An album doesn’t really end when its last note is sounded. Or, at least, great albums don’t; there are definitely works out there that only span the time during which the music is playing. But truly great releases, like all great art, stick with their consumer far beyond than the moment of consumption. It’s not just that they change something about the observer; they also literally stay with them, a snippet of a song playing over and over again, a snatched detail of a painting, a shot from a movie. For albums, the closing track has a lot to do with this ability to outlast the immediate.
Even if it’s not the closing track itself which stays with the listener, the way an album ends can influence how much other parts become “sticky” and, maybe more importantly, how frequently a listener will come back to the release. A weak or unmemorable closing track can paint the whole album in its drab colors while a powerful one can remind the listener of what they just heard and how much they liked it. More than anything, album closers just inherently bear this burden of often having to summarize the work that comes before them, whether they intend to do so or not.
Maybe all of these facts were why we had such a hard time compiling this list; staff members had to rein themselves in, as some wanted to contribute five or more entries to this list. Great closing tracks are just like that: they stick with us and make us want to talk about them and the albums they’re from. In the most extreme cases, those of true greatness, they make us want to revisit the albums themselves. We hope that’s the case with the list below and that you find some exceptional memories to revisit in here.
Between the Buried and Me – “White Walls” (Colors)
When it comes to the Between the Buried and Me discography, there’s no shortage of grand finales. “Shevanel Cut A Flip” set an early blueprint for BTBAM’s blend of death metal and hardcore juxtaposed against progressive rock and emotional melodic peaks. “The Need for Repetition” revels in protest against abuse with repetitive brutality until the point’s driven home. Skipping ahead, “Swim to the Moon” is BTBAM’s most ambitious and self-indulgent single track with 18 minutes of wild prog metal featuring the only keyboard solo in the act’s discography, and “Silent Flight Parliament” sees the band at their most epic. Each of these tracks could have seen its own entry on this list, but one that stands out is “White Walls,” the closing track to the band’s magnum opus Colors.
Context is everything to a closing track, as you’ll find looking through this article, but the significance of “White Walls” reaches beyond Colors’ hour-long runtime. Coming off Alaska’s touring cycle, which saw the band kicking around short afternoon Ozzfest sets, the band felt stuck and uninspired with the metal scene and sought to make a statement. This creative angst paved the way for Colors in 2007, an extravagant prog metal concept album that made waves and has since been regarded as one of the best albums of that decade, of the band’s discography, and of the entire prog metal genre. To say Colors is significant is selling it short, and frankly to continue arguing on behalf of the album is preaching to the choir, knowing Heavy Blog’s primary demographic. We’ve all heard it; it’s truly unrivaled in the genre.
Musically, “White Walls” is grandiose, opening on a driving and hypnotic rhythm that builds to its hook and establishing a musical theme to follow, exploring technically minded but melodically consistent riffing that ultimately lead to a larger than life climax and a devastating breakdown. But “White Walls” is not only the exclamation point of the album providing closure on a number of musical fronts, it’s the emotional crux, the late-coming thesis statement lamenting the struggle of creating and personal fulfillment.
Frontman and keyboardist Tommy Rogers bellows, “monotonous expression, a forced replica of a tired sound. Puppets for a greed-driven carnival. The same charade as the passing years force me out there. Don’t give them a chance, they want to be fed a simple replication of past greatness.” This theme of artistic dissatisfaction is resolved in the song’s pivotal moments where Rogers sings triumphantly, “this is all we have when we die. This is what’s left of us when we die. We will be remembered for this.”
Not only is Rogers singing of the importance of honest expression, passion, and creativity, but these lines reverberate as a self-referential testament to Colors itself as a creative victory for the band that influenced countless bands in the decade since and cemented BTBAM’s place in the echelons of musical history, at least in metal circles.
Dream Theater – “Finally Free” (Scenes From a Memory)
Scenes From a Memory is an album all about psychodrama so it’s fitting that its last track is a concept-heavy, melodrama-centered, opus of a track. More so than perhaps any other Dream Theater track (although “Learning to Live” or “Octavarium” certainly give it a run for its money), “Finally Free” is a showcase of what a long track can accomplish. From the opening piano, narration, and samples which set up the place it takes in the story, through the first, stripped down iteration of the chorus and all the way to the initial explosion of guitars, “Finally Free” is big. It’s here to tie everything together, not just the story; the emotional promise of the album is to be resolved as well.
