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My 10 favourite album openings

The way in which an album begins can set the mood for the album, and determine whether the listener will become excited about it or not. For many recording artists, an album is not merely a collection of songs, but also a narrative that has a beginning and an end. As such, the song that will open the album has particular significance. Moreover, musicians and record company executives will make decisions regarding the order of the songs, with considerations concerning the satisfaction of the listener (driven, of course, by maximisation of profit concerns). Songs that are considered to be “fillers”, meaning that their role is to bring the album up to a number of songs or duration that agrees with the music industry’s standards, are more likely to be placed in the middle or the end of an album. Songs that are considered to be “hits” are positioned usually in the beginning of the album, in order to hook the listeners and to grab their attention. The following are album openings that I consider fascinating.

cover_andjusticeforall_lg1. And Justice for all – Metallica (1988)

By far what I consider to be the best album opening of all times. One of the best melodies I have ever heard, slowly fading in, culminating in one of the best riffs ever written. It appropriately sets the mood – severe, melancholic, powerful – for one of the most important, innovative and influential thrash albums of all time (and my favourite Metallica album). Almost twenty years since I first heard it and it still sends chills down my spine, and makes me think about all the different ways in which Metallica have been innovators. Click here for a video of someone who demonstrates how to play this song, and admire the perfection of this intro.

Black_Sabbath_-_Black_Sabbath2. Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath (1970)

Members of Black Sabbath have been quoted saying that at the time the debut album was written, the band wanted to create horror-film music. The way in which the album opens is indeed chilling. Rain, thunder, the chime of a church bell, and then the three notes of the Tritone (the Devil’s chord) accompanied by an ultra-heavy rhythm section resulted in a style that was bound to be revered by people who would take it and shape it into what we call today heavy metal. Combined with the terrifying album cover this introduction is pure horror. Although the band itself hadn’t settled on this specific style at the time, and the songs on this album are quite varied, this song embodies the true essence of heavy metal.

athega3. Slaughter of the soul – At the gates (1995)

No one in their right minds who have listened to this album have not gone berserk listening to this absolutely perfect introduction. For me, being one of the very first death metal albums I ever listened to, it defined what a death metal opening should sound like. It begins with industrial sounds that bring into mind decadence, coldness, and the non-human. Slashing sounds tear the soul apart (a lyric on the eponymous song) and bring the smothered words, “We are blind, to the world within us, waiting to be born”, into surface, culminating in one of the most perfect and recognisable riffs of all time. Pure genius!

blin4. Somewhere far beyond – Blind Guardian (1992)

Many metal bands over the years (including Metallica, Kreator, Sepultura, Unleashed, and Sinister) have decided to open their albums with a clean guitar intro, but never, in my opinion, has a band done it so perfectly as Blind Guardian did in this album. The mysterious-sounding chords played in the beginning of “Time what is time” are accompanied by a uniquely soulful and stellarly executed clean guitar solo, culminating in a powerful and extra-heavy, palm-muted triplet riff that denotes that this album will be a highly rewarding journey for the listener, full of imagination, aggression and lyricism.

altar5. Youth against Christ – Altar (1994)

Some of the most important death metal bands of all time have come from Holland, including Pestilence, Asphyx, Gorefest, and Altar. Altar never became popular and are often compared to Deicide due to their anti-christian lyrics and inhuman style of music. They still remain one of my all-time favourite bands, and albums like this one and Ego art are treasured. Youth against Christ starts off with a monologue by what appears to be a tele-evangelist preaching damnation to the masses. His hateful speech is suddenly interrupted by a brutal attack consisting of a super-tight heavy riff on top of crushing blastbeats, symbolically crashing christian discourse violently to the ground.

Blind_guardian_tales6. Tales from the twilight world – Blind Guardian (1990)

No album opening can better define the word “Epic” than Tales from the twilight world. A band known for its admiration of science fiction literature and epic music, Blind Guardian again give lessons of how to hook the listener and, at the same time, summarise the mood of the entire album in the first seconds of the album’s opening track (“Traveler in time”). There’s no real fan of metal music that does not know the words, “The morning sun of Dune”, or does not get goosebumps thinking about them. A truly astounding opening that perfectly describes the Bravado of heavy metal music. God I love Blind Guardian so fucking much.

brok7. Loathing – Broken hope (1997)

The distorted words of Marlon Brando (as heard in the movie Apocalypse now), “Horror, and mortal terror are your friends” echo with disgust as the single note of the first riff of “Siamese screams” and the late Joe Ptacek’s super-brutal vocals kick in, to mark one of the most brutal beginnings in the history of death metal. I listened to this album when it first came out in Metal Era, one of Athens’ most iconic heavy metal record stores (used to be owned and run by Jim, the bassist of Rotting Christ), and, being a fan of more traditional death metal at the time (Death, Dismember, Unleashed, etc.), shook me to my very core.

carcs8. Symphonies of sickness – Carcass (1989)

I think that this introduction is indicative of Black Sabbath’s significant influence on brutal death metal. Carcass took the logic of heaviness and doom of Black Sabbath, and let it rot. The claustrophobic intro to Symphonies of sickness, a chaotic syncopated riff followed by distorted synthesiser sounds accompanied by the maggot-infested Black Sabbathy riff of “Reek of putrefaction” and Jeff’s disgusting growl, is definitive of brutal death metal. Although “Genital grinder”, the song that opens their debut album, is also magnificent, I decided that I prefer this opening because it is so much spookier and sick.

ali9. Alice in hell – Annihilator (1989)

Alice in hell begins with “Crystal Ann”, one of the most beautiful instrumental pieces I have ever heard, regardless of music genre. Jeff Waters is a widely celebrated guitar genius and the introduction of this album is a testament to that. I personally never skip this intro when I listen to this album. What’s even more impressive is the way in which the instrumental song leads into “Alison hell”, which takes the serene and calm mood of “Crystal Ann” and transforms it into caution and a sense of looming threat, building up to some of the most awesome riffs ever written. This is art.

bene10. Transcend the Rubicon – Benediction (1993)

On the cover of the vinyl version of the album there’s a sticker that says “If brutality was crime, Benediction would have been sentenced to death”. The quote alludes to the fact that Transcend the Rubicon is a masterpiece of brutal death metal. After the swampy, claustrophobic openings of the previous two albums, Subconscious terror and The grande leveler, Benediction choose to cut to the chase and make a strong statement from the get go. The opening of this album perfectly sets the mood for what the listener is about to experience: super heavy, hardcore-charged British death metal.


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