Hello, hello and welcome to the sixth part in our ongoing series of Heavy Blog Is Heavy’s “Best Of” selections where we explore a genre of music and each of our dedicated authors picks a favorite album to share a personal experience with. Breaking away from genre limitations, we present to you the “Way, Way Different” list. This list focuses on albums that were a clean break in an artist’s or band’s career, whether they spawned follow ups in their likeness or were one-off occasions.
Progression itself is important but not a sole value and thus, we didn’t simply select albums that were just different but albums that were different in a brilliant way. All these releases not only marked a distinct change in a sound or style, but also elevated the music and direction of the artists in question to whole new levels, whether technically or emotionally. This list also has a good chance to spark controversery, as it includes various genres but mostly because one man’s stroke of genius is another man’s selling out. Therefore, let us remind you once again: it’s OK to not like thing! Sound off below with your own suggestions for albums that were Way, Way Different. See you there!
Anathema – We’re Here Because We’re Here
This is one of my all time favorite bands and one of my all time favorite albums. Anathema are truly unique in the journey they’ve been on in the long 25 years of their career. Mirrored only by Ulver, the movement from the doom beginnings into alternative rock was only the first step. With this album, they gave birth to what our Editor in Chief Jimmy Rowe has expertly dubbed power-pop. Insanely powerful riffs live beneath soaring vocals, heartbreaking piano melds with shattering bass and the whole thing just speaks of flexed muscles, hands flung before a darkening sky and a sharp sense of life. Whether in the sweet melodies of Dreaming Light, the drenched melancholy of A Simple Mistake or the powerful solo of Summernight Horizon this is an album that will leave you marked, crying and yet somehow hopeful of the future. I play it rarely, to maintain its strength, and when I need a boost of sober power. It retains, and will forever hold, a special place in my heart and a worthy usher of Anathema’s latest transformation. From it, spring their next two amazing albums and in it are they born and shaped.
Recommended Track: Summernight Horizon
Iron Maiden – The Number Of The Beast
You want a change of musical direction? Try Iron Maiden‘s The Number Of The Beast on for size. Being NWOBHM pioneers, the sound of those early albums was hewn from a combination of the strongest heavy music scenes of the time – melodic rock, thrash and, thanks to Paul Di’Anno’s delivery, a heavy dose of punk. Bruce Dickinson, arriving from the all-conquering Saxon, brought us his operatic range, his ear for harmony and, most importantly of all, his love for a good story. Consequently, the songwriting became more complex and the performances more vivid.
Without doubt, being an album displaying both bite and melody, this is their crossover point. Here, they are still attuned to their thrashier side, as tracks like the faster, punchier “Invaders” and “22 Acacia Avenue” will attest (you can almost hear the influence of Di’Anno snarling somewhere behind Dickinson’s sharp, clipped delivery). However, by the time they hit the monster, more languid, storytelling of songs like the infectious title-track and the eerie “Hallowed Be Thy Name” they are breaking new ground and carving their future careers in stone. Both these legendary numbers still stand out proudly today as two of their best.
Recommended Track: Hallowed Be Thy Name
Opeth – Damnation
Opeth became one of the biggest death metal bands on the planet with albums such as Still Life and Blackwater Park, but Damnation was an extreme change. Abandoning distortion, harsh vocals, and blast beats, the bands opted for a more relaxed sound with this record. Not only is it among the band’s finest works, but it truly is a beast in and of itself. The haunting vocals of Mikael Akerfeldt combined with the beautiful production by Steven Wilson make for an immaculate piece of music, comprising some of the band’s best material. many fans enjoy this record as well, and while the band will never truly capture this magic again on any future release, we will always have this record to remind us that not only can Opeth be one of the heaviest bands in the world, but also one of the softest, and most haunting.
Recommended Track: Hope Leaves
Devin Townsend – Ki
Ever since his rise to fame as guitarist/vocalist of Strapping Young Lad, AKA the most metal band in the world, Devin Townsend has been known for a high degree of stylistic experimentation, while (usually) retaining a heavy and metallic undercurrent for the majority of his work. That all changed with Ki, which made the album alienating to some fans. Not to me, though. Ki released at a time when I was reeling from a catastrophic personal loss, and hearing the mellow, melancholic and introspective soundscapes Devin wove on this album proved to be a catharsis like none other. There aren’t really any other albums in Devin’s massive back catalogue quite like Ki, though elements of it can be seen as far back as late SYL, and he revisits the style again on Ghost, though now instead of melancholy there’s hope and acceptance. Nevertheless, Ki stands as an often underrated, but defining moment of both Devin’s career and my musical exploration. There isn’t anything else like it out there.