This resolution comes through the clever structure of the track. Starting light and slow, the track slowly builds up, adding the layers of piano, guitars, and drums that make up its final form. Most of all, Labrie’s performance follows this progression as well. When the track is starting off, he’s calmer, regaling the thoughts of our villain (or is he?) in the calm, detached, voice you’d expect from a master schemer. As the track picks up, his voice starts to increase as well, until the iconic “then came a shot / out of the night” line and the excellent break which follows it. After that break, as Labrie revisits the chorus from “One Last Time”, his role is in full effect, showcasing his powerful timbre, as it explodes into one of the moving passages on the album.
When the solo hits, the track is already in full swing. This structure, repeated many times on the album but only fully utilized on this, the last track, serves to “pick up” the listener and sweep us away along with the track’s energy. The result is a moving catharsis, a sweeping glance at everything that’s come before us in ways that are emotional rather than “just” musical and lyrical. “Finally Free” is almost like the entire album contained in a microcosmos as far as the journey undertaken: it starts with crime and depression, goes through heights of passion, and finally resolves on acceptance. It is a fantastic closing note to a fantastic album and represents one of the high points of the band’s career.
The Contortionist – “Monochrome (Pensive)” (Clairvoyant)
Addiction. Suffering from it is debilitating—endlessly disorienting. Loving someone suffering from addiction is these things also. This is the narrative of The Contortionist’s most recent record, 2017’s Clairvoyant. Acting as a kind of sister album to previous album—2014’s metaphorical ode to motherhood, Language—Clairvoyant is the downtrodden, despondent purveyor of abject realism. Where Language surveyed the holistic warmth supplied by a higher power, Clairvoyant shudders in the corner with a brute sense of the heartbreakingly mundane – that some things just aren’t going to be alright.
“Monochrome (Pensive)” depicts, in crushingly honest terms, the event horizon of the person you love’s life and the erratic to-and-fro of your thoughts as this realisation is being forcibly processed in your mind. Like managing to drive a square peg into a round hole. All of the separate elements of the track work so movingly well to convey this and the desperate aching to gather up and savour all of this person’s love before they’re gone. Musically, it reflects this emotional duality with icy, skittering rhythms in conjunction with rich synths filled with warmth. It is Mike Lessard’s vocals though that deliver that sheer emotional resonance and nuance. It’s the kind of performance that you can unpick and unpack forever and your weeping heart will never tire of it—that is why it endures so well as one of the most beautiful and life-affirming album closers that I have ever heard.
“Monochrome (Pensive)” is the only song that has brought me to tears on several occasions. This is down to all of the above, but also its ability to translate the ambiguity of lingering mortality and our lack of finesse when it comes to communicating this to those we love the most. Functionally, the track ties up the album and sonically seems to have a tone of finality to it, containing musical elements of tracks that came before it (most notably, “Monochrome (Passive)”). Lyrically it does nothing of the sort. Knowing the context of the song only adds to its impact. It is written from the perspective of Lessard as he watches his best friend slowly wither away from the effects of chronic substance abuse while grieving for the recent loss of his mother. This lack of finesse I mentioned previously is on full display in Lessard’s lyrics and is frankly, utterly heartbreaking. I’ll leave you with the final lines of the song:
“They say that life goes on/Can’t imagine how you missed her/But tell me, where have you gone?/Where was I when you called home?/It’s just not that easy/When all that’s left is just all your bones.”
Revocation – “Witch Trials” (Deathless)
Many of the entries on this list discuss the lyrical or thematic punch offered up by a given closing song, but there of course exist those of us who listen to metal primarily for the instrumentation: whether it’s thundering riffs, rapid fire blast beats, over-the-top solos, or all of the above. Song structuring can also go a long way in furthering the impact of any or all of these; consider the tension-and-release of an off-time riff breaking out into a punishing, fist-pumping groove, or the sweet catharsis of a surprise solo soaring over assorted dissonant riffs.
Boston’s Revocation in particular have always had a clinical understanding of how to make these elements tick in their brand of thrash-infused death metal, but 2014 album Deathless proved a landmark release in their already storied discography. As the first Revocation album where the band well and truly committed to a newfound 7-string sound, Deathless managed to sound even darker than previous releases, and yielded instant classics such as “The Blackest Reaches” and the eerie “Madness Opus”.
