Welcome to Part 2 of the definitive(ish) list of the greatest heavy metal concept albums. This is the business end, it’s the big one. Here we get into the real heavy hitters of conceptual conceptualising; the beard-stroking, lute-playing minstrels of our time.
You may read Part 1 here
4. Opeth – Still Life
It was a tough decision for me to limit myself to just one Opeth album, with My Arms, Your Hearse narrowly missing out as their entry on the list and 2005′s Ghost Reveries being partially conceptual as well. However, Still Life was where Opeth reached the high watermark of pretentiousness, though not boasting …Hearse’s ‘last lyric is name of next song’ japery, it does have a story that is better realised and presented in a way that is beautifully, intrinsically linked with the music. The tale tells of a man banished from a town for his religious beliefs, leaving behind the love of his life for 15 years, only to make a concealed return to try and find her. Naturally she’s a creepy nun by this point but nonetheless is murdered by the religious loony locals for simply meeting up with our protagonist. There seems to be a distinct lack of good-old Christian values in this here village. Our hero decides to go down fighting the slack-jawed yokels, but is eventually overpowered and hung, but not before he sees her ghost waiting for him in death as he stands ready on the gallows. This uplifting tale is backed by some of Opeth’s greatest songs – the delicate acoustics of Benighted and Face of Melinda are elevated to true masterpiece level by the story, while Godhead’s Lament is quite possibly my favourite Opeth song (Though this is massively open to change on an almost hourly basis). Even weighed against the exceeding level of genius that comprises Opeth’s career, Still Life manages to stand out as one of their finest moments.
3. Edge Of Sanity – Crimson
One man band and all round musical lunatic Dan Swano really outdid himself with Crimson. Seriously. According to the internets, some shops thought that this one track behemoth was a CD single and sold it for £3. Lucky for him, yet of no financial compensation, the music is so good it will actually make you take a shit in your pants; 40 unbroken minutes of crazy sci-fi storytelling set to a soundtrack of sexual death metal, prog. rock and acoustic tomfoolery that has more musical twists and turns than the human mind can safely navigate. The story apparently tells of a future where humankind can no longer conceive, until the King and Queen do that is, leaving everyone feeling pretty chuffed when their daughter is born. Sure, the Queen dies in childbirth, but that’s a small price to pay for restarting the planet’s population, right? Wrong, as no-one else concieves, ever, and then the King dies too. So they have some fuck-off wars, with a new King coming in who everyone hates. So yet again they do a war until the last-born Princess takes over. Which is great, until they realise she’s a mental and get rid of her too. I prefer to call it ‘Regicide – The Musical’. Of course only 17% of this intriguing storyline is legible due to the prominence of death growls, so we fall back on the music, which is as good as progressive death metal can possibly be – not overly technical but sprawling, epic, brutal and even catchy. It’s 2112 for crackheads.
2. King Diamond – Abigail
Abigail is an awesome story, taking in all the classic plot devices – a possessed baby, a haunted house, immaculate demon conception, pushing a pregnant woman down the stairs… And it features a cast of characters that all have 3 syllable names, allowing King Diamond to scream their names in a ridiculously high-pitched manner. The music would have to step up in a massive way to match up to this potent recipe, and thanks to the majesty of Andy LaRocque, Mikkey Dee and the former ‘Fate Members, it does in the most convincing way possible, producing what can only be described as some of the most bangin’, off-the-hook, wiggedy-wack and brap-tacular metal riffs and solos ever seen. Somehow they actually manage to fit more riffs per song than even Mercyful Fate themselves did, which is pretty fucking impressive. The album weaves the story so effectively and the vocals really bring out the personalities and feelings of the characters, with KD switching between his high, very high and dog whistle registers at ease. Standout tracks like The Family Ghost just dominate your face with genius and make you wonder why this isn’t rated (by me) as the greatest concept album of all time.
It might be because I still have no fucking idea why 18 becomes 9…
Or maybe it’s because of…
1. Queensryche – Operation Mindcrime
Yes. This is definitely the greatest concept album of all time, and now I think about it, it’s probably my number one album of all time too. It’s easy to look at (and indeed listen to) Queensryche now and forget how good they once were. Or laugh. In fact if only we could forget the last 20 years of their career it would be perfection and we’d probably be rating albums out of Tates. I could write a million words on Operation Mindcrime (and may very well do in future) but all you need to know is it’s a story of a junkie with a skinjob for a hairdo (yeah, he looked pretty cool), a nun (what is it about nun’s and concept albums) and a man called Dr X, who, apparently, is the man with the cure. Only the cure he offers is more heroin, assassinations and some hot nun-on-smackhead action. This would obviously be incredible as some sort of story or book, but when you add in some of the finest progressive yet perfectly streamlined heavy metal in the history of all life itself, topped off with Geoff Tate’s trouser-straining, orgasm-donating vocals, you have literally the greatest thing ever. I would normally pity you if you don’t own a great album, but instead I will look upon you, non-Mindcrime-owning heathen, with murderous rage and vomitous loathing, for Mindcrime… is sublime.