‘All those beautiful people/I want to have them/I want to have them all’
‘All those beautiful people/I want to have them/I want to have them all’
”’I want to hunt with the tameless heart/I want to learn the wisdom of mountains afar’
Sacrament Of Wilderness
‘Lust is not as creative/As its discovery’
She Is My Sin
Yes! Back thanks to an almost universal lack of demand, I stretch back the scalp of time and feast upon the mushy innards of the past – in this instance I return to the UK music charts. If you’re interested, you can read my original post here – https://carlosnightman.wordpress.com/2015/10/22/the-uk-top-40/
Greetings, Glancers! Once more we torture ourselves by listening to what passes for music in the hearts, minds, and ears of the great unwashed. Today we go back to a year you should all remember well, because it was only five years ago. In 2011 the world was still in the grip of talentless shows, celeb shows – basically not too different from today in that almost every form of popular media which receives any sort of exposure was glossy, bland, and sexualised to the point that we all wished we could be celibate. I mean, just look at the top 10 below, just look. You don’t need to listen at all, I… I wouldn’t do that to you. But what else was happening? The Arab Spring, the March 11th Tsunami, Occupy Wall Street, William and Kate’s Wedding – all horrific events, so it was no wonder everyone was excited when we found evidence of water on Mars; it’s time to get off this rock! Oh yeah, Bin Laden was killed too.
In the music world, Amy Winehouse, Bert Jansch, Gary Moore, Mike Starr and others died. Adele released her horrible second album, a bunch of people you’ve already forgotten won Brit Awards, Lady Gaga did something, Jeff Hanneman was almost killed by a spider, and Nightwish released both a new album and a tie in movie. Help me out here… did anything else happen? No? Okay then, lets get through this as quickly as possible.
I don’t think I’ve actually heard this entire song before, but I know the chorus as it is played EVERYWHERE ALL THE TIME. It’s a pity Rihanna screeches so badly out of her nose because some of her songs are okay. Terrible speaking. Isn’t this the one where the video was filmed 10 minutes from my parent’s house? So the verse is pretty much the same as the chorus, but with different words. Meh.
2: Maroon 5: Moves Like Jagger.
An absolute travesty. Like injecting shards of glass into your eyeballs and having a badger pull them out. I ain’t linking this.
3: Gym Class Heroes: Stereo Hearts.
I don’t know what this is. High pitched accent disaster. Words. It’s pretty tame. It’s pretty crap. I can imagine plenty singing along to it. Possibly swaying their arms. NEXT!
4: Christina Perri: Jar Of Hearts.
I don’t know who this is. Talky sing. Yes, I’ve heard the chorus. Doesn’t it rip off that Beyonce Halo song? It feels emotional. The bridge isn’t great. PRAMISAYIZ? Promises? Halo-eeo-ooh!
5: LMFAO: Sexy And I Know It.
See number 2. But with a rabid tramp replacing the badger.
6: Matt Cardle: Run For Your Life.
Remember him? Poor Matt. A winner cursed by a win. I’ve never heard this. The verse at least tries something unusual with it’s stoppy, starty beat, but the chorus then turns to X Factor white bread shite.
7: Charlene Soraia: Wherever You Will Go.
Who? Never heard of you. Can’t hear the music. Oh right, I think I’ve head this. Yeah, another one which is used annoyingly on TV ads. Not much to it. Verses too faint, chorus too overplayed. NEXT!
Who? Never heard of ye. Oh here we go. Terrible. NEXT!
Another one from this ginger twat. Sullying the good name of the A Team. You’re not Damien Rice. You’re not even chicken curry. That fecking accent. NEXT!
10: One Direction: What Makes You Beautiful
What a mess. Cleanse yourself with these messages from our alternate sponsor:
That’s about it really. We did also get albums from Kate Bush, Radiohead, Chili Peppers, and many more, but I’m just not as familiar with them to pick something great, and without resorting to the bands above I can’t choose anything else. Let me know what else was good in 2011 – there must have been something!?
Hi again, music fans! It’s time for me to share my never-to-be-read list of songs from another of my favourite bands. This time around, it’s Nightwish!
Nightwish, for those who don’t know, are a Metal Band from Finland
As Metal is such a wacky, all-encompassing genre, Nightwish can roughly be put in the Progressive/Power/Fantasy/Orchestral metal camp, although there are elements of Thrash in there too, obviously. In their earliest days they experimented with indigenous instruments and incorporated a folk sound to their songs, the lyrics dealing with fantasy elements and typical light metal fare. With their next few albums their sound became more straight-forwards and streamlined – basically very past, heavy Power metal, dropping the unique instruments, and focussed instead on honing their songwriting skills, and moving towards songs of greater scope. As they reached their peak of popularity, they merged these Power elements with epic orchestral backing, while retaining catchy hooks and the special talents of their Opera-trained vocalist Tarja. After a much publicized incident, Tarja was dropped from the band, but rather than seeing the scope of the band’s ideas slim, the band continued to grow even more epic, with large, long, winding songs covering a multitude of tones and time signatures. While many fans have fallen away, the band is still immensely popular, and remains one of the first and finest female fronted Metal Bands of all time.
Know Why The Nightingale Sings: We start at the beginning, with a song from their much maligned debut. With Tuomas adding his – ahem – vocals on the album, and with some folk flare and local instruments employed, this is certainly the most unusual sounding Nightwish album, but many of the songs are throwaway, and those male vocals are awful. Even Tarja doesn’t sounds great in places. They did prove however, with a number of the tracks, that they had clear songwriting quality, and Know Why The Nightingale Sings is one of those. In many ways it sounds like a later Nightwish track, with its thunderous opener, and interesting dynamics in speed and tone. There are still some cringeworthy moments, like all that weird moaning and screaming, and the lyrics are a little too cheesy for comfort, but there is enough here that it is still enjoyable, and a sign of what was to come.
Angel Fall First: A gentle acoustic opening with dueling guitars and growing synths, and a drum laden synth heavy finish, with all manner of flutey goodness within. While not exactly an epic, it is Nightwish experimenting with sound and scope, not simply going for the typical verse chorus verse approach.
Astral Romance: One of the heavier, more melodic tracks on the album, this starts with what sounds more like an ending. Unfortunately it does suffer from that classic Nightwish trope of having a spoken word piece, as well as some dreadful male vocals, but once the song gets going it’s pretty good stuff. Again, they avoid a simple structural approach with a bunch of verses, followed by that awful male vocal section, followed by a largely instrumental finish. It does end with some harpsichord weirdness, and a truly glorious set of guitar solos, so it’s a win all round.
Imaginaerum: For a while now, Nightwish have been offering instrumental versions of each of their songs on special editions of albums, and last release Imaginearum was no different. This time round, the band included this title track as part of the actual album – an instrumental suite featuring pieces from every track on the album. Surprisingly it works quite well; it takes the best pieces from each track, merges them together well as a single suite, and makes slight modifications to each. For an album as dense as this, there are moments which miss the mark, but the title track manages to capture the tone and most of the major ideas on display.
Storytime: The lead single to the new album needed to give the fans something to look forward to, and in most respects it doesn’t disappoint. It is fast, catchy, and has that unique Nightwish sound. As the album can also be listened to as a concept album, following the film which would be released later, this track (as with all on the album) tries to work on a number of levels. As a song, it’s a good effort, giving the band free rein to let their commercial side loose, but as a concept it (and the album) doesn’t always work as well as the band would have hoped for.
