30. The Axis of Perdition - Deleted Scenes from the Transition Hospital (2006)
Fuck. This album is scary as shit, which is an adjective I use to describe precisely zero other metal albums, and that should mean something. I know I mentioned that the list was metal exclusive, and this is the one album that sorta stretches that definition, as it gets more and more ambient as it goes on, and on the whole spends more time focusing on quiet horror in the background of insanity. Nothing causes nightmares quite like a filthy, abandoned insane asylum, and The Axis of Perdition take this image and run with it so hard that it would rival Usain Bolt if it could actually do such a stupid metaphor. Deleted Scenes from the Transition Hospital is terrifying nightmare fuel of the highest order, and the occasional black metal parts work astoundingly well in the scope of all the tense atmosphere. I know that I said, once upon a time, that the metal parts were distracting from the creepy sounds of this long vacant death ward, but upon reflection they symbolize the idea of a crazy person very well. Whenever the appropriately mechanical drums start churning and blasting into a hell soaked fever dream, it works as the musical manifestation of a psychotic episode. Despite all of the slow building atmosphere and all the grinding and clanking and moaning, this version of insanity is still manic. It's the sound of isolation in a confusing and clearly malevolent world, and the imaginary narrator hasn't had a grip on his own sanity in quite some time, causing semi random violent outbursts at unexpected times. I hate to do this, but really the best way to sum up this album is to just quote myself. "[This album is] the horror and madness of a long dead and abandoned insane asylum, roving with malevolent apparitions whose sole purpose is to mindfuck you so hard that you give mindbirth. To nightmares."
Man, remember when Torture Squad was the hottest shit on the block? It's unfortunate that this band seemed to disappear so quickly after the following few albums managed to disappoint, but Pandemonium has stood the test of time like very few thrash albums post-1992 have. There is a massive amount of death metal in here as well, and it helps keep the songs varied and stand out individually as worlds apart from where the genre was at the time. The abundance of blast beats and the deep roars of the vocalist keep the riffs (which are fairly firmly rooted in the styles of Kreator, Sodom, and Sepultura) free to do their own thing within the thrash mold. It's all very creative in a very specific way, with enough shifts in tempo and riffing style to keep things interesting for the listener. The fact that there are truly only seven songs helps as well, since it never overstays its welcome, instead opting to do its job extraordinarily well and then buggering off to let you enjoy it again. It's sort of sad that the mark this album left on the metal world finally seems to be fading (three "blah" followups certainly hurt your credibility), but it's still strong in my heart, fading as it may be. Just because the relevance of something so unabashedly thrashy and powerful from a time when the genre was remembered as merely a style that had long passed and would never fully return has waned, doesn't mean the quality has dipped in any capacity. The shock and awe may be gone, but the riffs never will. Every single review I've ever read for any given Torture Squad album has mentioned or been compared to Pandemonium, and there's good reason for that. This didn't get popular on accident.
Man remember when this was the hottest shit on the block? No? Well okay, that's because Exmortus never really took the world by storm like I was anticipating, which is a shame because while Torture Squad mixed thrash metal with some heavy elements of death metal, Exmortus took thrash metal and mixed it with fucking everything. Everything here draws from different pools of influence, with neoclassical Andy LaRocque solos everywhere, a very death metal style of production and deep roar for vocals, European power metal riffs in "Triumph By Fire", black metal dissonance and atmosphere in "Fimbulwinter" and "Onward to Battle", and even a blend of Iron Maiden and Children of Bodom for "Valor and Might" (which incidentally starts with pretty much the coolest bass lick of all time). This works in so many ways because, despite the band constantly being lumped in with the new wave of thrash bands cropping up around the time, they never really and truly played thrash at this juncture. This album was something else entirely, some sort of melodic technical death/thrash with influences from everywhere in between. What this is, more than anything, is memorable. There are no filler tracks here, which is impressive for an eleven track album, and all of them have some sort of recurring theme, riff, melody, or even just a really gnarly dueling solo section that sticks with you like a tick. It's a huge shame that the band decided to be more "normal" after this album and started eliminating all of the little flourishes from other genres that made In Hatred's Flame so memorable, instead opting for a toned down thrash with dashes of death metal here and there, essentially becoming the precursor to Battlecross (aka "being solid, okay, and inoffensive but having precisely zero songs or elements stand out"). I saw these guys a few days after Christmas in 2009, and there were probably thirty people there tops, and they did a wall of death for "War Gods" anyway. Nine people did it, and it was still fucking awesome. That's how rad they were back when this album was their only real claim to fame.
