Recent Purchases

(Some of the Radiohead ones are just me filing all the B-Sides of a certain era into one fictional album, as is the Fates Warning Live album, that’s really just bonus tracks from the special edition of Parallels that I changed to look like a real album. Also, I’ve had In The Land Of Grey And Pink for over a decade, not sure why it is in this list, for some reason it keeps appearing in the list as if it is new… just a weird anomoly of iTunes I guess.)

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Smashing Pumpkins Albums (And some notable EPs/Compilations) Ranked:

This list feature is based on my subjective personal opinion, not fan consensus or journalistic research. They are ranked from best to worst, best being simply “my own favourite” and worst being “the one I personally like the least.” I know it is customary to rank from worst to best, but I prefer to lead with the positive. Check out the rankings home page for more albums-ranked lists.

Today I’ll be discussing Chicago’s own genre-defying, ever-evolving, hard to define band, The Smashing Pumpkins, and their somewhat intimidating discography. (Feel free to add your own ranknigs in the comments).

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1. Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream (1993) – Its quite hard to pick a number one album when the band have two of the most definitive albums of the 1990s, both of which are always featured on every list and retrospective of the most important / most iconic / most famous / best albums in every book, magazine, website, blog etc. that you can think of. (Almost like Pink Floyd having both The Wall and Dark Side Of The Moon in their catalogue). Which one you will prefer will ultimately come down to personal choice: Do you want a tighter more direct ride to your destination? Or do you want the more scenic diverse route that covers more ground, and gets you there in a slower but more colourful way?
I like every album the Pumpkins have made so far, but it is fair to say the most famous two are the most famous for a good reason, and the two best starting points for a new fan. I was almost tempted for half a minute not to pick either the perfect-flowing Siamese Dream or the epic double-album Melon Collie’ for first place, but ultimately decided that was just being deliberately awkward, and inaccurate. After deep consideration, I do honestly believe Siamese Dream is my favourite Pumpkins album and deserving of the top spot, even if it is an obvious choice.  

Great drums, heavy moments, soft moments, grungey moments, occasional proggy tinges and some very memorable hits. Enough has already been written about Billy Corgan’s masterpiece that I won’t write too much steamy praise here, but if you haven’t heard it yet, I’ll just echo the hundreds of voices online that say it absolutely lives up to its reputation, deserves all the plaudits, and gets better on each listen.

And to think, I took a strange dislike to this band as a teenager due to the song “Today” and its music video, and didn’t give the band a fair listen until my brother got me this album as an unrequested gift, only about 4 or 5 years ago. All that time wasted, not realising how good this band are. Oh well, guess I’ll have to make up for it now.

Best hits: “Cherub Rock” & “Disarm”

Best deep cuts: “Silverfuck,” “Geek USA” & “Hummer.”

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2. Smashing Pumpkins – Melon Collie And The Infinite Sadness (1996) – As hinted above already, this huge sprawling eccentric record is another masterpiece, and has an equal chance of being thought of as their finest hour. It is almost difficult to take in during one listen, there’s more creativity and ideas popping off here than in some of their peer’s whole discographies.

It takes all the ideas of their previous two albums, amplifies them, expands upon them and then introduces dozens more new ideas on top of that to create a two-hour voyage through numerous facets of rock, pop and metal music with a loose dreamy passage of time theme, some trippy artwork, and some very evocative lyrics. There are songs for every mood you could be in, for every type of rock fan – perhaps that’s why it was such a monster seller?

Speaking of its sales, I almost find it hard to believe that such a borderline reckless album with seemingly no creative restraint ended up being so financially successful (gold, platinum, multi-platinum and diamond selling, in different territories). Sometimes it doesn’t even seem to know if it wants to be Smells Like Teen Spirit, Pink Moon, Colony Of Slippermen or Enter Sandman. Then again, a few listens, and you get to see how good the songs are, and as mentioned above… there’s something for everything, so I guess it makes a lot of sense.   
 

Best hits: “Tonight, Tonight,” “Zero” & “1979.”

Best deep cuts: “An Ode To No One,” “X.Y.U” & “Where Boys Fear To Tread.”

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3. Smashing Pumpkins – Gish (1991) – This is one of the band’s tightest, most efficient, consistent and succinct records to date. Whereas the next two albums made a great success out of being broad, expansive, and diverse, this album’s strength is in its relative straight-forwardness and cohesion.

That’s not to say the album is boring or repetitive, there is a mixture of hard rockers, ballads and sleepy psychedelic moments – its just focused, flows well and has a clear direction. I know the band started off in the ‘80s with a bunch of goth and New Wave influences, but by the time they got into the 90s, their debut album sounds more like early Monster Magnet and peak Kyuss to me than it does like New Order or The Cure. Maybe that’s just my ear. Rock fans who have only heard the big singles like “1979” and “Today,” or “Tonight, Tonight” might be quite surprised with the fuzzed out attacking moments on this record. If you like your “Demon Cleaner” with a side of “Dinosaur Vacuum” – check this one out, you might be pleasantly surprised.

In terms of a well-crafted album, this is pretty damn great. The others are just trying to be “more than an album” and, arguably succeeding. Still, in such a long and very varied career, with members coming and going, with exploration into all sorts of different musical territories, through various breakups and comebacks… whichever album managed to come in at third place behind the two obvious always going to be number one or two shouts must be pretty must-hear, right? Well it is. I feel like every music publication in the rock world will tell you to listen to Siamese’ and Melon Collie, but if you have even the most passing interest in the band, you need to get some Gish in your life too, at an absolute minimum.

Best songs: “Bury Me,” “Siva” & “I Am One.”

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4. Smashing Pumpkins – Zeitgeist (2007) – This album usually features pretty low on critic’s Pumpkins album ranking lists, but I don’t care. This blog isn’t about the common consensus, this is just my own personal taste, and personally, I love this record.

The Smashing Pumpkins have one of the most frustrating and hard to please fanbases in the rock world, and the critics seems twice as unpleasable as that. This album was already written-off by the press before it was even released because bassist and guitarist D’arcy and James were gone, and then upon review, the specifics were added in. It was poo-pooed for being too metal and too simple, despite critic’s favourite Pumpkins albums being full of highly metallic songs like “Zero” and “Bodies” and “Quiet” as well as despite critics previously poo-pooing parts of Machina for being too experimental and proggy, on top of the fact that D’arcy and James contributed the least musically to all the albums the critics do like… its just a weird bandwagon for everyone to jump on.

When the Pumpkins came back with a cool striking artwork and theme (that carried through to all the merch and singles and videos and stage image etc), and a vague promise in interviews to return to the immediacy of Gish, and kept the two most important members of the band, in hindsight it just seems a little weird and off that this album is thought of by so many people as a stinker.

Imagine being Billy Corgan in 2007, or even nowadays looking back at rankings and seeing this at or near the bottom. What must he be thinking? “You’re mad at the Pumpkins because they’re being more simple, like you wanted them to, and writing more metallic songs again, like you wanted them to, and because the band members who make the least difference to the overall Pumpkins sound are gone – but the really noticeable drummer and the voice and writer of 90% of the music is still there…the guy who physically played all the bass on Siamese Dream anyway? – And on top of that, this record and marketing campaign are both really cool and that’s all being ignored in favour of those really nit-picky complaints?”  Yeah, ok, I wouldn’t know how to process that either.

When I personally listen to the excellent music, which has some great Hard Rock / borderline metallic bangers ala the best moments on the first three albums, as well as some great melodic modern moments that rival or even exceed the best moments on Machina (“That’s The Way My Love Is,” “Bring The Light” etc), and even a near-ten-minute Tool-sounding drum fuelled epic (“United Stated”)… I definitely get what I want from the Pumpkins.

I guess some people wanted Dream Pop, or Shoegaze or New Wave or Avant-Garde, and fair enough, those aspects are in shorter supply here, so if that is what you were expecting, those elements aren’t as well represented this time, and if that was the actual criticism, I could respect that. But don’t try and tell me with a straight face that “Death From Above” is a bad song, or that you can really hear the lack of D’Arcy on this album.

