Thursday, December 29, 2005

1986 - Cosmic Jazz, Plus the Singer is an Ugly Guy

The 1986 top 10

10. Helstar - Remnants of War

The second album from Helstar, and to me it was a big improvement from the 1984 debut. Heavier and more consistent than Burning Star, Remnants of War is pre-historic power metal at its finest. The guitar work here is what makes the album, and there are plenty of licks, riffs, and solos to keep the listener interested. A very good album, with no clunkers or turkeys that make you want to hit the "skip" button, and recommended to all metal fans, and power metal fans in particular.

9. Rage - Reign of Fear

This is the (sort-of) debut album by German power metallers Rage. Now in 1986, the sub-genres were branching out, and while close to the vest of traditional metal in the vein of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, Rage still had a sound of their own. Euro speed metal riffs and choruses abound here. Clearly, there are also some weaker moments, but overall a solid and enjoyable album.

8. Candlemass - Epicus Doomicus Metallicus

Here we have another debut, this time from the Swedish kings of doom. I like the sound of this album. It is very dark and gloomy, with dark lyrics and slow riffs. I like this album because it is really genre defining. I suppose one could say Sabbath invented doom, but by 1986, it was a lost art. Candlemass kind of brought it back and gave it a new birth, and they do it quite well here.

7. Metal Church - The Dark

For me, this album was a slight step back from their first. Maybe not a step back, but not a step forwards either. Don't get me wrong, I think it is a really good record, but I guess I was expecting a greater leap forward and I really didn’t notice any evolution from the first album. Still, the riffs and hooks are there and it is a good listen. One thing is for sure; I would put Metal Church's first two albums up against any other American Thrash band's first two albums and come away with the conclusion that the Metal Church albums are better.

6. Motörhead - Orgasmatron

The first Motörhead album with present guitarist Phil Campbell was another solid release by Lemmy and his band. Motörhead evolves so slowly that the changes to their sound are slight and distinct, but the more I listen to this band, the more I appreciate the different subtleties the albums have. This album builds and builds, until it explodes on the last song with the brilliant title track. One of the greatest tunes in the Motörhead catalogue.

5. King Diamond - Fatal Portrait

This album is somewhat underrated in my opinion. While it is not as good as a couple of the subsequent King Diamond released, the difference is not as great as most of the metal community would have you believe. This album certainly has more of a Mercyful Fate feel that the later albums, and to me, that is what makes it so special. In addition to King's great vocals, the twin guitar attack of Andy LaRocque and Michael Denner is great, and that is really what makes this a good album.

4. Fates Warning - Awaken the Guardian

With each album Fates Warning gets more progressive and less traditional metal. In my opinion, this album found the right balance. It is not nearly as progressive as they would become, but the song structures are better than on the previous two albums. The complexity is perfect, no wankery for sure, yet it's not the same heavy metal formula that was so prevalent in the 1980's. This is probably the best Fates Warning album of the John Arch era.

3. Megadeth - Peace Sells…But Who's Buying

Megadeth's second album is a giant leap forward from their first. The quality of the songs on this album is top notch, and the execution is flawless. The album gets a tad stale after repeated listens, but overall it is a really solid album, and a good listen from start to finish. The made popular by MTV title track is still fresh today, as are The Conjuring, Wake Up Dead, and Good Mourning/Black Friday. The balance of the album is not up to that level, and as such I would not classify this as a great album.

2. Metallica - Master of Puppets

Here we have the only Metallica album I would consider great. Really, not a weakness on here, though some moments are clearly better than other. On this album, Metallica manages to have the same aggression as they do on the previous albums, but it is properly balanced with that intangible presence that the really great bands have. For some reason, after this album, they had that intangible, but they lost the aggression and drive that made Master of Puppets a truly great metal album.

1. Iron Maiden - Somewhere in Time

A bit of a controversial Maiden album, as it used the "guitar synthesizers" for the first time. To me, the use of the synthesizer was not overdone, and it textured the album quite nicely. I think this is one of Maiden's better albums, even is it sounds a bit dated today. There are some great songs here, and Adrian Smith really shines as a player and songwriter here. Somewhere in Time, while not Maiden's best, is certainly good enough to be album of the year in 1986.

Monday, December 12, 2005

1985 - He is a Midnight Snacker - His Name is Udo and He is a Goon

1985 was an interesting year in the field of metal and rock. There were many albums released, and many good albums released, but the overall quality appears to have slipped from the previous year. In fact I have two albums in the top ten from bands whose 1984 efforts were better than their 1985 output, but the 1985 album made the top 10, where the 1984 album, while better, was left off.