It almost physically pains me to admit that something Jari Maenpaa was involved in was exceptionally good, but even the taint of his shitty rockstar attitude and utter inability to write to his strengths does nothing to hamper the classic status of early Ensiferum. The self titled debut is usually hailed as the true classic in the band's discography, but I personally think it's a portrait of a band with a lot of ideas and no clue how to filter them, since half of the songs are slow and dull while the other half are a collection of the greatest folk metal songs ever written. The followup, Iron, is held in fairly close to equally high esteem, but to me it irons out most of the kinks in the debut, as it is overall much more focused and unified. The scope of the songwriting opened up considerably, as tracks like "Tale of Revenge", "Into Battle", and "LAI LAI HEI" are just huge songs. It's a super cliche description of basically anything epic to say it takes you on a journey, but these songs really do such a thing for me. "Tale of Revenge" still gives me chills to this day, it's really one of those flawless classic songs for a genre. Everything about this album is really just that, it's huge, it's grand, it's massive, it's just a testament to these larger than life tales of heroism, and it spins these tales with all of the added flair and bombast of a jongleur's recitation as opposed to a somber bard's tale. Yes, there is a problem with the album in that "Lost in Despair" and "Tears" are just boring, shitty songs, but the fact that those two stinkers appear and the album still almost makes it to the upper half of this list shows just how fucking incredible the rest of the songs truly are. Even Jari's dorky falsetto screeching on "Sword Chant" comes off as a charming quirk instead of a boneheaded fuck up. From the down to earth fury of the thrashing "Slayer of Light" to the hands-to-the-sky epic anthem of "Into Battle", all but two songs hit bullseye with every single second they're afforded. I feel sort of bad freely admitting that this is a flawed gem and ranking it higher than albums I love all the way through, but the truth of the matter is that this would be in serious danger of being in the top ten if it weren't for them, it's that good. Iron helped define what folk metal would sound like when taken seriously, and to this day almost nobody sounds like Ensiferum.
Before Fleshgod Apocalypse gained infinite notoriety and mainstream love for blending crazy death metal with bombastic symphonics, they were the greatest tech death band in existence. What we know as tech death, the style popularized by Necrophagist and Origin as opposed to the early styles like Nocturnus and Suffocation, was perfected here, with an emphasis on bone crushing riffs just as much as jackhammering percussion and flashy leads. Oracles blended all of the best elements from every school of tech death, taking the frenetic riffs of Neuraxis and the searing melody of Decrepit Birth and formed it all into this gigantic mutant of destruction. Don't get me wrong, some of the classical elements that would eventually define their style are here, there are a handful of piano intros here and there, but none of the booming horns or screeching clean vocals. At this point in time, they were still firmly a death metal band and they were out to death that metal like no metal had ever been deathed. That's why Oracles is so much more impressive than Agony or Labyrinth. Their later albums stand out because so few bands sound like them, and even though there are a few, most normal Metalsucks readers and Liquid Metal listeners aren't going to be familiar with Septic Flesh. Their debut here, on the other hand, stands out for simply being better than any of their peers. The songwriting on display here is phenomenal, as the intensity is already obviously through the roof by the very nature of the genre, but it's pushed even further than eleven, and there are catchy hooks thrown every which way without ever truly slowing down or relenting in any fashion. That first riff of "Embodied Deception" isn't going to be found on any Brain Drill album, is what I'm saying. I wish Fleshgod would have stuck with this direction, because as much as I love Hour of Penance, Neuraxis, and Spawn of Possesion, none of them were ever quite on the level as early Fleshgod. Oracles stands as both the pinnacle of the genre, and as a resounding question mark as to what could have been.
