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I believe the two best alternative abums of 1999 came neither from Kid Rock or Limp Bizkit, but from a darker side of the rock and roll genre. Nine Inch Nails' "The Fragile" and Korn's "Issues" I believe are two amazing albums of complexity and artistic strength that should be listened to by any hard rock fan.
For all of Trent Reznor's gloominess and relentless deprecation, one can not deny the fact that he is one of the most original artists in alternative rock. His latest double-disc album, "The Fragile" is an album of grand beauty and quiet desperation that is even more epic and daring then his previous album, "The Downward Spiral." While that album's essence was bombastic heavy metal riffs accompanied by twisted distortions, this album delicately showcases instrumental songs with beautiful piano melodies such as "La Mer" and "The Great Below", which the latter I believe is Reznor's most emotionally vulnerable song to date. Other songs like "Pilgrimage" and "We're in this Together Now" show Reznor's ability to mix thrash guitar riffs with undeniably good bass and drum melodies. "The Wretched" with its thunderous bass and desperate vocals is one of the most powerful songs that I have heard that deal with the popular alternative rock issue of alienation and dissolussion.
In terms of its emotional scope, "The Fragile" is similar to Pink Floyd's "The Wall" because it is another art rock epic that centers around lost love, alienation, and quiet desperation. Unlike Pink Floyd's tendency to express emotion within a single note, Trent Reznor crams synthesizer sounds, strange guitar notes, and grand drum machine melodies into the same song, which almost forces the listener to feel the negative emotions that he is trying to express. This is definetly a progressive rock album that I would still consider industrial rock, but all twenty three tracks on the album put together make it a distinct album that is too original to label into any musical sub genre. Even though the album was a commercial dissapointment, its critical acclaim and inevitable future influence will make it an album that people will remember.
Korn's "Issues" is an album that is hard, heavy, and dark from flesh to bone. Although the critics lambast the lead singer Jonathon Davis for being obssesed with the "issues" of his traumatic childhood, one can not deny the fact that that he is pretty good at expressing his own uncontrollable rage. On Korn's previous album "Follow the Leader", Davis switched back and forth from singing in predictable hardcore howl and rapping aggressively. On this album he uses more vocal distortions and high pitch vocals to increase the emotional energy of the music between Korn's signature two-guitar attack. On songs like "Falling Away From Me" and "Dirty", ambient like sounds are used to increase the emotional power and tension of such songs. The energy faulters a little on songs like "It's Gonna Go Away" and "Am I Going Crazy", but these short songs serve as a kind of suspense of the inevitable heavy onslaught that Korn always brings. "Make Me Bad" is a great track that consists of great twisting vocals and an incredible drum beat. The track "Counting" features a bridge that seems more like something that is taken from a Nine Inch Nails' record instead of your usual hardcore heavy metal. It's the little things like that that make the album great. In a genre that has become incredibly predictable with its rap metal and aggressive nonsense vocals, Korn has created an album that shows their courage and willingness to challenge themselves as artists. I wouldn't be suprised if Jonathon Davis never stopped singing about his childhood abuse, but as long as he continues to use his voice as an instrument of anger and desperation it doesn't seem like he will run of out energy anytime soon.