Yo, this be Reuben. Before we get into this, there’s a couple of things I’ll clarify, first, a sophomore album is a band’s second album for any of you who might not know, and also, unless you already knew, that I’m a rock/metal boi primarily, and although I do listen to other thangs, those are the genres that are gonna dominate this list, so if you’re looking for a list with the best smooth jazz albums, you’ve come to the wrong place. Anyway, without further adieu, let’s give this thing over with, eh?
20. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Freaky Styley (1985)
Kicking this badboi off, we’ve got Stuff and That mainstays Red Hot Chili Peppers. It may not be their strongest effort by any stretch, which you can probably guess by its low placing here, but it’s had to muscle away some tough opposition to get here. The Peppers were a colourful, weird and crude ball of energy at this point, sporting ridiculous numbers like Sex Rap and Yertle the Turtle as they were yet to develop any ounce of seriousness. With Hillel Slovak back in the fold on the guitar, the band’s funk-punk stylings were just as stupid as in their raw debut, and yet more grounded, as producer George Clinton brought his funky knowledge, seeing the band, trumpets at hand, bring out classics like Hollywood (Africa) and If You Want Me to Stay for a grand old fun time.
19. Audioslave – Out of Exile (2005)
Although not as good as Audioslave’s smashing debut, Out of Exile is a very strong follow-up for a tough act to follow. It’s hard rock at some of its best, bouncing in with unforgettable energetic tracks like Your Time Has Come, and taking a breath with emotional outcries akin to Soundgarden’s best with brilliance like The Curse. The band remained on top form, with a smorgasbord of great riffage and some of Chris Cornell’s better vocal performances, and at the end of the day there’s little to pick fault at. It’s just a whole lot of fun, and very easily re-listenable.
18. Riverside – Second Life Syndrome (2006)
Aside from the best of Opeth, this album is probably the best prog metal you’re gonna hear. It’s a little inconsistent, but when an album has two genuine masterpieces on it, both of which being over 10 minutes each, I’m sure the little deficiencies are made up for pretty well, eh? The best of this album proves Riverside are a force to be reckoned with. Mastering the progressive genre with grand build-ups and pay-offs, hitting that beautiful subtlety that sees the gentle and heavy sounds of the music being as impressive as each other, and with as much emotion pouring from them as the other, not least instrumental skill, which is punctuated by Mariusz Duda’s fantastic vocals. Put Opeth and Pink Floyd in a blender, this is what you get. It’s a tour de force, this one, and a must for any prog fan.
17. Monster Truck – Sittin’ Heavy (2016)
Man I love Monster Truck. And MAN, their new album is a big steaming pile of disappointment. Before they decided to mess things up by giving into their record label, this band was a beast of Canadian rock fury, and their second LP Sittin’ Heavy is the best example of this. Slammin’ through the speakers with groovy, rockin’ awesomeness like Don’t Tell Me How to Live, the album’s an anthem machine and with Jon Harvey’s huge vocals driving it alongside the blues-tinged, equally huge riffage, it truly sounds like a monster truck and it really shows what this band are capable of. (REVIEW)
16. Foo Fighters – The Colour and the Shape (1997)
I’m still relatively new to Foo Fighters, and there’s a lot I haven’t listened to by them as yet, but this album is by some distance the best I’ve heard by them. I’d always discounted the Foos as your average lame guitary-rock tripe, but listening to this album made me look a right mug. The Colour and the Shape is 46 minutes of unbridled joy, a post-grunge marathon of shredding riffs, happy drum-rolls and some genuinely impressive lung power from Dave Grohl. Sure, there’s still a little bit of tripe floating around on it (looking at you, February Stars, Looking. At. You.), but it’s a disc that more than makes up for that when it’s got awesomeness like Monkey Wrench and Everlong, the latter of which never failing to put a massive grin on my face. This album is like comfort food as music, it wraps around you like a warm hug, and it’ll cheer you up whatever’s going on.
