Machine Head (Groove Metal)
The Blackening (3.5/4)- 2007
The return of lead guitarist Phil Demmel has done wonders for Machine Head, and The Blackening is proof that Machine Head is back and better than ever. The album is a return to Machine Head’s early groove metal form that helped create the genre. However, their sound is more polished than ever before, and the high energy political lyrics represent a perfect balance between political intelligence and emotional rage. Any fan of thrash and groove metal should strongly consider The Blackening. Even those who have yet to get into this band should consider it, as this is one of the best and most accessible albums of their career.
Marilyn Manson (Industrial Metal/Hard Rock)
The Golden Age of Grotesque (2.5/4)
The Golden Age of Grotesque is a surprisingly safe and forgettable follow up to Holy Wood, an album that was anything but. The Faith No More-inspired “mOBSCENE” is the only song that really strays from the tamer pop metal groove that the album gets into, and while the album suffers for its lack of variety and originality, the simplistic hard rock riffs and loud choruses are undeniably catchy.
The Mars Volta (Progressive/Art Rock)
The Bedlam in Goliath (3.5/4)- 2008
Like them or not, The Mars Volta has to be one of the most difficult bands in music to critique. Even within their fan base there is a huge divide between reactions and interpretations of each new album. This is largely due to both the band’s variety and willingness to try things that no other band will attempt, sometimes for good reason. However, it’s important to keep in mind that there are no absolutes in The Mars Volta’s music. Everything is cryptic, and no two listens are ever the same. There will always be a good chance that even the most faithful fan of the band will absolutely hate the direction of the next album, and the reason for that is largely due to different interpretations. If one were to list all of the flaws associated with a TMV album, the list would be exceptionally large, and the grade would be relatively low if that was the criteria for grading. However, if The Mars Volta are at their best, there should be a long list of flaws. More than anything, The Mars Volta take risks. It shouldn’t be easy to interpret which aspects of the sound work and which don’t, and it should be even more difficult to interpret just what their sound is. If the band ever succumbs to a particular reoccurring sound, then it is not a true Mars Volta album.
Thankfully, The Bedlam in Goliath is a flawed album that will most likely alienate a large portion of the band’s fan base. That is to say, The Mars Volta have taken significant risks in order to create this album, and the various interpretations of the brilliant lyrics will continue to be debated years from now. It’s not for everyone, but such a unique and breathtaking album should not be missed.
Right off the bat, one of the biggest misconceptions about the band is addressed. For some odd reason, one complaint of The Mars Volta has always been their lack of energy. This might be due to the slowly progressing “The Widow” being their most recognizable song, or possibly their live shows that sometimes contain more jamming than actual songs, but to say that The Mars Volta lack energy is completely ridiculous. The album grabs the listener by the throat from the very first note and never lets go. Gone are the moments of silence that plagued their past albums, and in its place comes a new and more energized Mars Volta. In its own way, each song is a fully energized jamfest that would have been enough to drive the album to greatness on just that alone. However, there is thankfully more to than just the energy, and it’s simply amazing that the lyrics and progression somehow outdo that aspect of the album. Even on songs like “Wax Simulacra,” which could very easily be considered a jumbled mess upon first listen, the energy is enough to bring things together. “Wax Simulacra,” staying with that example, is a song that packs a nearly full fledged epic into just over 2 minutes. The combination of that song’s seemingly random progression and energy is certainly staggering, but it’s also packs more into a such short time than any maybe other song of its kind.
The opener “Aberinkula” is another song that is built from The Mars Volta’s stunning energy, while the song’s cryptic lyrics make it one of the overall finest starts to a rock album in some time. The aforementioned cryptic lyrics are one of the most impressive parts of The Bedlam in Goliath, as almost every line reeks of intelligence and careful wordplay. There is a clear religious and almost supernatural theme to the lyrics, and the way they are structured is fascinating to say the least. There is somewhat of a strange story to be found that some will likely find one of the more interesting aspects of the album, while others will skip it altogether. The story and themes of the lyrics cannot be fully understood by a single listen, or even a few listens at that. The Bedlam in Goliath is a challenging work of art, and even the mystery itself that is embedded within the lyrics is difficult to fully grasp.
As is generally the case with progressive music, The Bedlam in Goliath is an album of many influences. The mixture of hard rock, punk, jazz, folk, Latin, and psychedelic experimentation makes for one of the most truly progressive combinations in music today. The band’s ability to turn such a variety of influences into unique tracks that never sound like one before it is nothing short of astonishing. The album’s sound is wonderfully refreshing and original, and the reason for that goes back to risks that The Mars Volta take. If The Mars Volta didn’t have a track record of making obscure things work, it would be absolutely insane to attempt something of the magnitude of The Bedlam of Goliath. Ever since their At the Drive-In days, Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez have been experimenting with truly unique sounds, attempting to find something completely original and revolutionary. The Bedlam in Goliath is the closest they’ve come to achieving that, as this is truly one of the most unique albums to come along in quite some time.
