Album Ranking – Tool

Today I present another quick and easy album ranking. It’s really easy when the band has been active for over 30 years but only has 5 albums to show for it. The “inspiration” to do this post mainly came from seeing people talk shit about the band, which in fairness is a common thing.

Tool formed in California in 1990 and … yadi, yadi yada, here were are at the end of 2022 with the album ranking. I did not rank any sort of EP or extended single release, this ranking only takes into account their 5 full-length studio albums. No point in lollygagging, let’s have at it.

5 – Lateralus (2001)

With such a thin discography, the bottom of this list is the “least great” as opposed to being genuinely bad or anything. Tool did morph into a new form on this record, offering much longer songs and dispensing somewhat with conventional song structure. It can make for a challenging listening experience, one which caused some to dismiss the group, but there is enjoyment to be had in the song selection here. The Grudge and Schism are more “conventional” Tool songs, while Parabola saw the band flex their creative muscles.

4 – Undertow (1993)

Tool’s debut put them all over MTV and in the mix of the early 90’s alt-metal crowd. Sober was the song that got everyone paying attention and it still endures as one of their signature moments. The album was a staple of of the scene back in its day and remains a worthy listen even as the band have moved on to other waters.

3 – 10,000 Days (2006)

Here Tool took the groundwork laid on Lateralus and went even further with it – long, winding songs that flied in the face of mainstream music conventions, yet the album was a number one Billboard chart topper and a multi-platinum success. Singles Vicarious, Jambi and The Pot were well-received and the title track is a masterful tribute to Maynard James Keenan’s late mother. (It was also a prior subject of my S-Tier songs series).

2 – Fear Inoculum (2019)

It was a 13 year wait between albums for Tool but the wait turned out to be worth it. The album features 7 main songs, each over 10 minutes in length. It doesn’t sound like something that should work but it does, for me certainly and for plenty of others. Other Tool albums have plenty of weird bits and interludes to them, here everything works to forward a concept of some sort and feels like a unified whole. Songs like 7empest and Pneuma felt worth the extremely long wait.

1 – Ænima (1996)

Tool’s second album arrived just as the “alt-metal” phenomenon was being shown the door, but Tool themselves would find staying power with this set. The album was inspired by the recently departed comedian Bill Hicks, especially the quasi-title track masterpiece that begs for California to fall into the ocean. Many other Tool staples reside on this album, including Stinkfist, Eulogy and Forty Six & 2. This isn’t a daring choice for the top spot, as many consider this album Tool’s finest moment.

That’s about all there is for this album ranking. This likely won’t be the final word on the Tool discography, though they certainly are fond of taking their time anymore. I’m sure the ticking clock of mortality will lend them to finding the studio before another 13 years has passed.

Album Rankings – Celtic Frost

I’m doing another album ranking today. This one wasn’t something I had planned but the gears started grinding on it when 80’s Metal Man did a post recently on one of the band’s albums. Cheers to him for that post and the inspiration to start thinking about this band’s albums.

It’s also a very, very easy album ranking – in the on-again, off-again course of the band’s history, they only had five proper studio albums and one EP that’s long enough to include. This isn’t a scholarly effort like that of ranking Iron Maiden or Saxon records, it doesn’t take a great deal of time or energy to rank the Celtic Frost albums.

For the purposes of this ranking I will include Morbid Tales as a full-length album. The US release was eight songs, which is essentially a full album anyway. I’m not normally a fan of including things that aren’t full-length releases on these rankings but in this case I think the length and the impact of the work are both warranted.

Celtic Frost were a unique entity in heavy metal – their work was along the lines of thrash, though so dirty that it’d help give birth to entire new subgenres. The band never stuck with one sound for very long and they would become a contributor to the emerging doom scene. Avant garde is a term often used to describe some of their music. There was always something more artistic to what Celtic Frost were doing, it was never just a day at the office.

Time to get down to business – ranking the six Celtic Frost albums.

6 – Cold Lake (1988)

The bottom slot, somewhat unfortunately, goes to the album that 80sMetalMan did his retrospective on. Cold Lake is a very complicated album in the Celtic Frost pantheon, being one often viewed with scorn and contempt. Said contempt comes from none other than the band’s main man himself, Tom G. Warrior.