15. IDLES – Joy as an Act of Resistance. (2018)
Fantano got his yellow flannel out for this one, and boi, he did it for good reason. Straight outta Bristol, these punk-rockers strike close to home not only by their local origin, but also by their hard-hitting lyrics that deal with the important issues of today with a fresh perspective. This intelligent lyricism is expressed with an apt degree of eloquence and anger via Joe Talbot’s gravelly yells and growls atop a dark, unstoppable and joyous backdrop of good, heavy punk rock. Imagine if Clutch and Stiff Little Fingers had a baby, with a west country accent. Strengthening their position as one of the most exciting British bands of the moment, this will probably end up being the best album of this year, and I can’t wait to see what they do next.
14. Jane’s Addiction – Ritual de lo Habitual (1990)
“BEEN CAUGHT STEALIN’ — ONCE — WHEN I WAS FIVE”
Need I say more? Alright, fine, I can feel your dissatisfaction, Mark. This decadent party-boat of a band, the post-punk alternative rock extravaganza that is Jane’s Addiction, released about the weirdest, most wonderful album of the 90s in the sophomore effort Ritual de lo Habitual. The musicianship is something to be gawped at, Perry’s vocals are a joy to be beheld, and with the flowing, intriguing song structures and hypnotic bass-lines, it’s an album that puts you into a daze. I, for one, enjoy being in that daze a lot. (REVIEW)
13. Tool – Ænima
I don’t think I’ll ever forget the first time I heard this. I hadn’t heard any Tool since it bored me to death on Guitar Hero World Tour on my PS2. I stuck it in my CD player, we were driving through dark country roads, and after some kind of sinister bouncing sound about the chunkiest riff of all hell comes crushing down on me, and Maynard weasels in and oh wait, he suddenly starts shouting, and that’s Stinkfist for you. As time has worn on, I’ve listened to the album more and more and general intrigue quickly turned to massive appreciation, and boy do I love this album now. It’s filthy, it’s raw, and it’s crushingly heavy. There’s humour running through it at its core, but a unique, dark depth which makes it as fascinating a listen as it is enjoyable.
12. Priestess – Prior to the Fire (2010)
The tragedy of Priestess is that this sophomore effort was also their last. Soaked in geek culture head-to-toe, Robocop references at hand, Prior to the Fire stands as a fantastic ode to the heavy metal of old. Battling record labels to the tooth, the band went with their natural identity and it yielded brilliant results, with the album being a blast of classic metal fun. It’s one that is expertly crafted with their own unique touch and energy, filled with blissful guitar turns and passionate screams. This record is a great example of a band doing exactly what they want, and having a damn good time doing it, and it shows in the music.
11. Radiohead – The Bends (1995)
excerpt from my review cus I’m lazy: “The Bends is a fantastic record, and to my untrained ears, probably one of the best British albums of the 90’s and certainly one of the best rock albums of its era. I’ve fallen in love with every part of it, from the light melancholy to its youthful optimism, with songs like Just being stuck in my head for hours and songs like Street Spirit (Fade Out) being some of the best emotional music I’ve personally heard. The Bends is an album with a beautiful flow, and in that is filled with angst, sadness, and optimism all at the same time, each aspect represented with equal passion; and, it ends up being infectious as a result.” thanks.
10. Karnivool – Sound Awake (2009)
The chunkiest bassline in the history of mankind is how to grab attention in an album opener. Rumbling in, wired up to about a thousand pedals, Karnivool do just that with Simple Boy, a track which juxtaposes that earth-shattering bass with wandering guitar turns and an intriguing, heartfelt melody delivered by soft vocals. The entire album keeps on using that same kind of juxtaposition in its music to equally brilliant effect throughout, delivering an off-key, almost profoundly powerful and introspective take on progressive rock. The perfect soundtrack to a crowded mind, Sound Awake both makes you think and comforts whatever ails you, the perfect bedside companion, and an emotionally in-touch, smart and ambitious effort by the Australian prog-rockers.