The lyrical talents of The Mars Volta may arguably be their biggest strength, but the sheer talent of the musicians that worked on the album comes awfully close. Some may not be able to stomach Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s unique vocal style, but his passionate delivery and often unpredictable experimentation is one of the most refreshing aspects of the album. There isn’t a vocalist alive that sounds quite like him, just as there isn’t a band out there that sounds quite like The Mars Volta. Even more impressive than the vocals is Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’s superb guitar skills. A large portion of the album’s energy comes from Omar’s exceptionally unique playing, and it’s no secret that the man can shred with the best of them. Even the drumming is surprisingly fitting, as new drummer Thomas Pridgen sounds like he understands the band’s sound far more than what anyone could have expected of him. However, it’s not the skill of the instrumentals that makes them worthy of such praise, but instead the progression. Near epics like “Goliath” and “Cavalettas” remain mind blowing from start to finish, partially due to the band’s seemingly never ending array of different riffs and instrumentals. Even if they may not be the easiest songs in the world to follow or understand, the sheer uniqueness of the songs makes them easy to appreciate. “Goliath” in particular is an example of how to do a progressive rock song right. It all goes back to the risks again, as nothing about that song is safe. On such tracks, The Mars Volta dare to experiment, and the result is one of the most challenging and progressive songs the band has ever done. “Ilyena” is another songs that features outstanding progression, and the experience found in that song cannot be expressed in words. Just like the album itself, it draws the listener in and keeps them thoroughly intrigued until the end.
Of course, The Bedlam in Goliath would not be a Mars Volta album without a large number of flaws. Whenever a band takes such a large number of risks, there will always be shortcomings that vary from listener to listener. Particularly on the initial listen, the album seems somewhat unpolished and messy. However, that’s the trade off associated with taking risks in music. The Mars Volta try to pack so much into a single album that there is hardly ever time to breathe. Some will say that The Bedlam in Goliath has too much energy, and that it makes things a bit too difficult to follow. This is an album, however, that cannot and should not be judged based on initial reactions. There is a lot of substance to be found here, and it’s hard to image The Bedlam in Goliath being any more intelligent or unique than it already is. Instead of continuing with their softer and somewhat unfocused (at least for The Mars Volta) approach on Amputechture, they have once again taken the risk of doing something they’ve never done before. This is a heavier, more energized, and even more focused band than they have been in the past, and they deserve a large amount of praise in taking such a risk to evolve their sound.
An album like The Bedlam in Goliath should not be judged on small flaws, but instead the many things it does well. An album like this one should be praised for doing more and having minor flaws that go along with large amount of unique content than making a perfect album that doesn’t do quite as much. Not everyone is going to be able to understand it, and even many who do might find small things that perturb them. However, the risks The Mars Volta take make this one of the most original rock albums to come along in some time. To call it one of the best albums of its kind would simplifying it to an absolute, and thus selling it short, but The Bedlam in Goliath is an album that should not be missed under any circumstances.
Youth (2/4)- 2006
Matisyahu is a talented man, as evidenced by his breakthrough Live at Stubb’s album. Youth, unfortunately, is an overproduced mess that does very little to show off Matisyahu’s skill. The passion that many fell in love with on his live album isn’t here, as many of the songs on Youth sound like boring versions of songs heard on that album, even though “King Without a Crown” is the only track that the two share. Youth is simply a disappointing album by an artist that is capable of so much more.
Mayhem (Black Metal)
Ordo Ad Chao (3/4)- 2007
Ordo Ad Chao is not only one of the best black metal albums released in 2007, but it’s also one of the best modern black metal albums to maintain the traditional sound of the genre. You don’t have to be a Mayhem fan to appreciate what they have done here, and really anyone that likes black metal should give Ordo Ad Chao a look. Despite all of the controversy Mayhem has brought themselves over the years, they still remain an exceptional band that can still release quality black metal albums without relying on a formulaic sound. Whether you’re a long time Mayhem fan or just a casual fan of black metal, Ordo Ad Chao is a great experience that is worthy of a spot in any metal fan’s collection.
Megadeth (Thrash Metal)
United Abominations (3/4)- 2007
United Abominations is one of the year’s easiest albums to recommend. It may not be on the same level as Rust in Peace or Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying?, but almost any fan of Megadeth or thrash metal should find something worthwhile with United Abominations. On top of that, it doesn’t sound like a throwback album like some other recent releases from thrash legends. United Abominations is instead a high quality thrash album that sounds just as modern as any other album released in 2007. However, it still has everything that makes a Megadeth album great, including Dave Mustaine’s opinioned lyrics and outstanding guitar skills. This is the best album Megadeth has recorded in years, and it’s a great pick for both new and old fans of metal.