So, as a result, the difference between number 10 and number 25 is probably small, because there were so many decent albums that just did not crack the top 10, but arguably they are all so close that I could change my mind about one or another them over time. However, this is not a science, just one man's hobby, so as such I present the top 10

10. Armored Saint - Delirious Nomad

I'll start out by saying, I like 1984's March of the Saint better than Delirious Nomad, that said, Delirious Nomad is a solid album for sure. However, with the Max Headroom style cover and the over polished sound, it seemed that Armored Saint were trying too hard to be liked, and as such, this album suffers a bit.

9. Slayer - Hell Awaits

An improvement over 1983's Show No Mercy, but still not quite there. I really like the longer pieces on this album, especially Hell Awaits and Crypts of Eternity and I wish they had kept to that style. However, this album is not without its holes and sometimes the listener can lose interest. The riffs are great, but sometimes pieces like Necropheliac and Kill Again are monotonous and tarnish the album as a whole.

8. Rush - Power Windows

Not the best Rush album for sure. As a matter of fact, it is my least favorite of all their 1980's albums. However, with 1985 being the year of the mediocre album, Power Windows finds a place in the top 10. There are some great moments here, like Territories, Marathon and Manhattan Project, but other tracks like Grand Designs and Middletown Dreams are boring and make the album as a whole not that enjoyable a listen.

7. Fates Warning - The Spectre Within

This is sort of a bridge album for this band. More progressive than Night on Brocken, but not yet the progressive band they eventually evolved into two albums later. It is still a good metal album with great vocals and guitar harmonies. For me it is a step back from their debut, but this opinion puts me in the minority.

6. Dio - Sacred Heart

Probably a "best of the rest" pick here. The albums after this are all clearly ahead of the 1985 pack. This is the first stop on the downhill Dio express. It's a good album for sure, but certainly not up to the caliber of his first two solo albums (or his work in Rainbow and Black Sabbath). Sometimes, I wonder what he was thinking of releasing campy pop rock tracks like Hungry For Heaven and Rock N Roll Children. The rest of the album is good (with the exception of closer Shoot Shoot), but certainly a step down for sure.

5, Celtic Frost - To Mega Therion

I am not really a Celtic Frost fan, but this album is special. In fact this is pretty much where the 1985 albums become less interchangeable in terms of their placement in my top 25 for the year, and from here in, the albums are of a higher caliber.

To me this album is way ahead of its time, and has some elements of the more technical death metal acts of the late 1990's and beyond. Circle of the Tyrants is a brilliant piece, but it's not the only great track here. The whole album is very creative and different for the time; it's almost avant-garde. Celtic Frost definitely pushed the boundaries of extreme metal with this release.

4. Watchtower - Energetic Disassembly

It is hard to describe this album. It is certainly the first true progressive metal album released. I can hear their influence on dozens of bands today from Spiral Architect to Magnitude 9. I like Jason McMaster's vocals a lot, and the guitar wizardry is fabulous. Add to that a fantastic rhythm section and you have one of the best albums by an American group from the 1980's. The more I listen to this lost gem, the better it gets. It is a truly underrated and unappreciated classic.

3. Yngwie Malmsteen - Marching Out

It was kind of funny listening to this album again for the first time in a while, because the lyrics can be quite silly in places like I am a Viking and Soldier Without Faith. I guess it sounds a tad dated, but it really is a good album. There are so many memorable classics here, and quite frankly, there is not a bad song on this album. The playing is obviously brilliant, as Yngwie is a great player, but the vocals and song structures are good too. By far, this is Yngwie's best album.

2. Helloween - Walls of Jericho

Helloween's first full-length album Walls of Jericho is probably the cornerstone of European speed/power metal. Kai Hansen is a fantastic guitarist and I personally like his singing as well, so for me this album is a real scorcher. Granted, Hansen's songwriting has improved over the years, but there is no denying the blistering power and ferocity of the riffs and other guitar work here. This is a great debut from the pioneers of German speed metal.

1. Accept - Metal Heart

I'm sure this will not be a popular choice. I love this album; really the only 1985 album I would consider great. The only 10 out of 10 of the year. There is not a weak moment here. The riffs are huge, Udo shrieks like a madman, the guitar solos are infectious, even the bass work shines on Teach Us to Survive. Accept's Restless and Wild from 1982 is really their only other good album. As such, it is very ironic that a band with more turkeys in its catalog than you'll find at a Butterball rendering plant, can release such a great album. I would have to say this is in my top 10 albums of all time. Brilliant.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Interlude - Back to the Present

Here is a tentative list of my 10 favorite albums from 2005. If any of my readers have not heard these (not counting Junkyard Willie, because he is only a tr00 ice devil in spirit, not reality) I highly recommend all of them. Though, none are good enough to warrant the famous "Money Back Guarantee".

