Top 5 : Rock/Metal Sophomore albums


You know the drill: an unknown band bust into the scene with a brilliant debut and then have to live up to the expectations. That means releasing a second album as good as the first one or even better.

Sometimes not only it doesn’t work as it implodes and finishes the band forever (yes, I’m talking to you Guns N’ Roses). Other times the band is lucky because they had so much material ready to record before the first album that the second ends up benefiting from it.

And, just like I did with the Top 5 debut albums, second albums from people who formed bands but were already established artists are not eligible. Therefore wonderful albums like Dio’s The Last In Line, Ozzy’s Diary Of A Madman or Rainbow’s Rising are out. And The Beatles’ With The Beatles are also out, but I don’t need to explain you why again.

So here we go:

#5: Def Leppard – High N’ Dry

Def Leppard had already shown potential with their debut album, despite the critics (especially British) loathing them for writing a tune called “Hello America!” When put in the hands of producer John “Mut” Lange, they lived up to their potential and released a masterpiece. From the first chords of the AC/DC-esque “Let It Go” to the wonderful double-tracked vocals of “Bringin’ On The Heartbreak”, passing through “Another Hit And Run”, the title track and the closing with “Mirror, Mirror (Look Into My Eyes)”, High N’ Dry was a sign of things to come.

#4: Mötley Crüe – Shout At The Devil

If Mötley Crüe was already building a reputation as a dangerous band, this álbum left no doubt about it. With a very dark cover of just a pentagram and an eerie intro that proclaimed “Those who have the youth have the power”, the Crüe was about to become the worst nightmare of conservative parents who saw their kids leaning towards the Rock And Roll side things. And it was worse if they were girls. Inside you’ll find a portrait of Nikki Sixx violent, debauched life, now dabbling with Black Magic alongside his then girlfriend Lita Ford. Perennial classics like the title-track, “Looks That Kill”, “Red Hot”, “Too Young To Fall In Love”. a brilliant cover of The Beatles’ “Helter Skelter” and the sexually charged “Ten Seconds To Love” provided not only a great record but a blueprint for much more extreme bands like Dimmu Borgir or Cradle Of Filth to build upon.

#3: Queen – Queen II

Hailed by most of the fans as the album where Queen found its sound, Queen II is much more than that. A collection of brilliant songs, starting to showcase the genius of Freddie Mercury and all the potential of Brain May not only as a marvelous guitarist, but also as a talented songwriter. The cover inspired by a shot of Marlene Dietrich in the 1932 movie Shanghai Express became so iconic that the band itself wanted to reproduced it in the beginning of the “Bohemian Rhapsody” video some years later. The complexity of the arrangements and the overlaid vocal harmonies, coupled with lyrics full of Shakespearean and mythology references contributed to put this album as a benchmark in the unmatchable Queen history. You only need to listen to “White Queen (As It Began)”, “Ogre Battle”, “The Fairy Fellers Master Stroke”, “Nevermore”, “The March Of The Black Queen”, “Funny How Love Is” and “Seven Seas Of Rhye” to realize it.

#2: Metallica – Ride The Lightning

I must confess I was in a huge doubt between this record and Queen II for the second spot. I decided to go with Metallica because as genius as Queen II is there are still hints of Zeppelin in the sound. Here, you have a band ready for world domination. Freshly after signing with Elektra, Metallica released what many regard as the best album of their career. Ride The Lightning was the album that showed that only in their second album, Metallica was already head and shoulders ahead of their Thrash Metal contemporaries. It was still brutal, but the songwriting seemed to come from another planet. Of course, the band had to put up with pathetic cries of sell-out from a narrow minded minority only because “Fade To Black” was a half-ballad. However, “Fade To Black”, along with “For Whom The Bell Tolls” and “Creeping Death” became not only Metallica, but Heavy Metal staples. And there was “Fight Fire With Fire”, the title-track with its killer riff, the super-heavy “Trapped Under Ice”, the wonderful mid-tempo “Escape” and even the always boring instrumental song is acceptable. The Call Of Ktulu at least have a Lovecraftian title. I consider myself blessed to be able to witness the band playing the album in full at the Orion Festival in 2012.

#1: Black Sabbath – Paranoid

Nobody can listen to “Paranoid”, “Iron Man” or “War Pigs” anymore. I got that. However, you can’t deny that these songs are Rock staples, timeless classics that are part of popular culture. And they are all in this record. And remember, this is not a best of. It says a lot about the original Sabbath that both their first albums are in my top 5 lists. If the first album was the birth of Heavy Metal, this is the style coming of age and becoming an unstoppable force. The anti-war lyrics, Ozzy’s voice and of course, the most innovative guitar sound ever heard. All that contributed to catapult Sabbath to stardom and immortality. But Paranoid got more than only the staples. How about the satire of “Fairies Wear Boots”, the acid-trip of “Planet Caravan” and the fantasy and heaviness of “Electric Funeral”? No band managed to make a second album so much better than the first one. Because Black Sabbath was wonderful; but this one rewrote the rule book of Heavy Rock. This is an album that invented a kind of music. How many sophomore records can claim that?

Be sure to check out my book “Straight And Lethal”.

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