The Thomas Top Five: 8/15/16
The Thomas Top Five is now a roundup of five records revolving around a specific theme. This week, inspired by many members of the Crossfader team attending a Slipknot concert, our Editor-in-Chief is taking “metal” bands that he listened to in middle school and forcing himself to sift through their discography to find their most meritable release, no matter how meritable it may in fact be. Make sense? No? Too bad!
Marilyn Manson – ANTICHRIST SUPERSTAR
Favorite Tracks: “Irresponsible Hate Anthem,” “Beautiful People,” “Tourniquet,” “Angel With the Scabbed Wings,” “1996,” “The Reflecting God”
Although his later career would see him continue to rely on a shtick that got dangerously thin, and that ANTICHRIST SUPERSTAR gets sea legs on occasion, the record still mostly stands on its own. Claiming that it’s not shlocky is foolish, but the songwriting is strong enough on here that the theatricality makes Manson seem larger than life as opposed to creatively bankrupt and desperate. Even if specific lyrics can be cringeworthy, this is actually one of the more easily delineated rock operas out there, and its tale of a “worm” becoming a superstar only to realize that life is meaningless and deciding to go postal may not win creativity points, but is appropriately dark and angsty enough to guarantee plays on middle school iPods for the rest of eternity. On a musical level, I was struck upon my relisten at how industrial most of this effort is, with songs such as “Irresponsible Hate Anthem,” “Little Horn,” and “1996” being downright “hard,” and Manson’s twisted version of capturing Freddie Mercury flamboyancy ensuring that he’s always an engaging frontman even if his uneasy “pop metal” brand doesn’t always land. Worth giving a chance!
Metallica – MASTER OF PUPPETS
Favorite Tracks: “Battery,” “Master of Puppets,” “Orion”
How could this not be one of the first metal albums people listen to? It’s got “Metal” right in the friggin’ artist name! MASTER OF PUPPETS is a perfectly fine album, not inspiring much praise or vitriol all these years later. But, to MASTER OF PUPPETS’s credit, Metallica’s songwriting here is less of that horrific, forced baritone balladry which would proliferate in their later career (“Nothing Else Matters”), and more of the straightforward guitar chugging and runaway bass-snare drum patterns that defined 80s thrash (in fact, one of the best cuts from the album eliminates the vocals entirely). At its best, they’re able to balance massive riffs, labyrinthine guitar solos, James Hetfield’s clear lust for the anthemic, and the occasional dose of underground menace into what would become mainstream metal’s most enduring songs. At its worst, you can practically smell the dank basements of South Jersey in the late 80s where pimply, overweight teens felt like they were gods brought to Earth. But any way you slice it, MASTER OF PUPPETS is here to stay for time immemorial.
Rage Against the Machine – S/T
Favorite Tracks: “Bombtrack,” “Killing in the Name,” “Take the Power Back,” “Know Your Enemy,” “Fistful of Steel”
Overplaying and a continued proliferation on otherwise toothless alternative rock stations aside, Rage Against the Machine’s self-titled debut is still pretty damn hyphy. Easily one of the most, if not the only, legitimately deft rap metal albums, it’s easy to see how RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE instantly took the world by storm, with Zack de la Rocha’s enraged political rants, Tom Morello’s innovative guitar trickery that was unlike anything heard by the masses before, and the vicious, often funk-inspired groove of Timmy C. and Brad Wilk. I would say that this is one of the more tasteful musical predilections I had back when P.E. classes still forced me to run a mile per week, even if the faux outrage I transplanted from de la Rocha’s political ruminations into my pudgy 14-year-old body has dissipated. Rage Against the Machine would reveal themselves as a one-trick pony soon afterwards, but there’s only one dud of a track on here (“Settle for Nothing,” which even still features an unexpected straight-laced, classically-inspired Morello guitar solo), and any band that can make an entire album that an early teen downloaded track-by-track from Limewire deserves credit where credit is due.
Slipknot – S/T
Favorite Tracks: “(sic),” “Wait and Bleed,” “Liberate”
I was one of those that attended the Slipknot concert mentioned in the opening blurb, and I would be remiss to describe these masked Iowans as anything other than fun in a live setting. However, having dug through their discography for this Thomas Top Five, their recorded presence is much less impressive. This is my least favorite entry on this list, but while IOWA is the most concise presentation of the patented Slipknot sound, they were willing to take many more interesting sonic risks on their self-titled sophomore release. Things stay much more firmly in the pocket of their jumpsuits as the album goes on, but small touches such as the jungle breakbeat opening of “Eyeless” (which also features a strange, SOAD-inflected vocal break), the squalling guitar harmonics of “Surfacing,” and the lurching industrial opening and patient pacing of “Prosthetics” speak of a young and energetic band willing to attempt to stand apart from the pack. The one thing I will unequivocally put in their favor is the fact that their sound is boorishly huge and all-encompassing, as any band with three drummers is bound to achieve, but this is a downright racket, comparable to 15-year-old boys getting drunk for the first time and slamming a metal storage container with baseball bats for an hour. The touches of rap metal that make it in are as regrettable as they ever were, the clean parts are less prevalent but generally boring, and this certainly isn’t a good album, but it’s probably the best Slipknot has to offer.
System of a Down – TOXICITY
Favorite Tracks: “Deer Dance,” “Jet Pilot,” “Chop Suey!,” “Forest,” “Science,” “Toxicity,” “Aerials”
By far the most played album of my middle school career, TOXICITY doesn’t quite feel as vital now as it did then, mostly due to having the veil lifted in terms of Serj Tankian’s admittedly silly lyricism, but this is some objectively ass-kicking thrash filtered through a manic lens of surrealism and non-pareil nonsense. Who the fuck else could sell the line “Wired were the eyes of a horse on a jet pilot” to arenas full of headbanging fans??? The “arena” nature of TOXICITY is particularly notable, as SOAD entered our conscious at the very tale end of when metal was considered even remotely marketable to the masses. As such, we often have huge, fist-pumping choruses that manage to be accessible to stadiums full of sweaty fans, to be listenable by those doing a quick scroll through early-2000s KIIS FM (can you imagine???), and to avoid compromising the more-than-competent thrash metal chops on full display. Furthermore, as mentioned before, I really can’t go to bat for most of these lyrics, but Tankian is still one of the most unique vocalists to front a metal project, existing in an operatic hyena sing-scream that has no readily identifiable peers. They would go on to lose quite a bit of focus and become too left-field for the tastes of many, but with TOXICITY it’s easy to see why these four Armenians from Glendale were once such a big deal.