Part Three: 200-191
In putting together last year’s list I noticed there wasn’t much representation for the heavier material I listen to on a regular basis. My general rationale for that is that metal as a genre is more album oriented than single oriented, so individual songs don’t necessarily climb my list as readily as the albums do. With the expansion to 200 this year that gets corrected somewhat, which is a really long-winded way of saying be prepared for lots of harder rock and metal songs in the first half of the countdown. You’ve been warned.
So here we go. The countdown. For real this time. All 200.
200. Tegan And Sara (feat. The Lonely Island) – “Everything Is Awesome”
There’s something perversely enjoyable about beginning my countdown with a song that is equal parts fun and annoying. Let’s face it, this little number gets stuck in your head like some sort of sanity-sucking alien life form and then just makes you hate yourself even while you’re singing along. Of course, I’m biased, because it’s the theme song to The Lego Movie, which I’ve only been waiting for for, oh I dunno… MY ENTIRE LIFE! So for ushering in cinematic gold via my favorite childhood toy, “Everything Is Awesome” gets the place of (questionable) honor at number 200.
199. Alestorm – “Drink”
Let’s keep things stupid for one more song, shall we? That may sound harsh, but come on, we’re about to discuss the merits of Scottish Pirate Metal, a subgenre of heavy metal which, to the best of my knowledge has one and only one inhabitant. Which is fine, because I wouldn’t think more than one band doing this kind of schtick would be necessary. Musically we’re dealing with a form of European power metal crossed with the shouting chorus pub mentality of the Dropkick Murphys. It’s actually not a bad combination, even if it does get repetitive over the course of a full album. The lyrics are of course silly, but that’s the point, and I’ll be damned if the chorus isn’t just ludicrously catchy in spite of itself. Don’t think too hard over this one. Just fill up yer mug and pound some suds.
198. Within Temptation (feat. Howard Jones) – “Dangerous”
Symphonic metal is a genre that I very quickly grew tired of after discovering it a few years back. The contrast of pseudo-operatic female vocals against speed metal riffing was interesting at first, but there’s a sameness to it all that bugged me. Plus the vocals tended to just sound weird layered on top of metal. Within Temptation, a Dutch band that is one of the best among the genre, made an attempt to combat some of that weirdness (as well as make an appeal to more mainstream acceptance) by employing a number of guest stars on their latest album Hydra, among them rapper Xzibit and Soul Asylum leader Dave Pirner. A more traditional metal pairing was this track with former Killswitch Engage singer Howard Jones (no, not the 80’s Brit-pop guy). His husky baritone brings a lot more credibility to their sound and I really like the interplay with him and regular vocalist Sharon den Adel. The album, while not great, was a pleasant surprise, thanks in part to this song.
197. Judas Priest – “March Of The Damned”
Much like Black Sabbath last year, I was heavily anticipating the return of one of the forefathers of heavy metal, Judas Priest. And also like Sabbath last year, I was very pleased with the actual album, both bands sounding surprisingly potent despite their advancing age. The problem in both instances is that while I enjoyed the overall album and ranked them high in my year-end album lists, they weren’t really “song” albums (a claim I could make about a lot of metal albums). Of all the songs on Redeemer Of Souls, “March Of The Damned” jumped out at me the most, a fact that was helped by the live version I saw them perform this past fall. The music fits the title nicely as the song stomps its way across your speakers with a marauding sense of old school metal. A fine addition to a classic catalogue.
196. Nothing More – “This Is The Time (Ballast)”
I’m still having a hard time getting used to the idea of post-hardcore/metalcore being “radio friendly”, but given that this song landed at #3 on the year-end Billboard “Mainstream Rock” chart, I guess it’s something I’ll just have to accept. Granted this track is barely representative of the genre given that they limit the guttural shouting to a few brief moments on this song, which I can’t thank them enough for. Because that’s usually my issue with this style: they take some furious riffing and otherwise impassioned and often pleasant vocals and muck it up with some emo guy inaudibly screaming like he’s being disemboweled come chorus time. Meanwhile this song makes my list thanks to its ferocious energy and scattergun riff. If they can keep the gutter vocals out, I can see more of this stuff getting play.
