The Gaither Vocal Band is one of the most iconic group’s in music history, with a career spanning nearly 40 years. Here’s my attempt at narrowing down my top ten songs!
10. I’ll Fly Away (1932)
This is very obviously not an original Gaither piece, which is something that has disqualified many other possible entries to this list. Originally written by Albert Brumley in 1929 and published in ’32, “I’ll Fly Away,” has been a favorite of gospel and country singers for nearly one hundred years. That being said, The Gaithers have put an excellent spin on the old classic more than a few times, and David Phelps’ jaw dropping verse is enough to earn it a spot on this list.
9. Mary Did You Know (1984)
Perhaps the biggest crossover hit in the Gaithers’ catalog, Mark Lowry’s Christmas masterpiece is a yearly favorite in church services across the country. Unlike the majority of Gaither tracks, “Mary Did You Know,” is primarily lyric driven. That being said, the power that blasts through each and every chorus, particularly when David Phelps’ awe-inspiring tenor is present, can’t be denied. It’s only held back by the fact that it is much more a Mark Lowry track than a Gaither track.
8. Give It Away (2006)
A quintessential piece of mid-2000’s gospel, “Give It Away,” is one of many Gaither cuts which are driven and highlighted by booming bass and baritone parts. Featuring Guy Penrod’s smooth baritone over impressively rhythmic drum lines, the song is a testament to the group’s timeless sound and ability to meld technically remarkable harmonies with fun lyrics and instrumentals.
7. These Are They (2003)
For my money, there is no more incredible member in the Gaithers’ long history than David Phelps. His unfathomable range and otherworldly power and control stands among some of history’s greatest vocalists and though his abilities can sometimes be overused by the group, perhaps his best showing during his tenure is his lead on “These Are They.” He performs each verse with an incredibly expressive tone and his wailing finish is simply breathtaking.
6. A Few Good Men (1991)
One of the older cuts on this list, “A Few Good Men,” is based on the US Marine Slogan, and is one of the better lyrical works in the Gaither collection. The track’s best quality is the sheer wealth of parts available as it is a perennial choice for performances which feature large numbers of former and current vocal band members. It’s often used as an occasion to celebrate the long and impressive history of the group, and for that reason, it simply can’t be left off the list.
5. Alpha and Omega (2002)
Another classic track in the group’s long career, “Alpha and Omega,” borrows several elements from classic gospel hymns, not the least of which the lyrical style. While the instrumental is a bit stale, the vocal work on this track is undeniable. It’s far tighter than most, with much of the verse sung in unison with a few break away tenor lines here and there. The chorus its the most memorable section of the piece though, a perfectly woven four part with a tenor line for the ages.
4. The Old Rugged Cross (1912)
Another classic even older than the Gaithers themselves, “The Old Rugged Cross,” written in 1912, is as central to the cannon and culture of Baptist Christianity as any other piece of art. It would follow, then, that one of the most iconic and moving versions of this hymn was recorded by The Gaither Vocal Band. While the tenor lines are soft and flashy on this cut, in classic Baptist fashion, it’s the thunderous bass vocals which anchor the spacious harmonies and drive the track along.
3. Because He Lives (1999)
Perhaps one of the most iconic tracks in the Gaithers’ catalog, “Because He Lives,” is a classic gospel hymn if ever one was written. Lyrically, it has a poetic power that few other tracks can achieve and the brass section carries an explosive style that crescendos to a fever pitch in the final chorus. Of course, the harmonies are air tight and each vocal performance is excellent, but this is one of the few Gaither cuts which is as defined by it’s instrumentation as it’s vocals.
2. He Touched Me (1963)
One of Bill Gaither’s many long lasting contributions to the greater Baptist cannon, “He Touched Me” has been covered by everyone from Lawrence Welk to Elvis. However, there’s no beating the original. The song bares many of the classic marks of a hymn from the evangelical boom of the 60’s and 70’s, including soaring tenors and a sort of bombastic waltz timing, but it stands somewhat outside of time in it’s ability to wow virtually all ages of gospel fans. Add on some excellent lyrics, a timeless opening verse, and excellent backing instrumentation, and “He Touched Me,” only narrowly misses the top spot on this list.
