Thursday, January 26, 2006

1988 - I Remember Now

1988 was a good year in metal. I found it difficult to narrow down the top 10 as I had about 5 other choices that really could have come in as high as number 8, as there really was not too much difference between number 8 and number 15 or so.

10. Death - Leprosy

This album is not well perceived by many fans of Chuck Schuldiner, probably because the backing band is average at best, but I think it is a good album, and far better that the debut. Death would mature over the years, and the music would become more technically proficient, but there is a place for Leprosy among the best albums of 1988. It is shockingly brutal for the time and well executed.

9. Pantera - Power Metal

OK - stop laughing. This is my favorite Pantera album. Really - please stop laughing. This is actually Pantera's fourth album, and the last before the famous Cowboys From Hell. This is the first album to feature vocalist Phil Anselmo. Lyrically, this album is bad, but the music is so damn good that I can overlook the ridiculous lyrics. Darrell Abbot's riffage is top notch and personally, I wish Pantera had kept this sound instead of the pseudo-thrash genre they helped develop.

8. Metallica - …And Justice For All

This was the first step down of a legendary decline that would get worse with each release. Metallica's borderline album is still good, and there are some brilliant moments here. Poor mixing and below average production produce a sound that can be annoying at times, and sometimes you wonder if there is a bassist. But, as a whole the songs are quite good, and the guitar playing is Hammet and Hetfield's finest of their career.

7. Fates Warning - No Exit

A new singer and a new style are the obvious things about this album. No Exit is far more progressive than earlier efforts, but still very heavy. As much as I like John Arch, Ray Adler is the voice for Fates Warning, and he was good from the start. An ambitious album for sure and they hit the mark for the most part. Parts of the opus, The Ivory Gate of Dreams are not executed that well, and I sometimes lose interest in the song, but overall this is a good album.

6. Running Wild - Port Royal

I really like this band, and this is one of my favorite Running Wild albums. It took a while, but the band seems very comfortable and confident in their sound and style here, and the result is a melodic speed/power metal album of the finest quality. The songs are all good, great riffs and melodies, etc. Plus, I love the whole Pirate thing.

5. Helstar - A Distant Thunder

This is Helstar's best album to date; perhaps their best ever. The guitars sound perfect, and the singing is great. This album has all the right sounds, riffs, hooks, solos, melodies, etc. The sound to me could be described as power metal, with a dash of progressive thrown in, and it works. It is a very good album for sure.

4. Iron Maiden - Seventh Son of a Seventh Son

"Bloody Americans, they just don't get us," Steve Harris said of this album, as it did not reach the commercial success of Somewhere in Time. Actually, I think this album did miss the mark a little bit, and is a step down from Maiden's earlier works. The title track is overlong and does not hold my interest like other Maiden epics, plus this album contains Quest For Fire Part II aka The Prophecy. All in all though, this is a very good album, tracks like Infinite Drams and The Evil Than Men Do are great songs and really save the album.

3. King Diamond - "Them"

Another one of King's horror stories, and again he hits the mark. As usual, Andy LaRocque is in fine form, as the guitars sound great. I think this is a step down for King as Abigail was better, but only in that the cheese factor is a bit more prevalent here. Sometimes "Them" borders on silly and over dramatic (i.e. "Grandamaaaaaaaaaaaaa"). Despite that one criticism, "Them" is a very good album, and like all of King's early solo work, a treat to listen to from start to finish.

2. Helloween - Keeper of the Seven Keys Part II

For me, this is the best Helloween album. The riffage is huge; Kiske singing is better than in Part I, and the songs are more interesting as well. There are some classic power metal tracks here like I Want Out and Eagle Fly Free. Dr. Stein is also a great track. The epic title track is not as good as the epic Halloween from part I, but it is still a good track. I think if Hansen had participated a little more in the songwriting, this could have been one of the top 5 metal albums of all time.

1. Queensryche - Operation: Mindcrime

Wow. Brilliant. It is so hard for me to write a paragraph about this album. It is so well done, it is cinematic. Usually, a concept album is far better as a whole and the songs alone don't stand up too well as stand alone tracks. Here, the songs are so good, that they stand up very well by themselves, but when you put them all together it comprises one of the best albums ever recorded. I can't say enough glowing things about this album; it is a masterpiece.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

1987 - A Memo to a Higher Office

1987 was a good year for music, many good albums came out, and even a few great non-metal albums like Springsteen's Tunnel of Love (my personal favorite Springsteen record) and Pink Floyd's comeback album, A Momentary Lapse of Reason.

