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From thrash superstars to grunge legends: Kerrang!’s top picks from Apple Music’s 100 Best Albums list

With Apple Music publishing their 100 Best Albums list – which takes in everything from The Beatles to Wu-Tang Clan – we take a look at the five best heavy and alt. records that made the cut…

From thrash superstars to grunge legends: Kerrang!’s top picks from Apple Music’s 100 Best Albums list
Kerrang! staff

As music fans, ranking our favourite things – be it bands, albums, live shows – is just a part of life. It's a cause of great debate, conversations that drag on long into the night, and increasingly elaborate scoring systems as more and more memories are unlocked and rabbit-holes unearthed. And in this age-old tradition of die-hard fandom, Apple Music have enlisted an elite team of artists and tastemakers – from blink-182's Mark Hoppus and new music guru Zane Lowe to boundary-breaking artists like Charli XCX and Nia Archives – to craft the 100 best albums of all time. One-hundred top-tier records that span genres and generations, featuring a host of artists who are pushing the form right now and those who paved the way.

Gradually unveiled over the past 10 days, with more and more seminal records added to the 100-strong roll-call of absolute all-timers, the full collection is now available on Apple Music. Running the gamut of all genres, styles and generations, the carefully crafted list combines everything from the yearning dream pop of Lorde's Pure Heroine to the punk rock blueprint of The Clash's London Calling to Miles Davis' jazz masterclass Kind Of Blue. It's a smorgasbord of innovation, revolution and undeniable talent, that underlines the true power of music.

You can check out the full list here – and having combed through the epic list to see which of our favourites made the cut, we've picked our top five records from Apple Music's 100 Best Albums and taken a deeper look at not just why they feature, but the Earth-shattering impact they had on alternative music and culture at the time, and how their legacy is still being felt today in the UK scene.

Nirvana – Nevermind

“Good morning Vietnam,” grinned Kurt Cobain as Nirvana shambled onto the main stage at Reading Festival, early in the day on August 23, 1991. A hardcore of fans lost their shit. But most of those in attendance had little idea that the trio from Seattle were about to change the world.

A month and a day later, with the release of unheralded second LP Nevermind, they did just that.

Rock music was in a strange place at the beginning of the 1990s. Although inimitable icon Iggy Pop would headline on that first visit to Little John’s Farm, punk – in its traditional form – was virtually dead. The giants of glam rock had begun to wither. And, although metal would adapt to endure, its skull-throbbing heaviness and basis either in high fantasy or historical horror struggled to grab less high-minded listeners. New alt. icons like Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr. and The Fall offered compellingly different sounds, but couldn’t captivate on a massive scale. Then the four quick-strummed power chords of Smells Like Teen Spirit rattled over the airwaves and grunge ruled the world.

“The UK definitely responded to Nirvana way before America,” explained drummer Dave Grohl in BBC documentary When Nirvana Came To Britain. “You guys are the first – with everything. This definitely feels like a second home.” But as with everyone else, Nevermind changed the game. With their roots in the dirt of America’s Pacific Northwest, but their heart with the disaffected youth of Generation X, the restlessness, irreverence and barely-sublimated hurt of songs like In Bloom, Come As You Are and Something In The Way struck like lightning with the youth of the world, but particularly British kids living in the wreckage of 11 years of Thatcherite government.

That electricity still crackles in the work of the UK bands that followed in their wake, too, from pop-rock contemporaries Bush and Ash to rule-breaking firebrands Mogwai and Biffy Clyro.

When the band returned to Reading Festival a year and a week after their first visit, Kurt emerged for their closing headline set in a wheelchair and hospital gown, making light of the rumours of his heroin use and personal disintegration for easily the most famous performance in the event’s storied history. Less than two years after that, those very real personal struggles would see the frontman take his own life. But with one all-time classic album and its captivating moment in time, it was already assured that nothing would ever be the same.

Metallica – Master Of Puppets

You want heavy? Metallica gives you heavy, baby. Never more so than on Master Of Puppets.

The Four Horsemen were already bona fide Monsters Of Rock before they released their legendary third album. Taking the stage alongside the likes of Ratt and Bon Jovi, Marillion and ZZ Top at Castle Donington in the summer of 1985, however, there was something markedly different about these San Franciscans. They were heavier, sure. But they also packed a serrated cutting edge.

