10 Albums I dug and dig

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Queens of the Stone Age: Rated R (2001)

Before I knew anything much about music, my older brother George was religiously reading Melody Maker in the early 2000s. Out of the many purchases he made as a result one album caught my attention at the age of 11 or 12.

‘Rated R’ perfectly encapsulates all of Josh and Nick’s strengths as musicians. Their talent for pop hooks within heavy rock, their expansive experimental side, their love of punk, and their keen sense of melody. ‘Rated R’ showcases all of this in its relatively short runtime, a testament to brevity lacking on their bloated follow-ups.

‘Rated R’ was the first album I gave my full attention to, QOTSA was the first rock gig I ever attended in 2003, and I have loved pretty much everything Josh and the gang have produced since, religiously seeking out all their releases and those of his many side projects.

Honourable mentions for much loved albums in that same era include Muse’s ‘Origin of a Symmetry’, and The White Stripes’ ‘White Blood Cells’.

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Rammstein: Mutter (2001)

Nu metal will always be the blight that struck an entire generation down with derivative, annoying, dumbed down music tailor made for middle class teenagers. And I fucking love it. By the time I discovered Rammstein I was well into this phase, with Papa Roach and Linkin Park never leaving my stereo. For a bored thirteen year old, this was the shit. So by the time I discovered ‘Mutter’ I didn’t know what hit me.

‘Mutter’ is not nu metal by any stretch, but its release in the middle of the nu metal era, and the fact that so many of my generation fell in love with Rammstein as a result, is why I have chosen this album to represent this period.

Here was music of almost operatic drama, with heavy yet catchy hooks and danceable grooves, made all the more mysterious by the fact that I had no clue what Till Linderman was singing about. Rather than translate the lyrics I made up stories and ideas based on how the music made me feel. I received a lot of stick at school for being into ‘that gay German band’, and rather than attempt to fit in I started acting up to the weird kid thing more than was probably necessary. Music comforted (and partly caused) the odd teenager years, and as a result has remained a largely solitary pursuit for me.

Honourable mentions for the nu metal era include System of a Down’s ‘Toxicity’, and Mudvayne’s ‘L.D. 50’. Still both fantastic albums.

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Arch Enemy: Anthems of Rebellion (2003)

I came across this album via a free CD with an issue of Kerrang. Let’s be clear, this is a sub-par album from a sub-par melodic death metal outfit, but for metalheads, nothing can replace *that* album you discovered, that changed the way you look at music. Angela Gossow’s vocals made Mudvayne sound tame, Rammstein now seemed annoyingly sluggish by comparison.

By this point I was using the internet as a surrogate mentor for recommendations, allmusic.com being my go-to choice, and I needed to hear more music like this.

This sparked a revolution in my taste. Other purchases quickly followed. Nightwish’s ‘Once’ (people who claim they don’t like Nightwish are either lying or need to listen to more Nightwish), and The Haunted’s self-titled. Special mention goes to Cradle of Filth’s ‘Dusk and Her Embrace’, probably the more beloved album, but discovered later. And lastly Emperor’s ‘Anthems to Welkin at Dusk’, which opened up a whole new world from which there was no going back.

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Incantation: Onward to Golgatha (1992)

Around 2005 I stumbled upon anus.com (American Nihilist Underground Society), a metal reviews website with a lively discussion forum and no shortage of recommendations. This website turned out to be a creepy alt-right platform, touted by some shady characters across the pond, but the music discussion was always uniquely intellectual. Although I discussed music relentlessly with my good friends Rob, Josh, and James, our tastes remained largely distinct at the time, so for recommendations I regularly turned to the anus.com discussion forums.

Listening to Incantation’s ‘Onward to Golgatha’ was the first time I realised I might just dig death metal. Many releases could’ve filled this spot, but I will never forget the shear menace of this album. It didn’t feel aggressive and it wasn’t energetic, it was powerful, cavernous, monolithic.