Recommended Track: Terminal
The Velvet Underground – White Light/White Heat
The discography of The Velvet Underground is akin to allowing a child to have a first taste of adult beverages at the dinner table, where they are first provided with a bit of wine, then forced to down a hefty shot of cognac and then finally being allowed to have Shirley Temples for the remainder of the evening. That instance of liquid French gold is representative of the band’s sophomore album, White Light/White Heat, which demonstrates a noticeable musical digression for the band due to the album’s focus on being (in the words of founding member John Cale) “consciously anti-beauty.” Even after just a cursory listen of any of the tracks on the album, it will become clear just how apt Cale’s description is. Their ahead-of-its-time approach took structural simplicity and then perverted it with conceptually explicit lyrics, unwieldy performances and plenty of abrasive feedback and noise. The Velvet Underground provided an exceptional influence on proto-punk and avant-garde rock with this record, despite the fact that their other albums range from being not particularly to not remotely indicative of that.
Recommended Track: Sister Ray
Venetian Snares – Rossz Csillag Alatt Született
Perhaps this one is a bit of a stretch, both for this site and for this list, but one thing is for sure: if you only know of one album from breakcore experimentalist Venetian Snares, it is Rossz Csillag Alatt Született. That is, frankly, because the majority of Aaron Funk’s work as VS ranges from difficult to listen to to virtually impossible to listen to. Rossz stands out as Funk’s momentary foray into fringe-mainstream relevance and discussion due to its unique and exceedingly fascinating blend of breakneck drum and bass and melancholy classical music. Funk, a Canadian, put the album together after a trip to Hungary inspired him to mine the work of classical composers from Stravinsky to the Hungarian Béla Bartók for samples. The result is an intoxicating and dizzying array of sounds wrapped around gorgeous and emotionally-lush strings, brass, piano, and woodwinds. The entire album is sequenced like an orchestral opus, swelling to manic heights and crushingly anxious lows. It’s a sound that he’s touched back upon at certain points in his work since (including a “sequel” of sorts in the even more downtrodden and soundtrack-like My Downfall), but nothing has come close to the perfectly strange combinations of sound and emotion of Rossz Csillag Alatt Született. It is truly a must-listen for fans of all sorts of experimental and progressive music.
Receommended Track: ‘Hajnal’
Testament – Demonic
It’s 1997. The Internet is just becoming a “thing.” In Europe the Death Metal and Black Metal revolutions are in full swing but for many American kids looking for hard music, Testament was among the heaviest choices that was easily accessible to the masses. With the release of Demonic, suddenly a mainstream metal audience was listening to harsh vocals and some death metal / black metal riffing. Demonic and later The Gathering marked a true transition point for this kind of music and is worth a second listen.
Recommended Track: Demonic Refusal
Mastodon – The Hunter
I remember Mastodon announcing that their followup to Crack the Skye would not be a concept album, and would instead ‘inspire public nudity and drunkenness’ (actual quote). This was met with equal parts excitement (because come on, it’s Mastodon) and derision (because come on, this is Mastodon – you know, the guys who do the concept albums and stuff? Concept albums? Albums with… concepts?) even if for the most part I personally spent the first half of 2011 fretting about what ridiculous direction Opeth seemed to be teasing with the then-upcoming Heritage. Come September and both albums dropped weeks apart – it didn’t take long for me to decide The Hunter was the clear winner of the two in my eyes. (It’s worth noting that between the two albums, only one contains the line ‘I killed a man because he killed my goat’.) Mastodon’s fifth record pulls off the tricky feat of having a newfound accessibility while also remaining, quite decisively, a Mastodon album; save for the atmospheric sounds in the Crack the Skye-reminiscent outro that is ‘The Sparrow’ or the deeply personal title track, The Hunter is just a whole lot of mindless fun, and Mastodon’s discography is all the better for it.