Much has been written about Metallica’s fandom of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. Drummer Lars Ulrich fell in love with heavy music as a child after witnessing English rockers Deep Purple at 10 years old. In 1981, he end up crashing with Diamond Head guitarist Brian Tatler after having travelled from Los Angeles to London to see them play. When the band formed shortly after, 1983 debut Kill ’Em All would feature Motorbreath: a tribute to the legendary Motörhead. But it was the influence of UK punks like Discharge and Anti-Nowhere League, as well as that of Newcastle’s Venom on the nascent thrash scene as a whole, that’d make them truly great.

Master Of Puppets was almost indisputably the pinnacle of that greatness. Battery. Damage Inc. Orion. Leper Messiah. Welcome Home (Sanitarium). The Thing That Should Not Be. Disposable Heroes. The titanic title-track itself. If 1984’s astonishing Ride The Lightning had proved they were at the head of a pack of thrilling new heavy bands, this confirmed that they could transcend the world of heavy music altogether, with late bassist Cliff Burton’s classical influences woven amongst the steely superstructures and punky piss and vinegar for a sound that was truly transcendental.

Cliff would be killed in a bus crash while touring through Sweden barely six months after the album’s March 1986 release. It was a tragedy not only for friends, family and fans, but for the world of metal as a whole: robbing it of one of the genre’s most unabashedly adventurous, truly revolutionary minds. Metallica paid tribute to the man himself on 1988’s …And Justice For All, and went on to conquer the world with 1991’s more populist Black Album, but Master Of Puppets will endure as a monument to that iteration of the band’s greatness, inspiring everyone from Bullet For My Valentine to Bring Me The Horizon to make make sonic violence the weapon with which they set out for superstardom – and setting a bar that may very well never be reached.

Guns N’ Roses – Appetite For Destruction

Opening with the sound of Axl Rose’s feral howl over a chorus of switchblade guitars, Guns N’ Roses’ stunning debut was less Welcome To The Jungle than wake-up call for a genre caught napping. There were elements of glam and classic rock to the Los Angeles outlaws – Scottish producer/Nazareth guitarist Manny Charlton saw elements of Aerosmith and The Rolling Stones in their image and attitude – but more emphatic was the punk rock lawlessness that supercharged songs like Nightrain and Mr. Brownstone: the titular Appetite For Destruction writ large.

Embedded like especially stubborn barflies on the Sunset Strip, they may have been, but Guns’ reputation had a headstart in the UK as Kerrang! journalists like Sylvie Simmons recognised their superstar potential on the release of 1986 EP Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide. “No-one [else] seemed to notice that we’d made that record,” evergreen bassist Duff McKagan reminisced with us recently. “But the Kerrang! guys picked up on it, and came to interview and shoot us while we were making Appetite For Destruction before they’d heard any of that record. We were just like ‘You’re gonna fly over here and get a hotel? And it’s just for us?! That’s gonna’ be really expensive!’”

Money well spent, really. K! weren’t just all-in on one of the biggest and best rock albums of the 1980s, we were getting the scoop on a musical changing of the guard.

Right up to that point, mainstream rock felt aspirational: a celebration of sharp dressed men and the girls (girls, girls) they had to beat away with polished Stratocasters. Of course, Guns N’ Roses indulged in (more than) their fair share of hedonism, but they reaped those rewards with songs about the suffering and squalor they had to endure along the way. As the likes of N.W.A. and Metallica were doing in the less mainstream worlds of hip-hop and metal at the same time, Guns N’ Roses connected with listeners fatigued by the 1980s’ material excess with a slice of grim reality.

It wasn’t just kids on the United States’ west coast who had their lives changed. Iconic lead guitarist Slash was born in Hampstead, and his band’s intoxicating vision of a big city ready to eat you alive spoke to fans in London just as loudly as those in LA. The grandiosity of certain British icons (Queen, Elton John) would pour into Guns’ releases later in their career, but Appetite For Destruction was always the sound of leaders not followers, and from global giants like Avenged Sevenfold and Fall Out Boy to homegrown heroes The Wildhearts and The Darkness, its no-holds-barred influence is still echoing loud and proud.

Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral

Rock was dying in 1994. It was as if the death of Kurt Cobain and accompanying collapse of the grunge movement had precipitated so great a sadness that it opened a black hole into which all all the energy, vibrancy and defiance that had captivated that generation of fans had been sucked.

Trent Reznor, however, had long since learned to thrive in such darkness.

