Dream Theater

Why is the music industry failing? Contrary to popular opinion, it’s nothing to do with piracy, record labels or the shift from physical to digital media, but instead it’s because of the silly papery labels on CD cases that don’t peel off, instead leaving behind their gungy residue on both the case and then your finger nails as you labouriously try to rectify the problem, yet inevitably make it worse.

I mention this as I struggle with the stubborn sticker present on Dream Theater’s new eponymous album. Although put in a bad mood, I soldiered on, and I am very pleased that I did.

Dream Theater’s twelfth album begins with the introductory ‘False Awakening Suite’, a grand orchestral instrumental split into three sections, throwing the listener straight into the album. The heavier Dream Theater sound (akin to the direction taken on ‘Train of Thought’ and ‘Systematic Chaos’) continues with ‘The Enemy Inside’, making use of Gothic keyboards and chugging riffs, combined with James LaBrie trying his best to channel his inner Dave Mustaine in the verses.

Although the album begins off heavy, that’s where it stops. Dream Theater have always produced music inspired by Canadian prog band Rush, but for much of the music on this album they have decided to plainly imitate them. ‘The Looking Glass’ is a mid-tempo progressive rocker, mixing keyboards and guitar hooks in equal measure, whilst ‘The Bigger Picture’ and ‘Behind The Veil’ fail to deliver anything unique. For such an accomplished band, these sub-par Rush tracks ultimately indicate a lack of musical creativity and an over-reliance on old ideas.

‘Dream Theater’ features their first instrumental track since 2003’s ‘Stream of Consciousness’ showing off John Petrucci’s brilliant shredding techniques, as well as Jordan Rudess’ keyboard prowess, Mike Mangini’s technical drumming and John Myung’s ever present bass lines. The song is served up in sections which actually flow well together, turning what on paper is just a four-way speed battle into a cleverly presented track.

After the mandatory ballad ‘Along For The Ride’, in which LaBrie is allowed to take centre stage, showing that he is as equally talented as his fellow musicians, the epic twenty minute ‘Illumination Theory’ begins. Dream Theater have never shied away from the fifteen minute plus songs, with ‘Sex Degrees Of Inner Turbulence’, ‘Octavarium’, ‘In The Presence Of Enemies’ and ‘Nightmare To Remember’ totaling a massive 107 minutes between them. ‘Illumination Theory’ sits easily along side the aforementioned classics, twisting through fast paced guitar work, orchestral and piano sections, and an array of hectic solos.

‘Dream Theater’ is the first album in which Mike Mangini has contributed to the writing stage (as opposed to playing ex-drummer Mike Portnoy’s parts on ‘A Dramatic Turn Of Events’), allowing him to fully integrate with the band and rejuvenate their sound, offering new ideas and directions to explore. The album does just that; the band noticeably expands their sound to encompass everything from classic rock to metal on one album, whereas before they were content with the progressive metal tag.

Whilst not every track worked, tracks like ‘The Enemy Inside’, ‘Enigma Machine’ and ‘Illumination Theory’ are some of the best cuts Dream Theater have produced within the last decade. Overall, the album has to be seen as a success, and the first in a long time which could actually introduce new fans to the band (especially if their also Rush fans).

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Loud Like Love

‘Loud Like Love’ is Placebo’s seventh full-length effort and manages to deliver some of the eccentric and quirky alternative rock that they can do so well. The new album sees the band pick up from where 2009’s ‘Battle For The Sun’ left off, opting to widen their musical pallet, with different instrumentation and greater variety of lyrical themes.

The album has a false start, with the title track failing to deliver the optimism and joy is tries so hard to create. The song is supposed to explode towards the end with group singing, snare rolls and synths, yet it comes off more like a High School Music parody, conjuring up images of Brian Molko dressed as a cheerleader.

The record really begins with ‘Scene Of The Crime’, bringing back the melancholy from ‘Meds’, with Molko drenching his vocals in his signature whine, proving that Placebo are still at their best when Molko delves into his darker side. The track is very typical of the album, utilising both piano and electronics heavily, with guitar sometimes taking a back seat.

