Monday, October 26, 2009

15 Essential HardRock/Metal Albums of the 2000s! (Part III)

No beating around the bush this time. This is the real deal. If you could only hear five Hard Rock albums from these tumultuous past ten years, these are the ones.

Many tried, but no one did it better.

These are the Top 5 Hard Rock/Metal Albums of the 2000s.

Show some respect!

5. Deftones “White Pony”
Easily the most underrated hard rock band since Faith No More, Deftones achieved near perfection with their third album, White Pony. After helping to establish the template for the infamous Nu-metal genre (along with Korn, of course), Deftones basically tore that template apart with White Pony, looking to bands like Radiohead and My Bloody Valentine for inspiration, while still retaining their heavy, alt-metal sound. The music on White Pony is ambient and sexy, yet razor fucking sharp when it needs to be. The transition between “Digital Bath” and “Elite,” for example, is so jarring that it’s almost comical. “Elite” is vicious, showcasing Chino Moreno’s terrifyingly serrated, high pitched shriek, while the band provides a truly evil backdrop, with angular riffs and relentlessly tight percussion. “Digital Bath,” meanwhile, is absolutely gorgeous. Atmospheric, sultry, and just a little bit sinister, “Digital Bath” may be the finest moment of Deftones’ career. There are so many great moments on White Pony, from the menacing “Street Carp” to the epic, moshpit-friendly “Korea.” They may not have achieved the kind of success that the countless bands they’ve influenced have, but very few of those bands have an album in their discography that even comes close to equaling White Pony.

4. At The Drive-In “Relationship of Command”
To be sure, The Mars Volta is a phenomenal band, “Frances The Mute” blew my mind when it came out, and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez is an incredibly talented musician all by his lonesome. But nothing compares to At The Drive-In’s 3rd and final full-length album, “Relationship of Command.” Hailed as an instant classic by fans and critics alike upon its initial release, Relationship of Command was supposed to revolutionize and “save” hard rock with its jaw-dropping mixture of hardcore punk, dub, progressive rock and even salsa. “One Armed Scissor,” the band’s one and only hit single, is brilliant, but there are countless truly astounding moments on this album. The mammoth, hair-raising climax of “Invalid Litter Dept,” the righteous anger and scorching sonic onslaught of “Arcarsenal,” and even the ingenious cameo from Iggy Pop at the opening of “Rolodex Propaganda” are just a few examples. Of course, Relationship of Command stands as At The Drive-In’s final album before their “indefinite hiatus” was announced in 2001. What could have been? We’ll never know. But for what it is, Relationship of Command is a hell of a way to go out.

3. System of a Down “Toxicity”
Who could forget the release of the single “Chop Suey” during the summer of 2001. Arguably the best and most unique rock single released this decade, “Chop Suey” is heavy, disorienting and beautiful, battering the listener with its stuttering verses before it captivates with its sublime chorus. Debuting at number one on September 11th 2001, Toxicity can be described just like that unforgettable single; heavy, disorienting and beautiful. The percussion is frantic and bruising throughout, as is the chunky, relentlessly inventive guitar work. But the true genius of Toxicity lies in the band’s injection of big, infectious melodies into their previously abrasive and largely inaccessible sound. Songs like “Forest" and “Toxicity” come equipped with soaring, absolutely beautiful melodies and choruses that are undeniably catchy. The band’s secret weapon in achieving this is lead vocalist Serj Tankian. Like his likeminded predecessors (Mike Patton, Jello Biafra, and H.R., to name a few), Tankian has a truly unpredictable, distinctive vocal style; and he has unmatched control over his instrument, utilizing its many dazzling qualities at exactly the right moments for maximum impact. Certainly the best album released from the late 90’s alt/nu-metal scene, System of a Down’s Toxicity is must for anyone interested in combustible, genre-smashing rock.

2. Mastodon “Leviathan”
From the flaming relentlessness of 2002’s “Remission" and the claustrophobic odyssey that was 2006’s “Blood Mountain,” to the glorious expanse of their most recent masterwork “Crack the Skye,” Mastodon are the definitive metal band of the 2000s. Not one song, video or album released from this band has been anything less than perfect. And it is 2004’s “Leviathan” that remains their crowning achievement. Inspired by Herman Melville’s classic novel Moby Dick, Leviathan’s clever lyrical content and striking cover art are not the only way in which the band pays tribute to the legendary tale. The guitar work on this album is beyond impressive, with riffs that seem to glide and cascade across the frenetic, jazzy, impossibly precise percussion like massive waves; at times they seem to rise and crash all around the listener in truly epic fashion. Mastodon are incredibly successful in how they’ve constructed a perfect musical backdrop for their conceptual ambitions, injecting just the right amounts of melancholic, Kurt Cobain-inspired melody into their fiery metal assault to perfectly conjure the mysterious, ominous and lonely expanse of the ocean. In other words, Mastodon’s Leviathan is an endlessly entertaining and musically challenging listen, and it’s undoubtedly one the greatest metal albums ever made.

1. Queens of the Stone Age “Songs for the Deaf”

By taking the Stoner Rock-meets Classic Rock-meets Punk Rock maelstrom that made 1999’s “Rated R" so addictive, and adding more complicated, nuanced arrangements and an album concept that actually enhances the listening experience, QOTSA found their masterpiece with 2000’s “Songs for the Deaf.” Conceptualized as a search for some good tunes on the radio while taking a lonely trip through the desert (and finding only QOTSA songs), the album truly does feel like a lonesome, late night drive through the desert, with just cigarettes and music, memories and regrets for company. The sadly short-lived creative alliance between Josh Homme and Nick Oliveri reached its zenith here, with just the right amount of each man’s unique yet complimentary personality on display to keep things joyously chaotic and unpredictable, as if the songs were actually being found at random with a radio dial. Add in the haunting, gritty vocals of friend and frequent collaborator Mark Lanegan, and fantastic drumming from Dave Grohl (yes...that Dave Grohl) and you’ve got one rollercoaster of a listening experience.

The Oliveri-led tracks are the sonic equivalent of what must be going on in the mind of a desperate, frenzied junkie, high on meth, as he knocks off a convenience store. “Six Shooter,” for example, opens with a muffled guitar riff and blood-curdling screams before exploding into pure punk-metal chaos, with Oliveri snarling “Fuck this road/Well, fuck you too!/I’ll fucking kill your best friend/What the fuck you gonna do?!” It’s both hilarious and frightening all at once, and yet transitions perfectly into “Hangin’ Tree,” a frantic, sweeping hard rock number, sung gorgeously by Lanegan. At the center of the storm however is Josh Homme, whose sexy, whisky-smooth crooning acts as a stabilizing force throughout the record. And the standout on an album filled with them is “The Sky Is Fallin’,” with churning, stuttering guitar work that perfectly complements Homme’s plaintive, aloof vocals. And there are many more highlights, from the dirty, funk-inflected “Songs for the Dead” to the hushed lullaby-turned-horn-led death march that is “Mosquito Song,” the album’s grand finale.

Songs for the Deaf should have changed the landscape of popular music, setting the stage for a whole new chapter in Hard Rock; here was fresh, rebellious, earnest and (most importantly) fun music that both gives quite a few nods to the past, while still pointing ahead at an intriguing future. Their call to arms was never answered, however. And I guess that’s just the way it was meant to be. I mean, isn’t being ahead of your time sort of like making songs for the deaf?

Everybody seems to see what you’re doing…but they damn sure can’t hear it.

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