Back again after a while. What happened in 1995? Fifth grade for me. Finland won the gold medal for the first time at the 1995 Men's World Ice Hockey Championships. Cactus Jack AKA Mick Foley won the IWA King of the Death Match Tournament in Japan. Starbucks' Frappuccino was released. And we enjoyed countless hours of quality shows on the tube without a sign of Reality TV.
AC/DC - Ballbreaker
This is an important record for me. I rarely play it these days but I consider Ballbreaker the album that steered me in the right direction and would define my music taste in the years to come. I saw the video for "Hard as a Rock" on TV as a kid and it was the coolest thing ever at the moment. I did not understand the innuendo - frankly, I find a lot of Johnson-era AC/DC songs pretty embarrassing these days as far as lyrics go - but the music was awesome and I knew I had to get this album. I became an AC/DC fan and when I told a friend at school about this awesome record, it turned out he had also got it and we became even better friends. Ballbreaker is probably the heaviest AC/DC album out there. The basics are the same as always but Rick Rubin's input resulted in a much more hard-edged sound than ever before. Phil Rudd is back on the drums and the band sounds complete again. As good as Razor's Edge was, I just can't get into Chris Slade's drumwork and Phil's straightforward no-frills drumming is all AC/DC needs.
Cathedral - The Carnival Bizarre
"Huggy Bear, oh yeah!" Cathedral capitalizes on everything that was excellent and succesful on The Ethereal Mirror and the result is possibly their best album atleast as far as the mainstream audience goes. Right after the opener "Vampire Sun" (which is excellent in it's own right) you have a trio of excellent songs. "Hopkins (The Witchfinder General)" draws inspiration and includes soundbites from the classic Hammer horror movie. "Utopian Blaster" is loaded with killer riffs and even features a solo from Tony Iommi. Last but not least, "Night of the Seagulls" which takes its name from the fourth and final movie in the Blind Dead series, slows things down to a doomy crawl and has some cool lyrics. And that's barely just the first half of the album. With the rest including titles like "Fangalactic Supergoria" you know you're in for something good.
Down - NOLA
How could I not include this album? It's not as diverse as Down II but the individual songs are undeniably strong. Let's start with the bookends, "Temptation's Wings" and "Bury Me in Smoke". The first one hits you over the head right out of the gate and the second is without a doubt the most epic song and epic riff Down ever recorded. In between these two you have a smorgasbord of dirty southern metal including the standout track for me, "Stone the Crow" which in another era would have been a southern rock classic. It's amazing Down didn't make bigger waves back in 1995.
Mad Season - Above
A supergroup straight out of rehab. Here's another somewhat forgotten and underplayed gem in my record collection. Featuring members of Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam, Screaming Trees and The Walkabouts, Mad Season is greater than the sum of its parts. They only recorded this one album but it is magnificent. Above goes through many moods, from downright jazzy material like the opener "Wake Up" (perfect morning alarm clock song) to rockers like "I'm Above" to pure blues cuts like "Artificial Red" to alternative metal in the form of "I Don't Know Anything". That last one was my introduction to this band and while it is the heaviest song on here, I learned to appreciate the album as a whole. Mad Season is like a more laid back Alice In Chains (the comparison is obvious as Layne Staley is the singer here as well).
Scott Walker - Tilt
Scott Walker dives into ever deeper waters. The cover of the album says a lot about how easy to approach Tilt is. My favorite track, the opener "Farmer In The City" is almost operatic and it is only the tip of the iceberg as far as the experimental aspects of the album go. Tilt is a trip into the dark corners of the human mind. I can't think of another artist like Scott Walker, atleast if you take into account his whole career. And as unique and experimental as Tilt might seem, Scott would still push the envelope even further with the next album.