Once you get past the odd rhyme-for-the-sake-of-rhyming lyrics (including the impressive run of gay, away, Champs Elysees, communique, super highway, say, away, day, hay) the album’s first single ‘Too Many Friends’ is a fairly standard, yet catchy track, showcasing the pop-tinged alt rock sound that has spawned so many great songs before it. It’s unfortunate that the next two tracks don’t quite hit the mark.

‘Hold On To Me’ falls flat and confused, sounding like a self-parody, as forty year old Molko wails in false fragility, trying to recapture the past. Worst, is the second half of the song, with a spoken word piece overlaying a bland instrumental, producing cringe worthy lines like “our task is to transform ourselves into multi-dimensional beings”. ‘Rob The Bank’ doesn’t do better, spoiling a good bass line with the bizarre lyrics “rob the bank then pick your nose”, Molko’s guide to global economics and a token refrain of “Make Love” thrown in for good measure.

It’s a relief then that the second half of the album is far superior to the first. ‘A Million Little Pieces’ is a beautiful track, led by piano, actually offering a true piece of Molko: “Whenever I was feeling wrong, I used to go and write a song, from my heart, but now I fear I’ve lost my spark.” Following up is the excellent ‘Exit Wounds’, driven primarily by an industrial beat and featuring Molko’s best vocal performance, offering a fantastic melody and technique, all whilst returning to past (believable) themes of drugs and sex.

‘Purify’ reminds of their debut twenty years ago, with a decent guitar riff and a sense of urgency missing from a lot of their later works. ‘Begin The End’ and ‘Bosco’ end the album on a sombre note, the latter proving to be an excellent track, relying only a sparse musical backdrop to Molko’s voice and a simple piano phrase.

‘Loud Like Love’ is exactly what most fans expected from Placebo and perhaps that’s why the album fails to shine. Apart from a few stand out tracks, the rest feels like Placebo-by-numbers and was entirely predictable. It’s a shame they chose to scrap the rejuvenated route they took on 2012’s brilliant ‘B3’ EP,  because if they did, this could have been the album that fans have been waiting for, for nearly ten years now.

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Twenty Years In Music – Part Five

Here it is. The finale of this weeks blog detailing my favourite album from every year I have been alive. So far I have traveled from 1993 to 2008, just leaving 2009 to 2012 to cover. 2013 is still an open competition, producing some amazing albums already from the likes of Tesseract, Steven Wilson, Karnivool and Biffy Clyro.

2009: The XX – ‘XX’

There were so many options I had to whittle down my original shortlist into an even shorter list before I could decide. In the end I decided that the debut album The XX just outshone the fierce and varied competition. Amongst that competition were Rodrigo y Gabriela, Biffy Clyro, Karnivool and Lamb Of God. A very honourable mention has to go to Steven Wilson for both Porcupine Tree’s tenth studio effort and his first solo album, which, if Wilson hadn’t already appeared three times, would probably get this spot.

The XX’s debut is one of the most original albums I have ever heard, turning bright pop melodies and electronic beats into a dark, atmospheric album, that makes you want to cry and dance at the same time. Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim share vocal duties, often using them to create a dialogue across the band, shown perfectly on ‘Infinity’. ‘Islands’ showcases the bands abilities at their best; combining both uplifting and mellow sections with beautiful vocal duets.

2010: Deftones – ‘Diamond Eyes’

‘Diamond Eyes’ is an album made by a band with a reignited purpose and direction, and as a result, was almost unanimously acclaimed. Deftones, as discussed in a previous blog, are probably the nu metal band that is going strongest a decade on, reinventing themselves twice, once with 2000’s ‘White Pony’ and again with 2010’s ‘Diamond Eyes’.

There are no weak tracks on the album; each a valuable slice of Deftones’ unique metal sound, offering thumping guitar riffs and effect laden dreamy passages in the same song. Vocalist Chino Moreno is able to follow the guitars, using both screams and a beautiful clean voice to good effect. Deftones have progressed a long way since their rough and confused debut ‘Adrenaline’ and have continued to impress with 2012’s ‘Koi No Yokan’.