1. Moonsorrow - Verisäkeet
2. Slough Feg - Atavism
3. Masterplan - Aeronautics
4. Gamma Ray - Majestic
5. Opeth - Ghost Reveries
6. Candlemass – Candlemass
7. Brainstorm - Liquid Monster
8. Nevermore - This Godless Endeavor
9. Primordial - The Gathering Wilderness
10. Arcturus - Sideshow Symphonies

Friday, December 02, 2005

1984 - This Is What Not To Do If Your Bird S**ts On You

1984 was a great year in the hard rock/heavy metal world. When an album like Grace Under Pressure by Rush is not in the top ten, you know you have a good year. Again, we see a fair number of debuts, but the veteran kings of metal would produce the cream of a very good crop.

10. Sinner - Danger Zone

Boy this one comes dangerously close to hair metal, but the guitars are so friggin' huge here that it falls outside that realm. The lyrics are something that Poison would be proud of, nevertheless, the music here is what counts and it really is great. Sure, it's dated, but it is effective. Guitarists Stoner and Shirley have the chops that the California players like Deville and Mars could only dream of, and they incorporated them into this 80's style hair metal, except that the music is actually good.

9. Metal Church - Metal Church

For some reason, this band tends to be overlooked when discussing the American metal scene of the 80's. People always speak of Anthrax, Slayer and the mighty Metallica, but Metal Church gets left behind. Too bad for them, because this album is better than anything Anthrax has ever done for sure. The instruments here are all well played and the vocals, while a little too Olivaesque for my liking, fit the band quite well.

8. Deep Purple - Perfect Strangers

Deep Purple's "reunion" album so to speak. Often times financially driven reunion albums are weak, but this one is an exception. There are some great tracks here (Knocking at Your Back Door, Mean Streak, Perfect Strangers) and the so-called "fillers" are also good. Blackmore's guitar work is still in fine form and Gillan's vocals give it a tremendous vibe.

7. Fates Warning - Night on Bröcken

Not a very popular album among Fates Warning fans for some reason, but I like it a lot. It has a more traditional heavy metal vibe than their progressive sound of today and it is clearly under produced. There are some great tracks on here in particular the last three Shadowfax, Damnation and Soldier Boy. This album has been accused of Maiden and Priest cloning, and there is no denying the influence of these two legendary bands on this album, but it is not cloning. A very underrated album.

6. Mercyful Fate - Don't Break the Oath

The second album from the Danish pseudo Satanists is not quite as good as the debut, but it is a very good album nevertheless. A few turkeys here keep this album from the status of greatness, but classics like Gypsy, Come to the Sabbath, and A Dangerous Meeting assure it a spot in the top 10.

5. Queensrÿche - The Warning

It is safe to say, that after the brilliant first Queensrÿche EP, I was expecting a great deal from The Warning, and while it didn't quite meet my expectations, The Warning is a very good metal album. Queensrÿche almost invented progressive metal as we know it today, and here we see the first album of this sub genre. They would go on to expand their musical horizons later in their career, and achieve the holy grail of commercial success with Empire, but in my opinion, they had a better overall sound here than almost any other time in their career.

4. Metallica - Ride the Lightning

As I stated in my 1983 top 10, I have a personal distaste for Metallica. That being said, it is hard to deny the quality of this album. A couple of weak moments keep this from the elite albums of 1984, but it is clearly the best of the rest. Creeping Death and Trapped Under Ice show the potential this band had, and would eventually achieve on a more consistent basis with their subsequent album. However, some other moments here are drab and forgetful, such as the overrated Fade to Black (Emo anyone??) and Fight Fire With Fire.

3. Dio - The Last in Line

Dio's second solo effort was almost as good as his first. This is another great album from Dio and his band. Unfortunately, after this release, the quality of Dio's work would slip significantly, never to rebound, but let's not dwell on that. The Last in Line featured many great tunes (almost all nine really), and only toward the end of the album did things slip just a tad. In another year, this easily could have been the best, but the two biggest metal giants put out some of their best work that year, putting Ronnie in the three spot.

2. Judas Priest - Defenders of the Faith

Really more of a 1A, than 2. With the exception of the last two tracks, this is a flawless Priest album. It opens with Freewheel Burning, which is fast and heavy, and the Hot Leather Dude and Co. don't let up until the obligatory, ridiculous rock anthem. Other standout tracks include The Sentinel, Some Heads are Gonna Roll, and the great ballad Night Comes Down. I really can't say enough great things about this album. Probably my second favorite Priest studio album behind Stained Class.

1. Iron Maiden - Powerslave

I know that Maiden has occupied a top 4 spot now for the last 5 years, but they are the best hard rock/metal group ever, so it is only fitting I guess. Powerslave is one of Maiden's finest moments. With four essential, legendary classics like Ace's High, Two Minutes to Midnight, Powerslave and Rime of the Ancient Mariner, that would be enough to consider it a great album, but the four remaining tracks are also great (well really good). The greatest album of a really great year.