What the title says. If you could choose, what would be your top 5 favorite non-AFI albums of all time?
I’ll admit, I feel like I’m speaking to the void a bit here, as metal is far and away my favorite genre; not only that but my favorites are obscure, not particularly popular shit - or at least were pretty obscure before the advent of the internet. My favorites are quite unique though, and like AFI, possessed a very avant-garde sound. Some of these bands became hugely influential to some of the underground metal scenes that were developing at the time. They are, in part, my favorites because no band really sounds like they do on these albums, and no one has been able to recreate the mood, atmosphere, and emotion therein. And there is something in it which really speaks to me in such a way I don’t believe I would be able to explain. The best music, after all, is typically filled with intangibles which make them so good.
For the uninitiated who may have never heard this kind of thing before, I can tell you it’s something you either fall in love with, or you think “how can you even listen to this?” There is no middle ground. You’re either on one extreme end of the divide or the other. However, I would hope that someone might be able to find something of interest or value in what I have to share, and may be able to look past the harshness to discover beauty.
I’ve included a selection of my favorite songs (though I think “works” or “pieces” might be a more accurate term). If you couldn’t tell by the album covers, this shit is old, some of them forgotten relics of the past, so I’m adding a bit of information below. Without further ado, here are
VANISHED’S TOP 5 NON-AFI ALBUMS OF ALL TIME
Paradise Lost - Draconian Times
Genre: Gothic Metal
Country: United Kingdom
Probably the most influential gothic metal album ever written, along with their previous LPs Gothic and Icon. These guys were responsible for inspiring the likes of My Dying Bride, Anathema, Opeth, Katatonia, and later, Type O Negative and Lacuna Coil. (I believe there’s an interview floating around YouTube somewhere in which AFI mentions they were listening to early Paradise Lost while they were writing Sing the Sorrow - something that doesn’t at all surprise me when you look at the overall mood and feeling of that album.) The Sisters of Mercy’s First and Last and Always was, in and of itself, hugely influential to Paradise Lost and can be heard more clearly in their earlier works, when they decided to mesh the 80s gothic rock sound with doom/death metal riffs and subsequently came up with a heavier, darker genre which is equally melodic. They even covered “Walk Away” which ended up as a b-side for this album and in my opinion, kicks ass more than the original. The guitar work, especially the smooth, warm cleans, is what really make this album shine. One thing that makes me really enjoy music is that the experience is not only auditory; it is a very real, visceral experience, a physical and emotional reaction to the atmosphere an album is trying to convey. Listening to Draconian Times will always transport me, alone, to a rainy, dreary graveyard in autumn ; it is that feeling, captured in musical form.
Opeth - Orchid
Genre: Progressive Death Metal
Opeth went on to become one of the most well-known and innovative progressive metal bands of the 2000s, but their three earliest albums, written in the mid-90s (Orchid, along with Morningrise and My Arms, Your Hearse, and colloquially known as “the Candlelight years” because of their similar, unique black-tinged sound they abandoned after they left Candelight Records) are perhaps some of the most successfully experimental albums I’ve ever heard. For what it’s been accused of lacking in cohesive songwriting and direction, I find the meandering melodies completely brilliant, the riffs memorable, and the acoustic interludes stunningly beautiful. Opeth are masters at juxtaposing heavy, harsh, overdriven riffs with slower, more delicate, soothing acoustic parts, often several times in the same song. In fact, some of my most favorite metal riffs are from Orchid; they are highly melodic, but still remain true to their black metal influences in terms of creating an atmosphere of darkness and grimness. This was, after all, the album which got me into metal in the first place, and I’ve been pursuing that dark, beautiful, heavy-hitting sound ever since.
Satyricon - Nemesis Divina
Genre: Black Metal
A classic Norwegian black metal masterpiece and Satyricon’s most accomplished work. More than any other band, these guys ruled at creating a haunting, fantastical atmosphere, and a major part of that comes from their use of keyboards harmonizing with the main riffs. The material is aggressive and extreme, but they had just enough melody to make for an interesting palette of sounds and textures, an uncommon feature in the genre. I find it unfortunate that this band doesn’t seem to get as much respect as some of their more well-known contemporaries. Nemesis Divina as well as their first two albums Dark Medieval Times and The Shadowthrone take the listener on a sort of dreamlike journey through northern forests and cold, barren landscapes. My personal favorite part of this album is Frost’s drumming. I’ve really never heard anything quite like it aside from his other works with Satyricon and other bands he’s played in, but his aggressive, complex style is always a real treat to hear.
Katatonia - Dance of December Souls
Genre: Doom/Death(?) Metal
This might actually be my favorite metal album ever written. Simply put, no one sounds like early Katatonia, and that’s why I like them. They managed to create a really slow, brooding, melodic combination of doom, death, and black metal, while remaining hard, heavy, and intense. This is such a beautiful album, and for a plethora of reasons: the tormented vocal performance, the heartrending lyrics, the memorable riffs, the deep murky bass lines, the twinkly keyboards, the unique atmosphere created by all the reverb, and the honest emotion and sheer passion expressed here. What’s even more incredible to me is that they wrote and recorded this album when they were still teenagers and it was their full-length debut. It is certainly dated, but it doesn’t even really matter to me because it’s just so different. There have been other bands who tried to copy this style, but none of them have ever come close to succeeding. This album is equally painful and beautiful to listen to, definitely the kind of music to hear and connect with alone. Katatonia’s sister album, Brave Murder Day, is also in this style, but with more gothic influences. This album and the aformentioned will always have a special place in my heart and I fully recommend them to anyone who has even the slightest affinity for truly dark music.
Mayhem - De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas
Genre: Black Metal
Widely regarded as the single most influential black metal album ever written, by the first documented Norwegian black metal band in history, I can’t really imagine placing it anywhere but the very top of the pile where it belongs. Part of this is due to the band’s unfortunate legacy, but the music they created here is more than capable of holding its own. Euronymous was, after all, responsible for creating that eerie, sinister, black metal riff which forms the foundation of just about every black metal album written in the 90s and early 2000s. The only thing which I can imagine could have made this album better was if Dead had still been alive when they recorded it. I’m not really a fan of Attila’s vocal style, and according to Necrobutcher, the finished record sounds quite different because of that, compared to how Dead performed them (which can be gleaned in the few demos they recorded at the time). We do, however, have his lyrics, and they are among the best I have ever heard - bleak, honest, and highly imaginative in the way that paints a vivid scene in your mind. This is black metal’s finest hour. It evokes everything black metal symbolizes, everything it means, the purest magnum opus of the genre.
Hope some of you guys enjoyed reading this. I actually spent quite a bit of time writing it, because I get so immersed in this stuff, really. And of course I had to listen to all of these albums again. I’d like to hear about other people’s favorites too if anyone is interested in sharing. Only 5 though, if you can manage to narrow it down haha.