While Dead Again is usually considered one of the weaker Type O Negative albums, it's actually in serious danger of being my favorite one. Type O was notorious for having albums that were nearly torturously long, with several songs approaching or breaching the ten minute mark on albums with 15 tracks, and Dead Again is basically the first one to break that mold, with only ten tracks and much more shorter, punky, poppy songs than Bloody Kisses or World Coming Down. Life is Killing Me attempted this as well, but nothing really nailed it quite like their 2007 swansong did. Peter Steele's inimitable baritone croon is in top form and the riffs range from the preposterously slow and oppressive, to the pummelingly speedy. There's probably more variety here in more overt fashion than they ever showcased before, with the fast melodic thrash/punk of the title track, to the blatant Sabbath worship in "An Ode to Locksmiths" and half of "Tripping a Blind Man", to the fast, Carnivore throwbacks of "Some Stupid Tomorrow" and the other half of "Tripping a Blind Man", to just whatever beautiful fucking catchy thing "Halloween in Heaven" is considered, everything hits bullseye. Admittedly, yeah there is a big flaw in "These Three Things" just being way too goddamn long for the few ideas present, but much like Ensiferum a few entries up, the rest of the songs are so well put together and flawlessly executed that it ends up not really mattering in the long run. I haven't even touched on "September Sun" and "She Burned Me Down", because really there's just so much quality on display, tackled from so many different angles that I don't know how to talk about it without descending into googly eyed lunacy. A vast majority of the album is dripping with that gothic doom swagger that so few bands can really manage. There are hooks everywhere and pretty much all of them stick like glue. As far as I'm concerned, this is the closest they ever got to sequelizing Bloody Kisses, and that's fine by me. When people think of "gothic metal", they usually think "riffless symphonic metal with a shrill female vocalist that wishes she was in an opera", but that's why Type O is so great in this regard, as they're basically the only gothic metal band to truly earn the name by taking heaps of influence from gothic rock like Bauhaus and Fields of the Nephilim. Ergo, Type O Negative is the only true goth metal band in existence, and even if they weren't, they'd still be the best by lightyears.
If anybody ever asks me why I love power metal so much when it's so sonically and conceptually the opposite of my usual stomping grounds of extreme metal, I just point to Germany and say that it's No World Order's fault. The syrupy smoothness of Helloween and Sonata Arctica is all well and good, but Gamma Ray was always a little rough around the edges, and that's always been a huge draw for me. Listen to just how dark and menacing the bridge of "Dethrone Tyranny" is, or the downtuned, frantic thrash chugs of "Heart of the Unicorn", or even the brutal stomp of "Damn the Machine". It all blends in so well with the optimistic, double bass filled staples of the genre like "Heaven and Hell" and "Follow Me". They make their music a little darker and heavier than most of their contemporaries without resorting to stupid tricks that sacrifice songwriting like slowing down or chugging for heaviness. No, everything here is based in the whole idea of "sped up Judas Priest and Iron Maiden" that the entire genre is built on. There are soaring harmonized melodies, speedy dueling solos, extremely high pitched vocals, ridiculously catchy hooks and choruses, and everything else that power metal is known for, but they do it with a sneer as opposed to a smile. Gamma Ray may have gotten a ton of notoriety with rampant riff stealing after this album (though this one technically started it with "Solid" being a clear "homage" to Judas Priest's "Rapid Fire"), but at this point in their history their songwriting was still original and just as flashy as it was grounded. The scariest thing about the band is that this is only what I'd consider to be their fourth best album, and if I ever did a "Best of the 90s" list, the previous three albums would rank easily. This middle period of their career is just on a whole other level of songwriting and catchiness that only Blind Guardian could manage to surpass. No World Order does everything its predecessors do, but it does it with a kind of crooked toothed, chainsmoking attitude in the forefront that was merely moderately present before.
Hey asshole! You already put Cannibal on this list like twenty spots ago with Kill! Yeah I didn't specify that there was one release per band now did I? Why should Kill not get the recognition it deserves merely because Gore Obsessed is better? And in all honesty, Gore Obsessed is by far the most underrated Cannibal Corpse album. Despite having fan favorites "Savage Butchery" and "Hatchet to the Head", it's normally lost in the white noise. And that's silly, because there are like six other bona fide classics to be found on this album. "Grotesque" is quite possibly my favorite Cannibal song, and it's normally swept under the rug in terms of fan appreciation and setlist appearances, not to mention rippers like "Pit of Zombies", "Dormant Bodies Bursting", and "Hung and Bled". Even the trademark creepy, dripping slow track, "When Death Replaces Life", is fucking brutal on a level they almost never matched again. This is probably their most focused and tightest work in the scope of their entire career, and the album is all the better for the dialed back technicality (unlike Bloodthirst, which is fucking insane (and still one of their best albums)) in favor of a more basic savagery. Cannibal Corpse is really the last bastion of pure death metal, waving the flag they wove back in 1991 today as fervently as they ever have. This is the apex of Corpsegrinder's career as well, even though his voice hasn't deteriorated one iota since joining in 1995, it's just that teeny bit further over the edge on this one. I can't recommend this enough. If you're a fan of the band who always sort of ignored this album in favor of the more popular albums, go back and rock out to this so hard your neck breaks, and if you've never quite gotten into the band, this is potentially the best place to start, since it sums up the Corpsegrinder era with one of their best performances. If you don't like Cannibal Corpse, you don't get to pretend you like death metal.
