With the announcement that Metallica’s upcoming, 10th studio album, Hardwired …to Self Destruct, would be a double album – along with persistent rumours that Tool and Mastodon will be doing the same – we thought we’d take a look back at metal’s relationship with the double record thus far, particularly the times it’s worked.
Dream Theater, Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence, 2002
Like Metallica, Dream Theater have had many encounters with the double album. Their 13th studio record, The Astonishing, which was released earlier this year, was a double album; and their seminal, 1999 release, Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From A Memory, is itself a sequel record to the track ‘Metropolis – Part I (The Miracle And The Sleeper)’ from 1992’s Images And Words. However, it was their sixth full-length release, which marked their first official foray into the format, and the band (and genre) couldn’t have asked for a better start.
Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence is almost the quintessential double album – the ‘double album’s double album’ if you will. The first disc contains a conceptual suite, dealing with various themes of personal struggle; while the second disc is singularly occupied by the record’s forty-two-minute title-track, which narrates the experiences of six different people suffering from various mental illnesses. Six Degrees… is an understandably intricate release; yet – while The Astonishing turned out to be the disappointing, self-indulgent mess everyone thought it would be – this record turned out to be an absolute masterpiece, and remains a cornerstone of progressive metal to this day.
Key Track: ‘Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence’
Today Is The Day, Sadness Will Prevail, 2002
And now we turn to the complete opposite end of the spectrum! Extreme, noise metallers, Today Is The Day’s sixth studio record is an abrasive, double-disc dissertation on the darker side of the human psyche – exploring such cheerful themes as depression, suicide, isolation, addiction, death, doom and despair. Sadness Will Prevail isn’t the best Today Is The Day record, and many of the non-initiated – and even some of those who are – will likely find it hard to stomach its entire, unrelenting two-and-a-half-hour running time. However, as far as artistic renditions of human suffering and ‘weird testimonies of isolationism’ go, this double album hits the coffin nail firmly on the head.
Key Track: ‘Death Requiem’
Ayreon, The Human Equation, 2004
Ayreon are certainly no strangers to the double album, having released five double-disc records to date; Into The Electric Castle (1998), The Human Equation, The Universal Migrator (Parts I & II) (2000), 01011001 (2008) and The Theory Of Everything (2013). The ‘band’ are, rather, a narrative progressive metal project lead by Dutch multi-instrumentalist Arjen Anthony Lucassen, whose records tell a continuous sprawling, science fiction/fantasy space-rock opera. The Human Equation features an impressive cast, including Dream Theater’s James LeBrie, Opeth’s Mikael Akerfeldt, Devin Townsend, Irene ‘Sister of Floor’ Jansen, and even The Who’s Roger Daltrey – and bucks the band’s narrative trend somewhat, by taking an introspective journey through the mind of its main character, Me (played by LeBrie), who is trapped in a coma, following a car accident. Yet, despite its atypical storyline, The Human Equation is often considered to be Ayreon’s best record, and its somewhat disconnected storyline offers the perfect introduction point to their daunting catalogue.
Key Track: ‘Day Twelve: Trauma’
Blood Duster, Lyden Na, 2007
Lyden Na translates from Norwegian as ‘The Now Sound’, and is intended as a tribute to the early, Norwegian black metal scene. The first disc is exclusively ‘death n’ roll’, while the second is a traditional grindcore record. There’s also a digital-only third ‘disc’ that can be downloaded from the Blood Duster website which contains the single, twenty-minute, ‘doom’ track, ‘SlowAndLongina’. The band’s more rock-oriented tracks have always been the standouts of their previous records and Lyden Na’s concentrated dosage allows the Melbournians’ trademark irreverence to shine through in spades. The second disc is also, arguably, the strongest of their grindcore output; while ‘SlowAndLongina’ succeeds on its sheer commitment to its premise alone.
Key track: ‘ThreeOhhSevenOhh’
Baroness, Yellow & Green, 2012
Besides the fact that they come packaged together, there really isn’t a good reason to consider Yellow & Green to be a double album. While each record shares a distinctly mellower tone than Baroness’ previously, sludgier, progressive metal sound, they are essentially two distinct works, in and of themselves. Having said that, they also happen to be two quite good, distinct works – especially Yellow which is the harder and more consistent of the two.
Key Track: ‘Take My Bones Away’
Coheed And Cambria, The Afterman, 2012 / 2013
Following on from the more hard-rock oriented Year of the Black Rainbow (2010), Coheed and Cambria took their sound down a decisively metal road for their double-disc release The Afterman. Although released four months apart on separate discs, the albums were recorded together and tell a continuous self-contained story within the band’s broader Amory Wars storyline, which was co-written by notable sci-fi/comic writer Peter David (The Incredible Hulk, Babylon 5). Chalk it up to the New York act’s tight narrative, or their prowess as new-millennium prog-rock overlords, but – either way – Coheed and Cambria likely make the best of the double-album format of all the examples listed here, and The Afterman represents a highpoint in their already-lofty back catalogue.
Read our interview with frontman Claudio Sanchez here.
Key track: ‘Key Entity Extraction I: Domino the Destitute’
Soilwork, The Living infinite, 2013
Soilwork have been trailblazers of the melodic death metal scene since its inception, and The Living Infinite is the first and (so far) only double-album to come out of the genre. Taken individually, the majority of the 20 tracks contained on the Swedes’ ninth outing are up to their usual high standard. However, there really isn’t any need for them to be packaged together in a double disc passage, and trying to get through the record in a single sitting can be quite the challenge – especially seeing as there isn’t a whole lot of variety on offer when it comes to the songwriting. Still, the living infinite is far from a ‘bad’ release, and the accompanying Beyond The Infinite EP (collected on this year’s Death Resonance compilation) ain’t too shabby neither.
Key track: ‘Leech’
Given the above examples, it seems like heavy metal has had a fairly healthy relationship with the double album thus far. This list is in no way a complete list of metal double albums – Austrian Death Machine’s Double Brutal (2009) and Uneven Structure’s Februus (2011) are two that immediately spring to mind; there’s plenty of double albums to be found on the doom-metal end of things and Fireaxe, Swallow The Sun and Schammasch have each released triple albums! Moshcam’s own Peter Stevens has already named Cobalt’s double album, Slow Forever, one of the best metal releases of the year. Here’s hoping Metallica can do the form justice. ..for all!