Meshuggah (Progressive/Thrash Metal)
obZen (3.5/4)- 2008
Prior to ObZen's release, one could certainly make the case that Meshuggah have been great. In fact, it wouldn't be a stretch to call Meshuggah one of the greatest bands in all of metal. Unfortunately, the band has yet to release that one great album that encompasses the band's sound into something consistently great from start to finish. Granted, Meshuggah have had great songs on all of their albums, and their sound has a whole has been one of the most brutal and influential in the genre for a number of years. Still, they've lacked that one definitive album that every great band has. Now, in 2008, Meshuggah have finally made that great record. ObZen is the first Meshuggah album to be able to sustain their unique and brutal blend of thrash, death, and progressive metal through the length of an entire album. The result is an absolutely brilliant metal offering that is guaranteed to make the hairs on your neck stand up.
Aside from the band's impressive combination of brutality, melody, and progression, the thing that separates Meshuggah from both their influences and the numerous bands they themselves have influenced throughout their career is that the band's music is driven not by guitar, but instead by some simply phenomenal bass and drum combinations. In fact, the guitar is used as nothing more than a way of keeping the beat on a number of tracks, while the drums run wild. This makes for not only a unique metal sound, but also a brutal force that is both raw and punishing. Like many technical metal albums, ObZen does start to develop a common formula near the end, but that's a small flaw considering that the highs of this album far exceed what is usually found in the genre, as well as that the album has numerous moments of progression. The absolutely phenomenal "Bleed" is an example of that, as the song is a nearly flawless mixture of Meshuggah's uncanny brutality and the band's integration of melodic elements. Not every song on the album mixes those elements at such a high level of success, but the number of tracks that come close (the title track, "Combustion," "Electric Red," and "Pravus" for example) are simply staggering. ObZen is a brutal album from start to finish, but it's not brutal for the sake of being brutal. The album still has enough melody, progression, and varied songwriting to make it a great album period, not just a great extreme metal album. That, in essence, is what metal should be, and ObZen, for better or for worse, is about as metal of a record as there is.
Metallica (Thrash Metal)
St. Anger (1/4)- 2003
St. Anger is an album that metal fans love to hate. The backlash comes from a number of different of factors, many not related to the actual music. However, that doesn’t change the fact that St. Anger is an absolutely awful album in just about every respect. The songs rely far too much on choruses that are more annoying than catchy, and the instrumentals are irritating to say the least. There’s no reason for an album released in 21st century to sound it like it was recorded in someone’s basement, especially when the songs show obvious signs of being written for radio play. The drumming sounds like it was recorded on trash cans, the guitars are overly distorted, and it doesn’t help that songs will often turn into a contest of who can play the loudest. Metallica are a talented band, but you wouldn’t know it from listening to St. Anger.
Death Magnetic (3/4)- 2008
It’s been 17 years since Metallica has recorded anything worthy of praise. After the absolutely horrendous St. Anger in 2004, it’s a miracle that Death Magnetic turned out good enough to warrant a spot on this list. Surprisingly, Death Magnetic isn’t just a huge step up from St. Anger, nor it is simply the best Metallica album since the black album. Death Magnetic is a good metal album in its own right, and it’s sure to please just about any fan of the band. What makes Death Magnetic great is not that the album sounds like classic Metallica, which is does at times, but more that there is actually some genuinely original music being played. The lyrics, one of the most underrated aspects of early Metallica, are great once again, and the album strikes a balance between old-school thrash and modern heavy metal. Death Magnetic is a return to form in many respects, but it’s not stuck in the past. It’s simply a good solid album that you can find just about anywhere, and it’s definitely worth picking up.
The Mighty Underdogs (Rap/Hip-Hop)
Droppin’ Science Fiction (3/4)- 2008
The first album from “supergroup” The Mighty Underdogs is a purely fun hip-hop record. It’s far from a club album, but instead an album of clever rhymes and unique production. The songs range from soulful jams to parody to the just plain crazy, and it makes for an incredibly fun experience. Great guest spots from MF DOOM, Mr. Lif, DJ Shadow, Akrobatik, and others add to the album. There are some seriously talented people involved in this album, and it’s clear that all had a great time working on it. Trust me, you’ll have a great time listening as well.
Mogwai Young Team (3.5/4)- 1997
It’s been unfair to critique Mogwai’s influential debut more than a decade after it was released. This is an undeniable classic, but also a record that is full of ideas that have been explored in greater detail and with much greater effect in future post-rock albums. It’s an essential album of anyone looking to get into post-rock, but it’s also an example of album that hasn’t held up over time.