But how does one put a full stop at the end of this 40+ minute sentence? Generally, Revocation albums tend not to end with grandiose, larger-than-life songs that stray too far from the remainder of the record’s sound, yet there’s something truly special about “Witch Trials”, the closer on Deathless. Revocation serve up “Apex” — the album’s lone instrumental track — as a quick appetizer before “Witch Trials” kicks in, and boy, does the latter track make its presence felt. Put simply, “Witch Trials” distills every aspect of the album perfectly. A fast double-picked riff starts it off, after which a quick clean-guitar breather briefly offers a moment to take it all in; and then it’s off to the races with a furious verse. This is the band at their finest, pummelling their way forward to the sound of Dave Davidson’s furious bellow.
But the magic of “Witch Trials” begins with how, threaded throughout most of the thick riffage, there remains an unmistakable melodic feel almost pining to make its way out. Exactly halfway through the track, Dave Davidson and co. take advantage of precisely that to switch gears from an eerie chant section into extended sets of gorgeous guitar solos, in a perfect example of the exact kind of cathartic feeling that a well-timed solo can provide. Following a quick half-time reference back to the double-picked intro riff, the best part begins: a slow, slightly off-time riff that feels almost… hopeful? It’s a bit of a sudden stop, with just one guitar slowly playing the riff repeatedly, before the rest of the band gradually joins in. The rhythmic feel eventually shifts — this Revocation settling the listener into the groove, getting them comfortable for what’s to come. And then possibly Davidson’s best solo since “Bound by Desire” (another contender for this list, mind you) kicks in, an elegant series of phrases that flow effortlessly together over a shifting rhythmic feel, going on and on for a blissful minute and a half. I still remember my jaw dropping to the floor the first time I heard it and it frankly still retains that effect. The solo then continues well into the song fading out, but one can imagine it just going on and on beyond that, as beautifully composed as it is.
It’s an absolutely flawless ending to an album this instrumentally dense, and makes “Witch Trials” a perfect representation of the band’s overall sound, covering their dissonant chord progressions, low-end riffage, and unmistakable melodic ear all within the span of six minutes. Small wonder “Witch Trials” was the closing song for many a live setlist post-release; it stands, even today, as one of the most quintessentially Revocation songs the band have ever written.
Agent Fresco – “Mono No Aware” (Destrier)
A common theme you’ll find in many outstanding closing tracks is a reliance on motif and self-reference in carrying its weight. Outside of the context of an album, perhaps an epic closer doesn’t always have legs of its own, but the full-album experience is often make or break on how it opens and closes and the motifs that carry between them. Agent Fresco’s 2015 album Destrier is one such album that is immensely rewarding due to its cohesive listening experience, and its closing track “Mono No Aware” ties up some motifs, referencing the preceding tracks in a way that is emotionally heavy and deeply satisfying.
It may not be immediately obvious, but “Mono No Aware” opens and closes on the same droning notes as album opener “Let Them See Us” and builds into a showcase of the band’s post-rock influences with beautiful piano, intricate drumming, and use of atmosphere. The song then erupts with a reprisal of the title track’s chorus in a way that is unexpected on first listen and is chilling in its execution. The track then spends some time building towards a climax worthy of Explosions in the Sky or fellow Icelanders Sigur Ros, dropping out to the same drones that carried Destrier to open. It’s a relatively simple trick when boiled down to its working parts — do the chorus again! But with a m b i a n c e! — but effective at insisting upon the album’s significance and masterfully executed.
Moving Mountains – “Ode We Will Bury Ourselves” (Pneuma)
I don’t expect this to be a band to be on the playlist of most of our viewership, but for this article I need to gush about what is one of my favourite songs of all time and the track that sparked the idea for this article, Moving Mountains‘ “Ode We Will Our Bury Ourselves”. Put bluntly, this track is simply euphoric. Eleven years on from hearing it for the first time, it continues to floor me. The closing track to their acclaimed debut release Pneuma, “Ode…” remains arguably their magnum opus. While their sound evolved over their subsequent next two releases, Moving Mountains struck absolute gold with their immaculate blend of post-rock with emo on this album. To me this is one of the gold standards of employing vocals with post-rock; instrumentally it stands very tall thanks to the story-telling they perform with their songwriting alone, but the vocals and lyrics augment every element in how well they harmonize and humanize the experience.