Bye Bye Beautiful: Dark Passion Play is an album full of pain, anger, and guilt. The much publicized firing of previous singer and friend Tarja caused ripples amongst the band, the fans, and the metal community, with many wondering how the band could continue. A number of songs on the album talk about this, and Bye Bye Beautiful acts as an anguished love letter to Tarja. Giving Marco the most emotional lines in the bridge and chorus was a masterstroke, while new singer Anette Olson gets to give the verses a more melodic, commercial flavour. It may be quite poppy, it’s never less than cutting and disturbingly frank.
Amaranth: The first single from Dark Passion Play was a huge success – the cynical may say that much of that success came from the fact that everyone familiar with the band simply wanted to hear this new singer. Many were disappointed, but most fans realized that the band was more than one single person, and deserved to continue, progress, and change. Most importantly, it’s another strong Nightwish single with a great chorus. Anette clearly has a completely different style from Tarja, and though her voice tends towards the more commercial, the material that the band wrote with her was arguably their darkest yet, but in tone and sound. Anette also brings her own necessary theatrical flare to proceedings.
Feel For You: One of the shortest tracks on Century Child at under 4 minutes means that this one needs to be punchy and immediately catchy. Opening with a sinister bass riff, it quickly opens into a theatrical metal ballad. Another duet, fitting with much of the rest of the album, both male and female vocals work well to tell a twisted tale of love, but it is the effortless melding of melodies throughout, along with a wonderfully constructed atmosphere, which mark this as another classic on arguably their best record.
End Of All Hope: The weakest of the opening trio from Century Child, End Of All Hope is still a great song, blending in well with the two tracks with hug it. It’s pretty heavy, with a number of thunderous riffs and machine gun Metallica style attacks. As with almost all the tracks on the album, the verses are just as strong as the chorus, meaning the listener wants to return repeatedly to the song, not just for repeated listens, but to find all those little moments which are easily missed. There are a lot of ideas and musical shifts packed into a few minutes, a sign of a band on top of their songwriting craft, and brimming with confidence, even if the name of the song betrays that fact.
Bare Grace Misery: Wishmaster may be the band’s most straightforward metal album, with each song aiming for the throat and ears with venom precision. There is nothing complex about this track, it’s simply a driving, melodic, metal piece, but it has plenty of catchy moments, it avoids most of the cheesy pitfalls which other tracks on the album suffer from, and it manages to have a suitably operatic and fantastical sound to give that quintessential Nightwish vibe.
Wanderlust: As above, Wanderlust is a shot of simple, melodic metal straight to the vein. Opening with an interesting, fast paced guitar and piano dual solo battle, Tarja spits out the verse lyrics quickly, before taking a short breather in the bridge. The chorus is one of the most interesting and unique in the Nightwish canon, ascending and descending through scales rapidly. We even get time for a middle section which sounds completely at odds to the rest of the song – one a good day it sounds fine, one a bad day it sounds jarring – in all likelihood the song could have done without it, but it’s quickly forgotten while the rest of the song while stay in your head.
The Forever Moments: One of the earliest demos from the band, it’s a surprisingly mature effort. Musically, the Nightwish style is there for all to hear, although the lyrics are typical fairytale cheese. It’s a slow, sleepy number, with gentle piano and soft guitars, and Tarja blasting out the vocals showing her amazing talent. It’s pretty far from metal – there are no drums or bass, but it does weave through various parts, some of which do not work as well as others, but for the most part it all comes together as some unusual folk piece. That is, until the final minute or so when it threatens to become a new Final Countdown with a surging synth section, before breaking down into a tearful piano climax. Even in their demo, the band were showing that they weren’t afraid of pushing boundaries.
Nightwish: Another demo, this time firmly in the metal, theatrical camp, without ever becoming heavy or bombastic. Opening with whirling, wind noises, and synth, we get gorgeous acoustic guitars growing and building before Tarja comes in. It sounds a lot like many of the tracks on their debut album, and indeed is a stronger effort than some. Ideas from this one are clearly taken and used in later tracks, but it’s still a fine song on its own, and once again shows an ambitious young band unafraid to plough their own track. It does however, like many other early tracks, suffer from a terrible spoken piece, although it isn’t as cringeworthy as what comes on Angels Falls First.
Gethsemene: The second track from the second album continues the heavier sound introduced on the opening song, and builds upon it with adding layers of guitar and piano riffs and the now familiar shifts in style. The verses are not the strongest on the album, but the chorus is strong, and the middle section is an effective head banging couple of minutes, cementing their metal credentials. The final couple of minutes are the most effective, featuring many mini melodic phrases, moving far away from the first half of the track, and ending with a fantastic guitar solo.
Stargazers: The opening track of the second album, is one which opens with clear, immediate purpose; within a few seconds it is clear that the band’s sound has changed and is now firmly in the metal genre. The machine gun synth and drum attack is both melodic and heavy, and when the synth riff, then guitar riff follow it, we know that the band has forged a sound all of their own – yes, they are playing melodic metal music, but they haven’t abandoned what made the debut charming. The songwriting is improved, much of the cheese has been left behind, and although the band have streamlined their approach from an instrumental approach, it’s obvious that the sound is bigger than before, and the ideas are now beginning to shine through with glee. As was becoming common, the song doesn’t have a simple structure, but instead bounces around the expected formulas, while adding twists in timing and expectation – one moment it is fast paced and guitar and drum driven, two seconds later the sound is pulled back for a forlorn flute-led section. And it isn’t a gimmick – it’s crafted by a writer at the top of his game.
Lappi: What is actually a 4 track piece, Lappi can also be considered a single track, as I am doing here. It is the most ambitious effort on the album, and although the 4 pieces each have their own individuality, they work best as a whole. Opening with sad acoustic guitars, Tarja sings in Finnish briefly, before the piece entitle Witchdrums takes over. There is an otherwordly feel throughout, as if witnessing the singer travelling on some perilous quest. This Moment Is Eternity is a wonderful track on its own, while still working well in the context of the larger piece, free from the normal expectations of a 3 minute track it manages to cover a lot of ground while remaining emotional, catchy, and unique. The final piece returns to the acoustic leanings of the opening section, and serves as a nice bridge to the album’s closer.
10th Man Down: Taken from the Over The Hills And Far Away EP, this song packs a definite punch, sounding like the bridge between the metal of Wishmaster and the more operatic Century Child. The verses have a sinister atmosphere, while the chorus is a memorable one – both instantly catchy and unusual. There’s even room for a couple of silly spoken pieces, some sort of growling about war, but even those don’t take too much away from the quality, though clearly the song could have done without them.
Turn Loose The Mermaids: Not quite Turn Loose The Swans, but still one of the better songs on Imaginaerum. A ballad that manages to avoid many of cheesy traps that other metal ballads can fall into, this is another deftly crafted piece which grows with each passing minute, starting off fairly quietly, gradually becoming like something from a Leone Western after the halfway point. Anette is unfairly berated by many fans, but it is on these songs where she truly shines, moving from gentle, luscious lows, to sudden emotive highs.
Slow, Love, Slow: An unusual song in the Nightwish book of songs, this one has elements of Jazz and feels like a sultry siren call from a forgotten 1940s Film Noir. Once again, Anette takes full control of the track and it would be hard to see anyone else singing it and crafting such a seedy, smokey atmosphere. I admit that the first time I heard this song on my first listen through of the album I thought the band had completely lost it; after the album had finished though, this the song I couldn’t get out of my head, and it has since continued to grow on me. There isn’t really another Nightwish song which sounds anything like it, even when the typical Nightwish guitar blast and choir backing comes in towards the end – it’s a fleeting, chaotic moment, but suits the song’s finale.
