“Album Of The Day” is a Last Rites Facebook feature we started whose purpose is quite straight-forward: highlight one album per day and say a few words about it. Understanding that not everyone chooses to participate in the booking of faces, we thought it might be nice to toss in a feature that gathers the albums in a single piece on a weekly basis.
Here are the seven albums we picked for the week of July 1st — July 7th.
Sunday, July 1st
Blind Guardian – Battalions of Fear (1988)
The party line holds that Blind Guardian spent two albums as a furiously Germanic speed metal band before becoming a triumphantly Germanic power metal band. While that’s basically more right than wrong, even on their debut album, 1988’s Battalions of Fear, there was enough power in their speed to foreshadow the blossoming that began in earnest on Tales from the Twilight World and arguably peaked on Imaginations from the Other Side. More to the point, though, Battalions of Fear just RIPS completely triumphantly from start to finish, from the eternal sing-along “Majesty” to the two tremendously lead-blessed instrumentals. Hansi Kürsch’s golden voice rasps a bit more than it would soon soar, but his utterly commanding performance alongside some brilliant solo work from André Olbrich and Marcus Siepen and sneakily smart songwriting (e.g., check out how they preview the chorus vocal melody with just the guitars early on in “Guardian of the Blind”) proves that at nearly whatever style they attempt, Blind Guardian is very nearly the best of the best. Don’t forget to take the wizard’s crown on Halloween. [Dan Obstkrieg]
Monday, July 2nd
Manowar – Sign Of The Hammer (1984)
Manowar was running full stride enough back in 1984 that they managed to release two significant albums that same year: the walloping Hail To England and the fairly underrated Sign Of The Hammer. Yes, the latter had a bit of an awkward step with the greasy, horn-dogged “Animals” and yet another DeMaio’d mess with “Thunderpick,” but the rest of the fare featured grade-A U.S. power metal that also happened to be fronted by one of the best voices of the day. Sign Of The Hammer’s production was a bit strange right from the jump, opting to give DeMaio’s bass precedence over the six-string’s riffs, but the overall underscoring of Ross the Boss’s fiery soloing more than made up for that dubious slip. Mostly, the record delivered everything a Manowar fan expected: a hot rocker in “The Oath,” a dark epic with “Guyana (Cult of the Damned),” a signature twisting, story-teller tune in “Mountains,” and at least one narcissistic nod to the band themselves with the galloping title-track. The record’s crowned banger, however, landed with “Thor (The Powerhead),” a blood-boiling rough-houser that quickly became a crowd favorite in arenas across the globe. Sign Of The Hammer might not land in a ton of fan’s very top spot when speaking of Manowar’s early run of classic albums, but it’s an essential piece to the overall puzzle that made the early interpretation of this often confounding band such an important part of the development of walloping, good-ol-fashioned heavy metal. Crush the infidels in your way. [Captain]
Tuesday, July 3rd
Steve Vai – Passion and Warfare (1990)
If the summer heat has you down, you might as well embrace it. Very few albums speak to summer quite like Steve Vai’s masterpiece Passion and Warfare. A sprawling, maniacal, absolutely bonkers display of technical ability and artistic vision, Passion and Warfare is Vai’s one true moment in the zeitgeist, and for good reason. From the more straightforward shred metal of “Erotic Nightmares” and prog-tinged “Greasy Kid’s Stuff” to the extra nuts, extra brash, hair-swaying-in-the-stage-fan arrogance of “The Audience is Listening,” Vai is totally unhinged on the record. But it’s the deservedly famous “For the Love of God” where Vai truly made his legend. It is on this naked, infinitely expressive ballad that Vai ceased to be that guy that came up with Frank Zappa, David Lee Roth, and Whitesnake, and became Steve Vai, Lord of All Shred. [Zach Duvall]
Wednesday, July 4th
Grim Reaper – Rock You To Hell (1987)
Droitwich, England’s Grim Reaper may be best known for making their mark on the NWOBHM via 1983’s See You In Hell and its follow-up, ’85’s Fear No Evil, but the band’s best work didn’t materialize until they eventually eased up on the gloom in 1987 and opted to go for the throat with (gasp) FUN. Album number three, Rock You To Hell, took all the hallmarks of the band—stout drumming, Nick Bowcott’s bolting leads, and, of course, Steve Grimmett’s INCREDIBLE voice—and wrapped it all inside a much tighter, more lively orientation that was nailed home with a very bright, mid-80s production that screamed cocaine & Theatre Of Pain. You might not guess it from that absurdly wonderful and wonderfully absurd album cover, but Rock You To Hell survives as one of more unsung classics of hair metal, and it absolutely deserves yet another deluxe reissue treatment. [Captain]
Thursday, July 5th
Slayer – South of Heaven (1988) 30 YEAR ANNIVERSARY!!