Vocalist/guitarist Greg shines right from the get-go here with his knack for harmonies and impassioned melodies. Repeated pretty chords take a backdrop until the first big build up in the song where layered strings give it a wall of sound. The song breaks into a muted silence of ambient strings with a distanced, desperately stretched out vocal line, “I’m in the earth, it’s where you’ll find me”, echoing a motif repeated in the album. The guitars kick back in and an awesome trumpet appearance echoing a previous vocal melody elevate this into chill-inducing territory.
Driving drum beats with staggered double-kick sections provide a stimulating undercurrent to the second half of this song, with contrasting layers of crashing cymbals, music box-type piano and tremolo guitars carrying it into one of my favourite drawn out outros I’ve heard in the genre. “I am in the earth, and you’re in the sky, ha-lle-lu-jah.” Just dropping that word into a song is almost a flex on that grandiose feeling of joy post-rock band’s have been trying to accomplish with their crescendo climaxes for the past 2 decades, because it’s really the perfect word for it. The song finishes in acapella, repeating the hallelujahs and ending with “someday, the trees will sing.” If the trees did sing, I like to think they’d sound like this song.
The Dillinger Escape Plan – “Mouth of Ghosts” (Ire Works)
There are so many songs I could have picked for this – from definitive masterpieces like “Hallowed be Thy Name” and “Jane Doe”, to classics like “When the Levee Breaks”; just to sneakily name a few – but “Mouth of Ghosts” was the first that sprang to mind and is probably the one I’d stick with in the end.
“Mouth of Ghosts” is a brilliant composition on its own, but what makes it my definitive choice is how essential it is as a closing track. The “flow” of an album is something I place a lot of importance on and I don’t know if there’s a better sequenced record out there than Ire Works. It’s hard enough for me to separate “Mouth of Ghosts” in my head from “Dead and History” and “Horse Hunter” which, together, form a perfect closing triptrych to what is a strong contender for my favourite album of all time.
If “Horse Hunter” is Ire Works’ frantic climax, then “Mouth of Ghosts” is its warm afterglow. There’s something inherently soothing about the track, even as it continually builds tension, before exploding one last time into one the most elating and cathartic refrains ever committed to record. Yet, it remains ultimately threatening – perfectly exemplifying the push and pull of Ire Works, which has arguably become the band’s definitive album, and one of the defining moments in modern heavy music; A perfect end to a perfect record.
Machine Head – “Descend the Shades of Night” (Through the Ashes of Empires)
I don’t know what the hell is going on with Robb Flynn and Machine Head at the moment. Both would seem to be going completely off the rails (let’s not forget, amid all the homophobic social-media feuding, that they added an accused (and definitively not acquitted) gang rapist to their line-up). At the very least, it’s not a good look. However, if I may separate the Machine Head of 2018 and before to the Machine Head of 2019 – on the basis that they were literally a completely different band – then I can’t deny the importance of their music to me, nor that they produced one of the greatest album closers of all time.
“Descend the Shades of Night” is an absolute masterclass of epic composition. The emotion of the song is palpable from its first, sullen acoustic chord. It also comes through Flynn’s voice, which he takes here to hitherto unexplored registers. Machine Head had explored softer soundscapes before (“Deafening Silence”, “The Burning Red”), but they’d never attempted the blending of such a ballad with their trademark aggression before and, on “Descend the Shades of Night”, they excel in every area. The cathartic breakdown hits just as hard as its emotional build-up and the preceding harmonic lead section showcases the staggering synergy between Flynn and Phil Demmel, that would make them the defining guitar duo of metal’s modern era. Dave McClain, likewise, delivers a career best performance on the track, and even the oft-overlooked and understated Adam Duce feels utterly essential – having finally been given space to stand out on his own, rather than just playing along with (and being drowned out by) the guitars.
