Rockin’ Thru the Aughts: The Year 2000 Pt. 6 – The metal albums

Rockin’ Thru the Aughts is my revisit through the rock music I loved as a preteen and teenager. For a full list of what I will be covering (and have already covered) on this challenge, head over here.

I should preface this particular post with the fact that I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a metalhead. Sure, the albums I will be covering below have all appeared to some extent on my music library as a teenager, and I did go through a brief phase wherein I listened to almost exclusive music within the metal genre. Nonetheless, most of my experience with metal hardly extends past the 80s and 90s, and when it did it was only the most commercially successful bands that often swept through my radar. Think Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and pretty much anything that played on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball and Fuse’s Uranium – and very little else.

This is just to say that I will almost certainly misspeak somewhere down the line in this post, or just generally make myself look like a fool. Feel free to correct me, but just know that this isn’t anywhere near my expertise.

Reinventing the Steel – Pantera

I’ll start off this week’s collection of reviews with an album from one of the legends of thrash metal. This would ultimately prove to be the band’s final album, as the band would break up a few years later. While much has been made of their classic albums from the 80s and 90s, particularly Cowboys From Hell and Vulgar Display of Power, I’ve heard from more than a couple people that this is their best album. I will admit that, yes, I was very much into Pantera during my metal phase as a teen. While I never listened to Reinventing the Steel in its entirety, I did have “Revolution is My Name” in my library, particularly reveling in Dimebag Darrell’s sweet, heavy intro riff.

So going into this, I was interested in seeing just how well Pantera has aged for me after all these years. As it turns out… not well. Don’t get me wrong – Darrell’s guitar work throughout this album, even extending beyond “Revolution”, is grungy, cool, and ultimately enjoyable to listen to. It’s clear that had he not met his demise so suddenly and tragically, there would have been much more under his sleeve for many years to come. And I’ve got to take a moment to give it up for drummer Vinnie Paul, who just passed away within the past few days. His work on this record (and pretty much throughout Pantera’s entire discography) is consistently sharp, energetic, and just plain awesome.

What I didn’t expect from this record (though perhaps I should have) is how poorly Phil Anselmo’s vocals have kept up through the years. And it’s not even the fact that he’s a few years older now – if anything, he sounds just as I remember him from classic Pantera tracks I used to frequent. It’s more that his angry screeches, consistent from track to track, are just no longer any fun anymore – they’re just annoying. It doesn’t help that the lyrics of these tracks amount to little more than try-hard flexing, empty threats, and mindless curses. It’s the type of visceral anger I just can’t really get behind anymore, certainly not in real life but also not in music.

The thing is, though, I can see how Pantera fans would have little to no issue with this album. It stays true to the southern thrash sound off which the band has long made a name for themselves. It could just be that I can no longer stomach Pantera any longer. Thinking about it a bit more, though, maybe I just can’t stomach Anselmo any longer. Yeah, that’s probably it.

Best track: “Revolution is My Name”

Beethoven’s Last Night – Trans-Siberian Orchestra

I had to dig real, real deep in my memory banks for this one. If anyone knows Trans-Siberian Orchestra for anything, it’s more likely their symphonic metal-style Christmas music, the likes of which have become more and more popular as the years go on. They’re a novelty act for sure, but I still really dug them back in the day. It made me feel like I can still be cool for liking Christmas music, as long as it shredded. Of course, once I started recognizing their music in holiday adverts (especially their 2004 track “Wizards in Winter”), I decided that they weren’t cool anymore and basically cut them off. Still, the mere fact that they exist is just kind of awesome.

There are two immediate descriptors I can give to this album. First of all, it’s long – twenty-two tracks running at over seventy minutes in length, and while most of these tracks are agreeably short, the relatively large breadth of the album is definitely apparent and makes itself known. Secondly, this album is… well, cheesy. It’s a rock opera about Beethoven’s death and his subsequent battle with Mephistopheles to gain back his soul. Strewn throughout are modernized pieces of famous classical works, particularly Beethoven’s works, though most of the instrumentals are all original. Moreover, it’s all performed in true rock opera fashion: big, bombastic, lush, and very melodramatic.

