OK so it's been a while since I've written something in here. I wanted to come up with a really cool idea that's not too similar to the other entries I've written so far. As I was brainstorming for new brilliant ideas, I had a revelation. OK not really. Actually I just got sick of trying to "out-creative" myself and decided I would just do a countdown of my top albums of all time just to get the juices flowing again. I'll try to update every day and reveal the Top 50 ten at a time like I did with the last countdown...and when that's over, I'm gonna really, seriously try to update once a week with something new and interesting. Some ideas I've been throwing around are "The Art of the Mix Tape v2.0" (a tribute/reboot of a classic article written by my friend the great Matt Underfoot), a few entries about specific bands (Radiohead, Tool, Converge) somewhat akin to the Thrice entry but hopefully better and more in-depth, an entry about the best bands I've seen live (with objective v. subjective rankings and possibly integrating the following idea...), an entry about the best "Moments" I've ever had at the concerts I've been to, possibly something about all the "fests" I've been to (Ozzfest, Warped Tour, The Fest, Orlando Fest, This Is For You Fest, 305 Fest, Plan-It-X Fest, Rock the Bells), perhaps an entry on the relationship between music and drugs (which could go in a few different directions), maybe even something on the relationship between music and politics (maybe throw in some gender issues for good measure). Anyway as a primer for the Top 50, let's start off by running through 20 albums that just barely missed the cut...
-Korn - Korn and Life Is Peachy
Let's face it, as much as we all loved this band in high school/middle school, they can't seriously be considered for the Top 50. Yeah they were pioneers (of a sort) but it's still nu-metal. The lyrics still read like an adolescent girl's diary and the music is still mostly uninspired and simplistic. Still, though...something about these two records actually holds up after over a decade of the hideous music they helped spawn. For one thing, they're still heavy as fuck. The riffs may be unimaginative but they're still as visceral and pummeling as they ever were. I don't care how long it's been since you realized Korn was kinda silly, you still want to fucking move when you hear "Blind" and you know it. And, honestly, the songwriting on these albums is pretty decent. They do pretty good work with atmospheres in the verses, the songs are fairly diverse, especially for a nu-metal band (particularly on Life Is Peachy) and they're good at riding the momentum of a song through some great build-ups and breakdowns and all that good stuff that made us all love nu-metal in our angsty years.
-Pantera - The Great Southern Trendkill
I always get funny looks from Pantera fans when I tell them this is my favorite Pantera record. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love Vulgar Display of Power and I adore Far Beyond Driven but to me this is their most solid, well-written, diverse album from start to finish. I'll start with the opening tracks. VDP has "Mouth for War" and FBD has "Strength Beyond Strength." "Mouth for War" is pretty sick but it's kind of a weak opener for such a brutal album. "Strength Beyond Strength" fucking rips and has a siiick breakdown to boot but as much as I love it, it is, again, far from the strongest track on the record. Both songs almost feel like preludes to the albums they're on because they lead into MUCH better songs. Actually it's interesting because these albums have very similar organization, at least on the front end. You have the brutal opening track that really only serves as a prelude to things to come ("Mouth for War"/"Strength Beyond Srength"). Then comes the powerful, anthemic live favorite with the sing-along chorus ("A New Level"/"Becoming"). After that is the "single" with the very simple but extremely heavy and memorable riff ("Walk"/"Five Minutes Alone"). Next up is the even heavier but slightly lesser known fan favorite ("Fucking Hostile"/"I'm Broken"). This is when they slow things down ("This Love"/"Good Friends and a Bottle of Pills" and "Hard Lines Sunken Cheeks) followed by a savagely brutal, riff-heavy song ("Rise"/"Slaughtered"). After that it's kinda murky but anyway you get the point. Anyway, coming back to the opening songs and bringing it back to my point about GST...the first track on The Great Southern Trendkill is the title track...and talk about setting the tone. This is one of my favorite all time opening tracks because it grabs you by the balls from the very start and never once lets go. It also features some absolutely scathing lyrics about trends--a recurring theme on the album. That's another thing I love about this album. It was released in 1996, in a time where heavy music was basically declared dead in the mainstream. By contrast, Far Beyond Driven was released in 1994, debuting at #1 and going multi-platinum. To me, to have the balls to come out and release quite possibly their heaviest, least accessible album of all in a musical landscape dominated by superficial images and pop sensations and mostly devoid of heavy music is demanding of respect. Anyway, from the title track, we dive head first into "War Nerve" and "Drag the Waters", two of the band's heaviest groove-driven songs that delve heavily into the band's southern rock influence (especially "Drag the Waters"...I dare you to listen to that song and not want to pump your fists along with the beat...no...not like on Jersey Shore...go kill yourself). If the album has a weak spot, it's probably tracks 4 and 5, "10s" and "13 Steps to Nowhere." I love these