It wasn’t by design that his band Nine Inch Nails delivered their landmark second album – a misanthropic masterpiece chronicling the fictional tailspin of its main character to a self-destructive breaking point – a few weeks before Kurt would cut short his own mortal coil. Rather, it felt like fate. There was real, nightmarish black magic in the menacing clatter of recordings like Mr. Self Destruct, March Of The Pigs and Reptile: an expansion and evolution of the industrial blueprint laid out by UK legends like Throbbing Gristle, Killing Joke and Nitzer Ebb. Having proven his aptitude on 1989’s Pretty Hate Machine and teased his generational brilliance with 1992’s Wish EP, this was Trent’s first real show of a genius that still continues to unfold.

Fittingly, Nine Inch Nails cycled their influence back into the British scene whose old masters they had built upon. The forbidden sex and swagger of songs like Piggy and Closer offered a new dawn to the countless goth clubs still languishing from the decline of old mainstays like The Cult and The Sisters Of Mercy. And it’d be hard to miss how Trent’s willingness to descend into the shadows was reflected back on heroes as esteemed as Gary Numan and even the late, great David Bowie, who would join them onstage for spine-tingling performances of Hurt as early as 1995.

Truthfully, although the band proudly hailed from Cleveland, Nine Inch Nails’ unapologetic heart-on-bloodsoaked-sleeve sensibility always felt more European than American, anyway. Its filth and faithlessness was better reflected in artists like Germany’s Rammstein and the UK’s Aphex Twin than anything on the other side of the pond. So when Trent laughs that he’s increasingly seen as ‘the famous movie composer who was in that band Nine Inch Nails’, dark hearts can rest easy. The Downward Spiral’s magnificent desolation will keep spreading for decades to come.

Rage Against The Machine – Rage Against The Machine

Prior to the beginning of the 1990s, popular North American protest music tended to consist of either worthy folk songs in the tradition of Bob Dylan and Woodie Guthrie or blunt-force bombs like Body Count’s Cop Killer or Public Enemy’s Fuck Tha Police. When Rage Against The Machine dropped their self-titled debut on November 3, 1992, however (the same day that Democrat Bill Clinton ousted Republican incumbent George H. W. Bush from the White House) they married the contemplative and the caustic, the insightful and the incendiary to unprecedentedly potent effect.

Suckers be thinkin’ that they can fake this / But I’ma drop it at a higher level,’ rapped vocalist Zack de la Rocha, great-grandson of a Mexican revolutionary, on opening banger Bombtrack. ‘’Cause I’m inclined to stoop down, hand out some beatdowns / Could run a train on punk fools that think they run the game…’ Over the top slip and snarl the guitars of Tom Morello: estranged son of a Kenyan freedom fighter and holder of a BA in Social Studies from Harvard. The peerless rhythm section of Tim Commerford and Brad Wilks drop beats that exist somewhere between the worlds of rock and hip-hop. Even the album artwork – Malcolm Browne’s famous photo of the self-immolation of Thích Quảng Đức in June 1963 in resistance to South Vietnam's persecution of Buddhists – feels exceptional: provocative; frightening; quietly entreating fans to pick up a book and get angry.

Rage might’ve been based in California, but songs like Take The Power Back, Know Your Enemy and Freedom truly know no borders. A series of Reading Festival sets chronicle their popularity in the UK: from subheadlining in 1993 to headlining in 1996, 2000 and 2008 (where they came onstage in the orange jumpsuits of prisoners held without trial in Guantanamo Bay) each one was charged by political urgency and rebel spirit. Over the years, the music became emblematic of more general struggles against big business and social conformity. In 2009, Killing In The Name was the song to break ‘reality’ TV show The X Factor’s stranglehold on the UK’s Christmas Number One. The less said about hapless recent alt. right attempts to appropriate these songs for their ends, the better.

Arguably even more radical was Rage’s impact on music, sonically. Tom’s impact as an experimental guitarist is one thing. But where rap-rock had been dabbled with before, it was never to the extent where it had managed to meld the two like an alloy – stronger and more appealing than the individual parts. Although they shared little of RATM’s political purpose, nu-metal stalwarts from Limp Bizkit to Linkin Park owed them a debt, while the righteous likes of Run The Jewels and FEVER 333 continue to make a racket in their name today. Even on these shores, it’s doubtful that we’d have either of Nova Twins or Bob Vylan today had Rage not first paved the way.

On one level, it could be depressing how current, how agonisingly vital their music still sound over thirty years down the line. But on another, these compositions always bore the energy of understanding that the good fight is never truly won: ‘Action must be taken / We don’t need the key, we’ll break in / Something must be done / About vengeance, a badge and a gun…’

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