Yet despite all this, this album is still just very, very okay. For as epic, layered, and multi-faceted that this album is, it feels very often that each and every track are cut from the same cloth. The performers and musicians here are all very competent and even quite good at points, but something tells me that this would be much better suited for a live environment. It really feels like so much of what’s going on here is flattened by the studo production, which is a damn shame. The goal of a lengthy rock opera such as this is to at least make some sort of an impression – yet by the midway point, I was pretty convinced that this wasn’t going to happen. By the end, I couldn’t remember any tunes on this album outside of the already familiar ones. It doesn’t help that the regular leitmotif of the Fifth Symphony does get rather old after a while, almost as if Trans-Siberian Orchestra is reluctant to push any slightly more obscure Beethoven works into the mix.

Though I’ve made it sound like I hated this album, let it be known that I found the experience overall worthwhile, if unremarkable, and I’m glad I went through it. I guess I would recommend this album to anyone who both enjoys rock operas and classical music, especially Beethoven’s works. Though preferably if they are tired of the same old classical arrangements done time and time again and wish for something a little different. I’m not quite sure how big this overlap is – but considering that this record was made in the first place, it has to be somewhat considerable.

Best tracks: “Mephistopheles”, “Mephistopheles’ Return”, “What Child Is This”

Follow the Reaper – Children of Bodom

Okay, now this is what I’m talking about! During the height of my metal infatuation, Finnish band Children of Bodom were among my most-listened bands of the genre. I’ve just always really dug their melodic death metal style that felt consistently aggressive and hard-hitting, as if it had blasted up from another dimension entirely. Of course, with everything else here, I’ve eventually grown out of the band and slowly gravitated away from metal in general. Still, this is one of the artists I am most excited to be covering on this challenge (trust me, though, there are a lot).

As opposed to the album directly above this one, this record is short and simple. Nine tracks, thirty-eight minutes. Every track here is  very consistent in its general style and tone – quick drums, shredding guitars, subtle but important keyboard inflections, and high-registered, yowling vocals. The star of the show here is arguably guitarist and vocalist Alexi Laiho (who also wrote the material). His energy and dominance here is unparalleled, and the rest of the band are seemingly forced to take his lead . That’s not to say that they aren’t great in their own right, though – keyboardist Janne Wirman is especially important in bringing about some electronic touches to the record, pushing the band’s sound into something more than the typical drum-and-guitar metal band.

Moreover, I’m just glad that the production on this record stays as vibrant and textured as the band’s performance itself. There’s so much going on here and there really is the risk of it sounding much too flat or cluttered, but the layers of the band’s sound are crisp as needed. I guess the one downside I have to this record are the lyrics which, plainly speaking, tend to suck from time to time. Though to be fair, I never much listened to Children of Bodom for their lyrics, and I certainly didn’t make that a priority this time around. I’m really bad at talking about what exactly I liked about this one, but I do know that I like this album a lot – maybe even more than I did back in the day. It just… sounds awesome.

Best tracks: “Follow the Reaper”, “Everytime I Die”, “Mask of Sanity”

Midian – Cradle of Filth

And now for something a bit more embarrassing! Indeed, during the period when my metal phase and my goth phase had a brief overlap, Cradle of Filth were the absolute shit. As I mentioned, I very rarely went out of my way to discover metal and hard rock that wasn’t part of the rotation on mainstream rock channels. So when I noticed a couple Cradle of Filth music videos air on TV (probably on Fuse), they immediately caught my attention. They were the darkest, most intense, unapologetically Gothic group I had come across at that point and they’ve certainly left an impression.