Some people don’t like the production, especially on the vocals, and fair enough, that’s personal taste. I can get if you don’t want all the overdubbed vocals and effects. For me, personally, the production here still sounds a lot better than Adore or either volume of Machina did, so its not a deal-breaker level bad production to my ears.         

Best songs: “Doomsday Clock,” “Tarantula” & “United States.”

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5. Smashing Pumpkins – Shiny And Oh So Bright’ (2018) – This eight track album (initially called Volume 1, although there seems no sign of a volume 2 at time of writing) is the Pumpkins’ shortest album to date, at just over half an hour.

While other Smashing Pumpkins albums tend to have a hook or angle of some sort (eg. broad, diverse, eccentric, arty, commercial, electronic, heavy, quiet, proggy, back to basics, etc) this one just seems to focus entirely on “good song writing” which for my money, is a very admirable goal.

There are only eight songs here, but all of them are a winner, nothing is skippable, all are immensely memorable.     

The Rick Rubin-produced affair sees the return of guitarist James Iha (absent since 2000) and drummer Jimmy Chamberlain (absent since 2009), which makes for good headlines, although early bassist D’arcy Wretzky is still absent, which rankled some critics, so I guess you could only consider it a partial reunion… kind of like Guns N’ Roses getting Slash and Duff back in the band, but not Adler.

Oh well, if the results are this good, I can live without the optics of a full reunion.

PS. I don’t mean to come across like I dislike D’Arcy or anything, not at all, I just really don’t understand when some people online or in the media come out with a real hard-line “No Pumpkins album without D’Arcy is any good” attitude. I just don’t see it. They’ve released some spectacular work without her.   

Best songs: “Seek And You Shall Destroy,” “Marchin’ On” & “Silvery Sometimes (Ghosts).”

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6. Smashing Pumpkins – Machina II: The Friends & Enemies Of Modern Music (2000) – Smashing Pumpkins are years ahead of their time. They gave an album away for free on the internet more than half a decade before Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails made it cool. They had some alternate-reality marketing before a similar idea made Reznor look like a genius. Hell, they even had the idea of an animated band before the Gorillaz.
If you are wondering what the heck I’m talking about, have a good old read online about the stillborn double album Glass And The Machines Of God. Ok, it wasn’t all completely original…  the idea of a rock opera about a rock-star thing had already been well explored by bands like WASP and Savatage a decade prior, and of course by Pink Floyd over a decade before that. But the they handled/were going to handle it, seemed like quite a cool update / twist on the basic premise.   

When the record that was initially to be a double eventually morphed into two separate records, Machina 2, (the one that didn’t unfortunately get a proper commercial release and which you have to listen to online or via dodgy bootlegs), was actually the better of the two, with the best songs, the best ideas, and the most clear narrative.

Until this eventually gets rereleased in some glorious deluxe edition, you’ll just have to search-engine your way to a trustworthy copy, and the sound won’t be perfect, but for the tunes its worth it.

Although it has such an interesting backstory, it is not a mere gimmick, and if it was just an album you could always get in the shops just like anything else, it would still be one of their best. I can’t even think of the Pumpkins without thinking “Shattering fast…”  

Best songs: “Glass’ Theme,” “Cash Car Star” & “Dross.”

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7. Smashing Pumpkins – Monuments To An Elegy (2014) – This album has the somewhat weird distinction of having Motley Crue’s Tommy Lee on drums. As odd a pairing as that is on paper, Lee actually fits the music tastefully and you wouldn’t even know he was there unless you were told.

Similarly to Shiny And Oh So Bright, it is barely over half an hour in length. With the exception of the quite rocking opener, the musical direction is quite upbeat, poppy, synthy. It’s a very pleasant listening experience.

If you want blistering guitar solos, throat rending screams, and gen-x angst, you’ve very much picked up the wrong disc, but if you want to hear the band in a more contemplative, mature, less aggro space, this is a nice diversion. Simple, elegant, understated. I guess you could see it as Billy exploring what songs you can write at the polar opposite point to the complex, ostentatious, over the top end of the spectrum that brought us Melon Collie. I wouldn’t like them to live here full time, I love it when they go big, but as a one off album, I really love that this exists.

Best songs: “Tiberius,” “Drum + Fife” & “Anaise!”

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8. Smashing Pumpkins – Pisces Iscariot (1994) – Ok, this isn’t a real album, its actually a B-sides compilation, but its as good as most band’s real albums. In fact, there’s many a Pumpkins fan who would place this as their second or third best record, almost up there with the top tier classics.

Its well sequenced, and flows like a real album, moreso than a compilation, and if someone told you it wasn’t just their second album between Gish and Siamese Dream, you could easily fall for that line.  

For that reason, I’ve decided to include it on the list here. If you’re using this list as a buyer’s guide, seriously treat this compilation like a true album, its unskippable.

Best songs: “Frail & Bedazzled,” “Pissant” & “Starla.”

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9. Smashing Pumpkins – Oceania (2012) – 2012’s Oceania is the first full-length Pumpkins album with Jeff Schroeder officially on it, even though he’s actually been in the band since the comeback shows of 2007.

After the press and even a lot of the fans unceremoniously took a dump on the fantastic Zeitgeist album, in which the band had tried to be simplistic and go back to basics, but also took a dump on the live shows of the time in which the band tried to be creative and progressive and boundary pushing, (see the excellent documentary / live DVD “If All Goes Wrong” for context), then also ignored their ahead-of-their-time, creative new “we don’t do albums anymore, we’ll just release stuff online” approach of the next few years… the Pumpkins were at a bit of a cross roads. People aren’t happy when the band go back to their roots, people aren’t happy when the band making progress… the only thing people can really seem to ever agree on is liking  Siamese Dream. Everyone likes Siamese Dream. So, Billy and company decided with Oceania to deliberately try and remind people of Siamese Dream. Not so much obvious retreading, but “capturing a vibe.” Well, I say not obvious retreading, but you’d have to try very hard to find a review of this album that doesn’t mention “Cherub Rock,” or “Disarm” or maybe even “Spaceboy” and “Luna” …everyone is tripping over themselves to hear hints of Siamese Dream on this album, and tell .

Its not all Siamese-nostaliga though. You can actually hear as much were they would be going on future albums like Monuments’ and Cyr in some of the poppier and synthier moments as much as you can riffs or drum rolls that remind you of the glory days.

In terms of ranking it, it is a pretty strong album, but a bit of filler holds it back from the absolute top tiers. If it had either been a tad more adventurous, or else a tad more succinct, it would have been even better. As it stands, its just pretty good, but not an utter classic.

Best songs: “The Celestials,” “Inkless” & “Quasar.”

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10. Smashing Pumpkins – Teargarden By Kaleidyscope EPs & Singles (2010) – As mentioned above, after the music journalists savaged basically everything Billy and his merry band did since they returned, the decision was made to abandon the traditional album format, and instead just release digital EPs and singles.

This was quite forward thinking, but like Lars was right about Napster at the time, and people are starting to realise it in hindsight, but it seemed crazy at the time and people just didn’t rally around it like they should have. It seems like the whole “lets eschew albums in favour of just digital singles or short but frequent EPs” mostly idea is more relevant today than ever. You can’t switch on a music podcast these days without some artist or industry insider pondering about whether the album format is old fashioned in the era of streaming and downloads.

Technically, Oceania and Monuments’ are part of this overarching project too, but they work as well (if not better) as distinct albums, so for this entry, I’m just talking about the rest of the material. If you take the EPs The Solstice Bare & Songs For A Sailor plus the rest of the Teargarden single tracks, they basically all add up together to form a third album’s worth of material, and so for ease of organisation, I tend to just think of them as one album, and have actually just formatted them as one album in my music library. A sort of missing album between Zeitgeist and Oceania if you will.