I Believe in a Hill Called Mount Calvary
You Are My All in All
Sometimes it Takes A Mountain
Loving God, Loving Each Other
Let Freedom Ring
1.I Bowed On My Knees (1984)
With a career spanning more than 30 studio albums and nearly 40 years, The Gaither Vocal Band is the single most iconic Southern Gospel group in history, and there is perhaps no better example of why than Michael English’s 1984 classic, “I Bowed on My Knees.” A lyrical trip to heaven, the song blends perfectly the prescient awe of heaven itself with the long-lasting majesty and history of the Christian faith. Most importantly, though, the song feels almost regal with a bombastic horns and commanding drums. The final moments are some of the most powerful in music history and the final repetitions of the chorus are nothing if not pure, musical perfection and a testament to just how much the Southern Gospel genre has to offer.
Here’s my ranking of every album from one of my favorite hard rock bands!
5. System of a Down (1998)
This is most likely not a very controversial opinion as System’s debut record is largely considered their least impressive outing. It’s certainly not without it’s bright points, including some of the group’s most daring cuts to date, but many of the risks don’t pan out in the slightest and we’re left with a record that varies wildly in quality from track to track.
The most recognizable track on this album is, of course, “Spiders,” which is one of SOAD’s earliest hits and still a favorite for longtime fans. The album’s other lead single, “Sugar,” is one of the band’s heaviest works to date and contains some fascinating Eastern influences. The record’s best quality is the heavier, more chaotic style on tracks like “Soil,” and “Suite-Pee,” which make this a necessary listen for any true System fan.
4. Hypnotize (2005)
The last official studio release from SOAD, Hypnotize will always suffer from comparisons to it’s sister album, Mezmerize. In fairness, it’s quite enjoyable. Much of the guitar work is fantastic and Serj’s vocal is as manic and unpredictable as ever. Much of the songwriting is quite strong, but unfortunately, the album just lacks the replay value of other records on the list.
That being said, there’s quite a few fantastic cuts to be found. The title track is incredible and captures Serj’s appreciation for cinematic music well. “Lonely Day,” is one of the group’s best known songs and a surprisingly accessible track for a band with such a bizarre catalog. The folksy guitars on “Dreaming,” are a nice touch and the track as a whole is a nice call back earlier, heavier sound. Overall, it’s an enjoyable listen, but lacks the hits and deep cuts to stand up to earlier releases.
3. Steal This Album! (2002)
Coming quickly on the heals of their 2001 smash hit, Toxicity, System went, in many ways, back to their roots. Steal This Album is equal parts heavy and bizarre and is fairly reminiscent of the debut. However, the experience gained and additional voices allow the bands to make the most of risks which they just couldn’t pull off on the debut. There is a lack of true hits on this record, and it’s not for everyone, but if you want to hear SOAD at their most insane, this is the place.
There are a few tracks that I definitely find myself coming back to regularly. “Mr. Jack,” is a brutal refutation of the police which features some of the best guitar riffs of the entire catalog. The spoken word sections of “Boom!” Are extremely enjoyable, as is the eerie harmony on the chorus. Perhaps my favorite is the pure insanity of “F**k the System,” which is purely bizarre and a testament to the strangest edges of SOAD’s sound.
2. Mezmerize (2005)
One of the more chaotic entries to this list, Mezmerize has quite a bit to love. The riffs and general songwriting are absolutely fantastic and the variety of vocalists, while a bit of a mixed bag here, allows SOAD to reach entirely new places, particularly when it came to rhythmic and style changes, which happen constantly on this album. Unfortunately, Mezmerize suffers from a problem that plagues much of the band’s catalog, that being inconsistency.
That being said, there are more than a few bright spots on this tracklist. “B.Y.O.B.” is yet another incredible piece of protest music with a remarkably dynamic performance from Serj. “Radio/Video,” and “Sad Statue,” are some of the most melodic tracks SOAD has ever recorded. Perhaps the most consistent highlight is the almost comical tone on cuts like “This Cocaine Makes Me Feel Like I’m On This Song,” and “Violent Pornography.” It may not be their strongest effort, but it has some of the brightest points of their career.
1. Toxicity (2001)
The cherry at the very top of a fantastic catalog, Toxicity is one of the best metal/hard rock albums of all time. Rick Rubin’s influence is felt much more on this album, and though I have generally mixed opinions on Rubin’s work, he’s able to strike the perfect balance between brutal chaos and melodic breakdowns. The additional vocals make a big difference and the larger instrumental pallet makes the album feel entirely unpredictable at every moment.
