Ten years on the making: Johan’s Top Ten Albums of all Time

Being a music buff, and being rather loud in either praising music I love or trashing music I don’t particularly care for, I naturally get a lot of questions about music or am questioned about my taste in music.. Two of the questions I get the most are “What’s your favorite band?” and “What is your favorite song and/or album of all time?”

The first question, I’ve pondered for about twenty years now, and I’m still not certain.. As for best song, I’ve never quite understood the concept of a favorite song of all time.. Tastes change, moods change, feelings change, and my taste in music changes a lot with the mood I’m in.. So I don’t really have a go-to favorite song.

As for my favorite album of all time? Well, it’s an easier question to answer, but not by much.. It’s a question I started pondering about ten years ago, and now after careful and lengthy consideration, I think I’ve been able to come up with an answer.. In the shape of a top ten list (ever popular aren’t they) of my top ten albums of all time.. But before we start, let’s review the criteria I set down before making my picks (at the pace of about one per year):

– The entires have to be wholesome albums, I haven’t picked albums that have say 10 awesome songs and four pointless filler tracks, I want something on there that I can listen to from start to end and be absolutely amazed.

– No Greatest Hits albums! Those are compilations, not albums – and are pretty much bound to also have filler tracks as mentioned above.

– No Live albums! On account of those mainly being compilation albums as well, and usually lacking some of the finesses of studio recordings.

These are my personal choices, they’re highly subjective and based on personal taste, opinion and various X-factors such as nostalgia and temporary insanity, etc, etc.. That being said, and without further ado:

Johans Top Ten Favorite Albums of All Time

10. All Hope Is Gone [Special Ediotion] (Slipknot)

Wow.. Slipknot? Really? Yes.. Slipknot! Really! Slipknot is a band that’s taken a lot of heat over the years, heck ten years ago, I was in the front line leading the charge against this abomination of metal. BUT, as with good wine, they’re also a band that has improved a lot over the years. I’ve never had any doubt that the members of Slipknot are very skilled musicians, it has shone through in their many side projects. However, for years, Slipknot had more focus on brutality and anger rather than technique. On their latest albums they’ve started experimenting and spanning more, creating a more varied and interesting soundscape: Techniques such as harmonies, breakdowns, solos, acoustic parts and clean (beautiful vocals) are used much more intelligently in the cacophony of noise that is a Slipknot album.. And this pays off, especially on “All Hope Is Gone”. The new record is every bit as dark and angry as other Slipknot albums but in a much more diverse, thought through and technically astounding kinda way. It’s harmonic, well played, well planned and well produced. It is, without a doubt, a milestone for the band, and for modern metal. The sold out headliner and summer festival tour says it all.. These guys are here to stay, and they’re gonna get BIG!

9. Grave Dancers Union (Soul Asylum)

I’m pretty much willing to bet that all of us who were teenagers in the 90’s remember the 1993 smash hit Runaway Train by Soul Asylum. I mean, the song is pretty much synonymous with the band and, at least in Europe, got a hell of a lot more attention than the album it’s featured on, namely Grave Dancers Union. This, quite honestly, is a bit of a shame because in this humble rock fan’s opinion, the song is actually one of the weaker songs on the album. I bought this album some 12 odd years ago or so for next to nothing (and by next to nothing I mean about a buck) for the sake of getting the single to be honest, and it ended up being one of the best purchases I’ve ever made. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve listened to this album over the years, but I can still to this day pick it up and play it front to back several times in a day and get a genuinely happy feeling. Good, uncomplicated, moody, sing-a-long alternative rock which spawns fond memories of those happy teenage days in the mid 90’s when MTV still played music.

8. Ten (Pearl Jam)

This is gonna sound pretty weird from someone who owns all of Nirvana’s albums, but I never really got the whole grunge movement. Nirvana to me seemed (and still seems) over-rated, Soundgarden never caught along with me, I liked Stone Temple Pilots for some of their songs, Alice In Chains I plain ignored until last year for some reason.. And then there was Pearl Jam.. A band that has released 8 studio albums that made me go “Eh.. Meh?” and one that made me go “WOW!” – the latter being their debut album, Ten. (I’m gonna have a right laugh if the title of their tenth studio album is One) The album deals with dark, brooding and depressing subjects in a musically uplifted kinda way. It tells some sincere yet disturbing stories in a beautifully emotional way and is a perfect mix of great poetic song-writing, wonderful instrumental work and plain awesome (and much imitated) vocals on Eddie Vedder’s behalf. In my mind the best thing to come out of the grunge movement and a defining album for the early 90’s.