Midian is a good introduction to the sound of this group, which would cater more toward studio-polished mainstream metal as the years went on. It is based off a Clive Barker novel, which ties in with the band’s fondness for horror media and pop culture. One of the best compliments I can give this album is that it really knows how to set up one hell of an atmosphere. The first couple tracks automatically transfer the listener to a turgid wall of sound, composed by the machine gun drumming of Adrian Erlandsson, the ominous dueling guitars of Gian Pyres and Paul Allender, and – of course – the acrobatic screams of lead vocalist Dani Filth. In particular, Filth’s vocals have always intrigued me so much – to this day, I can’t decide if I dig his maniacal screeches more than his lower, guttural moans, or the other way around.

If one is looking for a wide array of experimentation from track to track… well, I’d suggest they look elsewhere. The sound here is extremely consistent, but the downside is that every track tends to sound indistinguishable from one another. After a couple listens of this album, I still couldn’t assuredly explain the differences between “Cthulu Dawn”, “Death Magick for Adepts”, and “Amor e Morte”, for example. And that’s another thing – it’s pretty clear that the band is just wearing their Satanic imagery like a costume, which is fine, but does cause the album as a whole to wear a little thin after a while. Still, the one track that embodies everything worthwhile about this album is “Her Ghost in the Fog”, which got a lot of play from me back in the day (and even in the present day, on occasion). Every member of the band is at their best in this layered, progressive track, with special attention given to keyboardist Martin Powell who just gives it his all here. The whole album may be a bit of a bore to slog through, but this particular track is as sharp as ever.

Best track: “Her Ghost in the Fog”

Relationship of Command – At the Drive-In

(I know this album isn’t “metal”, don’t at me)

One benefit that I had hopes to receive through this challenge is to finally get around to a bunch of blind spots that I had inexplicably been avoiding all these years. This first occurred right with the first week of the challenge when I finally got around to the entirety of White Pony, and it’s now happened once again here where, at last, I listened to one of the most acclaimed albums of this year (at least in my circles).

Earlier in the challenge, I listened to Glassjaw’s Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Silence – to my disdain. While I greatly appreciated the band’s erratic style and weird time signatures, and generally respect its stance as an important album of the post-hardcore movement, the misogyny and just plain ugliness of this album really threw me off. Luckily for me, Relationship of Command was just around the corner. The raggedly experimental style of post-hardcore that I enjoy so much is all here in spades, thanks in particular to guitarist Omar Rodriguez and the energetic vocalist Cedric Bixler.

The sound of this record is raw, intense, and sometimes even fun; the emotions on display are all totally genuine, but it doesn’t make for half the jarring experience that Silence gave me. I mostly just found myself amazed by the unique guitar melodies, interpolated with drums and bass matching in intensity, and surreal lyricism that often don’t make a lick of sense but only add to the already fruitful experience. “One Armed Scissor” was the one track that caught my attention back in the day, but listening through this album in its entirety proves that this group has a whole lot more going for it. While anger is the driving force behind much of this album, there is no limitation to the creative, ultra-passionate twists and turns that run throughout. It truly is one hell of a journey.

I’m already well aware of the vast array of imitators that this band and especially this album had influenced throughout the remainder of the decade. I’m more than certain that I’ll run across more than a handful of them throughout the rest of this challenge, both for the better and… not so much. For now, though, I’ll keep this album locked in my mind for quite some time. It’s really a damn shame I never got around to it sooner, but I’m glad it’s here now.

Best tracks: “Arcarsenal”, “One Armed Scissor”, “Sleepwalk Capsules”, “Enfilade”, “Quarantined”, “Non-Zero Possibility”

This was a relatively shorter week. I didn’t have time to get through as many albums as I wanted to, and on top of that I posted this a few days late. Also, I didn’t have as many metal albums from this year that I listened to as a teen – these will come later. I’m still trying to figure out what theme to tack onto next weeks albums, but as the list for 2000 albums dwindles down, this makes it tougher to do. I’m sure I’ll figure something out, though. Thanks for reading, once again!

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