Celtic Frost were derided for going “glam” in this era, though honestly that was far more in pics and videos rather than the music. The tunes themselves are fairly straightforward sort-of thrashy numbers. There are a few false starts and missteps among these songs, which is why I rank it at the bottom. But, the album does have its highlights, like Cherry Orchards, and is far from the disasterpiece it was made out to be. While the album isn’t necessarily a credit to the grim presentation Celtic Frost have in their defining moments, it’s not the boogeyman it’s been made out to be either. And it seems plenty of people have warmed up to it in recent years.

5 – Vanity/Nemesis (1990)

After Cold Lake and its disastrous reception, CF reconvened with founding bassist Martin Eric Ain and offered up this slab of thrashy, goth-rock inspired tunes. It was initially hailed as a “return to form,” but the truth is that it wasn’t really that. It was a different direction for the group, though in reality it isn’t that far removed from its immediate predecessor.

The songs here play out fine enough, but the album isn’t all that exciting. It’s one of those that, for me, is fine to listen to but also doesn’t really move the needle. While Celtic Frost were often a shape-shifting group in their time, this record didn’t necessarily shift into something terribly essential.

4 – Into The Pandemonium (1987)

Speaking of shape-shifting, Celtic Frost did it on this album and did it very well. This was a more refined approach to songwriting, leaving behind the rough and tumble nature of the early albums and investing more atmosphere into the proceedings. It still links to the early records but shifts its leanings to the doom and goth realms, areas where the band also had great influence. Songs like Inner Sanctum and Babylon Fell still offer that classic CF feel, though.

3 – Morbid Tales (1984)

CF’s debut effort was recorded less than a year after Warrior and Ain abandoned their Hellhammer project. This EP/album/what have you would go on to be massively influential in the metal world, and even beyond. Songs like Into The Crypt Of Rays and Procreation Of The Wicked have gone on to be covered by countless metal acts and are in rotation across “best of metal” playlists all over. This is a piece of metal history that is widely responsible for a lot of that godawful noise people are still listening to today.

2 – To Mega Therion (1985)

The first true proper full-length from Celtic Frost shares the influential lineage spawned by Morbid Tales. This album was a blueprint for death metal, black metal and doom metal. It is one of the most important releases to extreme metal as a whole, joining with Venom and Bathory in that regard. It’s really impossible to overstate the influence of this album.

And what an album it is. Songs like The Usurper and Circle Of The Tyrants are masterpieces. The entire album is a great marriage of savage noisemaking and creepy atmosphere. It’s weird to think what kind of place metal would be in without this offering.

1 – Monotheist (2006)

With all that said, my favorite Celtic Frost album was their final one, released after a 16 year gap between albums. The return was highly anticipated and the resulting album delivered in a way that exceeded notions.

Monotheist sees CF lean heavily on the doom side of things and is a presentation even darker than their pioneering early works. Tom Warrior’s voice added qualities with age (not that he was that old, early 40’s at this point) – his delivery is very fitting for the music. And the riffs and arrangements found here are unrivaled. This was a majestic offering from the band, who looked poised to perhaps lead a charge for a new decade but split up again instead.

That does it for the Celtic Frost rankings and, sadly, this is certainly the final, definitive ranking. The band split up in 2008 due to seemingly perpetual tensions between Tom Warrior and Martin Eric Ain, and in 2017 Ain died at only 50 years old. Warrior has proposed a show or two comprised of former CF members purely as a tribute to Ain, but the book on Celtic Frost’s recording career is long closed.

Even with the long layoffs and a discography on the shorter end, Celtic Frost hold an undeniable legacy in the world of metal. They were one of the most important bands to the formation of the extreme metal scene and their influence is responsible for literal decades of music since.

Album Ranking – Metallica

It’s time to cap off Metallica week and that means it’s time for my album ranking. I’ll be going worst to first on the Metallica discography, sorting out the cream from the chaff (whatever that really means, I don’t know).

This ranking will include the ten full-length studio albums credited to Metallica. It will not include EP’s , singles, live albums with orchestras, live albums without orchestras, etc. It will also not include Lulu, the 2011 collaboration album with Lou Reed. That one is a bit tricky since it’s a full-length album that features the band in its entirety, but I’m going to go with the typical list that most people use. Also, Lulu is an abomination.