You know how they say don’t look a gift horse in the mouth? Yeah, well, considering these are totally free tracks, it’s a very enjoyable set. Alright, if you want to get your critical analysis skills out, sure, it isn’t as accomplished as the upper half of the list, but for a free record, it’s a heck of a lot better than you’d expect.

Best songs: “Song For A Son,” “Freak USA” & “Cottonwood Symphony.”

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11. Smashing Pumpkins – Cyr (2020) – The newest album on this list at time of writing, Cyr is a double disc synth-pop album. It was talked up as being their attempt to create something modern, but to me it sounds like ‘80s worship. I wonder is this in fact closer to the vision inside Billy’s head when they started the band, than a genuine attempt to be modern?

At first, I wasn’t quite as into this record as most of the others. My main concerns were basically, “What’s the point of having a drummer as good as Chamberlain back in the band if you are going to have programmed beats and restrained songs?” and “what’s the point of having a double album if its all sort of one pace and all sort of one duration, with no peaks and valleys?” but from repeat listens, it has really grown on me. At the end of the day, a good song is a good song. Yeah, it isn’t as heavy and aggressive as I like, or as proggy and weird as I like, or as acoustic and beautiful as I like, or as diverse and surprising as I like, or as virtuosic and instrumentally impressive as I’d like… but do I spend a lot of the week humming choruses or melody lines from it… so Billy must have been on to something.

Best songs: “Ramona,” “Anno Satana” “Tyger, Tyger” & “Wyttch.”

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12. Smashing Pumpkins – The Aeroplane Flies High Boxset (1996) – Originally this was a box set collecting all the singles from Melon Collie, but nowadays you can just get it on iTunes or Amazon etc, and if you ignore the hit Mellon Collie songs, its kind of works like a (less-good) follow up to Pisces Iscariot. In contrast to that very wonderful compilation though, this doesn’t flow like an album, isn’t consistent all the way through, and isn’t a must-have. If you love the Pumpkins and just want a bit more, it is worth seeking out, and there are some great tunes on it, but it is definitely uneven and for-fans-only.

Best songs: “God,” “Pennies” & “Marquis In Spades.”

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13. Smashing Pumpkins – Machina / The Machines Of God (2000) – I really like the album, but I’m going to have to try and justify putting it so far down the list, lower than things that aren’t even real albums, between albums you can’t even buy on CD and between albums without most of the original line up. Far below albums many critics outright panned. It would be easy to just say “personal preference” chalk the whole thing up as a good job, and knock off early for ice cream, but I suppose I better try and come up with a rationale anyway.

The production on this one has a bit of a harsh sheen on most of it, and sort of hurts my ears. It’s a bit too bright, brittle and loud.

The record is also a bit overlong and although there is some diversity and some totally new ideas, it suffers a bit from filler in the middle and so unfortunately feels like it doesn’t justify its length.  

The heavy, energetic, intensely memorable opener is one of the best songs in the band’s history, and there are some nice trippy experimental moments here and there, but most of the album is a bit too syrupy.

Also, for a concept album / rock opera, the narrative doesn’t really come across as clearly as you would expect.

If either they had combined this and Machina 2 into one giant epic, or else they had trimmed this down to its best moments, and toned down the production a bit, then perhaps it would be a bit higher up the list, but as it stands, it is a good Pumpkins album, but not a great one.

Best songs: “The Everlasting Gaze,” “Try, Try, Try” & “Wound.”

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14. Smashing Pumpkins – Adore (1998) – It feels harsh having this album last, and indeed it will be utter blasphemy to some fans, but something has to be in last place, and although I like it, it is unarguably my least favourite. The songs, for the most part, aren’t just quite as good as the Pumpkin’s best. There’s definitely good stuff here, but there’s better stuff elsewhere.

I don’t mind them not playing hard or metallic, I don’t mind them not having Chamberlain’s drums, and I don’t mind them using synths or being gothy elsewhere, so don’t think I’m some kind of luddite just rejecting this album because it was a big sonic shift for the band.

Its just a bit plain, unadventurous and dreary when compared to the Pumpkins’ bigger more beloved albums, and also not as memorable, concise and well-written as their lesser well-known material. Even compared to their other ‘80s and electronic tinged album, its not as fun.

I’m sort of making it sound as though I don’t like it, but that is not the case, I do still like it… I’m just trying to explain how it can be last on the list, so the hardcore fans put down their pitchforks and flaming torches. It has some memorable moments, a unique aesthetic in the band’s catalogue, was historically important. I’m not denying that. It is an interesting portrait of a dark, bereaved time for the Pumpkins and confused time for the music business. But its just not as much my cup of tea as all the others.

Oh wait, did I essentially just say “personal preference” and knock off early? Woops. Anyone for ice-cream?

Best songs: “Ava Adore,” “Blank Page” & “For Martha.”

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Also, the EPs American Gothic and Lull deserve honorary mentions. You can do with “Slunk” and “The Rose March” in your life if you like good Pumpkins.

Recent Purchases / Gifts:

Here’s a round-up of recent musical aquistions I’ve come by.


(Some of it might actually just be one song / bonus track I added, but it is too hard to filter that out of the screenshots).

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Ghost – Impera review

Swedish Rock/Metal band Ghost return in 2022 with their fifth full-length studio album, Impera, an empire themed three-quarters-of-an-hour journey through various musical twists and turns. There are three brief intros/interludes and nine “real songs” including epic stadium-destined power balladry, weird creative diversions, and some big bouncy anthems.

No two Ghost albums are alike, and this album doesn’t sound much like their previous album Prequelle, nor indeed any of the albums that came before that either. They have evolved markedly over the course of their career, and you could make a solid argument for any one of their albums being their best one.

If you are expecting a St. Vitus or Pentagram album, because someone once mentioned the word “doom” or “occult” to you in reference to Ghost several years ago, then this album might be a bit of a shock. This album is perhaps their brightest, shiniest, most “stadium” sounding record to date. The media has been quick to throw out Bon Jovi, Def Leppard and Van Halen comparisons, and in all honesty, those do seem fairly close to the mark. They don’t sound specifically like any one of those bands, but there are tinges of the feeling they evoke – just mixed with dozens of other influences. Ghost are such a melting pot and no two listeners will describe it exactly the same way. You’ll be picking up hints of all sorts of different reference points, from ‘60s and ‘70s Psychedelic and Prog music, to that ‘80s MTV sound, to classic Hard Rock, and maybe even bits of Ozzy and Dio, and all sorts of other things. In addition to all the rock and metal, Tobias has also always had a big ear for pop music, and the 70s/80s pop stylings are dialled notably up. The producer, Klas Åhlund, has worked in various capacities for people like Madonna, Kylie Minogue, Britney Spears, the Sugababes, Paloma Faith and numerous others. I’ve heard it described in all sorts of different ways, from Dr. Feelgood by way of “Mama Mia,” to Mercyful Fate covering “Panama,” to the alternate reality where Rabin-era Yes wrote The Black Album.

The mixture of pop, rock and metal has always been a cornerstone of the Ghost schtick, and the ratio and specifics change slightly each time, but it always sounds like Ghost. I would be hard pressed to say you would ever dislike this if you liked any of their previous work, even if it is sonically quite a far cry from Opus Anonymous.

It is hard to pick highlights, because there are only 9 real songs, all of them serve a specific purpose in the journey, three of them were singles anyway already (at time of writing) and none of them are skippable. Its quite a tight, succinct, well-paced, fat-free affair. Definitely the kind of album you listen to in one whole sitting from start to finish. That being said, I’ve always loved the obvious “hits” like “Square Hammer,” “Kiss The Go-Goat” and “Rats” from other releases, so “Hunter’s Moon” is very noteworthy for me. The opener, “Kaisareon” doesn’t fit that previous “hit single” mould, but its supercharged hook after hook after hook approach (its almost like it has 4-5 different album defining choruses in one single song) is a standout in a whole new way. From the reaction it is getting in the media, I can foresee “Darkness At The Heart Of My Love” being a massive concert favourite, and every time I listen to it, it feels important somehow, like some sort of milestone moment.

