Album: Ride the Lightning
Released: July 27th, 1984
Highlights: Ride the Lightning, For Whom the Bell Toes, Fade to Black, Escape
Whatever your opinion on Metallica's current state may be, one thing cannot ever be taken away from them: with their first five albums, they had, perhaps, the one of the strongest career starts among all rock acts in history. "Kill Em All" unleashed trash metal into the world in a remarkable fashion; "Ride the Lightning" added more layers of sound and melody to a genre that could have, otherwise, grown stale quickly; "Master of Puppets" perfected the components of that dirty brand of heavy metal in a nearly scientific way; "And Justice For All" displayed orchestra-like complexity in its arrangements; and the polemic "Black Album" stripped down the genre into commercial and straightforward grounds, and dressed it up in clean production without taking away anything from the quality of the compositions.
The fact that "Ride the Lightning", and its central number "Fade to Black", were initially surrounded by eye-browns raised in doubt and disgust, due to its sinful use of acoustic guitars in a trash metal song, says a lot about where Metallica was at 1984. With already a masterpiece under their belts, the band did not grow lazy under the area of success they had found; instead, one year later, they were already trying to find surprises and new twists in the huge universe of sound. While the themes of death, Armageddon and shockingly gruesome social critic, standard in the genre, are present throughout the record; but whether it was on the slow-progressing, but still menacing, "For Whom the Bell Toes"; the anthemic "Escape" and its relatively brief duration; or on the instrumental "The Call Of Ktulu", Metallica was making it clear that they wanted to do more than hang around with the trash metal crowd. They wanted to transcend the genre barrier straight onto rock history.
Album: By the Grace of God
Artist: The Hellacopters
Released: September 18th, 2002
Highlights: By the Grace of God, Down on Freestreet, Carry me Home, Rainy Days Revisited
Aside from the United Kingdom, it is hard to find a European country with a rock scene as pulsating as Sweden. It is hard to pinpoint exactly why the Scandinavian country flourishes with so much rock, especially all sorts of metal, but the fact of the matter is that good music is one of the country's finest exports. During their fourteen-year career The Hellacopters produced six great studio albums of original material, showcasing a high-energy garage rock that started as extremely raw and evolved into well-produced records that did not make the band lose its spontaneity. Their 2002 release of "By the Grace of God", part of a three-year solid international commercial run the band experienced, might be the best of the bunch.
Nicke Andersson, who used to be the songwriter and drummer of a Swedish metal band, and his crew take advantage of a simple formula: fast-paced energetic songs, explosive guitar riffs, astonishing drumming lines, short yet impressive guitar solos, feel-good lyrics and contagious melodies that culminate in often anthemic choruses. It is impossible to find a band that emulates the true rock 'n roll spirit as well as these guys do. Andersson sounds as the coolest guy in the party, and not because he is the one throwing it or the one who brought all the beer, but because he simply knows how to captivate an audience. From the few tunes that display their garage roots, to the more paced tunes that punctuate most of the album and to the sheer beautiful glory that is "Rainy Days Revisited" and its combination of dueling guitars with the sweet piano, "By the Grace of God" is a true modern rock classic.
Album: Life on Other Planets
Released: September 30th, 2002
Highlights: Rush Hour Soul, Seen the Light, Grace, Prophet 15
It is hard to declare Supergrass as the best band to come out of the Britpop movement that conquered a musical planet orphan of the brief grunge movement given that, at that point in the nineties, the United Kingdom became responsible - for the second time in musical history - for an avalanche of musical goodness and talent. However, Supergrass was clearly the band with the lowest recognition per quality rate. Gaz and company masterfully emulated The Beatles in Supergrass' signature straightforward catchy melodies and hauntingly precise vocal harmonies, without ever forgetting to add key elements that dressed up an old musical style and gave it a breath of fresh air that stopped it from being stale. And yet, despite the fact their songs had proven universal appeal, their success and consistent records never got much attention outside their home country.