songs but there's no denying they are markedly weaker than the rest of the album. Have no fear, however, because next comes the "Suicide Note" saga in two parts. This is definitely one of my favorite two-parters just because of how well done it is. The first track is acoustic (12 string FTW) and DARK and has a somber and helpless tone lyrically, helped immensely by some starkly emotional crooning by Phil Anselmo. It ends sounding so desolate that you'll almost fall out of your chair when part two comes roaring in. "Suicide Note Pt. 2" is, in my opinion, the heaviest song Pantera ever wrote. Anselmo trades off blood-curdling screeches with the guitar with some intensely angry and almost shocking lyrics, seemingly taking the position that if someone wants to kill themselves, leave them the fuck alone and let them do it. It ends with an epic, crushing breakdown that will flatten your face. "Living Through Me (Hell's Wrath)" is a textbook Pantera song, pummeling guitars and Phil roaring like the lion he is. The lyrics are some of my favorite Pantera lyrics ever. Then you come to "Floods." "Floods" might be one of the best songs ever written--definitely one of the greatest metal songs of all time and one of the greatest guitar solos as well. With all due respect to "This Love" and "Cemetary Gates", this song blows them both out of the water as Pantera's "power ballads" (if you can call them that). Then we close out with the one-two punch of "The Underground In America" and "Sandblasted Skin" which hammer home the album's theme of trends (they're not big fans of trends, by the way) in spectacularly brutal fashion. The riff in "Sandblasted Skin" will literally sandblast your skin. OK, not literally. Anyway I've rambled on enough about this album and I still haven't really explained why it's better than VDP and FBD. When it comes down to it, for me, the production sort of kills Vulgar Display of Power to a certain extent because as heavy as it is, the guitar sound is SO scooped ("scooped" = the mids are "scooped" out leaving just the highs and lows which makes for a brittle, hollow, attacking guitar tone) and even though it works for the music they play, I can't help thinking how much better it could sound. Also in spite of the great number of memorable songs on that album it does also have it's share of forgettable ones, which is the same problem I have with Far Beyond Driven (which definitely does NOT disappoint as far as production...FBD actually has one of the coolest, heaviest, most unique sounding guitar sounds I've ever heard). GST has all the elements in place, it's diversified, the production is crisp and heavy as balls (still scooped but not nearly as much as VDP), the songwriting is solid, fearless, and savvy, the lyrics are fucking fantastic, Phil's vocal prowess is at its peak...it's all there. The only thing that keeps this off the Top 50 is, well, the fact that it's Pantera. Yeah, they're great and brutal and everything but their music isn't exactly rocket science now is it?
Mudvayne - L.D. 50
I don't care what anyone says, as far as nu-metal bands go, Mudvayne was pretty fucking amazing. I know they painted their faces and all that crap and yeah "Dig" was a pretty mediocre song but honestly the rest of this album is actually very interesting and unique as far as heavy music goes. "Death Blooms" and "Nothing to Gein" are both great case studies in simultaneously being super heavy and melodically intriguing while "Severed" and "Prod" demonstrate a very unique brand of songwriting that so many people pigeonhole and cast aside due to the nu-metal stigma. Trust me, give this album a chance. It's worth your time (even if it's not worth a spot in the Top 50)
-American Nightmare - Background Music
This has almost become required listening for hardcore kids over the years. You'd be hard pressed to find someone who listens to hardcore and has never heard Background Music. And why not? No album had so immaculately and effortlessly done straight up hardcore this well in many years...or has in the years since it was released. The lyrics are really the foundation that holds this album up. Vocalist Wes Eisold has become a hardcore legend for his brilliant writing and his words have been screamed en masse more times than you can imagine in the short lifespan of this band. I can't even attempt to quote all the great lines from this album because we'd be here all day so I'll leave it up to you to do your research. For now I'll just say that the only thing keeping this album out of the Top 50 is the fact that, well, it's straight up hardcore. The lyrics are among the best you'll find but musically, as tight and well done as it is, it's still just hardcore, i.e. faster, more aggressive, less melodic punk rock. Anyone can do it, even if they probably can't do it quite as well as American Nightmare could.
-Björk - Homogenic
Björk is an artist I've only recently really gotten into, which has a lot to do with why this isn't in the Top 50 but it's not the only reason why. This album has some of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard on it, such as "Joga" and "All Is Full of Love" and as much as I love Björk and her beautiful, unique voice and her beautiful, unique music, she isn't one of those artists I just go nuts over. Generally speaking, most artists whose chief tools of songwriting are electronic do less for me than those who use instruments. Not that electronically constructed music doesn't do it for me, because I love Björk and Aphex Twin and Portishead and later Radiohead, etc. But I prefer music made with instruments in general is all I'm saying. So as much as I love Björk, putting this album in the Top 50 would be pushing it.