9. System of a Down – Toxicity (2001)
Relentless, off-the-wall, and utterly entertaining, that’s Toxicity. It’s an inconsistent, ridiculous album, but what is good on it is, I assure you, good. Personally, I could take or leave the first five tracks on the album, with much of the faster output from SOAD not resonating with me like their mid-pace stuff, but it’s the band’s most focused effort and it’s all good on this disc, really. Daron hadn’t become a total douche by this point, and his guitar output was at its best, so it’s got that on its side. It’s also got downright classics of rock, metal and all music in general on its side: take Chop Suey!, Toxicity and Aerials. As a former SOAD fanatic and having fallen out with the band as a whole on a few occasions, I’ve always had my doubts about whether or not they are actually a good band, and the longer time goes on, the less I seem to get along with them. However, I’m not gonna deny my past and I guess one pretty big example of how good they can be is this album, and I’ve never stopped loving it, hence its place here. (Milo went and ranked all the songs on this album — check it!)
8. Alice in Chains – Dirt (1992)
Take Layne Staley’s hand as you travel back in time to early-90s Seattle to the dingy, sticky venues and wallow in the drug-tinged depression that is Dirt. Maybe you’ll find yourself asking, how could something that makes me so miserable be so good? It’s simple, Alice in Chains get depressing music down right. This second record by the band develops upon the foundations Facelift laid down with more flowing riffs and guitar wails straight out of Jerry Cantrell’s sketchpad as he led the post-goth grunge revolution that played counterpart to Kurt Cobain’s fuzzy riffs and torn up jumpers, which, punctuated by Layne’s heart-wrenching lyricism and equally wailing vocal delivery to the trusty backbone of Mike Starr’s low-riding bass. When an album’s got a song as good as Rooster on it and manages to be consistent, you get a picture of why it’s been hailed as it has been. (REVIEW)
7. Nirvana – Nevermind (1991)
Debatably the biggest statement of any album ever released, this was the ultimate sophomore breakthrough. The spark that ignited the grunge explosion, Nevermind saw Nirvana come into their own, a well defined, expertly produced gem of feral garage rock fury, 40 minutes with barely a weak moment in site and with iconic riffs and lyrics galore, delivered with equivalent passion and ease by Cobain and co. It took me a while to get around to trying this record out, but I was hooked as soon as I did, and have been on every listen since. (Check out Milo’s ranking of the songs here)
6. Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin II (1969)
I’m gonna be honest here. I listened to this album so much on repeat last year that I actually started to dislike it. So nowadays I listen to it very sparingly but every time I do, BOI, I love it. For me, it strengthens what Zeppelin started with their groundbreaking debut, bringing the pioneering hard rock closer to the fore with an abundance of riffs that brings together perhaps the band’s most consistent and well-rounded album. From the word go it’s infectious, Whole Lotta Love bashing about every orifice in the most rhythmic way possible, and it does not stop; The Lemon Song is a weird-ass guitar and bass skill orgy, Heartbreaker waltzes in with the coolest damn bass riff, a hard rock beast, Ramble On takes you for a ride through Middle Earth, and so on. It’s an eclectic, fun-loving party of an album, and a worryingly addictive listen.
5. The Mars Volta – Frances the Mute (2005)
I’m so, so sorry, but I’m copy and pasting something I already wrote again (thanks for all the views on this article, fellas and gals), because I don’t think I can write something better on this album: “As soon as Cygmund…Vismund Cygnus gets into its swing, you know what you are in for with Frances the Mute. Insane stuff. The Mars Volta knew what they were doing with this record. They were blasting every other mainstream record to the ground and shocking the Billboard 200 with explosive jazz fusion awesomeness never seen or heard before on such a big stage. It’s an album full of brilliance from each musician at hand, erupting with energy into a bout of incredible prog rock. For me, unlike many Volta fans, however, I think it is a little let down by some incessant noodling, which at a few points can get pretty grating, while the whole thing can feel a little directionless and overwhelming at points. At the very least, though, it is very hard to lose interest in this record as it drills through your ear-holes with all its madness. True too, it’s very hard not to get goosebumps when listening to The Widow — probably the band’s strongest and most accessible single.”