Two For Tragedy: One of several ballads on Wishmaster, this one could be the most emotional, featuring heartbreaking lyrics delivered with Tarja’s special operatic style. She seems to be yawning with each line – not out of boredom, but to evoke the feelings of exhaustion one goes through when suffering loss. Mostly free of guitars, the solo is shocking when it comes, like the pulling of hair.
Deep Silent Complete: This one opens like a ballad, with its soft, fawning vocal intro, before one of the best shredding riffs the band have written comes in. That melody is repeated on guitar and vocals throughout but never gets tiresome. It’s another song without a chorus, relying instead on that melodic refrain and the pace of the verses to carry it through. A fairly straightforward song by the band, but all the more effective in its simplicity.
Swanheart: Arguably the band’s most cheese-filled effort, I can’t help but enjoy it. As if the title wasn’t enough to make you run for the hills, the beautiful and sobbing flute/piano intro likely will. But there’s a reason Nightwish have such rabid fans, and those fans I’m sure enjoy this song just as much as I do. Really, it’s an extraordinarily well crafted song – yes it deliberately tries to tug at the heart-strings, and yes when the drums pop in halfway through it feels like a lost 80s power anthem, but the melodies are perfect, Tarja’s voice is epic, the lyrics are pretty good, and that guitar solo is exquisite.
Away: It seems like I’m going through quite a few ballads here, but then I’ve always been a sucker for ’em. This one from the OTHAFA EP is another strong one, with that mystical, fantasy feel the band were so good at. This one is all about the chorus, big, bold, memorable, and one you can see thousands of fans swaying to. The verses are strong too, but fairly short and musically uneventful and easy to miss, but without their subtlety the bombast of the chorus may not have the same impact.
Master Passion Greed: This is most certainly not a ballad. In fact, this one is likely the most metal, most vicious song the band have written yet. It’s target it the man they feel stole Tarja from the band, and they aren’t afraid to make that obvious, or their feelings towards them. Opening with a pretty dark riff, this soon gives way to million mile an hour thrash. Marco gets the lead vocal here, with not the faintest sign of female vocals in stark contrast to everything else the band has done – it isn’t subtle or clever, but it is raw, angry, emotional, fast, and heavy. The ‘seek her, seduce her, tame her’ section is memorable, the vocals are guttural and filled with rage – it’s not a song they’re likely to play live too often.
Sacrament Of Wilderness: A staple of live shows for many years, this one seems to have fallen by the wayside a little. With a leading keyboard intro, and an abundance of riffs, ideas, and melodies, it has some of the best verses and choruses which are suitably strong when performed live. It even has a weird keyboard solo played at alarming speeds, and some squealing guitar parts which are sure to upset many an ear.
Taikatalvi: An album opener can do many things; catch the listener’s attention, introduce many of the musical and lyrical themes of the album, and ensure the listener that parting with their cash was a good idea. When you are famous for being a female fronted metal band, it’s a bold choice to open your album with a twisted, folksy introductory piece with male vocals. Thankfully though it works, and immediately grabs your attention – have the band gone for some extreme change? What are these Finnish lyrics about? What is the backing orchestra building up to? It’s one of the strongest tracks on the album, and it could be argued that much of the album doesn’t live up to the beginning.
The Crow, The Owl, And The Dove: Another acoustic opener proves that it’s the softer, more straightforward songs which make the greatest impact on Imaginearum. A simple story, a duet with a wonderful chorus, a bunch of catchy moments squished into a 4 minute space in an otherwise overpopulated record.
Rest Calm: A dark pseudo-ballad, this starts with a doom-laden pace and atmosphere. The song picks up pace, and is ostensibly another duet with Marco taking the verses and Anette blasting out the chorus. This never feels like a 7 minute song, with both verse and chorus melodies being honey to the ears, and all the pieces in between never feeling like filler. It’s the best song on the album, one where the light and dark, the heavy and soft play off each other perfectly, it never becomes too cluttered, and even the children’s choir doesn’t spoil proceedings or feel like a gimmick.
Bless The Child: The opening track to the band’s best album is unsurprisingly one of their best openers, and it does that even with having two (count em) spoken sections. Yes, those moments are pretty annoying, but the rest of the song is epic, from the blasting drums, to the chattering over the top operatic synth, to the wonderful melodies. And look, the lyrics are pretty great too! This is another change in sound for the band, a much darker tone, a more theatrical style while cutting away most of the cheesy theatrics of the past. The Byron influence is clear on this track and throughout the album, as the band tries to tell a more coherent, darkly comic story, and the sound is fuller than ever, whether that be the production or simply a trick of the music.
Dead To The World: The final part of Century Child’s opening trilogy is arguably the best part. With male and female vocals being equally strong, with brilliant verse melodies, with nods to other songs and ideas on the album, and with lyrical nods to past great works of fiction, it’s another supremely crafted piece. The chorus, if that’s what it is, is another winner, one good enough to be repeated as the songs closing moments. It’s always surprising that this song is just over 4 minutes long, with the amount of structural changes it ploughs throw, and it’s another which is endlessly listenable.
Slaying The Dreamer: One of the heaviest tracks the band has written so far, and certainly the most metal moment on Century Child, this is one I would frequently throw into set lists when I was DJing at metal venues. It isn’t the most complex song, but is packed with riffs, and does still go through at least one large structural shift towards the end. The first section of the song has a wonderfully dark atmosphere, a vampiric love song with the catchy melodies you would expect, and there is an unusual miniature guitar solo. The last section is a gnashing of teeth, filled with wailing, glorious Pantera style head banging riffs and percussion, and more madness than a gerbil inside another gerbil. But not like that.
She Is My Sin: We’re getting into the upper-echelons of the Nightwish catalogue now, and this one is another effective opener. Once again it lets the listener know what is in store – the band have ditched a lot of the instrumental complexity of previous works, and are going for a more streamlined melodic metal approach. We can expect big, fast riffs, and stadium crushing anthemic choruses. It’s a fast paced, immediately impactful first track, and although the structure is basic, there are enough dynamics and memorable moments to keep you coming back for just one more listen.
Creek Mary’s Blood: Another song which doesn’t really sound like anything else the band have done, this one takes an idea, some may say a gimmick, and builds it into something epic and classy. There’s a strong case for this being the band’s best song, with excellent lyrics, wonderful musicianship, and a reverence and respect to the subject matter. Covering Native American history, it is another example of how truly gifted a songwriter Tuomas is. Beginning softly with Native American vocals and instruments, the songs does eventually turn into a rock anthem, but it’s a deft and gradual process, one which pays off the listener, and demands a thorough listen. It’s another dense track, with the perfect orchestral accompaniment, and naturally the melodies, as I always go on about, are powerful and will stick like glue.
Higher Than Hope: The final song from the album Once is a somber one, a song dealing with dying, grief, hope, in one dark, pretty package. It’s an apt closing song, one with all the huge backing instrumentation which punctuates the album, a massive chorus, soft and smooth verses, and strong lyrics inspired by the life and death of one of the band’s fans.