2011: The Pineapple Thief – ‘Someone Here Is Missing’

I knew exactly what album would be here before I’d even written 1993’s choice. The Pineapple Thief’s eighth full length effort saw the band, which is led by multi-instrumentalist Bruce Soord, finally break into media recognition. This album is the most radical sound change they have ever undergone, opting for a more electronic-based rock similar to the likes of Radiohead, turning away from their standard, mellow, progressive sound.

Unusually, most tracks are under five minutes, with the band opting for more traditional song structures, whilst still keeping many of their progressive aspects shown best in ‘Preparation For Meltdown’ and ‘So We Row’. ‘Someone Here Is Missing’ makes use of a lot of keyboards and synths, often allowing them to become the main driving force of certain sections found in ‘Nothing At Best’ and ‘Show A Little Love’. If this record was released by either Muse or Radiohead, it would be one of the most highly celebrated albums of the year and probably go straight to number one, it’s just a shame that The Pineapple Thief are still relatively small.

2012: Anathema – ‘Weather Systems’

Anathema started life as a doom metal band, yet these days play a very ethereal progressive rock, much like peers Katatonia (not to be confused with the Welsh, Cerys Matthews fronted, Catatonia). ‘Weather Systems’ is an album based around a suite of five songs of the same name, sandwiched between with the two parted ‘Untouchable’ and two other songs.

The album is carried mainly by rich orchestration, acoustic guitars and piano; the rock aspect of their music barely surfacing. Vincent Cavanagh, Daniel Cavanagh and Lee Douglas all share vocal duties, producing beautiful vocal harmonies on top of the incredibly well written music. ‘The Storm Before The Calm’ is a nine minute epic, showing off both of their sides, beginning as a haunting rock track, before transforming into a beautiful ending. The last two tracks ‘The Lost Child’ and ‘Internal landscapes’ feel slightly out of place on the album, as they are when the band produce long, winding progressive tracks, which juxtaposes against the seven other, more focused pieces. Nevertheless ‘Weather Systems’ is still a brilliant record.

Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed this blog please like, comment and subscribe to email updates. The previous four parts are linked below:

Part One: https://rockatlantic.wordpress.com/2013/09/16/twenty-years-in-music-part-one/

Part Two: https://rockatlantic.wordpress.com/2013/09/17/twenty-years-in-music-part-two/

Part Three: https://rockatlantic.wordpress.com/2013/09/18/twenty-years-in-music-part-three/

Part Four: https://rockatlantic.wordpress.com/2013/09/19/twenty-years-in-music-part-four/

Twenty Years In Music – Part Four

As the name would suggest, this is the fourth segment of the new series I am writing this week, which is documenting my favourite albums released from every year I have been alive. This fourth segment sees some new influences come into mix including punk and classical.

2005: Reuben – ‘Very Fast Very Dangerous’

Hailing from the place of my birth, I feel Reuben definitely belong on this list. Reuben, who are unfortunately no longer active, had a unique blend of hard rock and post-hardcore, fueled by punk-like energy levels.

‘Very Fast Very Dangerous’ is an unforgiving second album, containing eleven aggressive, adrenaline powered rock tunes, with the band only coming up for air twice to showcase their softer sides. As a three piece, it’s surprising just how much audio space they can full with manic drums, gritty bass lines and gnarly guitar riffs, as well as Jamie Lenman’s brilliant cleans and roars. Highlights off the album include the gigantic ‘Blamethrower’ and the equally bitter rant about working in the music business featured on ‘Return Of The Jedi’.

2006: Bullets & Octane – ‘In The Mouth Of The Young’

This fourth installment of the blog carries on the punk influences with the equally irritated second album from California based Bullets & Octane. This a strange album to choose, considering this is the only Bullets & Octane album I actually like and own, not to mention the stiff competition it faced from In Flames’ ‘Come Clarity’, The Mars Volta’s ‘Amputechture’ and Mastodon’s ‘Blood Mountain’.

