Thursday, May 25, 2006

1991 - Look at the Wazool

For me, 1991 was a strange year in hard rock/metal. 1991 saw a few really good/great albums, and a bunch of marginal releases. Of course, as the years progress, there are more and more metal/hard rock albums to choose from, so compiling a list becomes more difficult. For the 1991 albums, I begged, borrowed and stole almost 30 albums, and many of them were crap (Old Lady Drivers for example). However, most of them were marginal, not really bad, but uninteresting (i.e. Anacrusis and Coroner).

In any case, I have compiled my personal top ten for the year. Many reading this will disagree saying I left out album X or Y, and of course, most people will say that the one glaring omission was done out of a personal distaste for a particular drummer of Danish origin. To that, I say horse-hockey. The record in question is average hard rock/metal by numbers.

10. Dark Angel – Time Does Not Heal

For me this is Dark Angel’s crowning achievement. I would have to say this is a seriously underrated album. When people speak of Dark Angel, the first two records seem to get all the praise, which does not make sense to me, as this one is far better, especially lyrically. Also, as advertised, there are plenty of riffs to sink you teeth into.

9. Blind Guardian – Tales From Twilight World

Speed metal, power metal, whatever you want to call it, this is a good album. Much better than the first two, this disc moves along with great flow and pace. It never gets boring, and while it doesn’t stay with you like the great albums do, it is always good to hear after not hearing it for a while.

8. Rush – Roll the Bones

This is a strange record. While hailed by Geddy & Co as one of their finest moments, I disagree. There are some great tunes on here, but let’s face it, there are some real clunkers too. The great songs are the ones you know, Dreamline, Where’s My Thing? and the title song, but tracks like Ghost of a Chance, Heresy and The Big Wheel are forgettable numbers, and while I can listen to them, I would imagine only only the most devoted Rush fans like these.

7. Metal Church – The Human Factor

This is an underrated album, from an underrated band. The band has become more political, but it’s not really in your face. The music is still Metal Church and while there is no “Badlands” on this record, the whole thing is interesting and the music is still heavy.

6. Motörhead – 1916

Their first studio album in four years, and Motörhead never missed a beat. 1916 is lighter hearted than earlier releases, and while it is undeniably Motörhead, it is still somehow different. No Voices in the Sky and I’m So Bad are among Motörhead’s best tracks ever, and the rest of the albums is a great listen. Highly recommended for tailgates at any metal show, 1916 is a very enjoyable album.

5. Running Wild – Blazon Stone

Running Wild is kind of like AC/DC in that they never change their sound, and while I can see a reasonable criticism for this, Running Wild gets a pass. Why? Because I like their sound. Running Wild are unapologetic for their speed/power pirate formula because it works. Running Wild’s riffs are just so damn good; you can help but like this album.

4. Pearl Jam – Ten

Just because a record sells billions of copies does not mean it is good. However, the masses got it right with this one. Pearl Jam’s first album is so simple, it is brilliant. I think they found the right combination of hard rock and angst on this album. There is such groove and feel to these songs, it seems to have been executed with great passion, and that is what I love about this record.

3. Fates Warning – Parallels

Fates Warning was trying to be more accessible here, but by 1991, no one was interested in 80’s metal with a proggy touch to it. Perhaps if 1989’s Perfect Symmetry were as good as Parallels, Fates Warning would have achieved Queensryche success. However, with the country now mesmerized by Kurt Cobain’s flannel shirt, Parallels would be mostly ignored and forgotten. It’s a shame too because it is a great album, with rich vocals and guitars everywhere. A forgotten gem.

2. Iced Earth – Night of the Stormrider

Iced Earth used to be such a good band, and I don’t understand why more people do not like this album. Sure Greely isn’t the best singer, but this album is so well written. The riffs are huge, and the story is captivating without an element of cheese so prevalent in metal concept albums. This is an example of an album that once you put it on; you have to listen to the whole thing, because it is so captivating and memorable. Iced Earth’s best effort for sure.

1. Armored Saint – Symbol of Salvation

Where do I begin? I can’t begin to explain how great I think this album is, and the frustrating part is, I cannot explain why. Let’s face it, Armored Saint isn’t exactly known for the great songwriting, or brilliant musical chops. Maybe it is the ghost of Dave Prichard that haunts this record, but there is some intangible that makes all these songs great, whether it is the “commercial” Last Train Home, or the blistering Hanging Judge or the thought provoking Tainted Past, it is just a great album start to finish.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Lande Takes Off - Again

So Jorn Lande has quit Masterplan after two albums. Let me pretend to be shocked. This guy has been in more bands than Ted McGinley’s been in bad sitcoms. Anyway, like he deserted Ark, he deserted Masterplan. I don’t think Masterplan will go under like Ark did. The rumor is that Tony Martin may be the new Masterplan singer. That actually would be pretty cool, I like Martin’s vocals with Sabbath, and I like Masterplan's music, so Lande’s departure may not be as catastrophic as Ark’s demise.

