Last month I published the first half of my picks for the top ten most underrated metal/hard rock albums of all time (read that article here). Without any further ado, here is the second half of that list. Again, it must be noted that these albums, like those in the previous article, are not in any sort of order at all.
6. Judas Priest – 'Ram It Down' (1988) – In 1986, Judas Priest released 'Turbo,' an album many fans and critics alike vocally condemned as a terribly miscalculated attempt to cash in on the then popular “hair metal” genre. A mere four years later, the venerable British quintet loosed 'Painkiller' upon an unsuspecting world, proving they were just as heavy and fast as the legions of young thrash bands they influenced. That album was an instant classic and its reputation has only grown since. Midway between these two extremes is 'Ram It Down,' released in the spring of 1988. Much heavier than 'Turbo' but still pretty tame compared to 'Painkiller,' the album serves as the perfect bridge between the two. Unfortunately, it seems to have been lost in the sands of obscurity. While 'Ram It Down' is far from their best work, it is still a worthy addition to any metalhead’s collection. Indeed, the entire opus is an unabashed celebration of heavy metal. The second track on 'Ram It Down,' actually entitled “Heavy Metal,” is one of the greatest odes to the genre ever penned. The title track and “Monsters of Rock” expound on that theme, the latter song making the formation of Judas Priest sound like something out of Greek mythology. The album, however, was a rare commercial failure for the band during the 1980s, and instigated some big changes within the band. When they went back into the studio in 1990, they did so without longtime producer Tom Allom. While quite capable, he made Priest’s albums too glossy and polished, a cardinal sin for a metal album. The band also put the synthesizers away and even gave the boot to drummer Dave Holland (who was absent for most of the 'Ram It Down' recording sessions anyway; a drum machine was used extensively in his place), replacing him with the much younger, much more aggressive American Scott Travis. It is doubtful Holland would be capable of lightning-fast percussion Priest would need for its future recordings. With all that in mind, perhaps it's not the end of the world that 'Ram It Down' flopped. It still managed to go gold and the band is finally playing material from it in concert again.
7. Type O Negative – 'World Coming Down' (1999) – After his band Carnivore broke up in the late 1980s, frontman/bassist Peter Steele formed Type O Negative. While incorporating some of the metal/hardcore crossover elements of his previous band into TON, he also added several more influences, including industrial, pop and goth. The new band’s sophomore album, 'Bloody Kisses,' was an unexpected success, propelled by the popularity of the singles “Christian Woman” and “Black No. 1.” Their next album, 1996’s 'October Rust,' was even more successful, but the band’s momentum was abruptly halted after the release of 'World Coming Down' three years later. The reasons for this can most likely be attributed to Steele himself. With each subsequent album, Type O’s sound got less thrashy and less moribund. Indeed, 'October Rust' contains several tracks that flirt with the pop genre. However, with just a couple exceptions, 'World Coming Down' is constant, all-encompassing doom and gloom. The music is slow, dirge-like and ominous, and the lyrics are bleak and utterly depressing, with very little of Steele’s trademark twisted humor. Seriously, at times, Steele made Tom G. Warrior of Celtic Frost sound like Pee-Wee Herman! The majority of the album was about death, mortality and drug addiction. However, if you can look past all the melancholia, this is perhaps the most solid album the band ever released. Guitarist Kenny Hickey infused the monolithic slabs of metal “White Slavery” and the title track with riffs as apocalyptic as the first 250 pages of Stephen King’s novel 'The Stand.' Meanwhile, the supernaturally-themed “Creepy Green Light” and “All Hallows Eve” are so chilling and atmospheric that they are mandatory listening for every Halloween. Still, the overbearing dispirited vibe of the album kept it from achieving the same level of success as the band’s previous two albums. Whatever had Steele down in the dumps must’ve worked itself out though because subsequent albums featured a return to a more upbeat sound, and with his sense of humor was restored.
8. Mötley Crüe – 'Mötley Crüe' (1994) – The years 1992 and 1993 were dark ones indeed for metal. Grunge was exploding in popularity and stealing the more fickle of metal’s fanbase away in droves. Of course it didn’t help that many of metal’s most successful bands were going through cataclysmic lineup changes. An alarming number of vocalists either quit or were fired. Rob Halford, Bruce Dickinson, Joey Belladonna and Vince Neil were just a few of the higher-profile singers who found themselves on their own. While the issue of whether Neil was fired from Mötley Crüe or if he quit has never been definitively answered, his departure actually made sense on paper. The Crüe’s style of glammed-up hard rock had fallen out of vogue in the years since the band’s previous album, 1991’s “best of” 'Decade of Decadence.' Many of their peers were getting dumped by their record labels and their new music was virtually ignored by radio and MTV. A few bands were able to adapt – Bon Jovi ditched their sound (and the spandex) and mutated into an adult contemporary act. Kiss, meanwhile, reverted back to their heavier 1970s-era sound. Mötley Crüe hired John Corabi, who possessed a much grittier, bluesier voice than Neil, and he played guitar as well. Not only were his vocals more compatible for the darker, heavier direction the band wanted to travel, his guitar added a brand new weapon to their arsenal. Their new sound was debuted in the spring of 1994 with the single “Hooligan’s Holiday.” The song was initially well-received and received heavy exposure on MTV and radio for a couple weeks, which helped their self-titled album debut in the top ten of Billboard’s Top 200 Albums chart. However, the album quickly plummeted off the chart and the supporting tour was a disaster. It’s unfortunate that the public would not embrace the new Crüe because the album is a stellar achievement for the band and unlike anything else in their catalog. It’s definitely the heaviest album they’ve ever recorded and probably their most musically competent as well. Many hardcore fans do cite it as their favorite, and guitarist Mick Mars still sings its praises in interviews. Alas, Corabi’s tenure in the band was very short-lived and the band eventually brought Neil back.
