It’s hard to pinpoint when some of rock’s most popular movements became fads and subsequently died. It can be something as huge as one of the underground’s favorite bands writing a mainstream hit that ends up in a car commercial. Or maybe it’s something as small and personal as your best friend’s younger sibling tries to correct you on the genre label of your favorite album of all time. Whatever the case, there’s always a moment when a once-exciting musical development becomes a trend worth leaving behind.
One can often only truly examine these things in hindsight — but sometimes, there are specific albums that, when they came out, just felt like the tombstone of one movement or another. Even if their impact wasn’t identifiable at the times, these records created a fork in the road, one leading to cultural progression and the other leading to the graveyard of dated musical styles and ridiculous pants. Sometimes these albums herald the end of their own genres; others, they present a new option, representing the emergence of a better alternative to what was taking the world by storm at the time.
Here are 10 albums that definitively signaled the death of a trend in music…
Limp Bizkit – Chocolate Starfish And The Hot Dog Flavored Water (2000)
If there was ever the nail in nu-metal’s coffin, it was Limp Bizkit’s third full-length album, released in the first year of a decade that would do its best to erase the genre from its cultural memory. Chocolate Starfish has it all: a too-polished production sound, not enough harsh vocals, high-budget music videos, and a butthole joke in the title. The record was successful for the band, but embodied everything wrong with them to fans of extreme music. While tracks like Rollin’ can be looked back on with nostalgic fondness today, in 2000 they were nothing but a battle cry for whiny white boys from the suburbs who’d never heard an actual rap and/or metal song. We’ll take the highway.
blink-182 – s/t (2003)
There are only so many songs about wiener-touching that one band can write. blink-182 had become pop-punk’s patron saints with their anthems about never growing out of your teens, but by the early 2000s they began examining artsy, emo-oriented themes. The trio’s self-titled album declared their intent to get serious, featuring the frantic Feeling This, the goth-tinged I Miss You, and even a track with guest vocals by the Cure’s Robert Smith. Suddenly, irreverent anthems about unattainable girls weren’t enough — pop-punk bands were expected to write complicated songs and, God help us, feel something.
Guns N’ Roses – Use Your Illusion 1 & 2 (1991)
It’s all fun and games until someone sounds hurt. Guns N’ Roses were in many ways hair metal’s claim to legitimacy, reveling in the genre’s excess while channeling its snottiest punk-rock truths. But the Use Your Illusion albums announced the band as something that vinyl pants couldn’t contain, an arena-rock project whose songs were commentaries on society rather than blue-collar anthems to chemical dependency. When many of G’N’R’s peers attempted to imitate this formula, they quickly found out that they had nothing important to say, and the towers of Jack bottles and spent needles they had built for themselves soon collapsed under the weight of the ‘90s’ earnest humanity.
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Shadows Fall – Retribution (2009)
With each album, thrashy metalcore act Shadows Fall had risen to greater and greater heights, with 2007’s Threads Of Life earning them a Grammy nomination. And then, in 2009, the band dropped Retribution to…well, sort of nothing. The record didn’t get negative reviews, it got generally ignored, its drum-heavy production and crest-emblazoned cover feeling like an Affliction shirt made music. That metalcore’s most hungry up-and-comers so quickly shifted from world-conquerors to just another band was a signal that the once-exciting genre had become the music of, well, everyone who liked loud guitars. The influx of blackgaze and stoner doom that followed felt only appropriate.
My Chemical Romance – Danger Days: The True Lives Of The Fabulous Killjoys (2010)
You can’t wear eyeliner all the time. With 2006’s The Black Parade, My Chemical Romance brought a buoyancy and nuance to the emo-punk scene, inspiring a generation of fans to dye their hair black. But rather than rehash that same mixture of Halloweenish darkness, for their follow-up the band tore down the death shroud and created a record booming with color, positivity, and booty-shaking rhythms. The move could’ve been a disaster, but instead just proved that MCR were bigger than any one genre, and that the trend they’d spearheaded — all-black, cartoon skulls, painted-on pants — didn’t have to be a cultural prison for fans who valued the music first.
Pantera – Vulgar Display Of Power (1992)
Sometimes, signaling the end of one crusade means the arrival of a new one. By the early ‘90s, thrash metal had gone from fearsome underground genre to much-loved rock staple. And while Vulgar Display Of Power was in many ways a thrash metal albums, its introduction of southern groove and weed-smoking sleaze made it a far cry from the stark, furious sounds of acts like Anthrax and Exodus. Many thrash fans sick of the now-sprawling and repetitive songs being put out during the “mature” phases of their favorite bands suddenly had something more dangerous and honest to grab onto with Pantera, and quickly shed their ultra-tight jeans for camo cut-offs.
Suicide Silence – Suicide Silence (2017)
What elevated deathcore to underground renown was its sense of complete and utter extremity, and no band championed that scene more than Suicide Silence. But after the passing of original vocalist Mitch Lucker, and with the genre under public scrutiny as dated, Suicide Silence decided to branch out and add more listenable riffs and clean vocals to the mix. The result, their 2017 self-titled album, was a critical disappointment; not only that, it seemed to announce to the world that even the frontrunners of the deathcore scene were bored of it. Even if deathcore isn’t dead as a whole, this record seems to suggest that its time is up.
Smashing Pumpkins – Adore (1998)
For a whole generation of fans, the Smashing Pumpkins were the greatest of the ‘90s alternative bands. With with Adore, the successor to their smash double album Melon Collie And The Infinite Sadness, the band let the world know that their trademark psychedelic vulnerability was officially over. Going hard on the goth, glam, and electronic influences, Adore is an aggressive step away from what brought many people to alt-rock in the first place, and scared away the fairweather fans Billy Corgan and Co. had accrued over the previous seven years. The polished-arch rock it celebrated soon became a staple of the decade’s strange latter half.
Judas Priest – Painkiller (1990)
Due to its similarity with the booming hair metal scene, traditional NWOBHM remained relevant all through the ‘80s. But by the turn of the decade, thrash and death metal had eclipsed it, and those bands looking to remain relevant had to toughen up. Painkiller may still include the high-pitched vocals and guitar wailing that blew up Judas Priest from the get-go, but its frantic riffs and explosive double-bass drums were a far cry from the cruisin’ music of Turbo or Ram It Down. The album was a public tipping of the hat to bands like Metallica and Slayer, tacitly acknowledging their rise to sonic godhood.
Devourment – Obscene Majesty (2019)
For many death metal listeners throughout the past decade, Devourment’s music had become synonymous with one thing in particular: sexism. The band’s lyrics seemed to focus almost entirely on cutting up girls, and their fans were known as the douchiest of bros (even if they weren’t). But with this year’s Obscene Majesty, Devourment made a pointed change to their music: they attempted to avoid the topics of gender and sexuality entirely, even if the violence depicted in their music had a sexual edge to it. The move is an announcement to the world that even death metal’s grodiest niche can evolve, and that it’s better to rally against the ills of the world than be a catalyst for them.
Posted on November 6th 2019, 6:00pm