This list is evidence of how out of touch the GRAMMYs can be when it comes to metal.
With the Grammy Awards this Sunday, (metal and rock nominees here), the GRAMMYs haven't had the best string of luck with the heaviest of genres. Since 1989, the Grammy Awards have been acknowledging heavy metal’s contributions to music. Namely with their Best Metal Performance award, they judge who has delivered the most effective metal performance of the year.
One little snag though – they’re known to slip up on occasion. The NARAS (National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences) have been criticized ever since the inception of the award, with many recounting an infamous winner at the 1989 GRAMMYs as evidence…
Since that howler of a mistake, they have redeemed themselves to some extent. The likes of Metallica, Tool, Slipknot etc. have all rightfully scooped up awards, but there has also been years where the academy got it bafflingly wrong. Here are ten of the most outrageous examples.
10. Winner: Rage Against the Machine – Tire Me (1997)
One thing you’ll notice on this list is the GRAMMYs’ tendency to miss the boat at the correct time. Take this entry for example. Despite Rage Against the Machine releasing one of the most relevant and culturally significant debut metal albums of all-time, it wasn’t even up for an award. What do the GRAMMYs do to rectify it? Award the band five years later for a song that’s not even one of their best.
The sixth single from Evil Empire was up against stiff competition from fellow nominees “Shoots and Ladders” by Korn and “Suicide Note, Pt. 2” by Pantera. Many would argue that one of the latter two should have received the Grammy, but it was not to be.
It’s great that RATM picked up a Grammy, but with songs like “Killing in the Name” and “Bullet in the Head” not even receiving nomination in the years prior to it, their award win for “Tire Me” seems a little out of place.
9. Winner: Soundgarden – Spoonman (1995)
I think we can all probably agree that “Spoonman” by Soundgarden is one hell of a song. But metal? Hmm, this one picked up the Best Metal Performance gong in 1995, ahead of some fine nominees.
Also up for the award were Pantera for “I’m Broken”, and really, it’s baffling how it didn’t receive the prize. Not only is it one of the band’s best tracks, but it features one of the finest metal riffs of the ‘90s. Another worthy contender was Henry Rollins for the devious devastator “Liar”, which again, would have made more sense for the award. Rounding out the nominees were Megadeth for “99 Ways to Die” and Anthrax and Public Enemy for “Bring the Noise” (live).
The Best Rock Performance might have been a more suitable award for “Spoonman”, but bizarrely, the moderators didn’t see it that way.
8. Winner: Slayer – Final Six (2008)
While Slayer’s 2007 Grammy award win for the war-torn “Eyes of the Insane” was a pretty solid choice, their 2008 win for “Final Six” was a little more dubious.
Featured as a bonus track on Christ Illusion, the song marked the second year in a row that the album was being acknowledged by the academy. However, with a nominee like Machine Head’s “Aesthetics of Hate” in the mix, we’re slightly miffed as to why “Final Six” beat it to the punch. Included on what was arguably the best metal album of the year in The Blackening, the song is an absolute beast from start to finish.
“Final Six” isn’t a bad track, pretty good in fact. But it didn’t encapsulate the year in metal like Machine Head’s monstrous single did. And why keep awarding something that's already been acknowledged the year before?
7. Winner: Ozzy Osbourne – I Don’t Want to Change the World [live] (1994)
Here’s another bizarre choice from 1994. Ozzy Osbourne’s “I Don’t Want to Change the World” picked up the gong that year, not the studio version though, a live performance from the album Live & Loud.
While it is a great performance, there’s something slightly odd about awarding live performances when there’s plenty of great recorded material that could be selected instead. The most noteworthy nominees up for the award included the freewheeling chugger “Thunder Kiss ’65” by White Zombie, and the tempo-switching, schizophrenic masterclass “Institutionalized” by Suicidal Tendencies. Again, both great songs that typified metal in ’96, more so than a live performance of a song originally put out three years earlier.
We’re all for any Ozzy praise, but as with some of the other entries here, it feels like the GRAMMYs are more inclined to award established performers over more current artists.
6. Winner: Judas Priest – Dissident Aggressor [live] (2010)
Another example of the academy’s love for big name bands was in 2010, when Judas Priest was the recipient of the metal award for a live version of “Dissident Aggressor.”
From the album A Touch of Evil: Live, the song took precedent over two fantastic nominees in Lamb of God’s “Set to Fail” and Megadeth’s “Head Crusher” – two tracks that were both contemporary and brimming with quality. So it’s bizarre that they lost out to “Dissident Aggressor”, particularly “Head Crusher.” Not only was the song a steamrolling return to form, but the band have been snubbed ever since the award’s inception. It would have been the perfect time to acknowledge their contributions to metal, especially with a song that so effortlessly epitomizes their sound.