Nevertheless, ‘In The Mouth Of The Young’ contains all the spitting attitude and chugging fifth chords expected from a punk release, combined with the twang of American blues. Whilst tracks like ‘Caving In’, ‘Going Blind’ and ‘Signed In Alcohol’ rage at a glorious speed; the rhythm section somehow managing not to trip over itself, others, like ‘Cancer California’, take the time to groove and provide a respite to Gene Louis’ vocal attack.

2007: Radiohead – ‘In Rainbows’

‘In Rainbows’ carries on Radiohead’s unique hybrid of alternative rock and electronic music which they have been purveyors of since 2000’s ‘Kid A’. Every track is densely layered with lush instrumentation mutated by effects, driven along by punchy bass lines, all intertwined with Thom Yorke’s very distinctive whine.

Apart from the manic ‘Bodysnatchers’ and the groovy ’15 Step’, most of the album follows a mellower path, opting for orchestration and melody over distorted guitar. ‘All I need’ follows a slow synth line through moody atmospheres, whilst Thom Yorke’s beautiful vocals become increasingly more drowned out beneath an array of swells, cymbal crashes and noise. ‘Videotape’ is a melancholic track rotating around a sparse piano theme and a jittery drum beat, meanwhile ‘Weird Fishes/Arpeggi’ is a moment of beauty, utilising steel drums, dance beats, warm guitar arpeggios and soaring vocals. Overall ‘In Rainbows’ is an introverted musical journey through equally doses of euphoria and sorrow. One of the best albums ever made.

2008: Apocalyptica – ‘Worlds Collide’

2008’s pick continues with the beautiful orchestration in the form of Apocalyptica’s ‘Worlds Collide’. Apocalyptica are a Finnish, classically inspired, metal band, formed of three (classically trained) cellists and a drummer. Beginning as a cover band, especially when it came to Metallica songs, Apocalyptica soon began to write their own songs and grow in musical ambition, culminating in the release of the magnificent ‘Worlds Collide’.

The album features seven instrumentals and four tracks with vocals provided by guest singers. Rammstein’s Till Lindemann offers a German reinterpretation of David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’, Cristina Scabbia of Lacuna Coil shows off her powerful voice on ‘S.O.S. (Anything But Love)’, ex-Three Days Grace singer Adam Gontier offers vocals for ‘I Don’t Care’ and Slipknot/Stone Sour frontman Corey Taylor produces a perfect performance on the theatrical ‘I’m Not Jesus’.

Putting the excellent vocal tracks aside, the instrumentals are equally as special, juxtaposing beautiful melodies with heavy punches and sounds that you’d never expect to hear coming from the body of a cello. There is real diversity across the album with tracks like ‘Last Hope’ being as heavy as any Metallica song and other songs like ‘Peace’ which are able to show off their classical side whilst still keeping the metal aspect of their sound. An amazing record from one of the most unique bands out there.

Thank you for reading, if you liked this blog please leave like, comment and subscribe to email updates. If you missed the previous three installments of this series, they are linked below:

Part One: https://rockatlantic.wordpress.com/2013/09/16/twenty-years-in-music-part-one/

Part Two: https://rockatlantic.wordpress.com/2013/09/17/twenty-years-in-music-part-two/

Part Three: https://rockatlantic.wordpress.com/2013/09/18/twenty-years-in-music-part-three/

Twenty Years In Music – Part Three

Welcome to the third part of a new series that I am writing this week. which is looking back at my favourite album from every year I have been alive. So far I have traveled from 1993 up to 2000, flirting equally between metal and progressive music. The mix doesn’t become too distorted with the next few years, taking me up to 2004.

2001: Breed 77 – ‘Breed 77’

2001 was a great year for metal music, including Tool’s magnificent ‘Lateralus’, Opeth’s ‘Blackwater Park’ and Rammstein’s ‘Mutter’ to name a few. However despite all the big name releases, a small band from Gibraltar takes the prize after their eponymous debut album. Breed 77 are a flamenco metal band, taking equal influences from both traditional spanish music and nu metal. Although initially they were critically acclaimed, gaining accolades left, right and centre, including Kerrang!’s ‘Best Unsigned Band’ award, these days they have unfortunately gone astray, losing a lot of the unique latin influences that once set them apart.