9. Faith No More – 'Angel Dust' (1992) – The mega-success of Faith No More’s breakout album, 'The Real Thing,' was a complete fluke, thanks to the smash hit single “Epic.” No one could’ve foreseen that the song would take the band from out of nowhere (pun definitely intended) and catapult them to superstardom. Thanks to that one song and its clever video, band interviews and photos were plastered all over music magazines overnight, and they got the highly coveted opening slot on the stadium tour co-headlined by Metallica and Guns N’ Roses. The track is even largely to blame for the nu metal movement which began in the mid-1990s. How do you possibly follow that up? To their credit, FNM tried very hard with 'Angel Dust.' Despite massive pressure and interference from their record label, as well as a fickle media who no doubt expected another rap-metal single, 'Angel Dust' is a very remarkable album. Kudos to the band for not recording any tracks that sound even remotely like “Epic.” Indeed, the album’s lead-off single, “Midlife Crisis,” was not even that radio-friendly. There really were no singles at all on the entire album, which is not a bad thing. After all, “Epic” wasn’t exactly designed to be a top ten hit either. 'Angel Dust' is all over the map, sonically, from the country-flavored “RV” to the faithful cover of the ‘Midnight Cowboy’ theme song to the extremely heavy grindcore track “J*zzlobber.” This album actually made the band even harder to categorize than ever before. Unfortunately, 'Angel Dust' only sold about half as many copies as 'The Real Thing' and guitarist Jim Martin soon quit the band. In fact, Faith No More broke up about six years after the album’s release. 'Angel Dust' has stood the test of time, however, and is now regarded as a highly influential album by several successful bands that have followed in FNM’s wake.
10. Metallica – 'Death Magnetic' (2008) – 'Death Magnetic' is the album some say Metallica should’ve released after 1988’s '…And Justice for All.' The Bay Area legends gained legions of new fans as well as massive exposure on radio and MTV with their self-titled album (aka “the black album”), but their more mainstream sound completely alienated many of their old school fanbase. That disenchantment only got worse as the 1990s progressed. Their next two albums, 'Load' and 'Reload,' make the black album sound like death metal. In addition, everyone cut their long hair off, and the band recorded songs for movie soundtracks and even performed with symphonies in concert. Finally, in 2003, Metallica released 'St. Anger,' their heaviest, most ferocious album ever. Yet it was such a rudderless, incoherent, catastrophically produced mess, the end result of a band on the verge of imminent self-destruction. It did absolutely nothing to win back old fans or gain new ones. After pulling themselves together (recounted famously in the documentary 'Some Kind of Monster'), the former metal gods recruited über-producer Rick Rubin for their next album. Band spokesman and drummer Lars Ulrich repeatedly told the press that both Rubin and the band were using their 1980s-era material, i.e., before they were accused of selling out, as inspiration for the new album, entitled 'Death Magnetic.' For the most part they really succeeded too. “That Was Just Your Life” and “Broken, Beat & Scarred” definitely recall the epic scale of late-1980s Metallica, and tracks such as “All Nightmare Long” and “My Apocalypse” are the band’s fastest, most aggressive tunes since “Dyer’s Eve.” Guitarist Kirk Hammett, who didn’t record a single solo for 'St. Anger,' is unleashed here, and all that pent-up potential energy results in the most shredding he’s done in two decades. As great as 'Death Magnetic' is musically, Metallica once again inexplicably drops the ball when it comes to production. One of the great mysteries of the universe is why Metallica frequently sabotages the sound of their albums. From the bass-less, sterile '…And Justice for All' to the abomination that is 'St. Anger' (it sounds like Ulrich is beating on trashcan lids and propane tanks), Metallica has a long history of making their albums sound like crap. On top of that, their record label decided to use the worst song on 'Death Magnetic,' “The Day That Never Comes,” as its first single. It’s not a terrible song per se, it just sounds a little too much like “One.” 'Death Magnetic' has so far attained double-platinum certification, which is terrific in this day and age, but it’s still among the band’s worst-selling albums. They don’t seem to be in any hurry to release a follow-up either, not counting 'Lulu' (read my review of the album here), their dreadful collaboration with Lou Reed, of course.