.

But what about the years when more wrong than right seemed to seep through the cracks? There are plenty of moments where, under grim pop culture circumstance, it seemed like all hope was lost, but I can’t think of even one year since as harrowing for music as 1998. For the maybe ten good records that came out that year, there are piles of cd’s still sitting in discount bins from bands that should have been put to sleep long before we ever let Justin Bieber out of the maternal state and sadly, into our lives.

One of 1998’s leading slights against humanity is Marilyn Manson’s “Mechanical Animals”. An album so sorry, it almost buried the group one hokey David Bowie ripoff at a time. By 98’, Manson was a bona fide superstar after a mega successful run on the 97’ Ozzfest and multi-platinum monolith that was “Antichrist Superstar”. When he went from the one guy parents around the world hated the most, to a he/she red haired creature with man boobs and a sparkly mangina suit, fans took notice.

Where Manson’s two previous albums had the ability to mobilize whole church congregations to blaspheme his name, “Mechanical Animals” was just some slapdash tracks of warm electronics and over-the-top, drugged-out, questionable sexuality. The people who had grown with him since the “Portrait of an American Family” days were not buying it. Manson actually lucked out a year later when two moronic kids blew away their classmates and the media linked Manson as the natural scapegoat. Even though, there is hardly a connection between him and Columbine, the media frenzy helped him gain some unwarranted national coverage (ironically saving his pop-culture ass). The record managed to eek to number one on the strength of his previous work, but years later, “Mechanical Animals” is the least listened to record by any of the people left in Manson’s family.

Another album in the variety of “What was I thinking” would be Fear Factory’s “Obsolete”. The album, with all of it’s digital obsessed lyrics about machines coming to gather us out of our homes in the most Orwellian way possible, was, in fact, an album that was extraordinarily ordinary. It’s not terrible, but it certainly doesn’t hold water in comparison to “Demanufacture” or “ Soul of a New Machine”. “Obsolete” sold well because of the push from a cover song with Gary Numan’s “Cars” and a few “radio-rock” tracks that stripped the band of its edge. Replace the band that wrote, “Piss Christ” with a sleeker, friendlier version that could be featured in Playstation games before the Rock band/Guitar hero boom and Bingo! You’ve got “Obsolete”.

1998 is also the year that Korn died, as well. “Follow the Leader” took Korn from metal wunderkinds of a new generation to radio friendly albatross that causes people today to wonder, “How are you still around?”

In 1998, Faith No More breaks up, and Limp Bizkit gets main stage treatment at Ozzfest. Something about both of these things just isn’t right.

Max Cavelera leaves Sepultura, and they replace him with Derrick Green. While “Against”, isn’t bad, it should have been when Sepultura hung the name up and started over. Very few bands can survive a lead vocalist change and Sepultura found out the hard way. Another band that wore out their welcome with lead singers was Van Halen. On III, the “Gary Cherone” record, I don’t even think Eddie Van Halen honestly expected it to work. Guess what? It didn’t.

System of a Down’s self-titled album came out, and people are still on the fence if that was an admirable thing or a terrible thing. I, myself am in the latter.

Bands like Atreyu and Breaking Benjamin formed and soon enough depressed teenage girls would have something to relate to while slicing up their wrists. Muustis joins Dimmu Borgir, and Aerosmith somehow dupes a bunch of schlocky women into making their ballad “I don’t want to miss a thing” a Billboard top 100 song. Rob Haltford admitted he prefers the dong and raises many questions what the term “Turbo lover” or “Hell bent for leather” truly meant.

Osama bin Laden decides he hates America and Disney opened the Animal Kingdom.

Man vs. Wild star Bear Gryliss climbs Mt. Everest as the youngest ever at 23. Years later, he’ll be seen on televisions around the world drinking water out of elephant crap. Harry Carey, Pol Pott and Frank Sinatra drop dead. George Michael gets busted for bathroom sodomy, and Britney Spears declares war on men’s penises everywhere. Jesus and the Mary chain, Helmet, and Suffocation decided to call it a day. 1998 was an unusual year, but on the bright side of the Backstreet Boys and N’sync owning the radio, Refused gave us “The Shape of Punk to Come” and a little band called The Dillinger Escape Plan dropped “Under the Running Board”. So maybe hindsight is 20/20.

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