Machine Head would go on push their musicianship to the limit on The Blackening (2007), which is widely regarded as a masterpiece as well as the band’s defining modern moment. Yet the foundation for everything they did on The Blackening was already there on Through the Ashes of Empires which in many ways, I would argue, also exceeds it. This argument is perhaps never stronger than when considering “Descend the Shades of Night”. The Blackening’s closer, “A Farewell to Arms” – as good as it is – feels like an inferior rehash of its predecessor, which also lacks its compositional completeness. It’s also, by far, the album’s weakest offering. For all its exaggerated vigour, when it comes to song structure, The Blackening is simply a less-refined album than Through the Ashes of Empires.
“Descend the Shades of Night” is the moment Machine Head became more than simply another thrash band. When the song erupts into its final, desperate crescendo, it’s beyond triumphant, and the band would spend their next few albums (at least) chasing a similar sense of elation without ever quite getting there. Machine Head have never stood stronger than they did here, and it’s a true shame to see them (or Flynn at least) piss all the goodwill he, McClain, Demmel and Duce built off the back of it away in a rapid succession of repugnant decisions that would seem to suggest the band’s empire may have finally fallen.
The North Atlantic – “The Ministry of Helicopters” (Wires in the Walls)
It’s a minor miracle that I was able to trim my list for this topic down to even ten songs, so rest assured that only being able to include two is tearing me apart from the inside out, and if there exists a soul mine is no doubt forever stained and melancholy. One shining light that I very much appreciate, though, is that Trent has already covered “(Ode) We Will Bury Ourselves,” which made it 10% easier to make my own decisions. I’ve chosen to approach this with a particular concept in mind: to bring light to one song that is absolutely unheralded, and to honor another that may be a more obvious choice, but for good reason. If you haven’t figured it out yet, this track falls under the former heading.
For all intents and purposes, The North Atlantic is band lost in their era, who was also unfortunately and unfairly lost even as their era was unfolding. I stumbled across Wires in the Walls in my mid-twenties, at a point where I was beginning to feel like it was getting harder and harder for music to capture me like it once did. I actually discovered them during the process of searching for anything new and interesting I could find by looking up bands I loved and then scouring the “related artists.” When I typed in At the Drive-In, The North Atlantic was one of the bands that came up, and they stood out mostly because (a) I had never heard of them and (b) there were copies of Wires in the Walls available used for $0.01. I blind-bought the CD and I have no doubt that it’s one of the greatest random purchases I’ve ever made.
Simply put, the entire album is fantastic. In fact, it’s one of my favorite albums, period. I will go to my grave insisting that it’s one of the 10 best rock records released in the 2000s, and I say 10 mostly because I’m trying somewhat to avoid sounding hyperbolic. It has a fluid concept, a strong sonic identity, confidence of its convictions and a natural energy that’s irresistible. There are zero weak tracks. But even the ten amazing cuts that come before “The Ministry of Helicopters” can’t prepare you for how affecting this finale is. For me, it’s a pinnacle moment for those halcyon days when post-hardcore, post-punk, emo, alt-rock and indie rock all crossed timelines and intertwined.
The trio of brothers Jason and Cullen Hendrix and Jason Richards have a knack for sounding like they’re shooting from the hip even though their compositions are deeply thoughtful. “The Ministry of Helicopters” presents this quality at its finest; it has a fiery spirit and infectious energy that inspires the listener to throw caution to the wind and charge with it to whatever finish line it’s hurtling toward. But at the same time it’s the culmination of a full-album throughline that addresses a dystopian near-future where technological expanse has created a strangely beautiful yet nightmarish cityscape that stretches uncomfortably beyond any points that can be seen, and individuals straddle an ever-vacillating line between sadness and comfort as they attempt to retain autonomy in a world that is increasingly functional without them. That The North Atlantic could have this kind of artistic laser-focus while simultaneously sounding so free and loose is an achievement not to be understated.
The lyrical language of the album is thoroughly compelling, reaching well-earned peaks during “Ministry.” The song-opening phrase “I’m a pilot with the ministry, who, who, who, who’s gonna save me?” calls back to a similarly repeated vocal line that begins the record, continuing the tight pattern of connected themes flowing throughout each song. The frantic and impassioned performance coupled with the dramatics of Jason Hendrix belting out “you were singing in your throat a song about a man who stood a hundred miles tall in a plane over continents, content with the knowledge of it all” leads into the refrain “with the push of a button, the future was assured,” which echoes with both dignity and desperation throughout the song’s rousing finale. It is an impressive accomplishment for an album to take itself so seriously and pull it off so resoundingly.