From here a new love affair began. Immolation’s ‘Close to a World Below’, arguably the superior album, is a stark reminder that the best of death metal owes just as much to jazz and horror film scores as it does to Slayer. Morbid Angel’s ‘Blessed are the Sick’ established death metal as a serious art-form, Atheist’s ‘Unquestionable Presence’ and Asphyx ‘The Rack’ also deserve a mention.

I could listen twenty more important albums off the bat, but this would be redundant for the converted, and meaningless if you’re happy not bothering with death metal. All I will say is don’t underestimate the degree of diversity in this music, often considered highly limited.

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Burzum: Hvis lyset tar oss (1994)

This is pretty much the best piece of music I’ve ever heard. Over the years I’ve written more words about this album than was ever necessary, so I’ll try to be brief. Burzum was the last of the Norwegian greats I set my sites on. You know the drill. Four tracks that work like movements in a symphony. Spacious, atmospheric, rhythmically surprisingly diverse, it also cemented black metal’s connection with ambient music.

This album (and the murder of Euronymous) all but killed the spirit of black metal. It sparked hordes of imitators, bedroom black metal projects, three chord raw black metallers, and hipsters interested in black metal for the underground credibility but forever agonising over the politics and actions of Varg Vikernes. It took nearly twenty years for black metal to regain a spirit immune to the endless online shit flinging, and reassert itself as a legitimate artistic movement.

Again, variation abounds, illustrated by releases as diverse as Darkthrone’s ‘Transylvanian Hunger’, Summoning’s ‘Dol Guldor’ (Tolkein’s sense of the epic in sonic form), Bathory’s ‘Blood Fire Death’, and Rotting Christ’s ‘Thy Mighty Contract’. I could go on, but the converted know where to look, and the unconverted usually want to stay that way.

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Carcass: Reek of Putrefaction (1988)

At 18, I’d heard the term ‘grindcore’ long before I knew what it meant. I knew Carcass were considered grindcore. But all I knew of Carcass was 1993’s ‘Heartwork’, the definitive melodic death metal album. So I went back and purchased their first album, ‘Reek of Putrefaction’, to give it a try, and….oh, oh I see.

Never has the rotting process been so perfectly rendered in sonic form before or since. And the lyrics:

fermentatious perflation hydrogenates your foetal cisterna, coagulating haemorrhage and your congenital hernia, dehydrated soup, crumbling hygroma, pectified sludge, dank acid aroma

This entry is also a shout out to British extreme metal and the whole Earache/Peaceville crowd. A diverse set of bands, but all with albums now much loved by myself. Godflesh’s ‘Streetcleaner’, the first and last word in industrial metal. Napalm Death’s ‘From Enslavement to Obliteration’. Special mention for Bolt Thrower’s ‘…For Victory’, just fantastic death metal, and four of the best gigs I have attended to date.

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Dead Can Dance: Within the Realm of a Dying Sun (1987)

I can go on about metal’s diversity till I’m blue in the face. But metal will always be a significant but insular subculture. Those who love it cannot get enough, others see the appeal, but get their fill from the odd album here and there. For most metalheads it’s the opposite, we can see the appeal of other music, but the odd non-metal album here and there is enough.

This album is here filling in for a set of disconnected artists and releases that have made an impact on me in the ambient/electronic sphere. Here, Dead Can Dance ditched percussion entirely, lacing their ethereal world music with dark ambience and spellbinding vocals. Their darkest album.

I’ve loved pretty much everything this duo has released, both as Dead Can Dance and their solo releases, but other non guitar albums that deserve special mention are Future Sound of London’s ‘Dead Cities’, Tangerine Dream’s ‘Alpha Centauri’, Klaus Schulze’s ‘Timewind’, and VNV Nation’s ‘Empires’.

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Voivod: Dimension Hatross (1988)

Due to the route I took into metal, I largely ignored its origins until my mid-twenties. So I was late in purchasing me some Iron Maidens, some Halford and the Judas Priests, and some of The Slayers. But nothing of this era struck me quite so much as the music of Voivod.

