These days it seems that for every band out there, another instrumental band comes out with an album or something along those lines. When I was younger I used to love instrumentals to death but my lack of resources and knowledge of how to source out new music has kept me in this bubble filled with vocals. Though this past year has opened up a lot of doors for me and I have really expanded my love for instrumental music. It has always been a part of my life too. I used to listen to Metallica‘s “Orion” on repeat for hours. Songs like “Ashes of the Wake” by Lamb of God and other oddities like “Spanish Fly” by Van Halen have always been standout tracks that I listened to more then the punk and generic rock I was into at the time.
Now I have expanded my love for instrumental music due to an immense plethora of outstanding musicians releasing quality instrumental albums. Bands like Animals as Leaders and Scale the Summit have impacted me in a big way, so here are five of my favorite instrumental albums.
It would be criminal not to include this gem. Rody Walker provides some of the most memorable vocal hooks on Fortress and steals the show in some aspects – but Fortress works remarkably well as an instrumental album too. It moves the focus and you get to hear the songs in a different context. I am not going to go so far to say that the vocals shadow the bands talent, but the instruments here tell their own story too, and contrary to what you might expect it doesn’t feel too shreddy and is very modest as the songs were written with the vocals in mind. It is just riffs, hooks, shred and well composed songs; not too over the top, but with the same amount of punch you expect from a band like Protest the Hero. The lack of vocals bring out some of the best in the band too, like the completely underrated keys and sexy bass, and after hearing it the context of both versions became more important.
Clocking in at just 20 minutes, Portmanteau goes above and beyond what one would expect from your typical shred album. Portmanteau creates atmosphere. Though it is faster and catchier than most of Ben Sharp’s releases, it maintains that sometimes composition triumphs technical ability. He uses a very unique mixing technique that allow several layers and melodies to be a part of the music without making it too crowded. There are always three or four things going on at one time, yet it manages to sound dense without being a bunch of noise: at some points you will have chords strumming through a progression in the back of the mix alongside another line of atmospheric keys. It will have all of that happening behind the drums and lead guitar melody. It works beautifully too because all of the aspects compliment each other and focus on what is important throughout the composition. This album is also one of the first instrumental albums I had ever listened to, so it has added sentiment there; it is just something I can immerse myself in.
Unlike Cloudkicker’s composition over technical ability, Behold…The Arctopus are almost strictly technical. Using the powers of Colin Marsten’s infamous Warr Guitar (a guitar with the range of both a bass and a six-string played mostly with tapping) Behold…The Arcotopus create some of the most frantic albums ever. Nano-Nucleaonic Cyborg Summoning is insane. This band is a difficult appeal to many due to their overuse of dissonant chord progressions and tension in their music, but it is because of its insanity that I particularly enjoy it. I like the odd breaks and wonky scales. It just comes together in a way that keeps me on the edge of my seat. The unpredictable nature and disregard for anything logical makes this a strange yet enticing listen.
That isn’t to say that the music isn’t composed well either. Throughout NNCS you hear snippets of beautiful Scale the Summit-esque tapping sections and some cool drum solos. For some reason though, it keeps my head bobbing and a smile on my face. It is also worth mentioning that NNCS is a lot less frantic then it’s younger brother Skullgrid. I find this album to be a little more accessible. Here is their song “You Will be Reincarnated as an Imperial Space Attack Turtle“:
I was introduced to Spaces through our very own Dormition. After listening to them for a couple months, this album has become very special to me. Though it isn’t metal, it is instrumental. Spaces employ a variety of sounds and themes in their music creating vast soundscapes of melancholy, and the music seems to be telling a story. The vessels that carry the music are ever changing: the keys go from a folky accordion to a symphonic sound without any hesitation; the guitars trade off with each other and fade in and out of the mix; the drums are constant and patient. It takes you away, and that’s not to mention the epic, immersive eighteen-minute closer. There is a lot going on in this album; it just evolves from song to song and engages you like no other. Voyage is just that; an hour long ride that provides a lot of substance. It isn’t just an album, but rather a journey.
Here is a weird one. This band is more polyrythmic than rain and yet it is the farthest thing from metal. Battles are three-piece group hellbent on making sure you can’t tell the difference between computers and actual music. EP C/B EP is a compilation of their first two releases and it is my favorite instrumental record of all time. I would classify these guys somewhere between industrial and post-rock, but with oodles of experimentation along the way; there are a lot of weird beeping noise and quasi-annoying tracks here (though I am completely fine with it), but is just something that makes the best of the band look even better in comparison, and with the approach that Battles use, you can only compare them to Battles. The electronic manipulation of their instruments is almost criminal. They make guitars and bass sound like steel drums. They use looping to create some extremely complicated rhythms and polymeters. The math rock approach works really well for these guys, and though they spend as much time playing as they do on the mixers and equalizers, they manage to create some very interesting stuff.
These are of course subjective, and my personal list; I’m sure the other guys have their own thoughts on instrumental albums – and we also want to hear from you, so sound off in the comments, and let me know if there’s something here you haven’t heard before!