As usual, Ghost deliver a great new album that gives more of what we want, in quirky and unexpected ways, and sounds exactly and uniquely like themselves while both never repeating themselves and also sounding like a Jukebox of dozens of other disparate things you like or at least recognise from elsewhere. As usual, Ghost deliver a top notch set of songs that will stick with you for years to come, that you are desperate to hear in the live setting, that you couldn’t imagine a playlist without. As usual, within the first few listens, you’ll be convinced its an album of the year contender.      

Clutch Albums Ranked:

This list feature is based on my subjective personal opinion, not fan consensus or journalistic research. They are ranked from best to worst, best being simply “my own favourite” and worst being “the one I personally like the least.” I know it is customary to rank from worst to best, but I prefer to lead with the positive. Check out the rankings home page for more albums-ranked lists.

Today, I’ll be discussing the studio albums from the one of a kind, eccentric and diverse Maryland Rock band, Clutch.

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1. Clutch – Earth Rocker (2013) – This is one of those albums like Dr. Feelgood or Permanent Vacation where it seems like someone sat the band down, sobered them up, got them into a laser-beam focus, and said “ok, you have to make the biggest album of your career now.” Its one of those career defining albums like Back In Black, or British Steel or The Black Album where it feels like the band were making a concerted effort to “step up.” Its one of those albums like “Paranoid” where the album plays more like a greatest hits compilation than a single album and almost every song could have been a hit. Its one of those albums like Formation Of Damnation or Hordes Of Chaos that come later in the band’s career and somehow set a new standard for excellence and start a new golden age for the band. Its all of those things and more. It’s the biggest, boldest, liveliest, punchiest record of the band’s career; with a level of quality control, focus and singular-vision that makes this something truly rare, truly special….a perfect record!  

It’s the band’s supercharged, hyper-focused, ultra-consistent, perfect-all-the-way-through, “THIS.IS.CLUTCH.” defining statement.

The album just explodes out of the speakers, crackling with life, bursting with colour, oozing personality, throwing gem after gem after gem at you and never letting up. “Coming at you in all 3-Ds.” Its larger than life, its almost too good to be true. Its Earth Rocker, muthafucker!  Blurgh-haw-hah-ha-ha-ha-ha.

Best songs: “Earth Rocker,” “Cyborg Bete,” “Crucial Velocity” & “Unto The Breach.”

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2. Clutch – Blast Tyrant (2004) – This thing could be described as “Personality, the album.” This record is the refinement, crystallisation and then expansion of everything the band had been building up to until this point. This album forever set Clutch aside from the pack. All the way up until Earth Rocker (almost a decade) this must have been their Ace Of Spades type “cannot escape the shadow” album. This album is like a colourful alternate reality dreamworld. Lots of little Funk, Soul, Gospel, Gogo, Southern Rock and Blues tinges mix with a bombastic foundation of high energy Hard Rock, filtered through boundless creativity in an effortless air of cool. The band clearly tapped into an embarrassment-of-riches vein from the mine of earworm choruses, toe-tapping beats and make-you-smile riffs n’ basslines. Every musician is like the best musician in any other band.

Add to that an outrageously good opening run of six classics, some diversity with a smoky ballad, an instrumental and some virtuosic jamming. Its packaged up in bizarre memorable artwork and a gorgeous clear vibrant production job… mix it all up and you’ve got a straight up classic album on your hands.

Frontman Neil Fallon also seemed to take this moment to ascend from cool singer with quirky lyrics into a God-tier contender for best rock frontman in history. If this guy had been around in the ’60s or ’70s when the history books were still unwritten he would no doubt be up there in the top-10 with the likes of any icon you dare to name. Its like he did some soul searching, figured out what his “best qualities” were, then just made his whole being the best bits, and then upped his game tenfold again! Remember the idea of how Dimebag decided to make every riff “the money riff”? Here its like Neil decided to make every verse, chorus and bridge the vocal equivalent of “the money riff.”

As if all that if that wasn’t enough…. they then also managed to write “The Mob Goes Wild” …which for my money is unarguably one of the best songs in human history. If you don’t love that song, you are no friend of mine! The fact that it isn’t talked about daily in the same breath as “Smoke On The Water,” “Whole Lotta Love” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” is nothing short of a crying shame.    

Best songs: “The Mob Goes Wild,” “Subtle Hustle” “The Profits Of Doom” & “The Regulator.”

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3. Clutch – Clutch (1995) – The band’s “real” debut in the eyes of many, and for many their crowning achievement. Self-titled for a reason. This is one superb set of songs let me tell you and a real genre-classic for the Stoner Rock scene. (I mean Clutch are a weird, unique outlier for the scene and more than just Stoner Rock, but its definitely a part of the sound, particularly on this record).

It was great enough for them to play it in its entirety for a live album, and they have always played a hell of a lot of it live over the years.

This is such a humongous step up from Speedway’ and the early EPs. The same DNA is there, but the results are very different. For example, the bounce of ‘Marcus can be heard updated on “Animal Farm,’ the groove of “El Jefe” can be heard evolved on “Tight Like That.” The clever lyrics and badass attitude of “12 Oz Epilogue” and ‘Monster Trucks can be heard evolved on, well… all over this album. This album takes the best most charasmatic and memorable moments of the last a builds a whole album out of the cream of the crop.

If you have this as your own number-one in your own rankings, I’d totally get it. The only reasons I can think of to knock it down lower are personal preference issues, and just because they’ve released better stuff since. If I was to try and justify it not being first like so many online Clutch rankings would have it, all I can come up with is that the production is a bit rough, the vocals are a bit unrefined, the last few songs could have been cut for a tighter experience… but all that is just nitpicking and I love this record. At the end of the day, it does have some of the band’s finest tracks, is a fan-favourite and really helped define who and what Clutch are, and it is chocked to the brim with charm.

Best songs: “Texan Book Of The Dead,” “Escape From The Prison Planet” & “Animal Farm.”

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4. Clutch – The Book Of Bad Decisions (2018) – The band’s newest album at time of writing, and the one that has grown on me the most over time. Every single time I listen to this I like it more and more, and I liked it plenty when it was released. If you deleted tracks 2 and 3, I think you could even bump this album up another place, as it would then be close to perfect.

It almost goes without saying, since we are talking about Clutch, but this album is so big, fun, memorable, and full of personality, with such unique lyrics and charismatic vocals, immense drumming, and stick-in-your-head-for-weeks basslines & riffs.

How many bands twelve albums deep (and numerous EPs and compilations more) into their career are still putting out one of their best albums and seeming more relevant and exciting now than when they broke through? It’s a pretty exclusive club.

Imagine being decades into your career and still being able to knock out a song as memorable, powerful and immensely fun as “How To Shake Hands” …that’s almost unfair, leave some quality for the rest of the bands in the world! I never get tired of imagining president Fallon flying around in a UFO.

Best songs: “Ghoul Wrangler,” “Paper & Strife” “In Walks Barbarella” & “Hot Bottom Feeder.”

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5. Clutch – Robot Hive/Exodus (2005) – Blast Tyrant was like their equivalent of coming out with The Blackening years after Burn My Eyes. It can’t have been easy following that up. No matter what you do it won’t have quite the same impact for most fans.

Despite gigantic shoes to fill, Robot Hive’ is a superb follow-up and near as good. Its more diverse, more eclectic and tries more things, and sacrifices a little bit of focus for variety, but it is certainly worth it and much more hit than miss. Bazumph.

I always think of this and Blast Tyrant as a set, and often don’t listen to one without the other, so it is purely academic ranking them or having one higher or lower than the other. You need to buy both, it’s as simple as that.

Best songs: “Burning Beard,” “Circus Maximus” & “The Incomparable Mr. Flannery.”