Recommended Track: Thickening
TesseracT – Altered State
TesseracT are no strangers to line-up changes – at least when it comes to frontmen. It comes as no surprise, then, that their sound should vary from release to release. However, with Altered State, TesseracT took things to a whole new level, and not just in the vocal department (though the replacement of Elliot Coleman with Ashe O’Hara was certainly a factor). With Altered State, TesseracT have created an ethereal soundscape that transcends the border between prog metal and prog rock. The atmospheric nature of the record marks a new level of maturity for the band, but mixing is executed in such a way that the ambient tones compliment, rather than sacrifice, the polyrhythms fans of One have come to love and expect. O’Hara’s choice to stick with clean vocals, while a departure from Dan Tompkin’s preference for harsh vocals on One, works in favour of Altered State’s general mood, and ties the whole album together neatly. To me, TesseracT have always stood apart from their djenty counterparts, but this album in particular serves to reaffirm their musical sophistication and showcases the ways in which they have progressed since One.
Recommended Track: Of Matter
Childish Gambino – Because the Internet
When I picked up my preordered copy of Childish Gambino’s Because the Internet, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. His label debut Camp released in 2011 was an album that I had listened to religiously, but it was arguably no different from many rap albums that had been released before. It was standard fare that I had simply latched on to emotionally, enhancing its overall value in my mind. When I listened to Because the Internet, I genuinely felt like this was a unique experience that could not have come from Gambino prior to this release. Not only was this album way, way different for the artist, it was way, way different for the genre. It is a concept album that has a script (Which can be read at becausetheinter.net) as it’s companion, that tells the tumultuous and emotional tale of a boy who has heavily disassociated from reality. It is worth noting, however, that you can listen to the album and enjoy it without ever touching the script. I don’t think it’s right to deprive yourself of the complete experience, however. Over the span of the first nine tracks, I was treated to songs that could be played over the radio at absurdly loud volumes with a few weirder tracks thrown in to illustrate various points of the album’s story and to set the tone. At track ten, it gets REALLY weird, though. It takes you on a spastic/psychedelic/beautiful journey. Many would say that these songs don’t belong on rap albums at all, but the impact they had on me makes me passionately state otherwise. This is an album that I can listen to over and over again with it blowing me away every single time. Gambino could have gotten complacent or frustrated and just stuck to the “normal” stuff, but instead he decided that he wanted to push the envelope and make more than a passing impact. Tracks like these continue until the album closes and you watch the mental credits roll. I couldn’t believe that the same person who had made Camp two years earlier produced this fantastic and poignant piece of art. This album is something I’ve thought about every week since I first heard it. It has both severely elated me and severely depressed me, but regardless of how it has made me feel, I am glad that I have it and that everyone else can, too.
Recommended Track: II. WORLDSTAR
East of the Wall – Reseentiment
East of the Wall have never quite been the band to dwell on a sound too long. Their music has an instantly recognizable quality to it, but I might as well have picked any of their four full-length releases for this list and it would’ve been a legit choice. Ressentiment, however, is a complete anomaly. From the get-go, it shatters all preconceptions one might have of the band bearing in mind their previous releases, as well as their subsequent ones. The production is incredibly loud, clear, and razor sharp, nothing like the thicker, more subdued sound of its successors or the shoegaze-borne Farmer’s Almanac. While it is rooted in that same melting pot of prog, sludge, and post-everything ever, the majority of the album makes up for some of the heaviest, most metallic material EotW have written thus far (with some of their gnarliest riffs to boot). To contrast this, their jazzy undertones are also more present than ever, especially on songs such as ‘Wisp Of Tow’ and ‘Gordian Corridor’. Hell, it’s even the quintet’s first release to feature vocals, which complement the chaotic instrumentation through pristine cleans as well as screams that burst with an aggression never recaptured again. Overall, Ressentiment is a schizophrenic album of many dichotomies that remains surprisingly cohesive, considering it’s basically a collection of demos written by the members individually. Factor in the ever-persistent lineup changes that have plagued the band, and it’s easy to see why this album’s sound is tucked far away in a place all its own, never to be revisited. Which makes it all the more mind-blowing how it still manages to be so.fucking.good.
Recommended Track: Fleshmaker
Well. This list is certainly one of our most eclectic one, as we focus not only on a non genre parameter but also on something that every good artist should have at least once: experimentation. Whether its a line up change or some sort of artistic choice, these breaks can lead to truly astonishing creations and unexpected gems. We hope you’ve enjoyed this little meandering list and are excited for the next to come out! We might be keeping the beat going and returning once again to a genre limited one. We’ll see!