Mondo Generator (Stoner/Hard Rock)
Dead Planet (3/4)- 2007
Ignore that Nick Oliveri has tried to pass his newest band off as a metal band, and ignore that this band played this summer’s Ozzfest tour. Mondo Generator is a rock band through and through, and it’s likely that metalheads that aren’t into punk or modern rock are going to hate this album. Dead Planet is a punk rock album that has more energy than maybe any other rock album released this year. Although the album stands on it’s own as an outstanding record for modern rock fans, it’s worth noting that the band’s frontman, Nick Oliveri, was a founding member and former bassist of Queens of the Stone Age. As good as Era Vulgaris is, this is the album to get if you’re a Queens of the Stone Age fan that can only buy one record this holiday season. The energy and pure rock ‘n roll that’s been missing from the last few Queens of the Stone Age albums is found in bulk here, and anyone who longs for the return of Kyuss (the band Oliveri and Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme were in prior to Queens) should strongly consider adding this one to your holiday list. Oliveri's vocals take a bit of getting used to, but the album’s pure energy and emotion is fantastic to say the least.
Mos Def (Rap/Hip-Hop)
True Magic (1.5/4)- 2006
Mos Def is a talented emcee who can make the most difficult of rhymes seem effortless. On True Magic, however, Mos Def’s flow goes from effortless to just plain lazy. The subject matter, lyrics, flow, and beats are all terrible, leading to questions regarding how much effort Mos really put into this album. An emcee as great as this shouldn’t have such an awful album attached to his name. I highly recommend Mos Def, but please, skip this album.
The Ecstatic (3.5/4)- 2009
A triumphant return to hip-hop greatness, Mos Def’s The Ecstatic is an album that shows off the emcee’s unique music style, and it contains some of the best material of his career. Mos’ effortless flow and clever wordplay are here in full effect, but the biggest difference between The Ecstatic and the last few Mos Def albums comes from passion. The Ecstatic does not sound like sloppily thrown together filler, but instead an album crafted with love for hip-hop. Mos takes it back to basics, as there are few choruses and tons of long verses, and nothing ever appears forced. He’s having fun, and with Slick Rick giving the verse of the year on “Auditorium,” he has help this time around. Talib Kweli joins the party on the Black Star-like “History,” and a variety of excellent producers round out the experience. The Ecstatic is an outstanding album, and it’s easily one of the best hip-hop releases of 2009.
Motley Crue (Hard Rock)
Saints of Los Angeles (2.5/4)- 2008
It really shouldn't be much of a surprise that Motley Crue's Saints of Los Angeles is a forgettable album, but it may surprise some that the album isn't all bad. It seems that Motley Crue has remembered what they're good at, and while Saints of Los Angeles doesn't bring anything new to the table, it is effective in spots at being a fun and catchy hard rock album. The album runs into trouble everytime Crue tries to bring a ballad or more serious song into the mix, as the lyrics here are just as awful as ever, but songs like the title track do more than a respetable job at recreating the same fun and catchy sound the band became famous for the in the 80's. It goes without saying that this an album only for Crue fans, but considering that the band has done very little that could be enjoyed by anyone in quite some time, this is not only an improvement, but also a return to form.
Murder by Death (Alternative Rock)
Red of Tooth and Claw (3.5/4)- 2008
Featuring deep vocals, unique hard rock riffs, creative lyrics, a beautiful cello, and the imagination to hold it all together, Murder By Death’s Red of Tooth and Claw is one of the easiest albums to recommend from this past year. Murder By Death doesn’t fit it any particular category of rock music, yet they are one of the purest rock bands left. They play a blend of alternative rock that is unlike anything else out there, and rather accessible to boot. Anyone from metalheads to indie fans to straight up rockers should give Red of Tooth and Claw a try. It’s a gorgeous gem of an album that sees one of rock’s best kept secrets reaching their full potential.
My Bloody Valentine (Shoegaze/Indie Rock)
Loveless (4/4)- 1991
Before black metal bands discovered that shoegaze went hand in hand with the more extreme side of metal, My Bloody Valentine were the masters of shoegazing. The heavily distorted guitars and wall-of-sound atmosphere certainly isn’t for anyone, but Loveless isn’t not an album meant to please the masses. This is a hardcore drone-like record with some unique and catchy riffs beneath that heavy distortion, and it’s all also shoegaze heaven for fans of that kind of music.
My Dying Bride (Doom Metal)
Turn Loose the Swans (4/4)- 1993
As the Flower Withers was heavy. Turn Loose the Swans, on the other hand, is far more concerned with its emotional weight. This is a gut-wrenching melancholic masterpiece, and it’s one of the greatest and most influential doom metal albums of all-time.