Vader was one of the first death metal bands ever, and the fact that over twenty years later they're still releasing classic shit like Welcome to the Morbid Reich and Tibi et Igni in the current decade is just completely astounding. And sure enough, they were ripping just as hard in the aughties, with Impressions in Blood being an obvious standout. This was really the first album of theirs to switch up their formula in any substantial way, as they were previously taking the Cannibal Corpse approach of refining their initial signature sound with each album and never making any sort of drastic change simply because they never needed to. Well around 2006, they finally replaced their jackhammer (which is a way better metaphor than a sledgehammer, come on 18 year old BH that was an easy one) with a meathook, with a newfound focus on catchy hooks and pummeling chugs instead of just the straightforward furious blasting death they'd specialized in up to this point. That's not to say that the endless blastbeats aren't still here, almost every song is still based around the double bass and tremolo riffs that they always were, it's just that it's a little deeper, a little more brutal, and a little groovier this time around. This works so well for them because, as it turns out, Vader fucking rules at that style too. The thrashing intensity of death metal blended with the grooving slams and chugs of... well, still death metal, makes for something that they managed to completely own. Even the tribal beats and percussive breaks like the end of "Field of Heads" totally rule, not to mention the occasional symphonic overtones in "Predator" and "Shadowfear". Impressions in Blood also has "Helleluyah!!!" (I will never stop finding their habit of putting three exclamation points at the end of song titles adorable!!!), which is a live staple and fan favorite for a damn reason. "The Book" also stands out for being one of the best groovy death metal songs ever written. Basically I want to have sex with this album. Vader was possibly the first death metal band I ever fell in love with, and Impressions in Blood is as good of an example as any to illustrate precisely why that is.
I'm gonna spoil something and say that there are no Blind Guardian albums on this list. Honestly, even if they'd released more than two albums during this decade, it wouldn't really have mattered since most of the magic that made everything before this time so wonderful was gone. That's where Persuader comes in, as they pick up where the German legends left off, and added a hefty set of balls and punishing riffage to the brilliantly catchy songs and soaring melodies. When Eden Burns is Persuader's most overtly melodic album, and while I had initially taken this to mean that they were going to soften up in the future, I've come to appreciate it for the technical showcase that it really is. Jens Carlsson is truly one of the greatest vocalists in power metal, as his insane ability to rip out fiery power couples so well with his ear for melody. That ear for melody is especially important for a genre that hinges so much of its listenability on great choruses, and this album pretty handily shines for having the best choruses the band would ever pen. "Slaves of Labour", "Sending You Back", "The Return", "Doomsday News", there are just so many classic moments across so many classic tracks that I just can't heap enough praise onto it. While the previous album (the also stellar Evolution Purgatory) was based on crazy heavy riffage in addition to the melodic prowess of Blind Guardian, it never quite reached the level of nearly infuriating infectousness that When Eden Burns carries. I mean seriously, listen to the outro of "Judas Immortal" and tell me that that isn't essentially power metal perfection. I praised Gamma Ray up there for being a little bit darker than most of their contemporaries, but Persuader dives into that mindset headfirst, with the aforementioned "Judas Immortal" being a downright visceral song filled with gory imagery. Not gonna hear a line like "The reek of your desecrated corpse" on any given Rhapsody album, that's for sure. In fact, I'm just gonna go ahead and say that "Judas Immortal" is the greatest power metal song of the decade. It's a bummer that it took them a whopping eight years to follow up this album, but that means that for nearly a decade this was looked at as the band's swansong, and you know what? I'd've been okay with the world if The Fiction Maze never saw the light of day, because When Eden Burns is a stunning monument to what power metal truly can be.
Three down, two to go! Come on back in a few days to see what unfolds when we begin the Top 20. Don't forget to "like" and "subscribe" or whatever the fuck people always beg after Youtube videos, I don't know, just come back if you'd like, I'm always cool with company. See ya soon!