Sabac Red (Rap/Hip-Hop)
The Ritual (2/4)- 2008
When Sabac is on his game, he’s one of the most intelligent wordsmiths in hip-hop. The Ritual is not an example of that. Sabac may be known as a political MC, but that doesn’t mean that he needs to force politics into every song. “Force” is the key word there, as Sabac raps about politics in the way that battle MC rap about self-promotion. It’s nothing more than filler, and for someone who’s made himself known as a lyrical rapper, that’s more than a little disappointing.
Sanctity (Thrash Metal)
Road to Bloodshed (3/4)- 2007
Road to Bloodshed is an album sure to please almost any thrash metal fan. On just their first album, Sanctity has avoided two common trends that often plague newcomers to the thrash scene. Firstly, they don’t copy what the legendary 80s thrash bands did, but instead create a sound that doesn’t sound like something that could have been released 20 years ago. Secondly, Sanctity avoids the repetitive Pantera influenced riffs that has plagued the genre over the last few years. Sanctity instead sounds like a breath of fresh air in both thrash metal and metal in general. Everything from the riffs to the production is solid, and it’s hard to imagine a fan of thrash metal not finding something to like here.
Sage Francis (Rap/Hip-Hop)
Li(f)e (2/4)- 2010
On Sage Francis’ fourth studio album, the gifted emcee embraces his rock side. That’s not to say Sage has moved away from hip-hop, but much of the music is based in alternative rock, giving Li(f)e a rap-rock feel reminiscent of the Depart From Me LP Cage released last year. While Sage’s rock influences have never been a secret, it sounds a bit forced this time around. There’s just too much of it, and with a lot of the beats sounding the same it gets repetitive far too quickly. It doesn’t help that Sage’s usually tight lyrics come off as even more forced than the beats. Just about every line attempts some sort of clever wordplay, and far too many fail miserably. Conscious lyricism can’t be forced, just as intentionally setting out to write a deep song will usually end up with the opposite result. Sage Francis, talented as he may, has unfortunately fallen victim to that.
Saving Abel (Post-Grunge)
Saving Abel (1.5/4)- 2008
The album art may look a lot like Stereoside’s So Long, released just a year before Saving Abel, but that doesn’t mean that the two bands sound anything alike. While Stereoside took a pretty standard hard rock sound and turned it into something exceptional, Saving Abel take the same post-grunge sound and do nothing with it. This is the same type of generic radio rock that you can get from any other band in the genre, and in 2008 there are far too many options available for Saving Abel to standout as a worthwhile album.
Scars on Broadway (Hard Rock)
Scars on Broadway (3/4)- 2008
Scars on Broadway, which features System of a Down guitarist Daron Malakian and drummer John Dolmayan, is an interesting project. Serj Tankian's solo record may have flourished when returning to classic System of a Down conventions, and failed when attempting to branch out, but Scars on Broadway does just the opposite. The tracks similar to classic System of a Down are difficult to listen to without Serj, while the hard rocking and humorous highlights are the ones that go in a completely different direction. Daron Malakian certainly isn't the most talented vocalist out there, and there will be many, SOAD fans included, who will grow weary of the his vocals on the album. Still, most of what's here is intelligent and humorous hard rock with a touch of experimental alternative. The progressive overtones and vocal harmonies of System of a Down are not to be found, nor is the frantic genre switching that the band is known for. However, much of the brief hard rocking tracks found here are good enough to work without Serj, while everytime the album bears resemble to System, it makes the listener long for Tankian's vocals.
Screaming Trees (Grunge)
Sweet Oblivion (4/4)- 1992
Sweet Oblivion is an exceptionally well written album with some of the varied and downright “grungiest” music of that era. Screaming Trees may not a household name like some of their grunge contemporaries, but Sweet Oblivion is a true masterpiece of the genre that is criminally overlooked.
Serj Tankian (Hard Rock)
Elect the Dead (3/4)- 2007
Although it’s unlikely that Elect the Dead will appeal to anyone that isn’t already a fan of System of a Down, Serj Tankian’s debut solo album is a good enough album to warrant a recommendation to mainstream rock fans. Thankfully, it’s an improvement over the last few System of a Down albums, and it’s likely that fans of the band that have yet to purchase this will find a lot to like in the songs that use the same style Serj established with the band. The lack of Darren Malkian’s backing vocals, as well as a return to more intelligent political lyrics, are what makes Elect the Dead an album for both System of a Down’s current fan base and any fans that lost interest in the band over time. It’s not perfect, and the experimental songs that stray from System of a Down’s formula don’t work well at all, but there's certainly enough here to recommend.