Additionally, there were many hard rock albums that came out in 1987 that were good, but to me, not better than the ten albums presented below. These include Def Leppard's Hysteria, Areosmith's Permanent Vacation and the gazillion selling Appetite for Destruction by Guns 'N Roses.

So, the top 10 is.....

10. Celtic Frost - Into the Pandemonium

I like strange stuff, and this album is strange. I still prefer To Mega Therion, but I really like this album a lot more now than I used to, in fact I like it more with every listen. Celtic Frost does some weird stuff here, and for me it works most of the time, Mexican Radio being an exception. There is something for everyone here, a lot of different sounds to be sure. Not for every taste, but I like it.

9. Motörhead - Rock 'N' Roll

Certainly not Motörhead's finest moment, and you can see the ideas starting to dry up a bit, but still Rock ''N' Roll is another solid effort from Lemmy's crew. The first four tracks are great, but the albums fades a bit and the balance of the tracks are less memorable. All in all, the album is a good one, and really a good listen start to finish, including The Blessing.

8. Sanctuary - Refuge Denied

This is the debut from Sanctuary, and the better of their two albums in my book. I am not sure how much Dave Mustaine contributed to this album, but it seems as if he added something to the mix. The riffs and solos on this album keep coming from beginning to end and the songs are well crafted. A good debut for sure, and one of those few albums from an American metal band that you can listen to from start to finish without some cheesy ballad to ruin it.

7. Dio - Dream Evil

Dream Evil is a good album. The metal community seems to dislike this album, and I realize it is not to the level of his first two, but it is still quite good. A slight improvement over Sacred Heart in my opinion, as there is not as much cheese, and the "commercial" song on this album, I Could Have Been a Dreamer, is actually good as opposed to the two commercial efforts on Sacred Heart. There are plenty of riffs here, despite the departure of Vivian Campbell, and the solos are just as good too.

6. Savatage - Hall of the Mountain King

Finally, the pieces started to come together for Savatage. Criss Oliva's riffs, licks and solos are top notch, and really all the music on this album is great, almost brilliant. Unfortunately, Jon Oliva's raspy vocals and over dramatic intonation keeps this album from achieving the level of greatness that it could have with a better singer.

5. Anthrax - Among the Living

This is a fun album. I really don't take Anthrax too seriously, as they are more of a joke than a serious band. This album's tracks include the ridiculous Caught in a Mosh, N.F.L. and Indians (we're dissin' them!!!). However, it all works quite well, and the album, while dated, is a memorable one.

4. Running Wild - Under Jolly Roger

Until this album, Running Wild was another generic European band singing about the devil, hell and the like; however, with Under Jolly Roger, Running Wild made the shift that would define their career. Pirates!! Ironically, this theme really works for this band, and the songs are quite good.

3. Helloween - Keeper of the Seven Keys, Part I

Here is where we separate the good from the great. Helloween's first album with the "classic" line up that included Michael Kiske and Kai Hansen is a non stop feast of German speed metal of the finest vintage. Not at all dated, 19 years later this album still sounds great.

2. King Diamond - Abigail

One of King's finest solo moments, Abigail is the first of King's epic storylines. Normally, I don't like concept albums, but King is the master, and this story of Abigail is fantastic. There are so many great tracks here, A Mansion in Darkness, Abigail and Black Horsemen are my personal favorites, and this album is best listened to as a whole, for the whole is even greater than the sum of its marvelous parts. Lyrically, musically (kudos to Denner and LaRoque) and conceptually, this album truly rocks.

1. Rush - Hold Your Fire

This is not metal; in fact it's barely hard rock. I don't care, it is still great. For me, this is the album where all of the experimentation with electronics and keyboards on the last two albums was perfected. Lyrically, this is one of Peart's finest. Gems like Mission, Tai Shan, Second Nature and Prime Mover all long forgotten by all but the tr00est Rush fans are sonic masterpieces. Underrated and overlooked, Hold Your Fire is Rush's finest of the post Moving Pictures era.