At seven and a half minutes, “The Ministry of Helicopters” manages to fly by and leave the listener wanting more. It has a distinct set-closing vibe, standing up as a song that is virtually impossible to follow. Two minutes in a riff begins building during a verse before exploding into an everyone-on-the-floor cathartic moment that should have been blowing the doors off of clubs for years following the record’s release. And that happens only a third of the way through the song. The rest of “Ministry” somehow manages to climb to even further heights, a rare track that paints a picture around you until you realize that you’re living in its world as opposed to your own by its conclusion. I still find myself fists clenched and eyes wide during the climactic moments a dozen years after first hearing it. It’s a major part of why I’ve been championing Wires in the Walls for nearly a decade and a half, why I spent nearly three months tracking down and interviewing the band members for a deep dive I wrote about it a few years back, why I implored the band to upload the entire record to YouTube (at the time I was researching the aforementioned article only 4 tracks from the album were available to stream). This record, and this song, impacted me deeply at a time when it was starting to feel like the magic was beginning to pale.
Of all the songs I considered for this piece, this is the one that is most likely to fade into the ether, and I am desperate for that not to happen. That’s a component of why it’s one of my two choices. But more importantly, it’s here because it should be here. The North Atlantic were an unfortunate casualty of time and fate, somehow managing to slip through the cracks when they should have been acknowledged amongst the best bands of their era. “The Ministry of Helicopters” is a profound exclamation point on a musical statement that deserves to be heard and celebrated.
Deafheaven – “The Pecan Tree” (Sunbather)
You’re not always able to see the exact moment when an aesthetic materializes and makes its presence known in grand fashion, but that’s what happened when Deafheaven released Sunbather in 2013. You can certainly point to other moments when the black metal, shoegaze and post-rock genres crashed together to usher in what is now a fashionable (but also entirely viable and often deeply effective) style all its own. But it’s hard to deny that Sunbather was the crucial moment, and likely the most spectacular. There is a small handful of records this decade that helped shape what I am currently listening to, and this may be the most important one. It’s a record that is both bold enough and celebrated enough to have inspired its own army of contrarians who choose to sweep aside popular opinion and all sense of reason to declare that Sunbather “actually isn’t that great.” Typically the only albums capable of evoking such a reaction are ones that are, in fact, actually that great.
Fans seem to be equally split on which of Sunbather’s primary tracks are their favorite, another sign of a legitimate artistic achievement. Of course, the only people who are actually correct are those who cite “The Pecan Tree” as their favorite. “The Pecan Tree” is the sonic representation of a mic-drop. This could have been the only song they ever released before quitting music forever and they’d still be one of the most influential bands of the decade. There is definitely a “Deafheaven formula,” and to break it down simply, that consists of “Blast Beat Black Metal Part,” “Dreamy Shoegaze Part” and “Holy Fucking Shit Epic Riff Part.” “The Pecan Tree” may well contain the best examples of all three of these Deafheaven subheadings, and also presents them in the most satisfying order.
It starts with explosive immediacy, challenging the listener to breathlessly keep pace without a second to settle in, then takes a minor turn from being feverishly unhinged to more melodically-concerned without decreasing the intensity. The song then transitions into its pretty, melancholic middle section, which caresses and soothes without relinquishing the tension that is essential to the impact of the moments to come. It’s the precise sound of a bittersweet dream, whispering sweetly to you to let go as it carries you away.
But what follows… I mean, what can you say? It’s one of the most towering, jaw-dropping, gripping, overwhelming, emotionally exhausting, staggeringly beautiful and life-affirming three and a half minutes I’ve ever experienced. If there was a piece of music that I would want to characterize the final moments of my life before everything fades out, this would be it – loud, passionate, impactful and enduring. It contains one of the greatest riffs, period, which could only ever exist as the climax of a monumental record. THIS is how you close an album with power and purpose. This is why Deafheaven is such an important presence in one of the most steadily growing and influential subgenres to take hold during the 2010’s. The other songs I considered for this topic are absolutely incredible pieces of music, but none of them changed the game and impacted so much of what was to come nearly as much as “The Pecan Tree” did.