Sevendust (Hard Rock)
Chapter VII: Hope & Sorrow (2.5/4)- 2008
Sevendust’s seventh studio album is a lot like the first six. Hope and Sorrow has the same problems of past Sevendust albums, most notably consistency, but it also has moments of true greatness. If you’re the type of person who downloads single songs, just get the single “Prodigal Son” and skip the full album. There are, however, enough solid songs to warrant a purchase for rock fans who prefer buying full albums. Sevendust is a band that I cannot recommend highly enough to fans of rock, but this particular album has a bit to much filler to warrant a high recommendation. Still, Chapter VII, is a decent enough album that is as good as any in Sevendust’s discography, and when it’s at its best it’s far better than anything else played on active rock radio.
Sex Pistols (Punk Rock)
Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols (4/4)- 1977
The Sex Pistols’ infamous debut and only full length album was truly ahead of its time. Even today, I don’t think I’ve heard a punk album with this much passion or purpose, and only the Dead Kennedys and Black Flag come to mind as far as matching the influence of this legendary band. The music itself is also quite advanced for punk, but the real highlight is simply in its raw sound. Never Mind the Bollocks… is the epitome of punk rock, and it still stands as one of the greatest and most important rock albums of all-time.
Shwayze (1/4)- 2008
Shwayze and Cisco Adler have clear intentions. They are trying to make a fun, catchy pop album with a lot bit of rock and a little bit of hip-hop. On paper, it should be pretty simply. Adler plays some simply riffs on his guitar, Shwayze drops a simple verse or two, and then you have a catchy pop album. Unfortunately, the duo fails to even do that. Shwayze has a hard time matching the slow beats, and it doesn’t help that Adler’s acoustic guitar parts don’t work well with hip-hop in the first place.The two are constantly at odds, and as a result the album never flows or gets into a groove. Shwayze is an album that tries to be catchy and fails miserably. It’s just boring and forgettable, and it’s impossible to recommend to any music fan.
Sigh (Black Metal/Psychedelic Rock)
Imaginary Sonicscape (4/4)- 2001
Certainly one of the most unique extreme metal albums of the decade, Sigh’s masterful Imaginary Sonicscape is also one of the best. The blend of contrasting styles is the most apparent feature of Sigh’s sound, but what really makes the album shine is its outstanding musicianship and songwriting. Imaginary Sonicscape is just as technical as any other black metal album, and despite its avant-garde weirdness, the psychedelic elements don’t feel forced or out of place.
Black Snow (3/4)- 2008
For better or for worse, Black Snow is an album that puts its numerous guest MC’s at the forefront. The tracks live or die by the strength of its verses, which is a risky move for a group that consists of only producers. Many of the rappers have also had guest verses on recent Jedi Mind Tricks albums, and that’s far from where the similarities end. The production style is clearly influenced by JMT, but not nearly as memorable. That being said, Snowgoons are not bad producers by any means, and the only real complaint with the beats is its unoriginality. Thankfully, there are some truly memorable verses from a number of guests, including Ill Bill, R.A. the Rugged Man, Slaine, Killah Priest, and Apathy.
Sonata Arctica (Power Metal)
Reckoning Night (4/4)- 2004
Finally branching out from their power metal roots, Sonata Arctica have crafted their masterpiece with Reckoning Night. Every member shows off their talent in some form, from Tony Kakko’s brilliant vocals to the fast yet melodic guitar solos of Jani Liimatainen, but it’s the addition of keyboardist Henrik Klingenberg that gives Sonata Arctica’s sound a much needed symphonic element. The lyrics are also in top form, as songs like “The Boy Who Wanted to Be a Real Puppet” and “White Pearl, Black Oceans…” prove that fantasy-influenced stories don’t have to be cheesy and forgettable. Reckoning Night is truly a masterful album, and in breaking into progressive and symphonic territories, Sonata Arctica have ascended themselves to the top of the modern power metal heap.
Spiritualized (Indie Rock)
Songs in A&E (3/4)- 2008
Not unlike the band that made it, Songs in A&E is somewhat of an underrated little album. It rarely has moments where it does anything particularly spectacular in comparison to other alternative albums, but it remains consistently simple and beautiful from start to finish. This is an album that’s difficult to criticize and very easy to like, even if it isn’t one of the 10 or 20 best albums released in the past year. Spiritualized sticks to what their good at, and the result is an album that is just that. Songs in A&E is just a solid beautiful alternative album that anyone can appreciate.