How do you follow up one of the fastest, wildest, and best metal albums of all time? Well, for Slayer in 1988, the answer was simple: get the whole gang back together. Like Reign in Blood, South of Heaven was produced by Rick Rubin, engineered by Andy Wallace, and features cover art (FAR superior to that of Reign in Blood, by the way) by Larry Carroll. While Rubin’s bone-dry production was perfect for Reign in Blood, it works even better for South of Heaven because the band pulled back slightly on the speed, giving a little more breathing space for the sheer sense of dread and evil that drips off of every hairpin turn and shrieking solo. For as monumental classic as Reign in Blood is, it’s undeniable that the songs in between the masterful bookends of “Angel of Death” and “Raining Blood” tend to blur together. Sure, it’s a ferocious, frantic, adrenaline-mainlining and curiously life-affirming blur, but on South of Heaven, each song is much more its own feature.
And yes, South of Heaven is still bookended by the immensity of the title track and the surprisingly complex “Spill the Blood,” but every nook and cranny of the album overflows with the genius flourishes of a band operating at the absolute pinnacle of their powers. The gob-smackingly perfect transition between “Behind the Crooked Cross” and “Mandatory Suicide,” for example, is worthy of an epic poem written in its honor. Or Araya’s banshee wail of “PAIN!” on “Silent Scream.” Or Lombardo’s implacable ride cymbal on “Ghosts of War.” Or King’s uncharacteristically composed solo on the title track. Or the sassy chug after “SAVE ME!” in between the verses on “Read Between the Lies” (which also features one of Hanneman’s most abstract, almost cosmically wandering solos). And that savage cover of Priest’s “Dissident Aggressor”? Get the fuck out of here! Seriously, get out of here: death is fucking you insane.
Thirty years undead on this very day, South of Heaven is Slayer’s finest album, and an absolutely titanic achievement. Play it loud, play it always, play it on and on, south of heaven. [DAN OBSTKRIEG]
Friday, July 6th
Peccatum – Lost in Reverie (2004)
It took a few releases for Ihsahn and his wife Ihriel’s project Peccatum to realize its potential, but once they ditched the symphonic metal stylings and went full avant-garde with Lost in Reverie, the results were frequently stunning. A combination of—and tell me if you’ve heard this before—black metal, industrial, trip-hop, and dark rock, the album benefited from the contrast and combination of Ihsahn’s riff talent and ferocious harsh vocals and Ihriel’s angelic, haunting singing. In many ways, it called back to albums like Ulver’s bonkers William Blake opus while also looking forward to the best of current projects like Thy Catafalque. This record and the ensuing The Moribund People EP were the only times Peccatum really nailed it, but this curious side step shouldn’t be forgotten when discussing the full scope of Ihsahn’s brilliant career [Zach Duvall]
Saturday, July 7th
Carcass – Necroticism-Descanting The Insalubrious (1991)
After 1988’s nearly unlistenable (but still fun as hell) Reek Of Putrefaction and the groundbreaking pukery of Symphonies Of Sickness in ’89, Liverpool’s masticators of pools of mouldering livers, Carcass, released their crowning achievement: Necroticism-Descanting The Insalubrious. Despite the fact that the record still exhibited just a touch of that classic grinding carnage, most hail this 1991 masterpiece for its vital role in the development of the quickly burgeoning melodic death metal scene, and it’s really not difficult to understand why—Necroticism features more bright, bubbling leads (all still named, by the way) than a poolside Shrapnel Records reunion party at the height of summer. The record is as sophisticated and “progressive” as it is melodic, and the combination of all its notable advancements, combined with Carcass’s emblematic and humorous look at human butchery, is what makes it indispensable for most any metal fan with an insatiable taste for the tasteless. “Ghastly I slake / Bestial appetites to sate / As flesh and steel I mate / To fill the lower species’ plate…” [CAPTAIN]
See you next week.