Let’s head into the waters here, I don’t think my list is radically unpredictable (mostly).

10 – St. Anger (2003)

This isn’t a hard call. I can find people in the wild who defend this album, but honestly I think it sounds bad and I have a hard time even listening to it. The production choices are beyond questionable, they’re flat out trash. And the songs are generally a mess. Finding a few diamonds in the shit doesn’t mean the album is redeemed in any way.

9 – Death Magnetic (2008)

This album is far, far better than its predecessor, but it’s still not all that great. The band did sound like they were trying again, but it also does sound like they are trying, rather than succeeding. And the album after this stands as proof that such is the case. There are a few nice songs on here, The Day That Never Comes stands out to me. But it’s not an album I feel like visiting much, or at all really.

8 – Reload (1997)

Kind of a “second half” album to their 1996 effort, Reload is a groove-based, almost blues and country styled album. A departure for Metallica, sure, but a pretty decent sounding effort overall. I do think this lacks real heavy hitters but it’s a collection of songs that are fine enough to listen to. I’d cite The Memory Remains as my favorite.

7 – Load (1996)

The band, not content with their 1991 reinvention, got haircuts and released some alt-metal. The world was abuzz about the physical and musical changes, but honestly they put out some stuff here that I really like. I think the first seven tracks are all bangers, that includes I think all of the singles. I like the last two songs as well – it’s the stuff inbetween that loses me a bit. If that were trimmed up some, I’d probably be ranking this one higher. I do truly think they wrote some really good songs here, regardless of what they were “supposed” to do.

6 – Hardwired … To Self Destruct (2016)

If Death Magnetic was supposed to be a return to form, Hardwired truly was, at least in places. Several of the songs here are the kind of bangers not really heard since 1991, if not even earlier. There are some secondary tracks on this huge album, to be sure, but even some of those are pretty nice. This album did recapture the magic in some way and it was damn nice to hear. The title track and Spit Out The Bone are the best work Metallica have cranked out in a very long time.

5 – The Black Album (1991)

I’d almost be cheeky and rank this lower but that would be dishonest – while I’m not in love with the whole thing, there some damn great songs on here. Wherever I May Roam and Sad But True are stellar songs, a handful of others are very nice and a few are good without being great. There are some, mostly towards the end of the album, that I can’t quite get into, but overall this was a success, both in my book and in the sales book. Can’t really argue with it.

4 – …And Justice For All (1988)

The first album without Cliff Burton could have went any number of ways, but Metallica were able to alter their formula some without sacrificing the core of their sound. Harvester Of Sorrow always gets me going, and One is a masterpiece and one of the band’s most iconic songs. While it sounds odd production wise (and lacking in bass), it makes up for that with a batch of great songs.

And this was the album I talked about in much more detail back on Monday – post here.

3 – Kill ‘Em All (1983)

The debut was a monster of a record – putting thrash on the map when the genre wasn’t a known quantity yet outside of local live scenes. This was very hard-hitting, fast and savage metal that pulled no punches and delivered a fist full of great songs. Not a weak note here and a still beloved collection of metal all these decades later.

2 – Master Of Puppets (1986)

The band’s third album is often cited as a “perfect” metal record, and for good reason. All eight songs are total masterpieces and every note hits hard. The album is crisp, clear and totally devastating. It set the band on a path of superstardom not touched by any other thrash act.

I had this record as an Album of the Week awhile back, here is that post.

1 – Ride The Lightning (1984)

Metallica’s second effort still possessed a bit of the savage energy found on the debut, but the songwriting refinement here ramped things up exponentially. Some stuff still hits heavy, like For Whom The Bell Tolls and Creeping Death. And the band’s first ballad Fade To Black was a metal masterpiece. While some find fault with a few songs on the album, especially Escape, nothing on the record bothers me any. I’ve played this album thousands of times and I’ll likely play it thousands more before I push up daisies.

Ride The Lightning has been an Album of the Week in the past, here is that post.