The Illusion of Progress (2/4)- 2008
The fact that Staind has actually titled this album The Illusion of Progress must be some kind of inside joke. Considering this album has no progression whatsoever from past Staind albums, or even the illusion of it, it's practically begging critics to go crazy with puns. The sad truth is though, Staind is giving themselves too much credit. It's obvious that progress was not the band's intention, but if Staind was trying to create the illusion of progress on this record, they failed miserably. Actually, if they were trying to create anything more than your standard post-grunge album, they failed miserably. This really is a prime example of your standard post-grunge release, as it's basic, both lyrically and musically, and it makes absolutely no attempts whatsoever to stray from the proven formula that got Staind radio play. Granted, that's not necessarily a bad thing to fan's of the band, as anyone expecting the same old Staind will not be disappointed. However, it's impossible to recommend an album this bland and generic album to anyone who isn't already a huge fan of the band. It's not necessarily bad, nor is it any worse than what else is played on the radio these days, but after six albums, even the illusion of progress isn't too much to ask.
Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks (Indie Rock)
Real Emotional Trash (3/4)- 2008
Former Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus isn't exactly the greatest vocalist in the world, nor is he the greatest guitarist out there. For what it's worth, Malkmus isn't even among the greatest lyricists in the indie rock genre. However, you'd be hard pressed to find a more creative songwriter, just as there may not be a more influential underground musician than Stephen Malkmus. Even though his latest solo album, Real Emotional Trash, isn't exactly the indie rock masterpiece that Pavement's debut was, Malkmus deserves a lot of credit for not only continuing to play some of the finest indie rock in the genre today, but also for continuing to innovate more than 15 years after his band helped established indie rock as a genre of music. The Jicks are a very different band than Pavement, and anyone still holding out for the same raw sound of Malkmus' early days are going to be disappointed.
However, fans should know by now that The Jicks are not Pavement, and that Stephen has gone in a completely different direction since his Pavement days. The problem is that it's still hard to tell what exactly that direction is. Real Emotional Trash is the fourth album by Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks, and the band's biggest issue remains identity. Many of the songs feature moments of overly catchy indie pop ("Gardenia" and "Dragonfly Pie" to name two of the catchiest), while just as many songs venture into moments of prolonged jam sessions that sound like something out of a progressive rock record. In a way, that's both the beauty and flaw of the album, as it shows that Malkmus is an incredibly varied musician who can pull off a number of different sounds, but the band as a whole has still yet to piece the different styles together into a coherent mixture. It still provides for an interesting listen, and the creativity of the record is certainly worthy of praise, but it's more than somewhat disappointing that the band still sounds like an experiment four records in.
Still, everything Malkmus presents on this album works to some degree, and anyone who doesn't mind that the Jicks are still essentially a hodgepodge of everything Malkmus didn't do with Pavement should give Real Emotional Trash a listen. It's also worth noting that former Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss does a fantastic job behind the kit (especially on the wonderfully progressive title track), and continues to prove that she is one of the most underrated drummers in all of music.
Stereoside (Hard Rock)
So Long (3.5/4)- 2007
So Long is album that fans of any type of rock music should enjoy. It’s a perfect blend of old and new, and it’s far better than any modern rock played on the radio this year. It’s rare that a modern hard rock album does something truly unique, and it takes an album like So Long to remind one that rock doesn’t need to be boring and generic to sound mainstream and accessible. So Long may not have gotten the mainstream recognition that it deserved (in fact, it may be difficult to find the album in the first place), but any fan of mainstream rock needs to own this album. So Long is as good of a post-grunge album as the genre has seen, and it’s a good time from start to finish. It’s worth repeating again that fans of modern rock need to take notice, and fans of classic rock or grunge that lost interest in what’s on the radio these days should also give So Long a strong consideration.
Strapping Young Lad (Progressive/Extreme Metal)
Alien (4/4)- 2005
Devin Townsend has created a monster. Strapping Young Lad’s Alien is a brutal, intelligent, and oh so satisfying extreme metal album. Taking the best of death, industrial, prog, and thrash metal, and mixing it with the type of humorous mastery that can only come from Devin Townsend, Alien is an extraordinary achievement and an excellent example of unique heavy metal.
Stone Temple Pilots (Grunge/Post-Grunge)
Core (2/4)- 1992
Core could very easily be called the first post-grunge album. Released just after Pearl Jam’s outstanding Ten, Core tries and mostly fails to create the same sound that worked wonders on that album. The formula is here, as Stone Temple Pilots mix aggressive hard rock with more reserved ballads in much of the same as Pearl Jam, and STP’s instrumentalists are every bit as talented as those of Pearl Jam. However, what’s missing is the raw energy and strong lyrics that made Ten such a triumph. Stone Temple Pilots would end up improving considerably, but Core is nothing short of a shameless knock-off, and it’s only a shadow of the album that its so heavily influenced by.