7. The Wall (Pink Floyd)

I found myself in a huge discussion about Pink Floyd just yesterday concerning which were the better album Wish You Were Here or Dark Side Of The Moon. I’ll probably offend a few people by saying that I stood my ground for Wish You Were Here over the more popular alternative.. And I’m probably gonna offend even more people by saying that when it comes to favorite albums of all time, I rank The Wall even higher. Mainly on account of it being more accessible.. And it containing more of my favorite Floyd songs than any of the other albums combined. It’s a wonderful rock opera telling a wonderful story – and you’ll either love it or hate it. As is the story with most progressive rock. But if you’re gonna give Floyd or progressive rock a change, I suggest starting with The Wall as it’s definitely one of the more accessible choices.

More reasons to love The Wall? There are too many.. But let’s not forget the historic live performance at Postdamer Platz.. Another fond childhood memory.

6. American IV: The Man Comes Around (Johnny Cash)

I’m not a big fan of country music, I’m really not a big fan of covers either.. So the fact that I’d have an album by a country musician on my list consisting mainly of covers is a bit confusing – even to me.. But the thing is, Johnny Cash was an absolute master of his game and this fact was recognized, not just by country fans, but by a much wider spectrum of fans. Someone (Harlan Howard?) once said that country music is three chords and the truth and no one understood this much better than Johhny Cash. Technically and musically his compositions were pretty simple, but he poured his heart, soul, feelings and thoughts into these compositions, giving them an attitude, strength and honesty that I think appeals to a wide range of people, metalheads too apparently.

Legendary record producer Rick Rubin noticed this trade of Cash’s and near the  end of his life convinced him into doing a series of recordings known simply as the American Recordings. A series of recordings recorded in Cash’s own home in a very sparse and laid back style focusing mainly on Cash’s voice and simple backing arrangements by various guest musicians. There have been six releases in the series so far and, as far as I’m concerned, the fourth, American IV: The Man Comes Around, is by far the best. The album, like the rest in the series, consists mainly of covers which (if you’re me) you’d generally consider a bad thing.. But Cash had a certain way of covering songs in which he didn’t just remake the song, he took the song and made it his very own, again pouring HIS heart, feelings and soul into the song and releasing it as a totally different piece than the original. It’s an amazing transformation. American IV contains covers from such diverse artists as Hank Williams, Very Lynn, The Eagles, Simon and Garfunkel, Depeche Mode, and Nine Inch Nails. The latter might sound like an especially weird choice, but trust me, Cash’s cover of Reznor’s “Hurt” is without a doubt the best cover ever created and possibly one of the most moving and downright tear-inducing songs ever recorded.. That song alone could carry the album, but it has so much more to offer and as such, I have to include this country/folk gem on the list.

5. Back In Black (AC/DC)

When Bon Scott died in early 1980, everybody – including the band themselves – probably thought that AC/DC were pretty much done for. Yet, not five months later the band returned with a new front man and a new album which is easily their best album to date and easily one of the best albums ever recorded.. Don’t believe me? The figures speak for themselves. With 48+ million copies sold, Back In Black is the best selling rock album ever – and would be the best selling album ever if not for a certain Mr. Jackson.

From the first bell toll on the opening track Hells Bells over the immortal riff on the title track Back In Black to the last chorus on the ending anthem Rock N Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution this is pure undiluted, unadulterated, no bullshit classic hard rock of the best possible variety. It follows a pretty simple formula without much variation and AC/DC is probably one of the only bands in the world who can get away with pulling a stunt like this and 30 years down the line still have people, young and old alike, banging their heads steadily in unison whenever the title track comes on. I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing it live.. And to be quite honest with you, it was one of the best moments of my life. Back In Black earns spot number six on the list for being the best damn comeback album ever, a personal favorite, and milestone within hard rock that 30 years down the line is not even close to being matched by anything put out by any other band within the genre.

4. Paranoid (Black Sabbath)

What can be said about Black Sabbath’s Paranoid album? Well, for starters, it has eight songs on it. Of those eight songs six made it onto Black Sabbath’s greatest hits album, three are universally hailed as classic rock/heavy metal classics, two feature riffs that are generally hailed to be some of the best ever, and the intro from one helped define a whole new genre of metal some 10-15 years before anybody even started talking about doom metal.

But enough about figures.. Look: The way I see it, it doesn’t even matter if you like Black Sabbath, as a metalhead you HAVE to love Black Sabbath.. If for nothing else then for the reason that they, along with Zeppelin and the other Gods of Thunder helped spawn the genre(s) that we so love. That alone should rank their breakthrough album pretty high on any list. The fact that it, in my ears, is an awesome fucking album helps catapult it even further up my list. I’ll add extra credit and gold stars for the Iron Man riff and the impact and influence of the album and end up placing it at spot number five on my personal list.

