This week, one of our most highly anticipated albums of the summer was released: Baroness' Yellow & Green. We were already looking forward to hearing whatever came next from the Georgia rockers after the success of their epic Blue Record in 2009, but we got especially excited when we found out that their latest color-coded recording would be a double album.
It's hard not to get a little tingle down your spine when you discover that an artist you like is putting together a double-disc release. Usually, it signals that the musician or group is smack in the midst of a creative high, recording a multitude of ideas at once. If you're lucky, they might even throw in a theatrical concept, or try out a new sound entirely.
Yellow & Green hits the mark on all counts. It was a recorded over a yearlong break from touring that allowed Baroness to record extensively, foment a cohesive theme and explore new sonic directions. The result is a sprawling (double albums always sprawl) collection of mystical rock songs that owe as much to the Foo Fighters as Black Sabbath. The jury's still out, naturally, but Yellow & Green feels like what Baroness has been stretching toward for years, and it could soon sit comfortably among the pantheon of essential heavy metal double albums.
Which is a pretty short list, admittedly. Few metal bands have the creative fortitude to even attempt a double album, let alone deliver something special. As a salute to the headbangers who dare to dream big, Rocks Off has assembled this list of the best heavy metal double albums in existence. Turn out the lights, slip those headphones on and dive in, but please take care not to rip the gatefold.
10. System of a Down, Mesmerize/Hypnotize
System of a Down deserves some credit for being the only band from the nu-metal era to have the vision (and staying power) to produce a double album. Mesmerize and Hypnotize were released six months apart in 2005, and people liked them: Both records debuted at No. 1.
The double release was something of a new creative direction for the band, with the lion's share of the music and lyrics written by guitarist Daron Malakian. He also split the vocal duties with singer Serj Tankian.
9. KISS, Alive!
A slew of hard rock bands released successful live double albums in the '70s and '80s, but few were potent enough to be remembered as anything better than a cash grab between studio works. KISS' Alive! is most definitely a cash grab, but it was also good enough to finally break the struggling band big.
Collecting live cuts from the group's first three albums, Alive!finally contextualized the KISS schtick in a way that record buyers responded to. It's still the most essential recording they ever made, setting new standards for both live energy on record and generous overdubbing.
8. Today is the Day, Sadness Will Prevail
Not a lot of heavy underground releases approach the crazed ambition of Today is the Day's 2002 double-disc album Sadness Will Prevail. This weird slab clocks in at around two and a half hours -- enough music for four LPs. There are moments of real genius studded throughout, but they're conspicuously buried in a sprawling mass of jagged, mind-destroying sound collages and other eclectic sonic assaults.
Frankly, if anyone has ever listened to this bad boy all the way through in a single sitting, he's probably at least a little less sane for it. Sadness is harsh, but there's something inspiring about the recording's spirit of exploration without boundaries. That can be rare in heavy metal.
7. Lou Reed, Metal Machine Music
Judas Priest this isn't, but the undeniably heavy Metal Machine Music has had as much influence on the concept and execution of double albums as any recording in history. One of Lou Reed's most infamous works, the record helped define what a memorable double album should be: A unified artistic statement unafraid to stretch well beyond the conventional. In the wake of its release, a slew of artists would begin dreaming up their own outsized opuses --many of which would eventually include actual, y'know, songs.
6. Iron Maiden, Live After Death
Iron Maiden has put out enough live albums to shingle an airplane hanger over the years, but their first remains their best. Containing more or less every hit from Maiden's '80s heyday, this vintage double-disc affair perfectly captured the raw power and sing-along camaraderie of the band's concert experience.
Basically, it distilled everything great about the power-metal idols on to a couple of LPs and slipped them inside a record sleeve featuring a terrific painting of band mascot Eddie. If you only own one Iron Maiden album, make it this one.
5. Nine Inch Nails, The Fragile
After the incredible success of the heavy, industrial The Downward Spiral in 1994, Trent Reznor kind of disappeared for a while. Topping himself wasn't going to be easy. When he reappeared five years later with the double-disc The Fragile, he was no longer the angry young man that many fans had fallen in love with.
Though The Fragile has its heavy moments, it's much more of a deeply personal headphones album than the NIN discs that preceded it. Think of it as Pink Floyd's The Wall for the Apple generation.
4. Ozzy Osbourne, Tribute
This batch of live tunes from Ozzy's 1981 tour was shelved indefinitely following the untimely death of guitar god Randy Rhoads the following year, but his deeply felt absence eventually made this double live album a moment in time that demanded to be relived.
Indeed, it's Rhoads' incendiary guitar playing that makes Tribute essential, with his flashy, classically-inspired solos effortlessly outclassing most of the hair metal dreck that ruled 1987. Thanks to Tribute, Rhoads' memory is still flyin' high today.
3. Guns N' Roses, Use Your Illusion I & II
They may have risen to fame as depraved L.A. rock-club icons, but by 1991, Guns N' Roses was hardly thinking small. Instead, Axl Rose was focused on creating some big stadium-rock showpieces like "Civil War" and "November Rain" that were inspired by his '70s heroes, Queen and Elton John.
After a long wait for new material from the band, these epics were packaged along with a few of Guns' early hard-rock numbers like "Back Off Bitch" to produce Use Your Illusion I & II. The LPs, released simultaneously, spawned MTV hits for days. Sadly, they were also the final studio material recorded by the band's magical classic lineup.
2. Metallica, ...And Justice For All
Metallica has a bit of a troubling history with double albums. Load and ReLoad received a cold response from longtime fans, and S&M and Lulu edged toward embarrassing. Only their first double LP is essential.
Best known as the album containing "One," the Metallica song that makes nearly all heavy metal sound like complete fucking garbage by comparison, ...And Justice For All is a long, angry album soaked in the band's pain over losing bassist Cliff Burton in a tour-bus accident. Bitter cuts like the title track and "Harvester of Sorrow" stacked inventive riff upon riff, purging Metallica of its thick reserves of thrash before the subgenre collapsed in on itself.
1. Led Zeppelin, Physical Graffiti
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Led Zep's first and only double album of originals, Physical Graffiti is just about the definitive recorded statement from hard rock's greatest band. Recorded over several trying years, the 1975 release featured a broad range of musical styles and ideas.
In addition to the metallic stomp of "Kashmir" and "In My Time of Dying," the lengthy collection also includes folk, funk and everything in between. It may not be a direct refute to critics who strangely maintain that Zep were preening hacks, but it did manage to capture the group's creative high-water mark on wax. Own it.