7 Days To The Wolves: Now, I love Stephen King, I love The Dark Tower, and I love Nightwish. Put em all together, and you get this epic. Based off King’s Wolves Of The Calla it is another weaving song which seems fairly straightforward for the first few minutes. Those opening minutes are good enough on their own, with strong verse chorus combos, but around the 3 minute mark the galloping begins and fans of the book can just see the Ka-Tet fighting back against the Wolves. This fast paced instrumental section has all the hallmarks of Tuomas’ love for movie music, although this time around he is clearly trying to create his own soundtrack to a movie not yet made. The song continues for another couple of minutes of thrashing and mayhem for a breathless finish.
The Poet And The Pendulum: It isn’t easy to review the really long songs without breaking them down into individual sections, and as any readers will no doubt agree, I’m pretty bad at reviewing the shorter songs anyway. At almost 14 minutes long, this is certainly a beast, and as an opener to an album it’s another bold choice, forcing the listener to invest in a large undertaking from the second they hit play. Thankfully, it’s fucking epic in every way, even the cheesy stuff like creepy little children singing. A longish instrumental introduction makes way for some standard verse chorus stuff, all with wonderful music, a huge production with sounds coming from everywhere, and of course those catchy melodies. It all sounds like it cost a hell of a lot of money, but it’s worth every penny. We are then treated to a long section with creepy children singing, some dubious lyrics, some brilliant lyrics, and some weird nightmarish noises before it all explodes in a deafening orchestral ogre of madness. This middle section is fantastic, with ideas spat out at a hundred miles per hour, changes in timing and tone, metal and classical merging together beautifully, before a sudden return to the choruses from before. And just when we think it is over, we get another few minutes of breathtaking beauty courtesy of Anette, a piece which conceivably is a separate song but is added on to the overall 14 minutes regardless. The orchestral, no vocals version of this is extraordinary too.
Kuolema Tekee Taiteilijan: A song entirely in Finnish is still one which I love to try to sing along too, even though I have no idea what it’s about. The penultimate song from Once it helps to set the sombre tone for the close of the album. It sounds like this song would have been perfect for one of the LOTR films too. A gentle, and less densely orchestrated song than most on the album, it is essentially a Tarja solo effort, supported by a sweeping string section. It’s all so beautiful, sad, yet oddly hopeful, you’ll find yourself making up English lyrics which kind of sound like the Finnish, such as ‘woman tied up in her room, under mirror, bastard moon’ and ‘Oh Annie, looks sexy – under minions too looks sexy minxy’. Or maybe it’s better not doing that.
Wish I Had An Angel: One of the band’s most successful songs, managing to break in the US as well as all over Europe and Asia, this one obviously sees them at their most commercial and capitalizing on the unusual success of Evanescence. It’s just heavy enough to still be considered metal, yet bridges that commercial gap which gives all the biggest metal bands their biggest successes. Fast paced, angry, and with powerful melodies throughout, it once again showcases the songwriting skills of the band during their most collaborative period.
Forever Yours: As already mentioned, the greatest strength of the ballads on Century Child, is that they abandon the cheese of previous efforts and are instead genuinely heartfelt, dark, honest, and filled with broken yearning. This one is no different, sounding at once brutally emotional, crestfallen, and exhausted. It’s a short one too, and one which almost seems to end too soon. The guitars are rarely more than a background hiss, instead given Tarja room to shine along with a tremendous string and woodwind backing.
Dark Chest Of Wonders: For years now, the opening track of their live shows, this opening to Once is immediately powerful and breathless. Probably the best opening track of their career so far it works on many levels, giving the suitable thematic and musical introductions to the album, showcasing the massive choir and orchestra backing, and the peak of their merging of darkness and commercial viability. It’s also filled with crushing head banging moments, change of pace, overlapping melodies, an abundance of ideas, and a huge chorus.
Eva: The central ballad from Dark Passion Play is tender, gorgeous, and one of Anette’s finest vocal moments. A sad tale, the lyrics are filled with wonder and sadness and work extremely well with the music. As expected at this point, the backing and production are top-notch, but take all the extras away and you’d still be left with an excellent vocal performance and melodies which will linger long after the song has ended.
Meadows Of Heaven: Dark Passion Play’s closer could ostensibly be seen as a ballad, but it’s so much more, a mini epic tour of Tuomas’ psyche, a conclusion to the story and ideas presented throughout the album, endlessly cinematic, endlessly glorious. Opening softly with only piano and violin accompanying Anette’s (again brilliant) vocals, we soar through sumptuous melodies before the song’s powerful middle section. Tears are destined to be shed, and you can imagine this being the end credits song to some movie epic set in ye olde ancient times. Unusually, the ending sees a range of different singers adding their voices to the mix, making for a cacophony of voices heading to the afterlife, and unleashing a torrent of emotion as they pass on.
For The Heart I Once Had: I’ll probably get a lot of stick for this, as it will be seen by many as pure cheese, but I can’t help but love that guitar riff, and the combination of wonderful melodies and pace. An underrated song for sure, in my mind at least, this deserves to be seen with th best of the band’s ballads. It’s a simple song without all of the backing or complex structure of most of the other songs of this point in their career, a short one-two verse chorus punch with all the poptastic fun you would never expect.
Ocean Soul: An atmospheric, fantasy style opening, with hooded men with heads bowed (presumably) providing backing into vocals, this pumping rocker merges Tarja’s theatrical sensibilities with some of the best verse melodies, and one of the best choruses the band have yet produced. Fitting in with the overall dark tone of the album, the lyrics are dusted and beaten, the music operatic, thunderous, and with moments of quiet introversion.
Ever Dream: More than simply a practice run for Nemo, this piano and synth led fast paced rock song hits all of the commercial notes dead on, yet keeps the operatic metal approach the band are renowned for. There’s another absolute beast of a chorus with a coda of male vocals, punchy verses with equally strong melodies, and of course a middle piece which adds the extra spark and ties everything together. There’s even a waving, quick solo and explosive finish with the big backing we all know and love.
Come Cover Me: We’re into the top five now, and while at least 3-4 of my picks will be similar to what many other fans would select, I don’t expect that number five itself would feature on many best ofs. I can’t say why though, as it’s Wishmaster’s best song, another beautiful cross between mid-paced metal and ballad, with that odd fantasy feel which features prominently on the album. With a great leading riff, charging backing chords, and lots of twiddly guitar stuff going on, there’s enough to please the headbanger within, while the verse melodies are floating and ultimately as catchy as the band’s most famous work. The chorus though (without sounding like a broken record) is another classic, echoing the lead riff, but expanding upon it. The song is well structured, but again doesn’t have any real complexity. Everyone is at the top of their game, and the song is all the more powerful due to the fact that is isn’t overly popular, but I guarantee that the chorus will stick with you, and return to your mind when you least expect it.
Sleeping Sun: Up until the release of Once, this was arguably the band’s most famous and celebrated song. Guess what – it’s another ballad. In many ways it’s the archetypal song of the Tarja period, merging fantasy, metal, melody and those operatic vocals. It does veer awfully close to being a cheese-fest, but the ethereal nature of the music, Tarja’s unique performance, and the honest, poetic lyrics should be enough to satisfy even the hardest heart. For much of the song, the guitars and metal influence takes a backseat, letting Tarja and the arrangement shine. It’s a lighters in the air, crowd-pleasing tear-jerker, evocative, mysterious, beautifully realised, and with a storming mini solo towards the end. Again, the power is in its simplicity, and even though the band have gone on to much greater success, it remains one of their most popular, and best songs.