Progressive thrash metal? Psychodelic thrash metal? Sci-fi metal? Dimension Hatross is forty minutes of experimental, progressive, dissonant, downright interesting music by anyone’s standards. The fact that Metallica headlined Glastonbury and remain the acting ‘Legitimate Face of Metal’, whilst albums like ‘Dimension Hatross’ languish in obscurity outside of metal circles is a travesty, and it’s our fault, we let this happen. Because we played ‘Enter Sandman’ on a loop for two decades instead of ‘Tribal Convictions’.

No, not Slayer, not Megadeth, not Anthrax (suck balls), Voivod showed us what thrash metal was really capable of. This album goes out to other classics of eighties extreme metal, including Mercyful Fate’s ‘Don’t Break the Oath’, Sodom’s ‘Persecution Mania’, and Celtic Frost’s ‘To Mega Therion’, all very special albums.

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Fields of the Nephilim: Elizium (1990)

I’ve had a troubled relationship with goth over years. My old friend Rob dragged me kicking and screaming to my first club-night around 2006/7, Dr Fell’s in Basingstoke, later he dragged me to Slimelight, later still he dragged myself and travelling buddy Josh to goth clubs up and down Australia. He dragged me into playing in his goth band. When we moved to Leeds this continued. I approached it with all the ungrateful arrogance that a teenage boy whose figured out the world can muster.

But eventually I accepted that I enjoyed many of these memories. I realised that after all this time it’s thanks to Rob and the goth thang that I know many of my lifelong friends, and have met many fascinating people along the way. I realised that after nearly fifteen years of listening to goth music, playing in two goth bands, attending countless gigs and clubs, that I might owe something to this music. Metal may be my go-to comfort music, but the goth scene (and Rob) forced me out of my shell, and remains a reminder of the value of new experiences.

Fields of the Nephilim’s ‘Elizium’ represents this acceptance. Goth is highly vulnerable to ridicule. When goth fails as art, it fails so spectacularly it’s hilarious. But this weakness, like black metal, is its greatest strength. When the risk of failure is high, committing to the moment is required. Fields of the Nephilim should’ve been ridiculous. But they got away with never winking at their audience, because at their best they produced the most sophisticated variations of goth rock going. This was epic, expansive, atmospheric yet groovy gothic rock at its best.

Honourable mentions must also go to Killing Joke’s first five album, Sisters of Mercy’s ‘First and Last and Always’, and The Cure’s ‘Pornography’.

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Nokturnal Mortum: The Voice of Steel (2009)

This released passed me by at the time. Post 2010 I’d lost my mojo for music to some degree, I spent a few years trying out metal for non-metalheads (Uncle Acid, Electric Wizard, Jex Thoth, Purson), which was fine, but never drew me in to the same degree. Then I heard ‘The Voice of Steel’ in 2016.

Prog, folk-rock, and black metal, all styles threatened by the looming spectre of comedy, with the risk increasing exponentially if you combine all three. But occasionally the stars align, and music of colour, light, and magic is produced. It brings us to life.

Not only did this rekindle my love of extreme metal, but it brought black metal kicking and screaming into the 2010s, dragging it away from the scourge of North American one-man bedroom black metal, and from the random nonsense touted by the likes of Deafheaven and Liturgy, or the floppily bland affairs of post black metal.

Extreme metal at its best is music of intricate composition, execution, creativity, patience, and talent. At its worst it’s a free for all for liberal art students with their blogs* and endless demo tapes.

Honourable mentions for artists fighting the good fight are A Forest of Stars (their entire back catalogue really), The Ruins of Beverast’s ‘Exuvia’ (thanks Charlie), Saor’s ‘Guardians’, and Zemial’s ‘Nykta’ (Celtic Frost meets King Crimson).

*Yep

Like everyone producing these lists I’ve had to be brutal with what gets cut, even by cheating with honourable mentions. There are many albums arguably better than these ten, but these are the records that made me. Thanks for reading.

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