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6. Clutch – Psychic Warfare (2015) – Like Robot Hive’ is the follow-up companion to Blast Tyrant’s excellence, so too is Psychic Warfare the worthy follow-up companion to Earth Rocker’s perfection. This album is pure class, the only reason it isn’t higher being it had to follow up a surprise world-beater. If this had have came out first and Earth Rocker never existed, then this would be talked about in much the same way as Earth Rocker is.

Certainly they were on a fine run on form, and you can take the albums from Earth Rocker onwards as a set, and it would be an absolutely fantastic set, a golden era. This is what the phrase “its like someone lit a fire under their ass” was made on. Few bands ever have (or ever will) released three such strong albums in succession.

Best songs: “Sucker For The Witch,” “A Quick Death In Texas” & “Your Love Is Incarceration.”

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7. Clutch – Strange Cousins From The West (2009) – Most fans might have this one a bit lower in the rankings, but its one of my favourites, and I have an emotional attachment to it as it was the first “new” Clutch album in my time as a serious fan. ‘90s fans would probably want to slap me for having it above Elephant Riders, but hey, this is my list, make your own list if you want this lower. This album is the band’s blues-iest, roots-iest album to date, perhaps leaning hard in on the success of “Electric Worry” and doubling down on it.

It’s a far cry from the days of “Impetus” and “Pitchfork” style face-smashing, and instead sits in a “the world’s greatest bar band” territory. Its like John Bonham, Jimi Hendrix and a coked-up gospel preacher decided to play at your local blues bar and knock out some of the most good-time music they could. It also has just fabulous, Monster-Magnet quality, memorable, unique, quirky lyrics.

This album is all about the feel. Its all about being in the pocket, in the groove, in the vibe. It’s the idea of Jam Room for the new millennium, but the execution is a thousand times better. If you dislike this, I have a hard time taking you seriously.

Best songs: “Struck Down,” “Freakonomics” “Sleestak Lightning” & “50,000 Unstoppable Watts.”

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8. Clutch – The Elephant Riders (1998) – “Uneven” is a very harsh, pedantic and easily counterargued criticism for the album, but short of just having all albums be “joint first” and calling it a day, there has to be some way of differentiating the albums and ranking them…even if having this one lower than some of the others might be blasphemy to many fans.  

It is painful to have this album so low, but we are into the ultimate “they’re always brilliant, how do I choose?” splitting hairs territory now. This album is an absolute classic of the subgenre, one of the best albums of the 1990s and contains some of my personal all-time favourite songs ever written by anyone.

In fact, if the whole album was as good as the highlights, this could have a shout for being one of the best albums of all time. Yes, I do like other records better, but I still consider this still “must-have,” and still recommend it to all fans no matter how casual.

Best songs: “The Elephant Riders,” “The Soap Makers” & “The Yeti.”

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9. Clutch – From Beale Street To Oblivion (2007) – If any other similar band put this out, it would be the greatest achievement of their whole career. Sixty Watt Shaman, Five Horse Johnson and Monster Truck will never, ever release anything even close to this good, so the fact that it is so low down on this list makes me feel very conflicted.

An album with an opening three song run as good as this, or a moment as joyous and infectiously mood-lifting as “Electric Worry” can’t honestly be ever considered one of a band’s “lesser” albums can it? Well that’s just testament to how ridiculously good Clutch are.

Sometimes I will hear people talk negatively about this album and it just seems offensive to me. If this was a one-off album by a band that broke up afterwards, it would be such a beloved cult classic. Ok, its their ninth best album, but its better than 90% of the albums in whole subgenre.

Best songs: “You Can’t Stop Progress,” “Power Player” & “The Devil & Me.”

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10. Clutch – Pure Rock Fury (2001) – This album was a bit of a hit, due in no small part to the rap-rock satire of its most famous track. It also contains the title track that became the does-what-it-say-on-the-tin badge that all fans and journalists use to describe the band with when they go a bit harder and faster. It is very well liked by fans of a certain vintage. It is however, just a bit “different.”

A lot of this comes down to the fact that it has a very different production for the band, seemingly going for the opposite of their loose, groovey Stoner Rock stylings of their previous three albums and attempting something more fitting in with modern Metal productions of the era. The results are a tighter, stiffer sound than any other Clutch record before or since.

Musically, this is also a transitional album that doesn’t fit neatly into any era of the band’s varied discography. It is heavy in places and dark at times, but it isn’t the punishing bruising hardcore dirge of the early days, it isn’t the funky stoner mashup of the preceding albums or the unique career defining new direction of the albums that follow it. It is an island.  Its still 100% Clutch; the musicianship, the exploration, the blue-collar vibes, the wit and humour of the lyrics, the variety and eccentricity of the vocals… and yet it is also kind of nothing like they’ve done before or since at the same time. Unique.

If you check out the Live At The Googolplex live album, these songs sound much more like Elephant Riders/Self-Titled era songs live, stripped of that tight stiff production, and similarly, if you look at the demo version of “Sinkemlow” on the 2004-reissue of Jam Room, you can really get an idea of what a difference the producers (the pseudonymed combo of “Uncle Punchy” and “Machine”) made here.

All talk of production jobs and stylistic directions aside though, this is a solid collection of good songs, with some really high highlights that make the overall package even better.  

Best songs: “Pure Rock Fury,” “Red Horse Rainbow” & “Careful With That Mic.”

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11. Clutch – Jam Room (1999) – The band’s “we’re sick of record label disappointment, let’s just jam in a garage and have a good time” type album. It is a lot looser, more “live” sounding, freer and “jam”-feeling than any of the albums that preceded it (and certainly the one that followed it). The band weren’t trying to write hits, the band weren’t trying to win over legions of new fans, the band weren’t trying to make a definitive magnum opus, this is just four dudes knocking out some music. For what it is, Jam Room is a complete success. The only reason it is so low on the list is that Clutch are one of the best bands to every pick up instruments and this album isn’t as good as their usual output by comparison. It’s a deliberately low effort, low brainpower, unrefined version of the band, and gloriously so, but the fact remains, they’ve done better. Definitely not “skip it” but don’t let it be your first Clutch album either, wait until there’s almost nothing else you haven’t tried before giving it a go.   

Best songs: “Raised By Horses” “Big Fat Big” & “Who Want’s To Rock?”

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12. Clutch – Slow Hole To China  (2003) – This list doesn’t cover some of the band’s catalogue, such as the various early EPs or reissues and compilations thereof, the mid career Basket Of Eggs EP, various live albums, the Weathermaker Vault series, or spin off material like The Bakerton Group.  

However; there is one non-studio-album release I felt needed to be included – the B-Sides album, Slow Hole To China. Slow Hole’ is sequenced and arranged like a real album, features many fan favourites that the band still play live and have been on live albums and generally, compared to other bands this B-Sides compilation is not just random loser-material for superfans only, but rather an “essential album” for all but the most casual of fans. Ok, its not Earth Rocker, Blast Tyrant or The Self-Titled… but it is worth your time.

Best songs: “Hoodoo Operator,” “Willie Nelson” & “Easy Breeze.”

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13. Clutch – Transnational Speadway League’ (1993) – The band’s debut album is stylistically quite different than most people’s idea of the Clutch sound. When I first got into the band, I didn’t like this album at all and have very-gradually warmed to it over the years. When you hear songs from it live in amongst songs from Elephant Riders or The Self-Titled you sort of “get it” a bit more, and because the music is pretty dense, thick and sludgy it takes a lot of repeat listens for it to sink in.

It’s the band’s heaviest, nastiest, most aggressive album to date (all usually things that make an album my favourite) and some of the band’s trademark wit, humour and inventive lyrics/vocals are starting to come through, but the reason this album sits in last place is that only about half the songs are what I’d describe as “good” and only about a quarter of them are what I’d describe as “fun” so basically, I usually listen to the very good band Clutch and have a fun time, but when I listen to this album all the way through in one sitting, I’m only getting that part of the time. Instantaneous this is not, but that doesn’t mean it is devoid of quality.

Best songs: “A Shogun Named Marcus,” “El Jeffe Speaks” & “Walking In The Great Shining Path Of Monster Trucks.”