-Jimmy Eat World - Bleed American
It's hard to find a better straight up mainstream rock/pop album than this one--and who better than Jimmy Eat World to show the mainstream how it's done. Few bands have such a talent for crafting such ultra-catchy, ultra-memorable, ultra-polished melodies without sounding stale and generic. It just shows you how good pop melodies can be when they're written with care and with emotion. You can probably figure out why this isn't in the Top 50. It is still pop music, after all. It's far more fun than it is musically accomplished, even at its best. But that doesn't make it any less relevant artistically. Just not really Top 50 material.
-Stone Temple Pilots - No. 4
When this album was released, I feel like it was seen as something of a disappointment to many people, including STP fans. I can't argue that it's not exactly up to par with Core or Purple, musically (which is why it's not in the Top 50). This is more of a personal choice, really. This album was in my CD player on repeat a LOT during one of the most tumultuous times of my life. I don't know why exactly but it seemed to make sense out of the madness of falling in love for the first time. "Church on Tuesday" is a particularly meaningful song to me because the girl I fell in love with lived far away and was only visiting Miami for the summer. When she went back home, I can't tell you how many times the words "And I don't believe it...is she really gone again?" repeated in my head (and in my ears). I also really love "Down" and "No Way Out", probably the two heaviest songs STP ever wrote...that's not why though. There's something about the way STP does a "heavy song" that's very much unique to them and their style. Scott Weiland's sultry delivery has a lot to do with it but they also have a tendency to rely on very moody, dark, dreamy passages to set the mood for the heavy parts. Even the heavy parts have a slithery, sensual, almost hedonistic feel to them that is distinctly STP. "Sour Girl" is also an insanely beautiful song as is the epic "Glide." To me, Weiland is really at the top of his game on this record, his voice sounds as velvety and smooth as ever with no traces of the grunge "errr" sound that Eddie Vedder made famous. They close things out with the spectacularly dreamy acoustic ballad "Atlanta" which evokes hints of "My Favorite Things" and other familiar melodies before closing out with serene xylophone harmonies that fade to silence.
-Shun - Michael In Reign
This EP and this band are one of my favorite hidden gems in the largely unexplored world of underground music. If I ever found a single person who had actually heard of this band, I would probably fall out of my chair. Even the most underground of underground music lovers has most likely never heard of this band due to their relatively short lifespan and very little in the way of touring or distribution of their music. It's really a shame because I'd be willing to bet money that if this band had half a chance, they could have garnered a sizable following because their music is beautiful, unique, and just heavy enough. The vocals are absolutely captivating and definitely evoke shades of Dredg (honestly, the whole band kind of does, but in a good way). It pains me to say it but the only reason they're not in the Top 50 is that I can't, in good conscience, put an album in the Top 50 that the world never really noticed. OK maybe that's not the whole reason...there are a couple albums like that in the Top 50 (even though those albums still got more recognition than this one)...but I dunno, for some reason this album never really took "the next step" for me...maybe I haven't listened to it enough...
-Incubus - S.C.I.E.N.C.E., Make Yourself, and Morning View
OK this is kind of cheating but I honestly couldn't put one ahead of the other. I used to put Morning View a step or two behind the others but the more familiar I became with the last few songs on that album, the more it caught up with the pack. S.C.I.E.N.C.E. is probably the one I would recommend above the rest if I had to because it's the one fewest people have heard, it's the heaviest one (which isn't as superficial a reason when you're talking about Incubus), it's the most diverse, interesting, unique one, and it's basically the last remnants of the "funk" era of Incubus, which was a much more interesting time for the band than their rise to mainstream popularity. Each album does, however, has its own reasons for being deserving of an honorable mention--in spite of the fact that none of them are quite deserving enough to be in the Top 50.
-Marilyn Manson - Antichrist Superstar
I know. Marilyn Manson. Lame. But not so fast. Look past the shock rock antics and homo-eroticism for a second. This is actually a very good industrial metal album if you really, really listen to it. It didn't sell 7.5 million copies just because kids wanted to piss off their parents. That's part of it, but just one part. The visceral nu-metal-y songs are certainly capable...we all know and love "The Beautiful People." But the really great moments here lie in the more industrial, dark, moody, somewhat atmospheric tracks such as "Tourniquet", "Cryptorchild"/"Deformography", "Dried Up, Tied Up, and Dead to the World", and several other tracks from "Cycle II" (tracks 5-11). Trent Reznor's undeniable influence shows up in some of the more deliciously spastic industrial metal tracks such as "Irresponsible Hate Anthem", "1996", and "The Reflecting God" (which Reznor helped write along with "Little Horn" and "Deformography"). The album closes with the desolate, somber "The Man That You Fear" which is the perfect ending to such a dark and twisted album. It only missed the Top 50 because...you guessed it...it's Marilyn Manson. I mean come on. Marilyn Manson? Seriously?