Nemo: Tuomas frequently states that he is much more comfortable turning his ideas and stories into dense, long, epic songs, but few would argue the fact that he has a knack for creating shorter, more simple songs. With Nemo, the band entered the stratosphere, being one of the few Euro metal bands to break out of their native land and make it BIG all over the world, conquering the US and UK (for a time at least). It’s an instant classic, coming at the perfect time for the band, just as metal was enjoying a surge in popularity throughout the Western World, but even without the timing, without the big budget video, you know it’s a hit as soon as the piano riff starts. Simply constructed, yet keeping much of the big backing from the rest of the album, the song is fast, gothic, melodic, and features probably the best verse and chorus combination they have written so far. Lyrically strong, it takes one of the stories of Odysseus and gives it a modern, darkly romantic, philosophical flavour, while making sure all those Nightwish trademarks are present – driving pace, atmospheric synth, vocal perfection, and plenty of guitars!
Beauty Of The Beast: And so we end the list with not one, but two epics – what the band has been getting better and better at since their first album. The closing song of Century Child, an album where most of the songs are around the 4 minute mark, passes 10 minutes, and even though there is some annoying speaking pieces, they suit the song and the album perfectly, mirroring what the song is about, and harking back to the opening of the album. Probably their first true masterpiece, and first real vision of what Tuomas wants his epics to sound like, it is a song split into distinct parts, all of which flow together to make a whole which is both daunting and eternally impressive. Calling back to many of the lyrics already spoken throughout the album, it is the culmination of the record, and of years of building and honing songwriting ability. With a massive backing production, the first phase is epic enough, even though it follows a fairly standard pattern. The song soon shifts, the story continues, and jaws are suitably dropped. The song movies from a slow pace, to a sudden surge with galloping, frenetic drumming and guitars, the song threatens to fall apart in a hail of chaos, before it is all brought back with a grin – Tuomas has us all in his grip, and is loving the power he has over us. Although the ending would have been stronger had someone else read the words, it’s a fine conclusion to one of the most stunning achievements of the genre.
Ghost Love Score: The only song which could top my number two, is of course this one; one which likely tops the chart of most fans’ best Nightwish songs. Awe-inspiring with every listen, no matter how many times I hear it, it never ceases to amaze, being not only the best song the band has written, but quite simply the best song of the decade. It’s always amusing to see all the best of lists at the end of a decade written by more mainstream critics, as this is never mentioned anywhere, but in all honesty nothing else comes close. Even though Once does appear on my list of the decade’s best 15 albums, I can understand why music critics, and even metal critics would not feature the album, but to not mention Ghost Love Score is an embarrassment, a tragedy, and (if the critics are aware of the song) a complete falsehood. If there was any doubt over the ability of Tuomas – play this song. If there was ever any doubt over metal’s ability to be complex and clever, play this song. Deserving to be mentioned in the same breath as any classic piece of classical music from past centuries, deserving of being mentioned as one of the best songs ever written, this is the crowning achievement of a band which continues to impress and challenge with their scope and efforts. I could break down the song, badly, I could mention how the guitar solo, one of the most simple ever written, is also one of my favourites, I could go on about the million different ephemeral ideas , but the best service I can do is to simply tell you to listen to it. I can only imagine that only Nightwish fans will be reading this, but if anyone out there hasn’t heard of the band, or if this song, set aside 10 minutes, put on some headphones, and let yourself be carried away to a place where only Gods live – surely mere humans cannot create such beauty.
There you have it, another oddly numbered list of great songs by a person with ears. What do you think? Drop some words below, feel free to add any songs you feel I’ve missed and let us know your own favourites.
The Music: Welcome To The North: 2004:
While the (awfully named) Naughties had some terrifyingly bad guitar/rock band trends a miniscule handful appeared to give some respite from the overall stagnance. The decade for music as a whole (at least in Britain and North America) was led by generic R’n’B acts, and bland, MOR reality stars. The decade saw such terrible trends as the angular guitar monotone nonsense started by The Strokes; a rise in lyrically worthless, chorus led British drival such as Franz Ferdinand and The Kaiser Chiefs; Energetic but substanceless groups more interested in how many articles they had written about themselves in Heat rather than their music such as The Arctic Monkeys and The Killers; The less said about Pete Doherty the better. Disenchanted rock fans began the fruitful search though other genres, other countries, and other times to find something worth listening to, many unaware that the (by far) best album of the decade in any country or genre was right on their doorstep.
The Music had a couple of years earlier an average amount of commercial success with their self titled debut, a mix of funk, disco, and Zeppelin-esque riffs. They were full of life, had a very strong vocalist, and a host of talented musicians, with an ear for a catchy melody to top it off. Welcome To The North was released fairly unceremoniously with some good reviews by the ‘Big Magazines’ and a couple of chart scraping singles. Listening to the album as a whole, any of the 11 tracks could have been a top ten hit with a more musically savvy audience other than the British public. From the opening strains of the title track which could easily grace any club in the land, to the high speed Cessation, from the high emotion of Guide, to the perfection of album closer Open Your Mind, Welcome To The North is a classic in every conceivable way. Like Revolver, like Thriller, like The Bends, it is a genre bending record fuelled by a pure love for music and features something for everyone. Robert Harvey’s vocals soar, his lyrics emotive but hardly anything new, but it is the intertwining melodies, the coherence, the invention, which makes the album truly special. Rather than reading this, go buy it, go listen to it. Perhaps this will be recognized for its genius in the future- it is up to you to make sure it isn’t forgotton under a dark cloud of unoriginality.
The Gathering: Sleepy Buildings: 2004
As with all of these top 15 albums, if you want further exciting information go to the Music Reviews section where hopefully at some point there will be an in depth review of each. The Gathering released several good albums during the decade- every album is a big change with this band, though in this decade they endured their biggest change to date- their singer and figurehead leaving. Before that happened though they had finetuned their latest sound- minimalist rock with progressive influences. Between studio albums they released this recording of their recent semi acoustic live shows, and with it unleashed one of the greatest live albums ever recorded. They trawl through their back catalogue playing some of their biggest songs in an almost acoustic fashion. That isn’t too extraordinary- MTV Unplugged had been doing it for years. The difference is that many of the songs on show here were originally effects laden behemoths filled with a multitude of instruments and more often than not, played loud and heavy. For the group to adapt these into a soft, intimate setting is a triumph- for some of the songs to be changed beyond recognition and still be so good is a talent almost unheard of.
There are many stand out moments and songs, each member showing their abilities and passion. Anneke Van Giersbergen (who millions unfortunately have not and may not ever hear) is one of THE great vocalists and on Sleepy Buildings she puts her entire array of skills on display flawlessly. While the guitars understandably take a background seat, the drumming and pianos fill the void. For beautiful, haunting, shadow filled music you can do no better than The Gathering, and on Sleepy Buildings the band is at their most chilling, their most exquisite.