Obscura – “Weltseele” (Akroasis)
The year is 2016 and the tech-death world awaits Obscura’s fourth record, Akroasis, with bated breath. Their previous two records had been fantastic, but the departures of longtime members and genre legends Hannes Grossmann and Christian Munzner had fans wondering whether Obscura could continue their upwards trajectory. Adding to this sense of anticipation was the addition of Tom ‘Fountainhead’ Geldschlager to the band, a musician renowned for his technical capabilities and fretless guitar playing. As listeners hit play for the first time they were taken through hit after hit, the compositions and performances in a different class to both their discography and contemporaries. The addition of Geldschlager’s solos and stunning fretless guitar work only served to elevate the record to even greater heights and as the record approached its conclusion there was one pervasive thought shining through: this was Album of the Year potential. Enter the 15-minute behemoth that is “Weltseele”.
The track begins with a haunting acoustic guitar, the other instruments only gradually joining it in its lonely melody as the listener is lulled into a peaceful state. While there is a dark undertone to each pluck of the strings, for the most part it has a certain a meditative quality to it. Cue the sharp snapping of a snare drum and suddenly we’re not in Kansas anymore as electric guitars lurch into the fray, ably supported by harsh vocals as darkness begins coming to the fore. A couple of minutes in an eerie melody sneaks into the background, a melody which would come to serve as the song’s central motif. It has a character that wouldn’t go astray in the Godfather, a haunting cry that carries a certain sinister grandeur. The motif continues to weave itself in and out of the track and we’re treated to a lovely refrain of our acoustic intro, before diving into an orchestral passage replete with beautiful strings, enchanting harps and an added emotional weight. This is no longer Obscura-by-numbers, no matter how good those numbers have been to date. This is starting to be special.
Despite the tremendous depth and density of the composition, the use of motifs and refrains ensures the listener has a solid base from which to appreciate these detours. It has everything you could ask for in a progressive death metal song, including the things you didn’t think you wanted. When coming back from the orchestral mid-section the band hit damn hard before descending into a chaotic maelstrom of guitar tapping, pained screams and a strings that seem to be collapsing from within. The passage evokes a tremendous sense of anxiety and chaos before the storm clouds break and the sun shines through, the synergy between guitars and bass breathtaking as we can breathe once more. We’ve overcome. As the heroic fretless guitar plays us out with that central motif we’re left in utter disbelief and a new thought has supplanted our old one. Album of the year? No, this just became an instant classic.
Trivium – “Shogun” (Shogun)
In 2008 Trivium were under the pump. While Ascendancy had been a roaring success that catapulted the band to metal stardom, the higher profile brought with it its fair share of skeptics and follow-up album The Crusade was the ammunition those with tall poppy syndrome were craving to try and tear the band down. Those people were put right back in their place on 2008’s Shogun, as Trivium asked post-Blackening Machine Head to hold their beer before producing a flagship record for modern metal. The record traverses thrash, death metal, metalcore and classic heavy metal with reckless abandon, integrating legendary influences with fresh ideas to create a powerful, thoughtful and polished package. It’s not necessarily that others hadn’t tried to do this before, it’s just that few, if any, were this damn good at it. As Josh pointed out earlier, as brilliant as The Blackening is it doesn’t end on its strongest note, with “A Farewell To Arms” not quite as strong as classics like “Clenching the Fists of Dissent”, “Halo” or “Aesthetics of Hate”. Thankfully, Trivium learned from this and saved their best for last, producing their longest and undoubtedly finest song to date with the closing title track “Shogun“.
Trivium spend the first half of “Shogun“ ensuring it fits sonically and thematically with the rest of the record as they alternate between clean and harsh vocals, liberally employ harmonies and bring in some punishingly heavy riffs. The chorus’ chord progression is also a reprise of the introduction to opener “Kirisute Gomen”, the two tracks culturally as well as melodically in sync with one another and ensuring that “Shogun” ties the entire record’s sound together perfectly. This chord progression goes on to form one of the song’s core motifs, its presence a constant guiding force for the listener as we’re taken on an ever more elaborate tour of Trivium’s sonic arsenal. From beautiful acoustic passage to classic rock guitar solos, the song ebbs and flows wonderfully before it begins to slowly build in intensity. The build-up of tension is palpable and its release is the high-point of the record and, arguably, Trivium’s career.