Of course, this album contains “Chop Suey,” which is the band’s biggest hit to date, but “Aerials,” is nearly as well known and, for my money, a much better cut. The heavier pieces on this album include the fantastic, “X,” and the brutal but hilarious “Bounce.” The band also dives headlong into outspoken leftist politics on songs like “Prison Song,” and “Deer Dance.” It’s an absolutely iconic record and one of the few memorable and respectable efforts from the early 2000’s nu-metal boom.
This one took me awhile, but it’s finally done! Here’s my ranking of every album in the discography of one of my favorite artists of all time!
10. Sling Shot To Heaven – Margot and the Nuclear So & So’s (2014)
A longtime favorite of many Margot fans and of Richard himself, I generally find myself far less impressed. To be clear, it is quite an accomplishment. The songwriting is the best it’s been since their debut, the instrumentation is simple and spacey, and the harmonies are air tight. Unfortunately, the follow up, Tell Me More About Evil is comprised of nearly all the same tracks and, for my money, matches all the highlights of Sling Shot while surpassing it in several areas.
That being said, the album has no shortage of bright spots. “Long Legged Blonde Memphis,” channels the group’s blues influences well while “Wedding Song,” is a gorgeously vulnerable and well written. The instrumental on “Los Angeles,” actually adds quite a bit to the track and the overall spacious aesthetic makes the album feel fairly cohesive. I certainly see the appeal of this record, but in terms of the larger catalog, it has very little to offer.
9. Buzzard – Margot and the Nuclear So & So’s (2010)
Margot’s first foray into the heavier, garage rock styles which would characterize the latter half of their catalog, Buzzard is an interesting piece of music. Lyrically, Richard’s mix of quirky and thoughtful is as balanced as ever, though much of his writing takes him to a darker place than previous efforts. The big changes come in the instrumentals which are often heavily distorted, though still just as well performed.
The album’s opener, “Birds,” is a favorite among Margot fans for its unique lyrics and manic energy, but I find myself equally impressed by tracks like the gloomy, distorted “Will You Love Me Forever?” There are still moments like “Tiny Vampire Robot,” and “Lunatic, Lunatic, Lunatic,” which call back to the earlier, more intimate sound, and the record seems to struggle with committing to the new style, somewhat to its detriment.
8. Animal! – Margot and the Nuclear So & So’s (2008)
This record is very often ignored by casual listeners and that’s a shame considering what the band went through just to put it out. Long story short, Epic Records had chosen a tracklist, which would become Not Animal, for Margot’s second studio release. The band themselves, however, insisted on the tracklist which would become Animal! Arguments ensued and finally a drunk Richard Edwards threatened to leak the album online if the studio didn’t let them release both. And so, we have Animal! And Not Animal.
While, philosophically, I side with the artist on such an issue, the critical side of me is well aware that this is the inferior release. There are bright moments. “Hello, Vagina,” shines much more here thanks to its earlier appearance. Additionally, there are more bizarre cuts like “Mariel’s Brazen Overture,” which are a treat for long time listeners. Ultimately, Not Animal is the superior project, but Animal! Is exactly the kind of deep cut that’s worth a listen for true fans.
7. Rot Gut, Domestic – Margot and the Nuclear So & So’s (2012)
From the opening moments, if the title and cover didn’t give it away, it’s clear that this is heaviest entry to Margot’s catalog, and for the most part, that works in its favor. While I much prefer the more folksy sound on earlier projects, I can appreciated the skillful guitar work and explosive nature of Rot Gut. Additionally, Richard’s voice makes the transition to garage rock quite well, with several powerful moments.
There are a few call backs to the earlier sound like the carefree comedy of “A Journalist Falls in Love with Death Row Inmate #16,” but the best moments come in the pure chaos of cuts like “The Devil,” and “Disease Tobacco Free.” “Frank Left,” is a lyrical highlight to be sure, though the album is somewhat lacking in the respect, and the psychedelic, piano driven closer “Christ,” is one of the record’s best tracks. It’s not my favorite, but if you enjoy Margot’s heavier side, Rot Gut is the best it gets.
6. Pity Party! – Richard Edwards (2017)
The second acoustic only album in Richard’s catalog, I struggled with whether to include this album as there’s very little original music and it only received a very limited vinyl release with nothing available over digital platforms. That being said, it’s absolutely fantastic and another fan favorite which earned it a slot on the list. The tracklist is made up of acoustic, one-take versions of tracks from both LCCS and the then unreleased Verdugo.