The album juxtaposes acoustic guitar flourishes, a splash of Spanish lyrics and a variety of percussion against heavy guitars, screamed vocals and a tight rhythm section. Ex-vocalist Paul Isola was very talented, utilising screams, a clean voice style and even the odd rap to good effect, demonstrating them all on the excellent ‘Rise’.

2002: Stone Sour – ‘Stone Sour’

2002 gives its place to the debut album from Stone Sour, the side project of Slipknot’s Corey Taylor and Jim Root. ‘Stone Sour’ sees the Slipknot boys take a break from the relentless and hectic barrage of nu metal found on ‘Slipknot’ and ‘Iowa’, for a (slightly) less intense metal outing.

‘Stonesour’ is the first attempt of ditching the ‘nu’ part of their metal sound, producing more vocal variety from Taylor as he adds a substantially greater amount of clean tones to his repertoire. Also breaking away from the nu metal trend helped create the overall more rounded Stone Sour when compared to Slipknot, allowing for Root’s impressive shredding solos to shine.

Whilst songs like ‘Get Inside’ and ‘Blotter’ aren’t too dissimilar to Slipknot, others like ‘Inhale’ and ‘Bother’ show a softer, more emotional side, which would become the main focus of the band on later effort ‘Audio Secrecy’. ‘Stone Sour’ as a whole showcases a wide variety of styles, all pulled off expertly, creating one of the best metal debuts this side of the millennium.

2003: Opeth – ‘Deliverance’ & ‘Damnation’

Opeth initially wanted to release a double album, the first half ‘Deliverance’ featuring the heavy, death metal influences and the second half ‘Damnation’ showcasing their acoustic tendencies. However, after the record label got their hands on the pair, they were split and released five months apart; ‘Deliverance’ falling in 2002, whilst ‘Damnation’ was released in 2003. I have been slightly naughty in allowing both of them the 2003 award, but I make the rules and hence I can break them!

The pair of albums, which feature similar art work, run to a combined length of 105 minutes and was easily Opeth’s most progressive release yet. ‘Deliverance’ follows a very similar theme to previous albums, featuring crashing drums, death metal screams and superb guitar work. However, it’s the softer ‘Damnation’ which really makes the pair great, opting for a completely metal-free sound. The album makes use of mellotrons and acoustic guitars, producing tracks like ‘Windowpane’ which is reminiscent of 70s progressive rock, which Opeth would later revisit on 2010’s ‘Heritage’. This sound, which for most bands would come across as bland and one dimensional, is fully believable, and is as superior as any other of their efforts.

2004: Coheed & Cambria – ‘In Keeping Secrets Of Silent Earth: 3’

Coheed & Cambria are a band which you either love or hate – there’s not much room for ambivalence here. Putting aside their grand sci-fi story, which provides the backdrop for every song they’ve ever written, the songs on their second full length still stand solidly on their own. ‘In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3’ looses the punk influences and instead draws upon an unusual mix of pop and progressive rock, creating what some critics describe as new prog.

No matter how you want to describe their sound, there is no doubt that each of the eleven songs are incredibly well written, with great guitar riffs, catchy vocals and all the pop sensibilities you wouldn’t necessarily expect with the lyrics “pull the trigger and the nightmare stops.” Beneath all the theatre that Claudio Sanchez provides, bassist Michael Todd and drummer Josh Eppard do an equally good job, producing interesting dynamics and a groove most modern bands fail to achieve.

Thank you for reading, if you enjoyed this blog please like, comment and subscribe to email updates. The previous sections are linked below:

Part One: https://rockatlantic.wordpress.com/2013/09/16/twenty-years-in-music-part-one/

Part Two: https://rockatlantic.wordpress.com/2013/09/17/twenty-years-in-music-part-two/

Twenty Years In Music – Part Two

This is the second installment of a new five part series I will be writing this week. In this series I will be looking back on what I view as my favourite album from every year I have been alive – which usefully is divisible by five!

Whilst yesterday’s four albums had a very progressive theme running through them, today’s pick sees more straight forward rock and metal coming to the fore. I have found myself making some very tough decisions on this list, opting for a few surprise candidates.