"Life on Other Planets", their fourth effort, will fail to change anyone's life, but it is one of the most plain entertaining records out there. With twelve songs that never wear out their welcome and choruses and versus that are invitations to sing along. Aside from the guitar-driven "Rush Hour Soul", the album does not feature many considerable surprises, but it is an undeniable delight to listen to "Grace" and its homage to the innocence of childhood; "Za" and its meaningless but wonderful backing vocals; the brief and punk-inspired "Never Done Nothing Like That Before", with its outer-space beeps that accompany energetic guitars; the danger and dirtiness in the pacing of "Brecon Beacons" and the fantastic chorus of "Can't Get Up". "Life on Other Planets" has no duds, no weak songs, and there is barely a moment where the band fails in achieving the goal they set out to do. It might not have the historical value of other Britpop releases, but in sheer quality it can put up a fight with even the biggest classics.
Album: After School Session
Artist: Chuck Berry
Released: May 1st, 1957
Highlights: School Days, Too Much Monkey Business, Downbound Train, Maybellene
The questions "Who was the first person to sing rock 'n roll?" and "What was the first recording of the genre?" are the musical equivalent of the existential doubts of "Who are we?", "Where are we going to?" and "What exactly happens when we die?". They are questions without answers that, in a delicious twist of fate, do not frustrate us in their void. Instead, they actually add a sweet supernatural mystery to two things of undeniable importance: life and rock 'n roll. Pointing out that those two items bare no questioning, we just need to accept the fact that they are there, and enjoy the blessing of their existence. However, the questions "What record defined rock 'n roll?" and "Who did it?" have far more obvious answers: "After School Session" and Chuck Berry. It was not exactly an arms race, as the idea that an artist has to, every once in a while, lock himself up in a studio for a few months and come out with a dozen new songs and a few hits was still almost a decade away from being defined by The Beatles. But, unbeknownst to him, Berry was putting together an important historical document when entering that studio.
In a time where records were an alien concept, "After School Session" presents an incredible consistency, and through its good duration it displays the many faces of Chuck Berry, a man that can produce simple groovy tunes that make an audience feel the sudden urge to get out of their seats and start dancing, and - a few tunes later - can display mind-blowing guitar-playing abilities, engaging in instrumental blues-like tunes filled with wicked guitar licks, virtuous solos and a feel and timing that seemed to be an inborn quality of the early rock 'n roll legends. Berry is able to believably express a variety of humors: he can be nonchalant in songs like "No Money Down"; simply fun, in songs like "Brown Eyed Handsome Man", "School Days" and "Too Much Monkey Business"; sweet and loving, in "Maybellene" and "Havana Moon"; dangerous, in the devious "You Cant Catch Me"; and even embark on a good old folk tale dressed up in blues in "Downbound Train". "After School Sessions" is an incredible portrait of the versatility and themes rock 'n roll music loved to explore, and - at the same time - a huge nod to the genre's most important influences.
Album: Led Zeppelin III
Artist: Led Zeppelin
Released: October 5th, 1970
Highlights: Immigrant Song, Since I've Been Loving You, Tangerine, Bron-Y-Aur Stomp
Out of Led Zeppelin's four self-titled albums, "Led Zeppelin III" is certainly the one that brings out the most diverging opinions. The reason for most of those conflicting views on the album is simple: out of its ten songs, six of them feature the acoustic guitar as its leading instrument, which contrasts with the public's general view of Led Zeppelin as a band that rocked harder than any other. Even though the unplugged numbers are not loud and dangerous, they still offer the same rough-edge as the hard rocking ones, and instead of sounding like a forced turn into a different direction, they actually feel like a welcome stop along the bands vicious pounding route, leading them into songs that could not have been pulled off had the band remained blindly faithful to their blues-based approach to rock music.
"Gallows Pole" is a traditional folk song made powerful by an orchestra made of banjos and guitars, and by John Bonhams imposing drumming; "Tangerine" is the most straightforward ballad the band ever wrote and "Bron-Y-Aur Stomp" is band's greatest sing-along joyful tune. On the album's song centered around an electric guitar two pieces stand tall: "Immigrant Song" with its powerful riff and lyrics that evoke a Viking cry to battle; and "Since Ive Been Loving You", which among the band's many tunes that explore a bluesy slow-tempo progression ranks as easily the finest one. If there is a weak spot in the album, that award has got to go to its closing number, "Hats Off To Roy Harper", where the band tries to emulate old blues recordings in both tune and production, but fails to impress. "Led Zeppelin III" might be mostly devoid of electrical energy, but the menacing Led Zeppelin high voltage impregnates the whole album.