Muse: Origin Of Symmetry: 2001
The first 6 songs of Muse’s second album are the stuff of myth- note perfect, word perfect, nothing else touches them. From there the album unfortunately but understandably loses momentum and quality, but while later efforts may be more consistent overall, this remains their best. Heralded by some as the savior of guitar music and by others as (falsly) just another Radiohead clone after the success of their debut Showbiz, Muse had a lot to live up to- prove to the doubters that they were unique, and prove to fans that they could get better. Not that they cared as here they simply ploughed on, carving their own individual niche and blasting their competition away. While Radiohead were struggling through self important experimental dirges, Muse were blowing the tops off the the towers of excess and creating something new and exciting in rock music. Matt Bellamy throws off the shackles of the Thom Yorke comparison by displaying some other worldly vocal antics, shrieking about love and despair, paranoia and space age insanity like a man possessed by a demon released from a millienia of torture. While the first album had plenty of musical invention and chugging guitars, Bellamy becomes a full blown guitar hero here, casting off classic riff after classic riff before jumping on his piano for a bit of Bach twiddling. Each song has so many ideas and so much creativity squeezed in that at times it all becomes daunting, but never does it become a self indulgent mess. Classic melodies on the likes of New Born and Plug In Baby will stand the test of time, while the epic Citizen Erased makes Bohemian Rhapsody look like Basshunter. A breathless, breathtaking magnum opus.
Eminem: The Marshall Mathers LP: 2001
Already America’s Most Wanted, hated by middle America, politicians, celebrities, and just about everyone else Eminem’s second album was destined to be controversial. What no-one expected was that it would be just about the greatest, and best selling rap album of all time. On The Marshall Mathers LP, Eminem bares all; his rage at hypocrites, his satirical rants at musical executives, talentless wannabees, useless celebrities, and psychotic fans. There are no lazy samples with a few commercially edgy lyrics here which poison just about every other rap and R’n’B artist of the decade. Eminem does everything his own way- the music, ideas, and most importantly the lyrics are all his own. In fact, the only major sample he uses turned out to be one of the best ideas he ever had- turning an otherwise bland Dido song into a masterpiece. In doing so he unfortunately gave Dido a career, unleashing her and a cavalcade of soulless, talentless singers onto the airwaves. Luckily for us we can drown them out with such belters as The Real Slim Shady, The Way I Am, Marshall Mathers, and the absolutely terrifying Kim. Eminem’s overall performance on that song must surely rank highly with the best vocal performances of the decade.
No punches are pulled, the melodies, music, and effects are all simple yet highly effective, and there is plenty of humour. By this point Eminem already knew what everyone thought of him, fans and haters alike, and he continues to tantalize both groups by keeping them guessing at the true nature of the mythological figure he has created. Arguably this is the album which brought the genre into the mainstream but none, not even himself have since come close to equaling the power and intelligence on display here. This remains his most personal, most inspired, best work.
Natalie Imbruglia: White Lillies Island: 2001
No-one expected former teen actress of Neighbours to trample all over the footsteps of Kylie and Jason with the release of her hit debut album. Featuring chart toppers like Torn, Big Mistake etc it was a success she has yet to match. Aside from the hits the album was a mish mash of faux Morrisette angst and anger, big vocals and ideas, though now it all sounds not quite clichéd, but ‘we’ve heard it all before’. Rather than being left of the middle it sounds middle of the road, although surprises like Smoke and the title track help to mark it above the rest of the female singer songwriters of the time. What no-one expected was that her second album would be a flawless piece of pop perfection with all new mature lyrics leaving any notions of little angry girrrl behind. White Lillies Island is the best pop album of the decade, easily. Covering a multitude of emotions, featuring unforgettable melodies, powerful vocals it is tinged with darkness, sadness, but also filled with infectious joy for life, love, and music.
Although the singles, particularly That Day are loaded with catchy barbed wire bits and invention it is the rest of the album tracks which make this a classic. Unusually for what most would see as a simple pop album, the songs picked as singles are not the best on offer. Too often nowadays a pop album is thrown out on the basis of two or three hit singles (usually found on the first half of the album, if not the first 3 songs) while the remaining songs are an assortment of guff, rubbish, and murder inspiring drivel. Those of a similar style who have truly stood out in the decade, Lady Gaga (knows how to write a decent chorus, but falls flat on her ever so outrageously painted face in every other respect), Rhianna (needs to lose the commercial R’n’B crap and branch out), and Pink and Stefani even suffer from this to an extent. Although it has sold a million copies it is still embarrassingly overlooked, I would recommend this to any fans of the pop wailers above just as much as I would recommend it to fans of Tori Amos and Metallica. Every song is great, with only Sunlight marginally annoying me 8 years later.With all out classics such as Hurricane, Come September, and Everything Goes it is a Goddess of a record. Counting Down The Days- her third album has some damn good stuff too, and I wait for the proper release of her 4th; this though is her masterpiece.
Nightwish: Once: 2004
Nightwish had been progressing ferociously since their average but promising debut. After the success of Wishmaster and the brilliant Century Child, two albums showcasing that they band were getting heavier and incorporating more progressive elements into their music while remaining as melodic as metal can get it was a great surprise for Once to become such a commercial smash. On the back of two massive singles, Nemo and Wish I Had An Angel, Nightwish finally got recognition beyond Europe and cemented their reputation as one of the biggest European bands. The band are on top form here and achieve the production quality that they had sought long for; a band with such big ideas needs big values and big sound. The traditional mythological and literary references in the lyrics and themes are still present but they cast off the metal clichés and integrate these thoughts and ideas into the modern, real world. Toumas has greatly matured as a songwriter, not only in the lyrics but musically also- most of the songs feel short and sharp even though you won’t find any under four minutes- all the twiddly extra parts which seemed drawn out or unnecessary on previous albums have had the razor treatment- everything is urgent and precise. The two most epic songs here- Creek Mary’s Blood and the mammoth Ghost Love Score are epic in every sense, but never do they feel tired or excessive. The band have also been capable of writing songs over the 6 minute mark and with Ghost Love Score they have created possibly their best song.
Musically the band has never been so inspired up till this point, and thankfully there are non of the cheesy moments which marred past songs. The guitars are fast and furious when they need to be, and restrained for the lighter songs such as Kuolema Tekee Taiteilijian and Higher Than Hope. Tuomas keyboard and piano work is moved to the forefront of many songs, while Tarja’s vocals are as strong as ever on what would prove to be her final album with the group. Jukka’s drums are frantic and forceful while Marco give’s his trademark growling vocals when needed. The band employs what sounds like a choir and orchestra of a hundred in many of the sounds meaning every song sounds huge, and it is this addition which truly pushes the album into stardom. While Evanescene were teaching a generation of adolescents to whine and that it was ok to like sub par pop music as long as it employed guitars and dark clothing, Nightwish were breaking the boundaries of the fading symphonic metal genre, teaching jaded metal weirdos that it was ok to like female singers, and making groundbreaking, heavy music which everyone can and should appreciate.
JJ72: JJ72: 2000
Early in the decade this Irish trio of youngsters with a penchant for Joy Division and melodic, quiet/heavy rock burst into the charts with a string of hits from an album which failed to start any musical revolution, a band which failed to become media darlings- all good, but unfortunately the band never lived up to their early potential and split after an equally good but ill received second album. With an ever so pretty lead vocalist and writer, his sensitive lyrics juxtaposing the often barbaric vocals and with an every so pretty female bass player the band seemed destined to become something special. It seemed though that the band were out of tune and out of time with the Zeitgeist though as a new wave of talentless American one chord guitar bands would slope into the hearts and minds of the brainless, tuneless generation. Perhaps the band will become more appreciated in the future for now the loyal fans will have to contend themselves with this, with I To Sky, and some of the great B-Sides and tracks from the unreleased 3rd album- check them out, all good stuff.