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Bullet For My Valentine – Self Titled (2022) album review

Bullet For My Valentine are one of those bands that everyone seems to hate, who get no respect, who get a critical savaging, and yet somehow have a huge fanbase (so many times I’ve heard them described as “the biggest British metal band since Iron Maiden“).

After their career momentum aggressively stalled and their fortunes took a major downturn with the ill-fated Temper Temper album from 2013, the band have seemed a bit lost, constantly searching for the next idea to bring them back to the biggest of the big leagues. They released the fabulous, mature and relatively heavy (for them) Venom album (and the especially superb Live From Brixton live album) to much lower sales than usual and seemingly total critical indifference, and then released the much cleaner and more commercial-sounding Gravity album to increased live-draw-status but critical savaging, comment-section-joke-status and loss of core-fan respect. It seems like the band just can’t win, when they do well artistically – it feels like no-one cares, they do well commercially – it feels like everyone hates them for it.

This time around, BFMV seem to be chasing respect and credibility moreso than their own artistic fulfilment and what you’d expect the original fans liked about them (Venom) or indeed moreso than commercial success (Gravity). It feels like the plan is that they want to be liked in the comments sections online instead of being the butt of all jokes by self-professed “true” Metalheads (basically, imagine if Blink-182 wanted people in GBH and Exploited shirts to stop slagging them off).

As such, the band known to haters for their pretty-boy watered-down overproduced overtly-commercial sound (the opinion of the trolls, not me) and immature lyrics (a fair criticism for their first four records) are going to try and win over people who probably would never like them anyway, and consequently have made their heaviest album to date and have dialled down the melody, muddied up the production and generally released something uglier and more abrasive than usual.

The results are a qualified success. The album certainly achieves its mission of being the ugliest, dirtiest, heaviest thing the band have put out to date and if it was the first thing a new band who had no reputation put out, no-one would pile the hate onto it the way they hate on BFMV usually. However, it does loose some of what makes BFMV stand out from the crowd usually… I can’t see the masses of teens and lighter rock fans digging it. If hypothetically it didn’t have their name attached and was a totally new release, I don’t think anyone would particularly care about it at all. In this hypothetical world, all I would say to this new band is qualified-congratulations, sure hard to please neckbeards in Waitain and Sarcofago shirts aren’t trashing it anymore, but now no one is talking about it at all.

Ok, that’s enough about the story of the record, what about the music? Grittier vocals, dirtier production, twice as much double-kick drums as usual, noisier guitar tone, guitar solos in every song.

After a much too long intro, the album starts of with the very angry “Parasite” which is the heaviest album opener Bullet’ have released to date. This is followed up with “Knives” which is the nastiest single Bullet’ have released to date. Mission acomplished on the new-look heavy Bullet. This opening one-two throat punch makes you think the album will just be a one-dimensional bludgeoning, especially with the media promises of no soppy ballads, however luckily the album does open up more as it goes along.

At first listen, I felt like the album itself was a bit forgettable and the songs were a bit unmemorable. On repeat listens however it has grown and grown on me. There is a lot of depth to the record that only reveals itself over time. There is some diversity with the more memorable, rhythmic “Can’t Escape The Waves” or the multifaceted “Rainbow Veins” and the slightly more dynamic album closer “Death By A Thousand Cuts.” There are moments on the album that are reminiscent of Devildriver (The first 30 seconds of “No Happy Ever After” for example) and quite often the lead-guitar reminds me a lot of Chimaira (especially as several songs break into a groove for the lead guitar moments, rather than have them over the faster parts).

On the postive side, the record doesn’t outstay its welcome, it is tight, concise and filler-free.

On the negative side, the production is a bit of a mis-fire for me. It doesn’t sound crunchy, metallic and satisfying to please the heavier crowd they seem to want to impress, it isn’t clean enough to satisfy their core audience, instead it is a sort of thin, noisy, tinny sound that would suit a chaotic hardcore band better, but which doesn’t really fit either what Bullet actually are, or what they are trying to be. I can’t entirely shake the feeling like this was a misjudged attempt to please non-fans instead of the more logical doubling down on what seems to have worked for them before.

The band have talked about the start of “Bullet 2.0” and this record shows a lot of potential, if they continue in this direction I think the next album will be the real winner, once they’ve got the kinks worked out (and especially if they figure out the right production sound for this type of material). While I still hold my position that this record will probably not win over a single hater, and is quite at risk of alienating sections of their fanbase who actually like their previous output… I do think this is a relatively strong album for what it is. I’m glad to have this consistent, succinct and unexpected record in my collection.

2021 Listening Round-Up:

Here are my top-40 most listened-to bands of 2021:



(Ignore the crossed out one, its just children’s music).

Should’ve listened to King Diamond two more times for thematic resonance.

Nice mixture of basic and complex

Nice mixture of heavy and soft, silly and serious, modern and classic.

I guess the bands with the longer songs get less listens, because each listen is longer. I feel like I’ve spent way more time listening to Opeth than Hatebreed, but then some of Opeth’s songs are quite long and a lot of Hatebreed (especially the early stuff) is quite short. I also would have expected Van Halen to be a lot, lot higher. I would’ve expected them to be equal with Kiss. I felt like I alternated between Van Hagar and ’80s Kiss all summer. I guess all the usual non-80s Kiss listening boosted the new yorkers much higher than the LA guys. I guess I wasn’t listening to enough Roth era Van Halen this year. I blame it on listening to Sammy Hagar’s autobiography audiobook right before moving house. If Roth had a biography audiobook available on Audible, then it probably would have made me go more in that direction.

I knew Smashing Pumkins would be number one, I definitely felt like I listened to them the most, but I didn’t realise it would be by litteraly over double the nearest competitor. Afterall, my number one album of the year (discounting children’s music) was Gojira’s Fortitude, and the first Smashing Pumpkins album on my most-listened to albums list doesn’t appear until number ten! (But I guess Smashing Pumpkins have a hell of a lot more albums than Gojira).

I am a bit surprised to see To Ride Shoot Straight And Speak The Truth so high in the list when Entombed themselves don’t even crack the top 40 (they’re 43 in case you were wondering).

It was a strange year, but lets hope we are all healthy and safe enough to be here nerding out about music this time next year. See you then!

Kingcrimsonprog’s Metal Nerd Blog Albums Of The Year 2021:

Its been a strange old year, but there’s been a lot of good music.

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01. Gojira – Fortitude – The album that got me into Gojira at long last, the album I’ve listened to most out of anything this year, the album I knew would be my number one from the very first listen, and yet has still grown on me more with each listen. A straight up masterpiece in my eyes that will go down as an eternal classic album in my head-cannon. Beautifully melodic, deliciously groovy, and still some great heavy moments and masterful musicianship at times. I can’t recommend it enough.

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02. Helloween – Self Titled – Well, I was never not going to like this. I love Helloween with Kai, I love Helloween with Kiske, and I love Helloween with Deris. The idea of all three coming together on one super-group-esque album bringing all the eras together (sometimes even within one song) with artwork evoking the band’s peak, but song-writing not too far away from the band’s modern style and not just a rehash of the past but also acknowledging all the progress they’ve made over the years, with tasteful tribute paid to late drummer Ingo, self-referential lyrics and yet the whole thing feeling like a proper album and not just a gimmicky cash-grab. Excellent.  

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03. Trivium – In The Court Of The DragonTrivium have been on such a hot streak in the last half-decade, and this current line-up have released arguably their three best ever albums (or at a minimum, three of the best even if you disagree on the exact placement of the best) and ‘Dragon continues that fine formula of the last two albums while also leaning into the more expansive and technical direction of their Shogun record (one of their all time best records so a very good decision) and even reworking an old Shogun-era demo into an amazing album closer for this one. Great work.