The updates on older cuts like “When You’re Gone,” are welcome surprises with Richard’s very different voice acting as something of an unintentional commentary on the many years since their release. The relaxed, unproduced style also adds quite a bit to tracks like “Postcard,” and “Git Paid,” that didn’t quite shine through and get the attention they deserved on their more official releases. Overall, this is a record for the fans without a doubt, but I’m one of those fans and as such, I love it.
5. Lemon Cotton Candy Sunset – Richard Edwards (2017)
While a three year hiatus is not all that long in the music world, Richard’s was certainly felt by his fans, particularly because we didn’t know that we’d get any more music. Finally, a long post was made on Instagram explaining the long silence and the struggles he’d been facing which ended with the hope that the forthcoming project would sound like “being lost at sea.” That it does.
Richard runs the gamut of emotions on this LP, from the hope that bleeds from every chord on “Little Dead Eye-d,” to the unfocused anger on “Disappeared Planets.” His catchy melodies are back in spades on tracks like “Rollin’, Rollin’, Rollin’,” and the best track, “Pornographic Teens.” Perhaps most importantly, he differentiates his new sound from that of his previous group’s with tracks like “Sister Wives,” and “Moonwrapped,” which lay the groundwork for the kind of orchestral folk style which would be fleshed out more on LCCS’ sister album. It was a beautiful return for a beloved artist.
4. Tell Me More About Evil – Margot and the Nuclear So & So’s (2014)
Often wholly ignored by more casual fans, this is one my absolute favorite Richard Edwards efforts. Created as a final release before Margot disbanded, TMMAE is a collection of roughly recorded acoustic versions of earlier tracks, most of which come from the previous release, Slingshot to Heaven. It was recorded as a soundtrack for an 8mm film shot by Richard himself which is nearly as beautiful as the record itself.
Virtually every track on this album is wonderful, but I could choose a few favorites. The harmonies on “Hello, San Franciso,” are tight and warm, the guitar work on “Flying Saucer Blues,” is melodic and catchy, and the lyrics to tracks like “Lazy,” and “Gettin’ Fat,” are some of Richard’s funniest. The best cut on the record is “Bleary-Eyed Blue,” which may easily be my favorite track of his entire career. The album can seem a bit slowly and dreary to some, but to fans of the group, the intimacy of a record that makes you feel like you’re sitting right there with the band is invaluable.
3. Verdugo – Richard Edwards (2018)
The tenth and most recent addition to the discography thus far, Verdugo is the much stronger sequel to Lemon Cotton Candy Sunset. The tight, ten track playlist is perfectly paced with a new and enjoyable surprise waiting around every corner. The orchestral elements which were lightly experimented with on LCCS decorate virtually every second of Verdugo, aided by fantastic production and a uniquely vintage aesthetic.
The quiet simplicity of “Something Wicked,” is starkly gorgeous, while the lush chaos of “Minefield,” is almost overwhelming. His ear for melody is as strong as ever on a cut like “Olive Oyl,” and “Gene,” is one of the best lyrical moments in his career. Possibly the best track is the closer, “Pornographic Teens,” appearing for the third time on a Richard Edwards album, this time in its best form. With nine albums under his belt, Richard went out of his way to craft something completely knew and creative that has me absolutely ecstatic for whatever is coming next.
2. The Dust of Retreat – Margot and the Nuclear So & So’s (2006)
Margot’s mid-2000’s debut is quite the start for the indie-rock collective. The record is fantastically paced and presents a unique, developed sound from the start. The lyricism is excellent, the instrumentation is quirky, and the production is surprisingly well done for a debut album. This early period of Margot’s career has a strong folk-rock tilt which limits their potential to some extent, but nevertheless, Dust has some of the group’s best tracks.
The melodies on tracks like “On a Freezing Chicago Street,” and “Talking in Code,” are absolutely fantastic. Lyrically, tracks like “Skeleton Key,” and “Dress Me Like a Clown,” are extremely impressive. The album’s highlight, for me, is “Jen is Bringing the Drugs,” which serves as an early precursor to the intimate, heartfelt works that would come to characterize Margot’s later efforts. The Dust of Retreat is far from perfect, but it stands as a very impressive debut.