JJ72 opens in blistering style with October Swimmer an emotionally charged rocker with melodies to die for and a chorus made for moshing. This along with other singles Snow and Oxygen showcase the band’s trademarks- catchy verses building up to shout along choruses- kudos to anyone that can follow Mark’s vocal peaks on any song. The album is full of tender moments like Not Like You, Improv, but especially Willow- a beautiful song which is so fragile that it might break if you listen to it. The album at times feels bare, with an unknown record company and probably not much production behind it but all of this gives a haunting tone. Closer Bumblebee is THE gig closer, and possibly the best album ending of the decade. On record you can barely hear the verse; turn up the volume at your peril though as the chorus is loud enough to make you go blind through your ears. Played live this is a monster, band and crowd alike becoming possessed, jumping around and generally breaking stuff. For such a young band there is great innocence and maturity here- all scars are ripped open and put on display, all ghosts are released from the proton packs and held in suspense for us to witness. For whatever reasons the record company didn’t back the second album and everything collapsed. Either album could be featured here- the second is probably more complete, but the first has all the hits, and all the youthful exuberance of a band that should have been, but never were.
Manic Street Preachers: Journal For Plague Lovers: 2009
15 years after Richey said goodbye, and possibly 3 or 4 albums past their best work according to some, the Manics returned with this beast. Choosing not to release any singles this is as much a gift to the fans as it is a tribute to Richey. It is his lyrics which are used throughout, giving Nicky a break from his writer’s block. As everyone will know the band has been on a rollercoaster of fortunes since The Holy Bible, with Everything Must Go and This Is My Truth being massive hits. Know Your Enemy remains their worst album while Lifeblood breathed some life and venom back into the band. Send Away The Tigers proved that the band still had the potential to be hitmakers, featuring some big singles and many short, sharp, punk edged songs. When 2009 came around, the furore concerned the new album of ‘Richey speak’ and rumours of a new (which has now been lauded as their greatest work) Holy Bible. True, there are many similarities between the 3rd and ninth albums- Richey’s lyrics move between stomach churning rage to lung deflating fragility, from humour to hatred, and from political to incomprehensible. If you got the special edition of the album you’ll know that many of these lyrics were edited, and once you’ve listened to the music and how everythings fits perfectly you’ll appreciate the band’s skill as songwriters all over again.
This is not an easy album, and not one which will grab you immediately. The trouble is, each fan was expecting something but in all likelihood the finished result is not what you expected. After getting over this initial shock you should see that the album is their best in years. The artwork is Bibleesque, as are the song titles, and there are many sound effects or guitar/vocal moments which recall certain songs. But the band has moved on, becoming more accomplished in most ways. Opener Peeled Apples starts with an ominous bass riff, second only in power to Archives Of Pain, closer William’s Last Words is a tear jerking Nicky vocal- don’t let that put you off as his singing style is honed in and he merely speaks the words with a 4st 7lb lump in his throat. In between we have the potential singles Jackie Collins Existential Question Time and Me And Stephen Hawking, as close to massive hits since Design For Life, angry blasts such as She Bathed Herself In A Bath Of Bleach and Marlon JD, and softer moments such as Facing Page Top Left and This Joke Sport Severed. However, my personal favourites as always come in the shape of the lessor known album tracks- Virginia State Epileptic Colony and All Is Vanity. This is as good an album for any non fan to get as an introduction (though as always you should start from the beginning) and for any jaded Manics fans- Welcome Back.
Mika Bomb: The Fake Fake Sound Of Mika Bomb: 2001
Most people may know the band after Lamacq called them the best band ever to come from Japan on the unlistened to destroyer of music that is Radio 1, back before it collapsed completely. Whether or not this is true (there are tones of excellent Japanese bands) this amusingly lyriced, firey debut is one of the most energetic and exciting albums of the decade. Also true is that their second and final album could have made this list, but I think the first edges it for sheer fun and unashamedness. Mika Bomb are primarily a Japanese/British girl punk band. Usually that would be enough for me to fall in love with a band, but more often than not such bands become irritating quickly. Not so here, with songs such as Super Sexy Razor Happy Girls, Garage Superstars, Contact Tokyo, and Heart Attack ripping to shreds similar American male fronted punk bands of the time. You can keep your Blink 182/Offspring/Sum 41 etc with their ‘humourous’ naked videos, ‘innovative’ blending of rap, and ‘good’ musical qualities. Even most of the song titles here are worth the money alone, but once you here the band rip into one of their million mile an hour 2 minute songs you’ll never go back. They even manage to get a soft love song in there with Don’t Speak amongst the madness of Super Honda, Underwear, Yellow Danger Babies and the rest. Song topics include computer games, superheroes, motorbike racing, playing music for the love of plying music, the Wizard Of Oz, martial arts techniques, who knows? The guitars are sublime, crashing chords and jangly riffs flying about everywhere, epileptic drums and bass, and vocals which will probably take the uninitiated a few listens to get used to. Once you absorb it all you’ll be jumping around like Yoshi after he realized he’s eaten Mario’s favourite mushroom.
Gemma Hayes: Night On My Side: 2002
Gemma had been touring the pubs and clubs of Dublin some time before this was released. Although it didn’t have many hit singles (unlike Mercury Prize Winners and Nominees of today- if you don’t have a number 1 or a song covered by Winehouse, don’t bother) it nevertheless became the best Irish album of the decade. Most female artists of the time were singing of independence to convince us that they aren’t actually the empty, attention seeking, male driven harpies that we know they are. Gemma was doing and singing exactly what she wanted to, with rock songs such as Hanging Around and Let A Good Thing Go, to more gentle, emotional songs such as Ran For Miles Tear In My Hand. There is a beauty here which any folk artist would strive for, an ease of style and writing which even the best struggle to reach. Gemma’s lyrics are open and honest, singing tales of love and anguish, loss and joy. Her acoustic stylings were the perfect antedote to my daily doses and nightly blasts of metal, although she is just as passionate and at times angry as anyone. While songs such as Back of My Hand could have been big singles, Gemma has never been one to chase the spotlight as seen on subsequent albums- plenty of commercial songs, plenty which no radio would touch as they are too personal or too uncommercial. We see her humour, her influences, her skill as a writer and guitarist, and a sign of things to come. Her voice on this record sounds as if she is singing on your shoulder, as both a guardian angel and occasional imp of mischief. When I saw her in Glastonbury she frequently chatted with the crowd, eventually accepting and dowing a show of Whiskey from one screaming fan. Similar things have happened in other gigs I’ve been to. Her next two albums would also showcase her trademark charm and songwriting beauty, but it is her debut which has the rawness and the tenderness which make it her best.
Blind Guardian: Night At The Opera: 2002
Blind Guardian had been doing the whole European power metal thing since the 80s and had become one of Germany’s and the continents most successful bands. Their later albums had taken on a magnum opus feel with each being an attempt at a grand concept album. Most of these albums didn’t work as well as they should have and are mostly notable for a few very good stand out tracks. In 2002 though, Hansi, Andre and co. finally got it together with this blistering, over the top, ultra complex beast. Lyrically we are on familiar ground with A Night At The Opera, songs are filled with classical references as well as songs about Jesus, Neitzche, and Tolkein. Everything is on a much grander scale though and a glance at any of the lyrics is quite daunting due to the size. Most importantly though it appears that the band have found a sound which suits them best, sounding like they are thrashing around in the middle of a war with choirs and orchestras all crashing together. The whole thing is ridiculous yes, but it is also ridiculously better than every rock and metal album of the year. Vocally Hansi has never sounded better, reaching insane highs and galloping through melody after interweaving melody.