We get that the GRAMMYs want to honor the biggest names in metal, particularly since the award wasn’t created until 1989, but awarding a song that’s been out for over thirty years seems somewhat asinine.
5. Winner: Metallica – Stone Cold Crazy (1991)
Speaking of Megadeth being snubbed, the most gobsmacking occasion where this occurred was at the 1991 awards ceremony. Despite being up for the monumental LP Rust in Peace, the band lost out to a cover of “Stone Cold Crazy” by Metallica.
Sure, it’s a really fun cover of the Queen hit, but it’s not ground-breaking. As well as Rust in Peace, also up for nomination were Judas Priest for Painkiller, Suicidal Tendencies for Lights…Camera…Revolution!, and Anthrax for Persistence of Time – all classics in the metal archives. It also begs the question, why are songs being lumped in with albums?
The GRAMMYs seem inclined to shower Metallica with awards, but really, they shouldn’t have won in 1991. With the other stellar nominees involved, awarding a cover song feels like a slap in the face.
4. Winner: Halestorm – Love Bites (So Do I) (2013)
You’d think the GRAMMYs would have learned from its first metal incarnation that it’s not wise to merge the hard rock and heavy metal categories together. But they didn’t, and what we were left with was 2013’s winners Halestorm for “Love Bites (So Do I).”
While it does fit the hard rock bill, it’s certainly not representative of metal that year. Again, it’s more of a knock on the GRAMMYs for concocting such a volatile hybrid – one that demeans both genres. The standout nominee that year has to be Lamb of God for the vicious “Ghost Walking”, which for most metal fans was a clear favorite.
Thankfully, the academy realized the errors of their ways (for the second time) and split the categories again. However, that doesn’t eradicate some of their bewildering past decisions.
3. Winner: Metallica – Better Than You (1999)
While fans are divided on their feelings for Metallica’s Reload, most would agree that songs like “Fuel” and “The Memory Remains” are quality tunes. So the song up for the 1999 Best Metal Performance award? “Better Than You”…
Not even one of the best songs from their patchy ’97 record, the track took the award ahead of Rammstein’s excellent cruncher “Du Hast”, yet again proving the GRAMMYs’ unwillingness to acknowledge new acts. The other most noteworthy nominee up for the award was Rage Against the Machine for “No Shelter.”
It’s clear that they’re trying to make up for past mistakes involving the band, but seriously, the GRAMMYs really messed up on this one.
2. Winner: Nine Inch Nails – Happiness In Slavery [live] (1996)
Thought we were done with the live performances? Think again. This time, it’s an insanely aggressive live display by Nine Inch Nails with the track “Happiness in Slavery.”
Who knows if this even qualifies as metal, with its industrial sounds and electronic flourishes, it’s more experimental than anything else. Classification issues aside, the original track had been released years before its eventual win in '96. However, it's also fair to say that the other nominees were less than great that year. Among the other offerings was yet another live cut, as well as yet another cover song. Taking that into account, "More Human Than Human" by White Zombie probably should have received the prize.
We’ve only been covering the nominees that missed out on accolades, never mind all of the great metal bands that weren’t even included over the years. The ’96 Grammy Awards reminds us of the multitude of other acts that could’ve and should’ve been acknowledged. Prong anyone? Over a decade later, Nine Inch Nails would again be snubbed, this time while performing at the Grammys. The band's performance was cut off as the show went off air and Trent Reznor was none too pleased.
1. Winner: Jethro Tull – Crest of a Knave (1989)
What did you think the number one entry would be? Of course it’s this massive blunder from the 1989 Grammy Awards.
Awarding Crest of a Knave by Jethro Tull the Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance award was an error that the academy still hasn’t quite lived down. What should have been a night to remember for Metallica fans, turned into a night of disbelief when Jethro Tull were announced as the winners. Despite …And Justice for All being one of the best metal albums ever made, the selecting committee felt that Crest of a Knave was the better LP, despite it not even exhibiting any metal traits. Madness? Very much so.
This is the finest example of the Grammys’ disconnect with metal audiences and bands, something which has admittedly gotten better with time. With worthy nominees like Gojira and Baroness up for the golden phonograph this year, maybe they’ve turned the corner on their judging abilities. Only time will tell…
What nominated metal bands do you think should have picked up an award? Who are you hoping to see scoop up a gong at this years event? Let us know in the comments!