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Taken from Ultimate-Guitar (Oct 19, 2020)

Top 8 Iconic 'Funk Metal' Albums

Despite the problematic label, what went as 'Funk Metal' ended up being some of the most iconic music of the late '80s and early '90s.

by The_Phoenician


Of all the unfortunate labels that stuck to various movements throughout music history, "funk metal" is perhaps the most misinformative. The term applied to various bands emerging during the mid-80s, which played an eclectic mix of bass-fueled funk-rock with a penchant for distorted sound, powerful riffs, and punkish lyrics. However, as we can see in the cases of some of the genre's pioneers - Red Hot Chili Peppers and Fishbone - there was much more to this kind of music than the combined tropes of funk and metal, and the musicians themselves often felt the label to be distasteful.

In the end, "funk metal" is the closest thing to an operative term to this kind of music, and there were certainly many bands who shared enough similarities at the time to be considered together. That said, let's take a look at some of the most amazing such albums that conquered the mainstream music scene during the late '80s and early '90s. As always, you'd be more than welcome to add further suggestions in the comments section below.

Living Colour - Vivid

Year of release: 1988 - Label: Epic

Living Colour arguably had one of the most successful debuts in the second half of the '80s. Upon its release, the impossibly diverse "Vivid" ended up among the most popular albums of 1988, and made Living Colour's group of virtuoso musicians one of the hottest at the time. The band's penchant for dynamic rhythms and powerful sound made "Vivid" unfortunately remembered as "funk metal", but in truth, lead guitarist Vernon Reid' drew inspiration from and played in a wide array of styles, including funk, jazz, pop, hip-hop and many more.

However, despite their prodigious debut, Living Colour very soon outpaced the tastes of mainstream music audiences, and although the two following albums (1990's "Time's Up" and 1993's "Stain"), they never really reached the heights of commercial success they perhaps should have.

Faith No More - The Real Thing

Year of release: 1989 - Label: Slash/Reprise

Although "The Real Thing" caused a bit of controversy by the freshly-added Mike Patton's vocals sounding too similar to Anthony Kiedis at times, it didn't take people (including the RHCP singer) long to realize that "The Real Thing" was too unique to be compared to anything out there.

On this album, the band continued the trend of indulgent dark humor set on the previous two albums, while broadening their musical style even further. And so, you've got hard rock-sounding tracks like "Surprise! You're Dead!", weird proggy stuff like "Woodpeckers From Mars", a cover of Sabbath's "War Pigs", and the band's breakthrough hit "Epic" -all on the same record.

Red Hot Chili Peppers - Mother's Milk

Year of release: 1989 - Label: EMI America

Red Hot Chili Peppers had established themselves as one of the most prominent funk rock bands during the mid-80s, but after the tour following the release of 1987's "The Uplift Mofo Party Plan" found themselves on rocky ground. The tragic death of guitarist Hillel Slovak deeply shook the remaining band members, and, too devastated to continue, the original drummer Jack Irons decided to quit the band. On the other hand, Flea and Anthony Kiedis opted to push on, and after several unsuccessful replacement attempts, settled with the young John Frusciante on guitar and Chad Smith on drums.

Although Frusciante had little funk experience beforehand, his deep admiration of Slovak's work made him a perfect fit, and his penchant for tasteful melodic playing added another layer of depth to the band's sound. With fresh, powerful songs such as "Higher Ground", "Knock Me Down", and "Taste the Pain", "Mother's Milk" opened a new chapter for the now-reformed band, which would eventually grow to be the world-known phenomenon that it is now.

Fishbone - The Reality of My Surroundings

Year of release: 1991 - Label: Columbia Records

Back in 1988, Fishbone's sophomore album "Truth and Soul" put the band on the contemporary musical map with its Ska-propelled eclectic mix of funk, reggae, soul, punk, and blues, but it would take Fishbone a few more years to grow into the shoes they intended on wearing.

While following the same philosophy of "Truth and Soul", "The Reality of My Surroundings" was an even more ambitious project, but the band kicked it out of the ballpark, both lyrically and musically. The album spawned some iconic hits such as "Everyday Sunshine" and "Sunless Saturday", and is largely remembered as the creative peak of Fishbone's career.

Primus - Sailing the Seas of Cheese

Year of release: 1991 - Label: Interscope

The early '90s - and especially 1991 - saw the height of commercial success and mainstream hyping of what went under the name of "funk metal". This was mainly due to the release of three monumental albums - RHCP's "Blood Sugar Sex Magik", Mr. Bungle's titular debut album, and Primus' "Sailing The Seas of Cheese", all of which were lauded by critics and sold in droves.

Due to its riff-driven sound, progressive elements at time reminiscent of Yes and Frank Zappa, its overall quirky and fun-loving nature, and, of course, Les Claypool's prodigious bass-playing skills, "Sailing the Seas of Cheese" was instantly embraced by fans of widely different tastes, but all got to know Primus under the problematic label of "funk metal". Les Claypool was openly against the label from the get-go, stating in 1991:

"We've been lumped in with the funk metal thing just about everywhere. I guess people just have to categorize you."

Mr. Bungle - Mr. Bungle

Year of release: 1991 - Label: Warner Bros

While Patton took Faith No More to a much darker, more "serious" direction on 1991's "Angel Dust" (he'd had relatively little musical input on "The Real Thing"), he was perfectly content on doubling down on hard funk and black humor on Mr. Bungle's debut. And although "Mr. Bungle" was considered perhaps too infantile at the time, there are some great progressive beats behind song titles such as "The Girls of Porn", "My Ass Is on Fire", or "Squeeze Me Macaroni", and different artists such as Mike Portnoy and Synyster Gates have often cited "Mr. Bungle" as a great influence.

Infectious Grooves - Sarsippius' Ark

Year of release: 1993 - Label: Epic

On "Sarsippius' Ark", the glorious conglomeration of musicians including Mike Muir, Robert Trujillo, Adam Siegel, and others, continued the weird epic of Sarsippius, first introduced in the band's debut album, 1991's "The Plague That Makes Your Booty Move...". The album ended up in first place on the Billboard Heatseekers chart and gathered enough steam for the band to release a follow up the next year.

Incubus - Fungus Amongus

Year of release: 1995 - Label: Stopuglynailfungus

Incubus was relatively late to the party with their deliciously wacky "Fungus Amongus", which was most evident from the critics' lack of patience for Incubus' debut album. In fact, the band's own Brandon Boyd had since stated that while the album was "super fun to make", he'd "just as soon bury it forever". However, music fans held a different opinion, and "Fungus" quickly amassed a cult following that'd support Incubus for the remainder of their career so far. In fact, the album was re-released in 2000 due to popular demand, when it commercially performed significantly better.


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