1. Not Animal – Margot and the Nuclear So & So’s (2008)
The other half of the aforementioned battle with studio executives, Not Animal is the version of this album that Margot would rather not have put out. As I said before, however, the studio’s list is much superior. The last Margot project to lean heavier on the folk side of folk-rock, Not Animal keeps everything that worked on Dust of Retreat and improves upon it for a finished product that’s simply gorgeous and one of my favorite records of all time.
There’s so much to love here. The anthemic choruses of “German Motor Car,” will have listeners singing along instantly, while the wider pallet and intimate recording of “As Tall As Cliffs,” radiates the fun the band is clearly having working as a collective. “Holy Cow!” Is a sweet but emotional cut and “Children’s Crusade on Acid,” is bold and experimental. Easily the highlight, however, is the band’s biggest hit to date by a mile, “Broadripple is Burning.” Not Animal is gorgeously written and performed and an absolute blast to listen to. A few of their later efforts may be more technically impressive, but for me, this the best iteration of Margot and the best album in Richard’s long career.
This one took me quite awhile, but here it is! Every Maynard James Keenan album (post Opiate) ranked!!
12. Emotive (2004)- A Perfect Circle
The most critically maligned effort in Maynard’s post-Tool career, and admittedly the most underwhelming, I will still be the first and loudest defender of this album. All too often, Emotive is subject to overly brutal criticism because it is viewed through the same lens as the band’s previous work. Instead, the album toes the line between full blown third release and something of a side project. I think, had this been followed quickly by a true end to the band’s trilogy with Virgin Records, much of the distaste would’ve subsided. However, Emotive is what it is, that being, by all accounts, a mixed bag.
Maynard’s lyricism can hardly be discussed here, as the album is made up of political covers, but the song selection does provide an interesting peak into his inspirations. Track’s like Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” come off admittedly awkward, but “Passive,” is one of the band’s best efforts, and incidentally the only original on the album, enlisting the help of fellow industrial rock legend, Trent Reznor in the writing process. Additionally, Maynard’s choral rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “The Fiddle and the Drum,” is one of my favorite songs of all time. In short, while the album does land at the bottom of the list, it is by no means a bad album.
11. Money Shot (2015) – Puscifer
While this is, admittedly, the weakest of the three Puscifer LP’s, that certainly doesn’t make it unenjoyable by any means. Money Shot’s biggest sin is its inability to differentiate from the band’s previous two entries. While this is decidedly not a meaningful failure in the eyes of many fans, it does seem to run counter to Puscifers appealing quality. While Tool and APC have solidified styles, Puscifer is meant to be an outlet for Maynard to use his complete control to radically experiment with a multitude of new ideas. In this vein, I’m much quicker to forgive the outfit’s few misses on earlier projects than to excuse the safe tracklist of Money Shot.
That being said, there’s plenty to enjoy here. “The Arsonist,” may be Puscifer’s best song, and “The Remedy,” brings back a bit of the cynicism and comedy of the band’s debut, a quality which is completely absent on the rest of this album. The instrumentation is more organic on this album, and performed quite well by all involved. All in all, Money Shot is an enjoyable effort, but Maynard seems to be in a bit of a creative rut throughout, unsurprising as this would be his 11th LP in just over 20 years. Fitting then, that this would be the last puscifer LP for awhile as MJK began to undertake the writing process of APC’s return in 2018.
10. Opiate (1992) – Tool
There are very few bands with a stronger debut than Tool. The majority of the record is recorded live, but it still lands on this list because the tracks don’t appear anywhere else in the group’s discography. The live raw energy of a Tool show really comes through on this album as well, and it’s hard not to laugh when Maynard says “get that Bob Marley wannabe motherf***ker out of here.”
There is plenty not to love here, on the other hand. The recordings, being live and probably cheap, lack the excellent production we would hear on later Tool releases. The tracklist itself is a bit of a weakness as well, mostly coming in around four to five minutes and missing much of the lyrical thoughtfulness we’ve come to expect from MJK. The closer and title track, however, remains one of my favorite Tool songs of all time and stands as the first chapter in the very long, open dialogue between Maynard and organized Christianity. This kind of bold, angry writing from such a young band, coupled with the jarring and mildly offensive cover, set a tone for a band and an artist that would speak their minds loudly in the years to come.