-The Beatles - Rubber Soul
This, to me, is when The Beatles started to become The Beatles. There are still remnants of their pop sensation days here but they're done in a much more mature way and the songwriting brilliance of the Fab Four really begins to emerge in songs like "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)", "Nowhere Man", "Michelle", and "Girl." This album also features one of the greatest songs ever written in "In My Life." I'm not a huge fan of the poppier works of The Beatles, which is why this just misses out on the Top 50 but it still belongs on the pantheon of the great Beatles albums (Revolver, Sgt. Pepper, White Album, Abbey Road, Let It Be) and that's gotta be enough for an honorable mention.
-Metallica - Master of Puppets and ...And Justice for All
Now we're getting into some albums that were harder to justify not putting in the Top 50. Some people might think me a bit blasphemous to mention ...And Justice for All on the same level as Master of Puppets but honestly I don't know why. Sure, Jason Newsted is no Cliff Burton but don't let that influence your opinion of AJFA. In my opinion, it's the heaviest of all the Metallica records. True, the epic song structures of MoP are tuned down a tad but there's still some phenomenal songwriting going on as well as some outstanding fist-pumping anthems in "Harvester of Sorrow", "Eye of the Beholder", and "The Shortest Straw." Not to mention some of the best songs Metallica has ever put to tape in the title track, "One", and the brilliant instrumental, "To Live Is to Die" (which may be my favorite of the holy trinity of Metallica instrumentals...although it's hard to top "The Call of Ktulu"). I can honestly say that the only reason these two aren't in the Top 50 is that there's not enough room...
-The Lawrence Arms - The Greatest Story Ever Told
I feel like The Lawrence Arms would have an album in the Top 50 if Chris McCullough wrote ALL of their songs and not just half of them. Don't get me wrong now, I love that old drunken bastard Brendan Kelly and all, but there's only so much you can do with straight up balls-to-the-wall punk rock. That's not to say that Kelly doesn't have a few songs that are on the level of Chris's...but it's only a few. Still, as much as I'd love to hear a full album of "Chris songs", the fact that they mix together each other's songs on each album is one of my favorite things about this band. It really makes for a much more interesting listen and keeps things fresh which is something you don't see often from pop punk bands (and this is a pop punk band, make no mistake about it). Still it falls just short of the Top 50 in spite of the fact that I really, really wanted to put it in.
-The Pixies - Doolittle
Maybe it's just because I've been listening to this a lot lately, but it's definitely becoming one of my all time favorites. I used to be kind of lukewarm on The Pixies cuz they're not very accessible and are prone to fits of wild yelling and discordant Fugazi-esque guitars but it's these things I've come to love about The Pixies. While I do feel they're at their best when they're playing straight up pop music, the fact that they're not content to just be another pop band is what makes them so interesting and unique. The fact that they were doing all this in the 80s makes them special. And anyway, who can resist getting up and dancing when they hear "Here Comes Your Man?"
-Dillinger Escape Plan - Calculating Infinity
I consider this a significantly important record in my evolution as an appreciator of music. The first time I heard this album I distinctly remember thinking to myself: "Am I supposed to feel like this?" I couldn't really decide if I liked what I was hearing or not but I couldn't turn it off because it was too damned interesting. This record really did a lot for me in terms of pushing the boundaries of what I thought music could and should be. It's such an avant garde mess of clangy, clashing notes and screams and pummeling, spastic drums...and yet it is far from a mess. Every last note on this album is so carefully and meticulously planned out that it's impossible not to be captivated by it, even if it sort of horrifies you. This is one I really, really wanted to be in the Top 50 but, alas, there just isn't room for it.
-Deathspell Omega - Si Monvmentvm Reqvires, Circvmspice
Ahhh, black metal. Probably the least accessible genre of music on the face of the Earth. It's truly something that isn't easy to appreciate, especially since so many albums in the genre sound like they were recorded inside of a trash can (and usually sound that way on purpose, for aesthetic and atmospheric purposes). This is an exception to the rule, but that's not the only black metal rule that this album is an exception to. This band is part of a much more spiritual sect of black metal with much deeper and more diverse influences (and when I say influences, I don't just mean music) and a far more unique and interesting philosophical approach and aesthetic than other black metal bands. For starters, Deathspell Omega refuse to play live because music, to them, is not mere entertainment. This album is probably the most epic journey through black metal you'll ever hear and while not for the faint of heart or the casual listener, are a very rewarding listen, if at times a painful one. The title of the album is latin for "If you seek His monument, look around you." This is another album I truly wish I had enough room for in the Top 50, but alas, it was not to be.
OK boys and girls, that'll do it for today. Be sure to tune in tomorrow on the off chance that I actually do update again like I said I would. #50-41 are some real classics and there are several ties between albums by the same band that I just couldn't decide between so check it out!