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04. Volbeat – Servant Of The Mind – A deliberate course-correct from the slightly disappointing over-polished, overly-commercial previous album. This album leans back into the band’s heavier (in relative terms, its still catchy radio music, its not exactly Alter Of Plagues or something) side, with some deliberate Sabbath tribute, a sneaky death metal riff once hidden in there, a lot more up tempo moments and a lot less bland American-sounding radio rock. They also took some lessons in diversity and stole the best parts from the previous record, making it a sort of best-of-both-worlds situation.

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05. Rob Zombie – The Lunar Injection Kool Aid Eclipse Conspiracy – Probably his second or third best album to date, this record is fun, diverse, energised, eclectic, interesting and deeply memorable. They never lose the core sound, but there’s all sorts of fun diversion. Alright, there may be slightly too many interludes, but that’s always been a part of Rob Zombie, especially on the first two albums, and there’s still 11 real songs to sink your teeth into, from the catchy singles ‘King Freak & ‘Howling Man to the dance-able “Shake Your Ass, Smoke your Grass” and the unexpected country-tinged ‘Ghost Train.

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06. Powerwolf – Call Of The Wild – Speaking of fun, Powerful are back, and don’t disappoint. This album is such a big-smiles good time barrel of fun. Imagine Sabaton covering Helloween’s  Latin-language “Lavadete Dominum” & Type O Negative’s “I Don’t Wanna Be Me” at the same time and you’re somewhere in the ballpark. Now imagine they’re dressed up as monks and singing about Warewolves.

In terms of stacking up against the rest of their discography, the band are so fiercely consistent that this is as good as any album you care to name in the whole catalogue.

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07. Todd La Torre – Rejoice In The Suffering – Current Queensrÿche frontman (and sometimes drummer) releases a solo album with a childhood best friend on guitar, and the results are phenomenal. There’s a mixture of songs that could fit on recent ‘ryche albums, with branching out into more traditional metal territory, as well as branching out the other direction into heavier harsher realms. A brilliant debut from this act, and while I hope he never leaves, if ever Todd were to leave the ‘ryche I would dearly love him to continue releasing albums like this.

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08. Exodus – Persona Non Grata – A very strong album, I confess I may not have listened to this album enough to really honestly select the appropriate position on this list, but if its anything like the last three Exodus albums, the fine first impressions it has created in me will stay forever, and only grow more over time. Already the pre-released songs like “Clickbait” and “The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves” are constantly stuck in my head and raise a huge smile in me whenever they come on, and “Lunatic Liar Lord” is so good it could have been on Tempo Of The Dammed. Last month I called this album “as good as, if not better than” any measure of expectation, and I’m sticking by that!

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09. Angelus Apatrida – Self Titled – A new band to me, but this is actually the Spanish Thrash-revivalist’s 7th release. Bludgeoning, pummelling, furious… these are just some of the words to describe this beast of an album. There is also some serious groove on the album to break up the speed, but its thrash through and through. If you like bands like Evile, Dust Bolt or Power Trip, then you really need to get on board. Check out the opener “Indoctrinate” from this album for a Vulgar-Display’ album-cover style punch to the face (in musical form).

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10. Accept – Too Mean To Die – Much like Trivium, Accept are on a hot-streak right now (for about a decade this time, since their reformation and the introduction of Mark Tornillo on vocals… that’s Kreator-levels of hot streak!). They have a definite identifiable style and formula, which some people might feel is beginning to get a bit samey by now, but when the formula is this good, I can live with quite a few albums in that style. Alright, its not as good as my favourite, Stalingrad or its very strong follow-up Blind Rage, but I’ve listened to it a lot this year, and have enjoyed it every time.

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Honourable Mentions:

Salem – Salem II EP – Wasn’t included because it is an EP, not an album, but probably would have been number 2 or 3 on the list if it did count. Really great fun, super catchy, super memorable, and my go-to car record this year.

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Weezer – Van Weezer – I’ve only owned this a few days, so can’t objectively rate it against things I’ve had almost a whole year (eg. Todd La Torre and Accept), but I feel very positively towards it and just want to give it a little appreciative nod. Imagine if The Green Album had even better guitar solos and paid deliberate homage to some classic tracks like “Crazy Train,” “Girls Girls Girls” and “Panama.”

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And just in case you want it, here’s my list from last year. See you again next year!

Rammstein albums ranked:

This list feature is based on my subjective personal opinion, not fan consensus or journalistic research. They are ranked from best to worst, best being simply “my own favourite” and worst being “the one I personally like the least.” I know it is customary to rank from worst to best, but I prefer to lead with the positive. Check out the rankings home page for more albums-ranked lists.

Today, I’ll be discussing German Industrial Metal icons, Rammstein. I’ve been putting off reviewing their records on the blog for a while now, as I wanted to save it for that pre-concert peak excitement phase I get right before I see a band live. I got tickets to see them live for my birthday in 2019, but with the covid delays, the concert still hasn’t actuall happened yet! However, I am in the mood to blog about something today, and I’ve just got their Live In Amerkia blu ray for Christmas and its put me in the mood to talk about this band in particular. Sure, its not the pre-concert excitement peak due to covid, but oh well, at least I have the concert-film to simulate the live experience now. Better than being sick or dead.

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1. Reise Reise (2004) – I was a bit silly, and didn’t get this album when it was new. Like most of the UK, I got into Rammstein around the release of 2001’s Mutter and worked backwards to Sehnsuct, but after a few years, when I was getting out of things like Nu Metal and Industrial and getting into things like Thrash Metal and traditional heavy metal, I somehow just stopped listening to Rammstein, and was always surprised when I would hear about them doing large concerts, assuming they were just another flash in the pan band that came and went. Big mistake. Many years later at the insistence of a good friend, I gave the band a second chance and was gifted this record. What a record, where had it been all my life? Why on earth did I ignore Rammstein for like…a decade?
I think this is the band’s strongest work all the way through. The highlights are immense, but there is also little to no filler, and the album works as a single album all the way through, rather than a vessel for hits only. The production seems timeless, the tunes are memorable, the hooks are strong, the guitar tone is perfect.

I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say “masterpiece” but if you ever dismiss Rammstein just because you hear someone treat them like a novelty band because of the rude music videos and sexual lyrics, or some dim-witted xenophobes who just make fun of them singing in German (I had an ex like that), or people who say the music is bad and they are only headliners because of the fireworks and pyro, then this is the album to check out to learn that Rammstein are a legitimate classic band who write genuinely great music that doesn’t need any kind of novelty or showmanship to cover up for. They could go on stage in jeans and t-shirts and play this album in full without moving on an empty stage with no lights or show, and it would still be the best concert you saw all year. Why? The music is brilliant.

Why is this one number one? Probably the fine line between consistency and diversity. It always sounds like Rammstein, but it tries a lot of different things, and hits the mark every time.

Best songs: “Keine Lust,” “Mein Teil” & “Moskau.”

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2. Mutter (2001) – My first Rammstein album, the public’s favourite Rammstein album, the one with the highest quantity of hits on it. Back in the day, you couldn’t move for the music videos from this album, you couldn’t switch on a rock or metal radio station in the UK without hearing the singles from this, it was an absolute smash hit. There’s a good reason for that, its catchy as all get-out. If you are new to the band and need to pick up a first album, then this should be the default go-to first album. Very much their Ace Of Spades moment.

After coming back into being a Rammstein fan, I want to slap myself for neglecting this record. I loved it when I got it, but I just sort of stopped listening to it after a year or two, too excited by trying new things (1980s things usually). Since revisiting the band though, I can’t stop listening to these tunes, and every time I listen to them, I like them more. It is a pretty instantaneous album to begin with, but it just keeps growing and growing on me.

It feels like an expensive album, the production values clearly higher than the albums that preceded it, but without slipping into the “over-produced” category. The album has such a strong opening with the big strings (the industrial metal equivalent of Kashmir?), ends with a smoky soft ballad, and has a bunch of utter bangers in a range of tempos in between. If you want an album that sounds like angry robots marching towards battle, and yet somehow has a lot of artistic depth, you’ve come to the right place.