Like Origin Of Symmetry it is the first set of songs which take the breath away, the huge opener Precious Jerusalem making way for overwhelming behemoths like Under The Ice and Sadly Sings Destiny. Each of these songs progresses through several different parts reaching ominous lows and emotional highs. Remembering though that the band are seen by fans as travelling bards they reign in the mayhem for more acoustic songs like The Maiden And The Minstrel Knight and Mies Dies Dolor. There are plenty of classic riffs, faster than Linford Christie solos, apocalyptic drumming, but it is the layered vocals, string and brass sections, and the grandeur of it all which makes this most memorable. If there is one good thing about this decade it is that a new, smarter breed of metal has emerged. With bands such as Lamb Of God and Mastodon amongst many others proving that the genre isn’t just a silly pile of noise, the older bands had to catch up with the times. Metallica finally sorted themselves out with Death Magnetic and British stalwarts Iron maiden have been untouchable since Brave New World. A Night At The Opera is above all of these though for its sheer bombastic nature, and remains their best album.
My Vitriol: Between The Lines: 2002
Possibly the most cult band on the list with the most fervent supporters, My Vitriol released their first and only album Finelines in 2001 amid a blur of impressive live shows and a couple of average selling singles. I’ve included Between The Lines instead, basically the American cut of the album with an extra cd of B-Sides and covers. The band stopped touring and vanished off the face of the planet for about 5 years, although recently they have come back by releasing a great EP and playing something well received live shows. Their album is a mixture of jagged punk riffs, angsty lyrics, and high paced melodic rock. Highlights include Always Your Way and Losing Touch which each come with an instrumental (or distorted noise) introduction track before blasting into the song. Frantic guitar playing though pretty much solo free, emotional lyrics and delivery but without any whiney attachments, short, simple tracks which immediately get trapped in the head. Other tracks like Ode To The Red Queen and Infantile merge haunting vocals with nightmarish shrieks, while more mellow tracks like Under The Wheels provide a distraction from the rough edged, effects laden guitars. Comparisons with the Manics and Radiohead were frequent (and rather odd) and perhaps the weight of expectation was too much. With the re-release a year later we were treated to more of the same with Vapour Trails, Moodswings, and Deadlines all proving to be near perfect angry rock songs. The band showed a more mature side with All Of Me and Wait A Minute, two extremely catchy songs which could easily grace any album, while acoustic versions of favourites and a Madonna cover rounded off the eclectic mix. This was again the sign of a promising new start which never came, swiped away by less talented more Top Shop friendly bands. Signs are though that the band will finally be back soon. Yay.
Opeth: Ghost Reveries: 2005
Mikael Åkerfeldt is one of the best musically creative minds of the decade, making classic album after classic album of poetic rage and structurally complex songs which you can’t believe could possibly be played live until you see it for yourself (without even the slightest mistake too). Opeth fans are known to be particularly rabid in their support with complete and utter devotion shown. Anything less and you won’t be seen as a fan. After a string of heavy albums the band began to experiment more with other sounds, other genres. Their previous album Damnation which was a soft, albeit overwhelmingly dark, rock album had been well received and it seemed that the band could do no wrong. Hearing the opening few seconds of Ghost Of Perdition and you know the band are back to their heaviest, and most epic. Fusing jazz, prog, with death meatal vocals spewing between clean, heartfelt ones it is one of the best metal songs of the decade, and each track progresses from there. Isolation Years shows the band at their softest, but the bleak, grave-like hallmark tone pf the band remains. Few bands regardless of genre are so ambitious, so experimental, and it puts to shame notions that all metal is stupid. Nothing falls into the ‘up their own ass’ category as this is the only way the band knows how to play. Mikel’s vocals are as strong as ever, though more than ever does he mix styles, his and Lindgren’s guitars are on scintillating form, crushing at one moment, silk like the next, with overlapping chords, riffs, and solos that you need a dictionary to decipher. The drums are as galaxy shattering as always- play this in a vacuum and you would still hear it. Lyrically the band follow the same path, all focused on sadness and pain though steering clear of the usual cliches which would usually follow, everything suits the mood. Next album Watershed would prove to be even more ambitious voted by many publications and fans as album of the year, but Ghost Reveries edges it for me as their return to loud, gigantic sounds.
Haven: Between The Senses: 2002
Haven are the band that should have been as successful as the dreary, emotionless Coldplay currently are. Now split up after an average second album each member has gone on to different things, but for a while in 2002 they had the potential to be huge. Between The Senses was heralded (and produced) by Johnny Marr as something exciting and the band had some success with grat singles like Say Something and Let It Live. However, for whatever reason even after much touring no-one seemed interested. Although the album is made up of simple, soft rock songs about love, hope, despair, it is the way they are built and performed which makes them better than they had any right to be. Gary Briggs is, hands down, the best commercial male vocalist of the decade. Give him any song, any note, and he’ll do it better than perfectly. His writing on every track here is top quality, the only let down being that there isn’t really anything new, anything experimental. When you look at pop and rock as a whole though, and what constitutes success, this doesn’t need to be a major flaw. Marr’s musical influence isn’t overly clear as the guitars are simple yet effective, there is no need for any twiddly guitar hero stuff here. It’s all about the emotion and the mood, songs such as Still Tonight, Till The End, and Lately are anthems, heartfelt ballads which deserve to be heard by more people. It is the sweeping nature of these songs which makes the follow up album look worse as it lacks any of the hooks or melodic hugeness of its daddy. I’ve always thought the band needed the confidence gained from success to spur on their imaginations and writing but sadly this never came. Luckily we still have this album, truly a gem, and probably the album on this list which would appeal to the most people.
Lene Marlin: Lost In A Moment: 2005
Most people will know Lene for the twee, girlish pop delight of Sitting Down Here, and the edgier sister Unforgivable Sinner from her smash hit debut album. Being from Scandanavia most music-lite music fans shoved her in the same crazy category with Aqua, Abba, and Lord Help Me, Wigfield. Closer inspection of that first album, and everything since shows that Sitting Down here is her most unusual, most offbeat, most ‘unlike her’ song. First album Playing My Game is cold, lonely, sparse, but nevertheless filled with killer melody. Lost In A Moment is Lene’s 3rd album and for those who know her features her usual mix of sadness, cautious hope all played to heart tearing music. Although her 2nd album showed bigger production and expanded musical styles it is her 3rd which shows the biggest step forward. There is greater structure, bigger and smarter instrumentation, and more varied styles and emotions. Most importantly though her voice retains the familiar tone though now sounds more world weary, more experienced, and the music is as sublimely catchy as always. Tracks like How Would It Be and What If are filled with strong guitar riffs, while Never To Know, Hope You’re Happy, and Leave My Mind have a gut wrenching string section or downbeat choir noise. As with everything she has done, once you’ve heard a snippet of any song you will want to hear the rest, and once you have it will be trapped in your head all day. It is just that on this album she has found her niche, adding pianos where needed, low bass and strings, rather than the girl and guitar nature of her other albums. Although there is nothing particularly dancy here, nothing sexy, it puts other female pop artisits to shame. Emotionally, and musically she is miles ahead of her contemporaries; in fact they don’t warrant being called contemporaries given how far ahead of them she is. She has gone past such distinctions and is in a category of her own. Her latest album’s great too.
For a terrifyng visual representation of this list, check here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mN5uvBDnYPY&feature=channel_video_title
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