That does it for the Metallica album ranking. I doubt this is a “final” ranking as I would expect at least one more album, but all that can be sorted out down the road. And while I’ve talked plenty about them this week, this will be far from the final time I discuss Metallica on here – they are a lynchpin in heavy metal as well as my own musical formation.

Album Rankings – Motley Crüe

I’m going to debut a new series today, though it’s one that might not stick around in written form for too long. My original intent was to do these as videos but time to make them proves ever-elusive, and I’m tired of sitting on this content that I originally compiled a year ago.

This will be just as the title says – album rankings of a band’s discography. My rankings aren’t based on any scores, though I do intend to go back through and score each album later on. I prefer to do the rankings based on other factors and then see how differently things come out later based on scoring. There are other factors that can influence where to rank an album that doesn’t reflect in a score, and this first one will give a vivid example of that.

I’m starting out with Motley Crüe – nine total studio albums and it’s a fair shot that this is their final discography. Doesn’t matter either way, let’s get to the rankings. Of course we run from worst to first as most any sane person’s rankings do.

#9 – Generation Swine

The 1997 reunion with Vince Neil did not deliver anything I found worthwhile. I didn’t like the album when I first heard it and last year I played it for the first time since the ’90’s. I was expecting to take to more of the album this time, or at least find some songs I could call quality. I did not. There’s just nothing here I can get into and I don’t really know what they were doing here.

#8 – Theatre Of Pain

I talked about this one awhile back and I didn’t have much nice to say about it. A few songs I thought were really good, a few that were ok but lifeless production and a lot of filler make for a fairly miserable listening experience.

#7 – New Tattoo

This 2000 offering was the only Crüe record not to feature Tommy Lee. It was a pretty good return to form album, it got back to basics and offered up some good cuts. It is consistent throughout but it doesn’t have, to me, any truly breakout or defining moments. It’s a high-floor, low-ceiling kind of thing. But from here and for the rest of the list we’re talking about albums I can enjoy listening to.

#6 – Girls, Girls, Girls

The 1987 album was a success for the band and was certainly better than its predecessor. It has one of the best tracks they’ve ever done in Wild Side (already an S-Tier song), a great title track, and honestly several other songs that I found better than I remembered them to be. Its production wasn’t great but there was a lot more to like here than on that prior one.

#5 – Motley Crüe

The 1994 self-titled effort spelled the end of the band as we knew them up to this point. Vince Neil had been fired and was replaced by John Corabi. The sound was something apart from the band’s prior output but it is still well-executed and has some great moments. It’s a record that gets (I think) unfairly maligned for not having Vince, though I can understand the sound is a departure from what we were used to.

#4 – Saints Of Los Angeles

The band’s final album from 2008. It seems to be a bit overlooked, from my standing this is a fantastic album and I don’t know why people didn’t give it more of a chance. This is the sound that I thought the band would get into after hearing Primal Scream in 1991. And it’s the band not giving a damn about radio play and just saying whatever they want, it’s truly Crüe uncensored. The grit and attitude just drip from this album. If this is what happens when Sixx AM bandmates write Motley Crüe records, then do more of it.

#3 – Too Fast For Love

The debut that kicked off a whole damn scene in Los Angeles and the official beginning of this crazy band. This is raw, ferocious and just great music. Not a weak track in the bunch. There honestly isn’t much more for me to say about it – it’s just a damn great record.

#2 – Dr. Feelgood

The Crüe closed out the ’80’s in style with their biggest success. A honed and polished affair saw several huge singles and perhaps their best song ever with Kickstart My Heart. While many bands were feeling the end of the hair metal train, this group rode into the ’90’s in style.

As for why this one ranks so high, I covered the reasons when it was the Album of the Week. It was the album that flipped a switch for me and made me massively obsessed with music. It’s a super important album in my listening history and there was a strong argument that this should be number one. But…

#1 – Shout At The Devil

Their second album is just unbeatable. This is packed from top to bottom with fantastic songs and some of the best moments of the band’s career. This stuff is loud, heavy and dangerous and the band gained massive notoriety from both the music and the album imagery. Nothing here misses or is even of a lower cut than the rest, even the cover of Helter Skelter fits both musically and image-wise.

That does it for my first-ever edition of album rankings. Let me know where you agree or disagree in the comments. It might be a minute before my next round, depending on who I choose to go with.