I seriously doubt they’ll ever write a better passage of music than the one starting at around 7.40min and I’m ok with that. It fucking slaps, and just when you think it’s dying down it gets heavier. If these demonic vocals, nasty ass riffs and pillaging drums don’t make you want to make flip tables, punch walls and generally hurl yourself about with invisible oranges then you’re in the wrong genre my friend, it doesn’t get any better than this. And that’s why Shogun is perfectly placed as an album closer. As you embrace the record’s soaring and triumphant conclusion on a high, with sweat pouring down your forehead and endorphins flooding through your body, the beginning of “Kirisute Gomen” kicks you off with that familiar progression and foreshadows the greatness to come. You’re powerless to resist as you go for round two, hoping at least some of your furniture survives and not caring in the slightest if it doesn’t.
Ne Obliviscaris – “Devour Me, Colossus” (Citadel)
One might wonder whether this song really ought to have been considered, given that its runtime accounts for close to a third of the entire record. Know this was taken into consideration, but ultimately it was included on the basis that its final five minutes are the real ‘closing’ part of the album and its quality is undeniable. This is the portion of the song we’ll really dive into, for it’s the part that ensures you’ll want to keep that repeat button well and truly on. Around 8 minutes in we find ourselves, in typical Ne Obliviscaris fashion, transition from light to darkness as Xenoyr bellows piercing screams alongside a blistering guitar solo in a beautiful climax. Little could we have predicted that this climax is nothing but a false dawn, one which segues into one of the greatest breakdowns you will ever here.
You will never find a passage which champions the bass guitar as well as the beginning of the breakdown, the hypnotically melodic tapping doubtlessly causing a legion of budding musicians to put their instruments on eBay. The introduction of guitars and drums is perfectly timed as they embellish the bass, adding context and dynamics as they continue to drive the song forward before taking control and entering the driving seat with waves of rhythmic tugs. Haunting violin serves as the cherry-on-top before we’re struck by another incredible guitar solo, each virtuosic display topping the one before it (except the bass, god damn it’s incredible) whilst continuing to serve the song. We then erupt back into the song’s chorus, only this time with added layers to ensure it hits harder and carries the song to its true, roaring crescendo. It’s a stunning passage that caps off a stunning album, and the closing two minutes of piano and violin serve as the perfect gateway to the matching intro. Having a ‘broken’ repeat button that won’t turn off has never felt so good.
Mastodon – “The Last Baron” (Crack the Skye)
After the extreme drama that is Mastodon’s 2009 masterpiece Crack the Skye, you’d think they would just want to wrap things up and get the hell out of there. No chance of that, though. An album of this scope requires a serious ending to encapsulate everything the album is. “The Last Baron” is a sweeping epic of a track, covering everything they did through the album through an inexplicably written track that features some of their finest songwriting and completes the story of Crack the Skye.
Everything about “The Last Baron” is high drama. The quiet acoustic guitar introduction leads you into a slow build up with the rest of the band. It’s just build up to a new section leading into a build up of another section, each part having its own feel of drama. By the time the track is done, you reach a point of denouement and ultimate catharsis and release. The main character is brought back from the spirit realm into their body having endured an unforgettable yet unrelatable journey that has changed everything. The song reflects these feelings bringing you through the high drama of an expressive 13-minute long sludgy prog track.
What impresses me the most about this song is how it’s structured. Yes, it’s a prog track so there are going to be a number of different sections to any song. However, there seems to be a very conscious effort to write suites of the song in a way that sections can flow back in forth. It’s almost structured like a palindrome where the intro and outro sections are the same as are each succeeding and preceding section, like section A-B-C-D-C-B-A. There are a few small variations throughout the song, but that’s the general idea. They’re also expertly written such that they can pretty fluidly move from both section A to section B and back again without losing any momentum or confusing the listener.
This kind of question presented to us is difficult to define just because who knows what exactly is the perfect album ender. Concept albums provide a pretty good map of getting from A to B, so if you can execute correctly then you’ll probably stick the landing. Even with all that said, “The Last Baron” might be my all-time favorite album outro. Mastodon could’ve conceivably phoned in some ending that might not have been perfect but still could’ve wrapped everything up. But they didn’t do that. They worked hard to get it right, and I think few artists have done better.