Hello. Here is my take on the 8 greatest concept albums of all time, or at least the ones I have A) Heard and B) Remembered for the purpose of writing this piece. WASP’s Crimson Idol, Iced Earth’s Framing Armageddon double album and others were unlucky to miss out on merit, I totally forgot about Orphaned Land until writing this little intro, had massive reservations about Priest’s Nostradamus, wasn’t sure if Painkiller was really a concept album and generally made a right bollocks of the whole thing. With your expectations now suitably dampened, I present numbers 8-5 on this countdown to conceptual glory…
8. Hail Of Bullets – …Of Frost and War
I reviewed this behemoth last year, and as such it was fresh in my mind as I struggled to think of concept albums for this list, sneaking cheekily in at number 8. My mental deficiencies aside, however, this is still a crushing album that deals with the Eastern Front of World War 2, and you can’t get a much bigger concept to get your teeth into than that. In fact Hail of Bullets are something of a ‘concept band’, having also released the conspicuously similar Warsaw Rising EP in 2009. There isn’t a ‘story’ to decipher as with most concept albums, instead the songs are tied in chronological order, taking us on a violent, marauding journey across the battlefields and sieges of eastern Europe and back. That feeling that you‘ve been on a journey is exactly what you want from a concept album, and …Of Frost and War leaves you exhausted, shell shocked and sporting a full chest of service medals after every ball-aching listen.
7. Iron Maiden – Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son
Iron Maiden are a grandiose band, a band who embrace big ideas and aren’t afraid to push the boat out regarding structure and song lengths, but strangely they only have one concept album to their name in 15 releases (though I still haven’t heard The Final Frontier) – 1988’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. Lyrically the album deals with a related variety of mystic questions, good and evil, clairvoyance etc. but there is no real storyline per-se other than the supposedly magical powers that the seventh son of a seventh son will inherit. This lack of total commitment to the ‘concept album concept’ may even have been a factor in the departure of Bruce Dickinson, who felt they hadn’t embraced the possibilities as well as Queensryche had done the same year with Operation Mindcrime. Nevertheless, for all its failings regarding conceptual cohesiveness, Seventh Son… contains some of Maiden’s most memorable songs – Can I Play With Madness and The Evil That Men Do saw Maiden reach their commercial peak and elsewhere, Infinite Dreams is an underrated masterpiece. Only The Good Die Young sounds like The Trooper part 2, with a chorus that is quite possibly dangerously addictive – like some sort of musical super-heroin, and the title track is epic Maiden in excelsis. Seventh Son… is a better album than most on here, but as a concept album it falls short of the mark, hence its lowly position.
6. Fates Warning – Parallels
Fate’s Warning are one of the pioneering kings of progressive metal, and though this album did not feature as much crushing technicality and epic musical masturbation as their early work with John Arch on vocals, the arrival of the less histrionic Ray Alder infused the bad with a new-found commerciality that made an album like Parallels possible. It is centered around a loose concept of songs covering a dying connection with a wife, girlfriend or whoever you choose to personally project the songs upon. Tracks like Life In Still Water, Eye To Eye and the epic The Eleventh Hour see Jim Matheos conjouring particularly heartfelt portraits of a loveless relationship, conveying a real feeling of desperation and growing isolation and in We Only Say Goodbye, Parallels also contains one of the greatest power ballads of all time, a monumental song that distils everything about the album into one highly-palatble 5 minute portion. Parallels could be seen as the progenitor of the genre I hereby christen ‘Michael Bolton Metal’, continued today by Evergrey and others, possibly the definitive example of music that contains enough heart-wringing emotion juice to drown a cat yet still packs a punch. It is best enjoyed with a large whiskey when you’ve been dumped… Just remember to hide the razorblades before you press play.
5. Nevermore – Dreaming Neon Black
This gets promoted up the list on the strength of the concept, supposedly being based on the very real disappearance of Warrell Dane’s girlfriend, but being adapted into a more general tale of a mans descent into madness following his girlfriends death. This conceptual framework allows Nevermore to develop their music in a way they hadn’t done on their previous albums, with a great deal more instrumental melancholy and gloom setting the scene for Dane’s twisted lyrics and tortured vocals. Nevermore have never produced anything like it since, with that darkness only occasionally resurfacing in recent years, but I feel their music is all the better for its presence. I Am The Dog, The Fault Of The Flesh and Poison Godmachine (where Warrel again breaks out his Refuge Denied-era high notes) are as forboding, threatening and heavy as anything the band has ever done, and they didn’t need the extra chunk of the 7th string they utilised in later years to achieve it. When you add the agonised The Lotus Eaters, the perilously-close-to-insane sound of All Play Dead and the brooding, angry Deconstruction into the mix it elevates the album so far above the pitiful beige skid mark that is music today that when Dreaming Neon Black takes a shit it will fall, meteor-like, at incredible speed, mercilessly destroying Snow Patrol et al as it penetrates deep into the earths crust. This is Nevermore’s best album.