9. Conditions of My Parole (2011) – Puscifer
The second Puscifer release certainly doesn’t exceed its predecessor the way Thirteenth Step did, but it is nevertheless an enjoyable entry on this list. The tone is much closer to the larger body of MJK’s work, sacrificing some of the debut’s uniqueness for a more palatable, anthemic style. It did, however, retain much of what makes Puscifer such a unique side project.
The changes are most notable on tracks like “Tiny Monsters,” and “Green Valley,” where the industrial instrumentation and drum heavy mix is still very present, but the lyricism and, even more so the vocal melodies, are much more in line with what longtime fans have come to expect. “Telling Ghosts,” could very easily have landed on an APC album. A few of the tracks can come off as somewhat forgettable, but the bulk of Conditions of My Parole is an absolute blast.
8. “V” Is For Vagina (2007) – Puscifer
With APC on hiatus and Tool stuck in a perpetual creative vortex, Maynard found himself sat idle for this first time in many years. This seemed to last all of a few days as V Is For Vagina was released just a year after the Tool record and Puscifer was born. While the band wouldn’t receive a lot of mainstream attention until their ’09 single, “Cuntry Boner,” longtime Maynard fans were greeted in ’07 by a total 180 degree turn with surprisingly enjoyable results.
Puscifer’s sound embraces a form of industrial rock which was only slightly present in MJK’s previous work, and combines it with the kind of sardonic humor which Maynard is known for. Tracks like “Queen B,” and “Vagina Mine” may be somewhat jarring for Tool and APC fans, but they are very well crafted and infinitely listenable pieces of industrial rock, some of the best of the era. V Is For Vagina is a must listen for any and all MJK fans, especially considering his near total creative control over the project.
7. Eat the Elephant (2018) – A Perfect Circle
Perhaps the most divisive of Maynard’s albums among fans, Eat the Elephant marked the return of A Perfect Circle to prominence after a nearly 15 year hiatus which had been filled with three MJK releases under the Puscifer moniker. As a result, this album does often seem to capture more of Puscifer’s experimental nature than APC’s anthemic tendencies. It’s one of stranger albums on this list, but it’s one that I enjoyed quite a bit.
Tracks like “Disillusioned” and the title track featured surprisingly soft piano passages while “The Doomed,” and my personal favorite, “TalkTalk,” fall much more in the vein of APC’s arena rock style. The latter half loses quite a bit of steam, but overall, Eat the Elephant is a respectable return to form for a group which seems to have matured quite a bit during its hiatus.
6. Meir De Noms (2000) – A Perfect Circle
Following the massive success of Tool, and during a very odd time for rock music in general, A Perfect Circle was formed by MJK and Billy Howerdel and released their debut album, Meir De Noms to massive critical and commercial success. The group’s sound was much more oriented toward arena and alternative rock, as apposed to the progressive and industrial styles that filled Tool projects.
Meir De Noms contains the band’s best and most popular song by a mile in “Judith,” but also features classics like “The Hollow,” and “3 Libras.” Throughout, Howerdel’s guitar is anthemic and Josh Freese’s drumming is explosive. Maynard’s vocals are, in many ways, given more focus here than on previous Tool projects and his lyrics take a turn for the platitudinous in the best possible way. If the album has one strike against it, it’s a general lack of cohesion and clear vision. However, Meir De Noms is an excellent debut LP and did a great job of setting APC apart from Maynard’s other projects.
5. Undertow (1993) – Tool
Oh, how we all miss the days of two Tool releases in back to back years! Following the breakout success of the Opiate EP, Tool followed up with their first full length project, which improved on their previous work in virtually every way. This album features classics like “Prison Sex,” and “Swamp Song,” as well as Tool’s first major hit, “Sober.”
Undertow is also where we hear Maynard beginning to come into his own as a writer and performer. His screams are powerful and his running vocal lines are nearly ethereal. The record is far better mixed and recorded, though still not as tight as later projects, and there’s a certain air of professionalism about Undertow that begins to make Tool feel like as special a band as they are. Overall, it’s an excellent studio debut and features some of the band’s best instrumentation and MJK’s best lyrics.
4. Thirteenth Step (2003) – A Perfect Circle
The highlight of APC’s catalog, Thirteenth Step is the Terminator 2 of alt-rock albums. Everything we loved from the debut is back, but better focused and turned up to 11. The non-cohesive but impressive tracklist of the debut is replaced with a moody, melodic piece of alt/arena rock with a clear and decisive aesthetic.