As far as its significance as a sophomore album goes, although it broke them through to the mainstream in America, I feel like they went slightly too far with the madness, and the more grounded first album in De-Loused I prefer. However, it’s an incredible album and an unforgettable listen, hence how it’s place here in my top five.
4. Pearl Jam – Vs. (1993)
I mean, yeah, Nevermind was pretty good. So’s In Utero, alright. But Vs. is straight-up grunge at its very best. How do you follow up a masterstroke? Apparently, you ditch music videos, start a fight with Ticketmaster and make your music way heavier. As a result, Vs. is a visceral album, seething with anger, and bursting at its seems with youthful energy, with the aggressive, raw grunge being played with a contrasting blissful, free hand. This is Pearl Jam off the leash, a wild and tameless animal, and it sounds like nothing else. What separates it from other grunge of the sort is the seamless production, which captures that boundless energy and unbridled heaviness, but also gives it a touch of the stadium vibe, resulting in an equally raw and grand sounding album with a foreboding sense of purpose.
3. SOiL – Scars (2001)
Here’s what I said in this album’s SAT500 entry: “The aggressive, overt awesomeness on display here with the absolute riffage and Ryan McCombs’ brilliant vocals basically sums up my life until I was like 14 – and listening to it always gives me a big nostalgic buzz, as well as the overall good feelings GOOD music has on me. Halo is a bona fide classic and one of the greatest metal songs of all time. Fight me.” Yes, I am lazy yet again, but this all stands true now and I’m sure it will for a long time — and Halo is not alone in that honour, the whole album is chock full of choons. There is little else that matches the awesomeness this beast brings to the fore for me.
2. Black Sabbath – Paranoid (1970)
How on Earth can a band be so good that they can keep an album at a consistent level when two of the songs on it are War Pigs and Fairies Wear Boots? Well, the answer is simple. These lads are not from this world. Actually, scratch that, they’re just a bunch of blokes from Birmingham and they only went and invented heavy metal. If their debut album wasn’t good enough, they went and did something even better with this, their magnum opus, and probably the best album of the entire decade. You don’t get much better metal than this, if any.
‘ere, as per with these darn things, I’ve got a bunch of honourable mentions for ya:
Turnstile – Time & Space
Queens of the Stone Age – Rated R
A Tribe Called Quest – The Low End Theory
Primus – Sailing the Seas of Cheese
Turisas – Varangian Way
The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Axis: Bold as Love
Faith No More – Introduce Yourself
Graveyard – Hisingen Blues
Nothing But Thieves – Broken Machine
Mastodon – Leviathon
Muse – Origin of Symmetry
Royal Blood – How Did We Get So Dark?
Oceansize – Everyone into Position
Devil You Know – They Bleed Red
Killswitch Engage – Alive or Just Breathing
And the moment you’ve all been waiting for…….. Okay, Mark, if you’re that bored you can just leave. Anyway, here’s number one:
1. Rage Against the Machine – Evil Empire (1996)
Any Stuff and That faithful shouldn’t be surprised by this taking the top-spot. And may I ask, what the hell else is better??? Okay, okay, a lot of people prefer their first album, but for me, this is where everything fell perfectly into place for these L.A upstarts. Still dizzy from their first success, the bois kept on bouncing through the 90s through to ’96 and they had no intention of stopping their rally call of disillusioned teens and rap-metal lovers as they erupted across venues, pleasing crowds as much as they made them mosh — and with new hits like Bulls on Parade, that was made all the more effortless. Indeed, Rage remained boundlessly energetic and their success skyrocketed here for good reason: Evil Empire, track 1 through 11, is banger after banger, anthem after anthem. It was not an accident that things fell into place here, either. They had a formula that they tested to great measure in their rocking debut, and now they’d had time to refine it, round off the edges, and develop upon it. It’s perhaps heavier, filled to the brim with a consortium of fuzzed up, mighty cool sounding riffs, and Zack’s lines see more sophistication, with mature delivery, and yet, he and the band remain just as angry and purposeful. Ya better turn up the bass on this one.
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