Best songs: “Mein Hertz Brennt,” “Feuer Frei!” & “Links 2, 3, 4.”

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3. Rammstein (2019) – This might be a controversial placement, I don’t think this is exactly their most beloved album in fan estimation consensus, but what can I say… I just love it. This is their newest album at time of writing, it was released after a relatively long gap, it will probably be their final ever album, and long time fans feel it doesn’t live up to their expectations. Because I hadn’t been waiting with baited breath however, I don’t have the expectations, and I’ve just loved it from first listen. To me, this is one of their most accessible, memorable, fun, easily-digestible and instantaneous records to date.

Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t shallow, it doesn’t lack for dark and interesting lyrics (“Puppe” especially) and it isn’t overly simple, but it just washes over you like a nice warm bath and everything just feels right. It is probably actually their cleanest and least heavy album to date, which would usually be a problem for me, but it just works so well here and the songs are so strong that I actually don’t mind.  

Alright its not particularly transgressive, alright it doesn’t crunch as hard, alright its not the hands-down best thing they’ve ever done, but it sure goes down easy!

Best songs: “Puppe,” “Ausländer,” “Deutschland” & “Diamant.”

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4. Herzeleid (1995) – Arguably, this is may be objectively dated (some of the electronics sound very of-the-time) and it is also probably the most simplistic release in their cannon, but the core premise of the band is so strong that you don’t need to expand on it too much to make it work, it is a great formula in and of itself without needing to stray too far (ok, that may be a bit hypocritical given the positive comments I made about the first two albums on this list, but it makes sense to me in my own head context, I think it’s the charm-factor… it doesn’t need bells and whistles because it is so charming as it is).

This is the album I’ve picked up the most recently (got it this Summer) so there may be a bit of recency-bias going on here (had to stop myself placing it even higher already for that very reason) but I feel like this is one of my favourite things they’ve ever done.

Best songs: “Wollt Ihr Das Bett In Flammen Sehen,” “Weisses Fleisch,” & “Du Riechst So Gut.”

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5. Sehnsucht (1998) – I know there are a large portion of fans who could pick this as their favourite, so I wouldn’t want to come across as too dismissive of it by having it in the bottom half of my list, but for me, this album isn’t as strong all the way through as the others above it in this list.

This is an album that I’d argue suffers with a bit of filler, that suffers with a slight lack of diversity (without the raw debut charm of Herzeleid to compensate for that), and one where the best songs are so good that the rest just feels a bit “lesser” in comparison.

The best songs here are magical, but since the first listen I’ve always felt the album was a bit up and down, with clear amazing standout tracks, but not as good a whole-album experience as Mutter (or now that I’m older, with more context, not as good a whole album experience as most of their albums).

Don’t let that put you off too much though, we’re splitting hairs on a pretty great discography, and the highlights are very high.

Best songs: “Du Hast,” “Bück Dich,” & “Spiel Mit Mir.”

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6. Liebe Ist Fur Alle Da (2009) – By no means a bad album despite its low placing here, its just that I prefer the others more. There’s some great use of melody here that wasn’t present in the early material and a more live human-approach to the performance compared to the robotic quality of the earlier albums.

However; A bit like Sensucht it doesn’t work as well as a whole-album journey for me. There are some forgettable moments (I honestly couldn’t tell you what “Mehr” or “Roter Sand” sound like now if you offered me a million pounds to do so) and its efforts to be fun are a mixed bag of qualified-success (“Haifisch”) and outright cringe (overrated single “Pussy” – yes it had a clever marketing campaign, but I just dislike the song).

However, A bit like Sensucht it has high highs. Some absolute career highlight bangers, and for a band best known for repetitive crunchy stompers, they constantly try new things and cover new ground.

Best songs: “Rammlied,” “Waidmanns Heil,” & “Frühling In Paris.”

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7. Rosenrot (2005) – Well something had to be last, and to no-one’s surprise, it is 2005’s Load-esque leftovers album, Rosenrot.

Now, this album is not a write-off, and actually has a few of my favourite Rammstein tracks, but there is no getting around the fact that this is the weak link in the band’s discography. Too many ballads, too much silliness, too much forgettable material, frontloaded and generally, just not quite as good as the band’s peak.

I wouldn’t say skip it entirely, but definitely pick it up last, after you’ve exhausted everything else. I heard this after a five year gap in listening to the band, and it made me take about another five year gap, so it is not enough to win over skeptics.

Best songs: “Mann Gegen Mann,” “Benzin,” & “Rosenrot.”

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(Ps. It doesn’t fit anywhere on this list, but the one-off new song from their greatest hits compliation, “Mein Land” is an absolute gem, and should be checked out too).

Volbeat – Servant Of The Mind Review

2021’s Servant Of The Mind is Danish Rock/Metal band Volbeat’s eight studio album, it was produced by Jacob Hansen (with Michael & Rob from the band) and follows up 2019’s Rewind, Replay, Rebound album.

I first got into the band after seeing them live on the cycle for Seal The Deal & Let’s Boogie, and fell in love instantly, then devouring their back catalogue and becoming obsessed, listening to them more in one year than it takes me a decade to listen to most other bands, but when it finally came time for me to get in on the ground floor with a new release; 2019’s Rewind’ was a bit of a disappointment for me (especially at first, but to be fair it was a grower), as it initially felt like it was missing a lot of the charm, variety and quirkiness of their earlier work, and also was significantly less heavy or metallic than my favourite side of Volbeat’s many sided style. For me, Rewind’ leaned much too heavily on the band’s radio rock side. That’s always been a part of their sound – but not the whole sound, and to me Rewind’ just focused on it too deeply, too often.

Servant Of The Mind by contrast seems to be very conscious that the previous album was a bit too far away from their metal side, and is a pretty hard and deliberate course-correct towards heaviness. There is much more speed, power, groove, crunch, umph, tiny bits of Thrash-esque moments here and there, even one cheeky Death Metal riff hidden in there once.

Tracks like “Becoming,” feel built for fans who like the band’s heavier material (think “Slaytan”), while “The Devil Rages On,” “Step Into The Light” and “Say No More” more than make up for the previous album’s lighter touch. Heck, “The Sacred Stones” seems to be a deliberate tribute to Black Sabbath’s “Heaven And Hell.” In addition to Metal though, they’ve also always had a bouncy punk tinge at times, and “The Passenger” covers that side of them as well.

While I may be banging on a bit too much about the metal; Volbeat have never been entirely all about heaviness – it is an important part of the puzzle, and it is nice to see it get enough focus again, but it is only part of the bigger picture. For those fans who like the bigger, catchier moments, the album does still have some nice radio rock moments, for example the single “Dagen Før” (featuring Alphabeat’s Stine Bramsen doing guest vocals) covers that kind of “Cape Of Our Heroes” or “Last Day Under The Sun” melodic vibe, and the choruses of even some of the heavier tracks lean into big American radio rock at times (its still there, its just blended better on this album).

Volbeat have also always had a fun side, and while I sort of make it sound like I didn’t like their previous album, it certainly had its great moments. This record takes some of those great moments and builds upon them. Single “Wait A Minute My Girl” has a jaunty saxophone solo, kind of like the fun “Die To Live” from the previous record, while “Step Into The Light” with its reverby twisted surf-rock guitar lead feels like a sequel to the previous album’s “Sorry Sack Of Bones.”  

Now, while I have spent most of the review describing the album’s stylistic decisions, being heavy, or melodic, or bouncy or fun is pretty pointless if the album isn’t actually good. Luckily, the material is really strong. There are riffs that will stick in your head for days, choruses you’ll be dying to sing along to, memorable fills and a very clear production job. More than three quarters of the album I want to see live, I’m spoiled for choice over which songs I’d include in a best-of compilation or playlist.

While I wouldn’t make an argument that it is their all time best album, it is certainly in the top half of their discography, pleasantly surprising, and I would whole heartedly recommend it.

Ps. If you can, try and get the edition with the bonus tracks, the extra cover songs are brilliant!