195. 21Octayne – “Into The Open”
In the last couple of years I’ve found myself being drawn more and more to bands from Germany; Zodiac and The New Roses being two such examples. While the rest of the European rock scene is toying with the glitz and sleaze of the L.A. Sunset Strip era, the Germans have their ear aimed at a grittier style of rock that boasts far more pure musicianship. 21Octayne came at me out of nowhere this year, mixing elements of modern American hard rock with occasional splashes of prog metal and the aforementioned old school grit. The title track to their debut album is essentially a power ballad, boasting a slow burning build that explodes comes chorus time thanks to the powerful vocals of Hagen Grohe. These guys appear on my countdown multiple times and the more I listen to them the more I want to hear.
194. Otherwise – “Darker Side Of The Moon”
Las Vegas rockers Otherwise had a mid-sized radio hit with the excellent “Soldiers” back in 2011/2012, which is how they first came to my attention upon the recommendation of a friend. While the remainder of their debut album was somewhat uninspiring, I was looking forward to the follow-up, hoping the newfound success would push them to up their game a bit. Sadly that wasn’t the case, as Peace At All Costs is a pretty straightforward continuation of the debut. The production lets me down the most, with the guitars lacking the bite needed for the material they’ve written, being pushed back in the mix rather than roaring to the front like they should. So why is this song on the list? Because I like the chorus, essentially, and because sometimes I just like this kind of generic macho rock even when it’s not done as well as it could be. Hardly a glowing review, I realize, but hey, not every song on here is gonna be a solid gold smash.
193. Audrey Horne – “Holy Roller”
Let me come clean before you even click on the link: this song is not that great. Audrey Horne (Norwegian band named after a character from Twin Peaks) pump out 70’s style metal, with chugging guitars and a pretty pedestrian rhythm section. I do like the vocalist however, as he’s got a bit of early solo-era Ozzy Osbourne to his sound, and the slow burn guitar solo is also worth noting. But the main reason this song makes the countdown is for the video. I mean, come on! It’s got HEAVY METAL PUPPETS!!
192. Toseland – “Renegade”
James Toseland is an English professional motorcycle racer who apparently fancied himself a rock star, leaving behind his racing career to try his hand at being the Jon Bon Jovi of the new millennium (seriously, check out the ballad “Just No Way” and tell me it doesn’t like something Jon would have written). Rounding up some decent musicians and adopting his surname as a band name (coincidence?), they released their debut early in 2014, pumping out a number of music videos along the way (5, by my count). As a vocalist, he’s surprisingly gritty, with a unique sound that I can’t quite find a decent comp for. Music-wise, the band toes the line between 80’s arena rock throwback and modern radio friendly hard rock (although according to some of the band’s YouTube comments, he sold out to become a total hairband). This was my favorite song off the album, thanks in large part to the explosive riff that comes with the chorus. I really like the way the guitars lay in the weeds, disappearing almost entirely during the verse and then just kicking the door down when it’s time to get the chorus rocking. It’s a classic American sound (from a Brit) which probably won’t earn him a huge following but which is sorely missing these days.
191. Coldplay – “Ghost Story”
First off, I’m not saying Coldplay and Radiohead are two peas in a pod, but I do find it odd that I can absolutely love pretty much everything one band puts out and struggle mightily to get into the other given their similarities. But it is what it is, as some football coach once said. Admittedly, with each new Coldplay release I find them going a little farther astray from their original sound, which is mildly disappointing. I guess that’s what drew me to this track so much, as the return of an acoustically driven song was most welcome by me. Of course, they shunted it off to the “special edition” of the album, which is doubly odd considering it’s the title track. Oh well, I managed to hear it anyway and it’s definitely something that sounds like it could have fallen off of A Rush Of Blood To The Head, so thanks for that. There’s just something so reassuring and calming about their sound. I guess that’s where the similarity to Radiohead peels away, as I find their music puts me on edge more. (I will now await Mark’s rebuttal.)