3. The Number Of The Beast (Iron Maiden)

I knew that there was no doubt Iron Maiden would make my list of top ten albums. At a pretty high spot, too, because Maiden really is one of my favorite bands ever. Doubts only arose when I came around to deciding which album to pick.. And then it occurred to me: when you go to a Maiden live show (as I’ve done a few times), and when you’re nearing the end of the show, sweaty, beaten, panting, sore, with evident damages on your vocal chords from yelling and singing.. Something wonderful happens.. Bruce will smile, Nicko will start kicking the bass drum, people will cheer.. And the place will erupt in a 4 minute long quasi-religious frenzy which evolves mostly around thrashing about as hard as humanly possible while screaming four simple words as loud as (in)humanly possible: “RUN.. TO.. THE.. HILLS!”. The single, Run To The Hills, that has become almost synonymous with Iron Maiden and their enduring success is from the 1983 album, The Number Of The Beats, which also has pretty much become synonymous with the band and their success.

It was released as the band’s third album and was the first to feature now living legend front man Bruce Dickinson and was, despite mixed reviews, a huge commercial success and is widely cited as one of the most influential heavy metal albums ever, having even helped inspire such acts as the mighty Metallica. What helps to further elevate the album on my personal list is the fact that it contains only very solid, classic heavy metal tracks including the monster singles “The Number Of The Beast”, “Run To The Hills” and “Hallowed Be Thy Name”.. All of which I believe have been played at every Iron Maiden show in the last 28 years.. Whoa!

Third place on the list and a thunderous “UP THE IRONS!” go to Iron Maiden’s Hallowed Be Thy Name.

2. Still Life (Opeth)

Opeth is an abomination made in hell.. This critically acclaimed Swedish band mix traditional death metal with progressive rock and shades of folk, blues and jazz.. And somehow get away with it. The end result is somewhat of a bastard child: as ugly as it is beautiful, as raw as it is soft and compelling, brutal and soothing at the same time, captivating, challenging and demanding. Opeth is the kinda band that demands effort from the listener. It’s easy to dispel it as a complex pattern of noise, but given the time it will grow on you and you will grow to love the complex shifts of pattern and style.. And you will be impressed!

Still Life is Opeth’s fourth album and my eyes and ears their coming of age album. It’s a concept album detailing the story of a physically deformed young man who was banished from his village by the theocratic town council known as the Council of the Cross yet returns after many years to seek the companionship of his old love, Melinda.. And then a lot of bad things start happening. Musically the album mixed harsh jagged guitar riffs with graceful melodies in a strange, beautiful cacophony wonderfully complimented by front man Michael Åkerfeldt’s vocals who range from some of the deepest death growls you’ll ever hear to surprisingly crisp and, well, downright beautiful clean vocals.. It all sounds very weird, and it is.. But in an oh so good kinda way! Opeth, and the Still Life album in particular, is one of those things that’s damn nigh impossible to explain, it has to be experienced. So, if you’re into metal of the slightly alternative kind,  do yourself – and me – a favor and give the album a chance and a listen. You’ll either hate me for it or love me for introducing you to one of the most peculiar, beautiful things you’ll ever hear.

To be quite honest, I came very close to naming this as my favorite album of all time, but in the end, nostalgia and a few other emotions got the best of me, and I couldn’t help but award the title to.. Dun.. Dun-dun-dun..

1. Master Of Puppets (Metallica)

Alright, that one was to be expected, right? Metallica are who got me into metal in the first place and I have been a fan for going on 14 years now.. Their first three albums are epic masterpieces and, truth be told, a couple of years ago, I could’ve probably found an excuse to include all of them on the list. I’ve grown a little since then, but the boys still hold a special place in my heart and as such belong on the top of this list. Both as far as awesomeness, impact and longevity of their albums are concerned, but also for those special nostalgic reasons that are so hard to explain.

Like I said, their three first albums are masterpieces in their own way, but if I were to chose, I’d chose Master Of Puppets as my favorite of the bunch, and as my favorite album of all time as it were. Master Of Puppets shows a shift away from Metallica’s very thrashy roots, but still contains the unmistakeable energy, guts and anger that the band displayed in their early years. It contains more melodic passages and slow-downs than the previous albums yet might be their angriest to date save maybe …And Justice For All – which, to be fair, dealt with the loss of bass player Cliff Burton whose influence and talent is so visible on Master Of Puppets which was to become his last album before being torn from this world way to soon.

From a heavy metal standpoint, Master Of Puppets is the total package; it deals with various addiction, dedication, religion, the pointlessness of war, anger, violence, mental illness and Lovecraftian horror.. It’s thrashy, it’s pretty, it’s raw.. And it’s al album I’ve probably listened to at least once a week on average for the last 13 years.. I see no other way.. Master Of Puppets is officially my favorite album of all time!

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