Slicking up the post-industrial metallic furor of such acts as White Zombie and Tool with Nine Inch Nails-style samples and breakbeats, Godsmack joined bands like Orgy and the Deftones in bringing metal out of the stoner age. Singer-producer Erna started out playing drums in Boston's Strip Mind, which split up in 1994. A year later he formed Godsmack (the title of an Alice in Chains song) with old mate Merrill, drummer Stewart (formerly of Lillian Axe) and local guitarist Lee Richards. After Stewart and Richards quit, guitarist Tony Rombola and drummer Joe D'Arco stepped in. But Erna played the drums on Godsmack's 1997 self-released debut, "All Wound Up," and D'Arco was replaced by Stewart before the group hit big.
The band's self-titled major-label debut is a slightly different version of "All Wound Up," which was made for about $2,500 in borrowed cash. The only place that would sell the album was Boston retail chain Newbury Comics, but when a local radio station began playing the song "Keep Away," copies sold more briskly. Eventually, "All Wound Up" became the store's number-two bestseller. The group's frequent club performances attracted the attention of former Extreme drummer and manager Paul Geary, a friend of Erna, who signed Godsmack to his management company, PGE. Soon after the powerhouse crunch-groove of "Whatever" hit local airwaves, Godsmack signed with Republic/Universal, which repackaged "All Wound Up" as a self-titled collection with a different song order and extra tracks.
Erna's screamy, aggressive soul purging and romantic agonizing won fans, but there was a minor controversy when, despite profanity in the lyrics and a pentagram design on the artwork, "Godsmack" was sold without a warning sticker. In the spring of 1999, a parent complained that his son should not have been able to buy the recording at Wal-Mart, which has a policy of not selling stickered albums. The band's label added a sticker, Wal-Mart and Kmart refused to sell the album, and sales, naturally, went up.