Also, I must admit, the little I have heard from Lande’s new solo album is pretty good, so perhaps this move will benefit everyone; but I must ask, where is Tore Ostby.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

1990 - Dance With the Dead in My Dreams

In 1990, the metal world was beginning the fight for its life, though it did not know it yet. The Bay Area metal scene was dominating metal at this time as many of these bands were in their primes. The difference in the 1990 top ten with the 1989 is staggering, with 1990 containing much heavier albums and 1990 had a more metal feel to it.

The grunge scene was born, and not being a big fan of the genre, no grunge albums made the top ten in 1990, though there will be some in future years I am sure.

10. Elixir – Lethal Potion

Choosing number 10 here was tough, as to me this album is clearly inferior to the top 9. I could have chosen any of several slightly above average albums to fill this spot, including Alice in Chains’ debut, No Prayer for the Dying, Spiritual Healing, The Eye, or even Cowboys from Hell , but being the Clive Burr fan boy that I am, I chose Elixir. Sue me.

9. Queensryche – Empire

I wanted to leave this album off on general principle, but I could not do it with a clear conscience. Despite the prosaic Silent Lucidity, Empire is quite a good album. Forgotten gems like Resistance and Anybody Listening? make this album what it is, while the most well known songs are probably the worst songs here, with the exception of the brilliant Jet City Woman.

8. Testament – Souls of Black

By 1990, everyone and their brother from San Francisco/Oakland were in a thrash band. Most of them were boring and non descript, and until this album (OK Practice isn’t bad either) Testament was in the middle of that pack of mediocrity. Souls of Black however, had a slightly different sound. A bit more polished, and slick, Souls of Black was the high point of Testament’s not so illustrious career.

7. Megadeth – Rust in Peace

Many say this is Megadeth’s finest moment, and maybe they are right, though I am somewhat partial to Peace Sells. Anyway, 1990’s Rust in Peace is a very good album, that features some great playing by the band, and some really well written songs that blend together very nicely. The final three tracks are what make the album, Tornado of Souls, Dawn Patrol and Rust in Peace.

6. Iced Earth – Iced Earth

Released in Europe in 1990, and in the USA in 1991, I have decided to include this with 1990. Iced Earth was at one time, a metal band that fell between the traditional Iron Maiden sound, and the Florida extreme metal scene. When the Night Falls alone would make this a cool album, but the entire album is full of good guitar work, and the vocals are sufficient.

5. Gamma Ray – Heading for Tomorrow

Perhaps the best thing to happen to Power Metal was Kai Hansen’s departure from Helloween. Heading for Tomorrow is not the best Gamma Ray album, but it is quite good. It is the transition between Helloween and Gamma Ray. Hansen’s playing is great, and Scheepers' vocals are real good too. The songs are diverse and the flow of the album is also very nice. To me, the title track is a bit of an earful, but it is still a very good album.

4. Bathory – Hammerheart

I am not a Bathory fan, but I really like this album. Quorthon’s vocals are bad, even for Black Metal, and usually Bathory’s production is even worse that the pitiful Black Metal norm. Here, the production is at the perfect level to give this album the perfect sound. The songs here are great, and the atmosphere is what makes this album so appealing. The whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts, and I prefer to put this disc on when I have enough time for the whole thing. Hailed as the birth of Viking Metal, Hammerheart is my favorite Bathory album, and really an essential disc in any extreme metal collection.

3. Judas Priest – Painkiller

Can an album be Number 3 on the list and still be way overrated? Yes. Painkiller is a very good album, no question. But many feel it is the best Judas Priest record. That is nonsense. What we have here is an album with great riffs, solos and melody lines. Musically it may be considered a great album. However, these may be the worst set of Judas Priest lyrics ever written. Any album that uses the term “Devil Dogs” has silly lyrics. Anyway, Tipton and Downing are brilliant here, and new drummer Scott Travis keeps thing moving along at a nice pace.

2. Death Angel – Act III

A bit of a surprise pick here, as anyone who has read these posts knows, I am not a fan of generic bay area thrash. However, after listening to this gem a couple of times I realized that this album is far from generic. This album is vastly different from the thrash by numbers mediocrity that was on DA’s first two albums. This album has it all, great guitar riffs and solos, interesting bass and drum parts and good vocals. Highly recommended.

1. Slayer – Seasons in the Abyss

By far, this is the best Slayer album ever. Here they combined everything that had worked on previous releases, and mixed them all together to come up with a brilliant album. The sound is rich and the riffs are chunky, while the songs move along at a great pace. Slick production is the icing on the cake. A great album for sure, and it is my choice for best of 1990.