1997: Porcupine Tree – ‘Signify’

I made a rule that no band could have more than one slot in this list, however, ‘Signify’ blows its 1998 competition away and hence the rule didn’t last long. This was the first proper Porcupine Tree album made as a complete band and it reaps the rewards because of it. ‘Signify’ is easily Porcupine Tree’s best album when marketing them solely as a prog band, as they manage to turn the often endless jams found on the predecessor, into well executed songs.

‘Signify’ is the coming of age of Wilson, producing an album with no fat and beginning to find more of their own sound. Tracks like ‘Waiting’ and ‘Sever’ are sophisticated, hauntingly beautiful and for lack of a better word, complete. ‘Dark Matter’ is the highlight of the album, featuring a solo worthy enough to match the legendary David Gilmour and lyrics which are eerily relevant: “gun down a school or blow up a car, the media circus will make you a star”.

1998: Godsmack – ‘Godsmack’

I know, I know, it’s an odd choice, I admit that.

Godsmack, for all intents and purposes, are an Alice In Chains tribute act that write their own material. This, their eponymous debut album, alongside successors ‘Awake’ and ‘Faceless’, provides arguably the very best grunge-drenched metal has to offer. In its (and to a certain extent, their) day, tracks like ‘Keep Away’, ‘Moon Baby’ and ‘Bad Religion’ could kick-start any dreary festival crowd. ‘Godsmack’ and its follow ups have never really gone too far astray of my CD player and for that reason it makes it onto the list.

In 1998 Godsmack were far superior to the rest of the nu metal peers that they were lumped in with, offering heavier hitting tracks, a rare maturity when everyone else seemed content with teen angst, interesting song arrangements and great guitar playing influenced heavily by blues.

1999: Nine Inch Nails – ‘The Fragile’

This is the hardest year so far. Slipknot’s debut, Opeth’s brilliant ‘Still Life’ and one of the best concept album’s ever made in Dream Theater’s ‘Scenes From A Memory’.

However, Nine Inch Nails earn their place with the double album ‘The Fragile’. From the screaming guitars of ‘No, You Don’t’ to the hauntingly beautiful ‘La Mer’, this record covers everything Nine Inch Nails are and shows the full musical vision of Trent Reznor. ‘The Fragile’ contains some of my favourite NIN tracks, including the moment when the aptly named ‘The Frail’ runs into the monolithic anthem that is ‘The Wretched’.

2000: Placebo – ‘Black Market Music’

As the years get closer to 2013, the number of albums I own that all came out in the same year vastly increase. A very honorable mention has to go to all the nu metal albums from that year including Deftones, Linkin Park, Mudvayne, Disturbed, Godsmack and Marilyn Manson, as well as other efforts such as Radiohead’s ‘Kid A’ and A Perfect Circle’s ‘Mer De Noms’.

Placebo have been one of my favourite bands for years and perhaps that convinced me of their place on this list. ‘Black Market Music’ shows Placebo at their best, full of drug references, sexual angst and spunk, converted into four minute long, glam-influenced, Bowie-esque rock songs like ‘Taste In Men’, ‘Special K’ and ‘Black Eyed’. Although ‘Black Market Music’ is Placebo’s third album, it’s their first album that finds the right balance of bombastic excess and introverted melancholy, providing a great listening dynamic, forming an album that keeps the listener interested from beginning to end.

Thank you for reading, if you enjoyed this blog please like, comment and subscribe to email updates. Yesterday’s blog can be found at https://rockatlantic.wordpress.com/2013/09/16/twenty-years-in-music-part-one/

Twenty Years In Music – Part One

This week I shall return to the multi-part blog format for a new five part series looking back on my favourite album from every year I have been alive.

It’s been interested to see what I value as making a great record. ‘Replayability’ is definitely a factor, that is to say, how many times can you play it before its no longer interesting. The great albums shouldn’t ever get tiresome and instead should still be revealing their secrets. If an album sounds amazing the first time you listen to it, it will probably get old very quickly.