Nearly every song on this album is fantastic, but a few of my favorites include, “Blue,” “The Outsider,” and “Pet, although my personal favorite from the album has to be the orchestral reimagining of Failure’s “The Nurse Who Loved Me.” The entire album is a testament to what can be accomplished by two especially creative artists when they mesh well and benefit from excellent work ethics. Thirteenth Step was APC’s second consecutive platinum album and it left the band with hits that are still popular today, 15 years later.
3. 10,000 Days (2006) – Tool
For many Tool fans, this is the end all be all of Tool albums. In fact, I’d even call it my personal favorite, if I wasn’t speaking critically. Released in 2006 after a five year hiatus, 10,000 Days is the most recent Tool album to date, and it is, in some ways, the completion of an arc which began with ’96’s Aenima, that being the gradually increasing psychedelic and progressive influences into the band’s alt-metal roots. This album gives itself fully over to the prog side and it is from this that both its strengths and weaknesses are born.
There isn’t a single track that clocks in under six minutes, save the “Blame Hoffman,” interlude which is nearly four minutes of purely atmospheric build up. “Rosetta Stoned,” is nearly 11 minutes of blistering rock music with some of the best drum work of Danny Carey’s career. The highlight of not only the album, but possibly Tool’s entire catalog, is the two part epic of “Wings for Marie,” and “10,000 Days,” which chronicles the passing of Maynard’s mother, and her ascension to heaven. It’s a piece of pure art which will leave goosebumps on the arms of anyone with a pulse. My only hangup with this album, however, comes in the long and sometimes aimless interludes. Where earlier intros like “Parabol,” felt like a lingering shot of runners on their blocks before a race, a track like “Lipan Conjuring,” seems to spin its wheels and never get anywhere. Regardless, 10,000 Days is Tool’s most personal effort, and one of my all time favorite albums.
2. Ǽnima (1996) – Tool
When it came to deciding my top two for this list, I found the decision virtually impossible, and my opinion may even change day to day, but in the end, and through no fault of its own, Aenima lands at number two. Following the breakout success of Undertow, Aenima takes Tool’s hard rock sound and adds a multitude of brand new layers.
“46 & 2,” and “Pushit,” deal in complex issues with a kind of reverence which was somewhat new to the band at this time. On the other hand, “Stinkfist,” “H.” and “Eulogy,” touch on serious moral issues with a cynical humor that only Maynard can execute this well. Beyond that, even, tracks like “Hooker With a Penis,” and the title track feature the kind of dark humor which would be largely absent from either of Tool’s post Aenima efforts. But it’s the closer, “Third Eye,” that sets a precedent for what we could expect in the future. Clocking in over 13 minutes and making the most of a couple hilarious Bill Hicks samples, the track is a sprawling, expansive end to an incredible album. Aenima is so very close to being perfect, but for me, it’s beat out ever so slightly by our number one.
1. Lateralus (2001) – Tool
It’s virtually impossible to name the best Tool album, let alone the best album from all of MJK’s catalog, but if it must be done, I simply can’t place anything above Lateralus. I tend to view Tool’s last three albums as a trilogy, following an especially gifted alt-metal four piece as they grow to an infamous, prog-metal juggernaut, and in that sense, the fast majority of the leg-work is done by Lateralus. With a tracklist featuring much longer tracks, including “Reflection,” which clears 11 minutes, lofty concepts, and a heavy influence on math and sequences, Tool challenged themselves in nearly ever conceivable way and they succeeded.
Tracks like “Schism,” and “Ticks and Leaches,” showcase Tool’s remarkable ability to bend time signatures and tempos, “The Grudge,” and the title track feature Adam Jones’ gritty, powerful guitar work, and “Parabol,” and “Parabola,” is one of the best two part tracks of all time, slowly developing into explosive payoffs. Throughout Maynard’s voice is dynamic, ranging from guttural screams to droning, contained melodies with equal intensity and brilliance. His melodies are every single bit as well written as any riff or beat on the project, and his lyrics are meticulous, yet thematic. All of this is tied together by the legendary David Bottrill, who’s work in the producer’s chair elevates this record to all new heights. Put simply, Lateralus is a remarkable accomplishment for one the greatest bands of all time, and the crown jewel in MJK’s legendary catalog.