Stuck Mojo (Hard Rock/Rap)
The Great Revival (1/4)- 2009
I'll admit that I don't know a whole lot about Stuck Mojo. I love rap and I love metal, but the combination of the two has rarely resulted in quality music, so forgive me for not remembering much about this late 90s rap-metal act. What I can say is that whether you like rap, rock, metal, previous Stuck Mojo albums, or even music in general, you should avoid The Great Revival. This is as awful of an album as there is, and I can't imagine anyone being able to stand it for more than a track or two. It is, however, hilarious. It's not trying to be, but it is. Songs like the Limp Bizkit-meets-Hannah Montana "Friends" and the nauseating cover of "Country Road" (where West Virginia randomly becomes North Carolina, even though the band is actually from Georgia) are guaranteed to make any fan of real rap or metal laugh, but most of the other tracks are just awful in the less humorous way. The songwriting is horrific on just about every level, the rapping is even worse than Fred Durst's, the lyrics are laughably bad throughout, and the same generic drop-d riff is played over and over again. On top of all of that, Stuck Mojo throws in random style changes at the most inopportune times, making it even more obvious that this band has absolutely no clue what they're doing. The "experimentation" adds nothing to the music, partly because the band doesn't seem to understand how to play the styles they add in. If The Great Revival is any indication, Stuck Mojo don't understand rap, metal, or any form of music they attempt to play. Other than for comedic purposes, there is no reason to listen to this album. Please, do yourself a favor and stay clear of The Great Revival. Even though it's one the first albums released in 2009, it will almost certainly be among the worst albums released all year.
Sum 41 (Pop Punk)
Underclass Hero (1/4)- 2007
Sum 41 may be an unapologetic rip-off of Green Day and Blink-182, but they’ve at least managed to stay close to the same level of mediocrity of the latter. With Blink-182 broken up, and Green Day matured, Sum 41 have left without a pop punk band to copy. Instead, they’ve taken Green Day’s rock opera American Idiot and made a desperate attempt to recreate that album’s more mature sound. Needless to say, they failed. Underclass Hero is an atrocious clone of American Idiot, full of laughably forced political lyrics and riffs that come close to plagiarizing Green Day. In the late 90s, there may have been a place for Sum 41, a band that took the ever evolving alternative rock of Green Day and combined it with the consistent pop punk of Blink. However, they’ve worn out their welcome. Underclass Hero is an embarrassing album in just about every way, and it can easily be called one of the worst rock records of the decade.
The Sword (Metal/Hard Rock)
Gods of the Earth (3/4)- 2008
Gods of the Earth isn't exactly the most original album of the year. That is to say, not much has changed since The Sword's first album, which was a solid but unoriginal take on Black Sabbath's classic sound. However, unlike the Airbourne's of the world, The Sword does a commendable job of recreating Sabbath's sound without actually being a blatant rip-off. The Sword doesn't hide their heavy Sabbath influence, but they also don't take it to the point of stealing riffs and recreating the exact same songs that Sabbath recorded years earlier. Instead, The Sword sounds more like a Black Sabbath tribute band, and a very talented one at that. The riffs here are hard hitting and accessible, and even though Gods of the Earth lacks originality, it does have a number of quality riffs that come fairly close to mimicking Sabbath without being a carbon copy. There will certainly be some classic metal fans who will appreciate what appears to be a legitimate attempt to bring back Black Sabbath's style of metal without coming across as borderline plagiarism (such as what Airbourne has done with AC/DC's sound). Fans of early Sabbath might want to give it a listen.
Symphony X (Progressive/Power Metal)
Paradise Lost (4/4)- 2007
Even though Paradise Lost might be the least progressive album on this list, it very well may be the best. Symphony X is no stranger to greatness, and they’ve come close to creating metal masterpieces in the past, but Paradise Lost is easily the band’s best album to date. The band’s combination of progressive metal, power metal, and symphonic metal is nothing unique on the surface, but their execution is top notch. Not once has that combination worked as well as it does on Paradise Lost, and at the times, it even sounds revolutionary. The album is incredibly polished and refined, and the musicianship is among the best you’ll ever hear. Symphony X has created an album that sounds beautiful and epic in its entirety, and all of the songs work on their own as smaller epic masterpieces. If you only buy one album this year from a band not named Radiohead, I highly recommend you make Paradise Lost that album. No metalhead should be without this one.
System of a Down (Hard Rock/Metal)
Toxicity (4/4)- 2001
It’s really pretty amazing that an album like Toxicity broke into the mainstream. Not because of it’s quality, but because of it’s originality and utter chaos. This is an assault of political hard rock filled with constant tempo changes and unapologetic weirdness. However, there is something oddly accessible about Toxicity, and even years later it’s hard to put a finger on just what that is. Regardless of its accessibility, Toxicity is an outstanding album with a unique sound and some very well written lyrics. It also has a great sense of humor, and it’s aforementioned unusual accessibility makes it something that any open minded music fan should listen to.