However I did find not every song on an album has to be great. My entry for 1996 shows this, but somehow the completed package outweighs the odd bad song, whereas there are albums that contain twelve brilliant songs, yet I don’t really rate the album as a whole. This can only come down to viewing the album as one long musical experience, something that is becoming saturated with ability to shuffle through an entire library of songs.

I approached this not knowing which albums and artists I would pick and as a result gave myself the perfect excuse for listening to albums that have been collecting dust. If you ever find yourself with spare time, completing this exercise is definitely worthwhile.

1993: Porcupine Tree – ‘Up The Downstair’

I love Steven Wilson. This is one of his first offerings as a musician, but one of the last of his current discography I actually listened to. In 1993 Porcupine Tree were still emerging from the shadows as a joke band created by Wilson for a laugh, operating primarily as a Wilson solo project. As the first true Porcupine Tree album, it is often overlooked, seen more as a modern tribute to Pink Floyd than an album with its own musical merits.

However, given time, the album reveals itself as a surprisingly mature progressive, almost psychedelic, record. Reaching beyond the prominent and catchy hooks of ‘Synesthesia’ and ‘Always Never’, are groovy instrumentals (‘Up The Downstair’), dreamy soundscapes (‘Fadeaway’) and meandering ten plus minute epics (‘Burning Sky’). This album would prove to be the stepping stone for many more prog classics from a variety of guises and collaborations. I always find myself returning to ‘Up The Downstair’ because I am still hearing new layers and details, which as I mentioned above, is the sign of an album that will never grow old.

1994: Tool – ‘Undertow’

1994 was a hard choice. For me it came down to either Nine Inch Nail’s raw industrial masterpiece ‘The Downward Spiral’ or Tool’s full length debut ‘Undertow’. ‘Undertow’ serves as their most aggressive and probably most accessible album, with heavier guitar playing and focused song writing, giving only small glimpses of the progressive masters they would soon come to be.

This is an album where every track serves up something new and surprisingly still sound as relevant and outrageous today, as they were intended to be nineteen years ago. If ‘Undertow’ was released today, it would still be as successful. Unfortunately Tool have only released three other albums, with a fifth rumoured to be ready next year, a massive eight years after 2006’s ‘10,000 days’.

1995: Smashing Pumpkins – ‘Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness’

‘Mellon Collie…’ is universally considered to be Smashing Pumpkin’s most complete and greatest album. The record is two hours long, taking the listener on a journey through a loose concept representing a timeline of life, day and night and how human’s feel sorrow. Whether the concept comes across is irrelevant though, because through the vast range of musical styles, instrumentation and song writing ingenuity, there is bound to be something you like.

Half of the album features hard rock songs, similar to the previous works, whilst the other half took a direction towards more experimental, psychedelic and often acoustic songs. ‘Mellon Collie’ is the closest The Smashing Pumpkins ever came to making a prog rock album, echoed in frontman Billy Corgan’s own words, describing the album as “‘The Wall’ for Generation X”.

1996: Marilyn Manson – ‘Antichrist Superstar’

‘Antichrist Superstar’ is the album that signaled the arrival of the “God of F***” himself. The first part of Manson’s triptych (followed up with ‘Mechanical Animals’ and ‘Holy Wood’) was a musical statement to the world and produced arguably his most (in)famous song: ‘The Beautiful People’. Other tracks like ‘1996’ and ‘Irresponsible Hate Anthem’ are often overlooked, but can easily be grouped with his best, capturing the raw anger and band dynamics at its prime.

The album isn’t flawless; some of the latter tracks fail to shine, lost beneath the grander vision – completely understandable for a band’s second effort. Despite this, the quality found elsewhere easy eclipses the negatives, to make a record that can still produce shivers and scare overprotective parents, proving why this is one of the staple cuts of metal from the nineties.

‘Antichrist Superstar’ can be played on a loop as the ending ties in with the beginning (just like Dream Theater’s ‘Octavarium’) and elsewhere lyrics and musical ideas appear numerous times in different songs, binding the album together into one long (potentially infinite) musical opus.

Thank you for reading – if you enjoyed this blog please like, comment and subscribe to email updates. Part 2 will be available tomorrow.