Welcome to Throwback Thursday! This is the place we get to indulge in nostalgia and wax poetic about excellent metal of years past. So sit back, relax, and grab a whiskey, because we're going on a journey in search of modern albums that have primed the canvas of today's metal music scene.
The contemporary albums in this series serve as tributaries that have, for better or worse, altered the course of the flowing blackness that is the metal steam of life. For this, the first-ever edition of this series, I want to start us off slowly with an album whose presence may not strike you as game-changing, but managed to to make metal accessible and more appealing to a wider range of fans.
Soilwork's Natural Born Chaos
The fourth album from Soilwork, Natural Born Chaos, is a standout from their 20-year career. Natural Born Chaos blends fast and catchy songs with the emerging trends of turn-of-the-century metal. The distinctive writing style and easily-recognizable, aggressive vocalizations of Björn ”Speed“ Strid find a sweet spot in this 10-song assemblage. This album, co-produced by Heavy Devy AKA Devin Townsend and Fredrik Nordstrom, is a notable winner thanks to its accessibility. Bridging between American nu-metal trimmings and European sensibilities, Natural Born Chaos appeals to a wide variety of metal AND rock fans. It's success landed Soilwork on eclectic bills which helped introduce hardcore metal concepts to a much larger audience.
Melodic death metal was, at the time of Natural Born Chaos's release, all-in-all a newer genre. It's quite popular today, thanks to the enthralling and appealing mix of beautiful amid brutal moments. Many bands such as Amorphis, Children of Bodom, and Arch Enemy tend to fall somewhere under melodic death metal's umbrella. Natural Born Chaos is no exception, exemplifying heavier, biting moments spliced with lingering, prettier solos. The songs on this album are not only melodic, they're story-telling in a more subtle fashion. Unlike some of their contemporaries in the genre, Natural Born Chaos is compelling without being savagely dark and dissonant. The key to this album's success is that these stories are not overly complicated. The simplicity of their ideas is well-executed, keeping in mind the bands' energy and strong-points, resulting in an album that is easy to listen to. Opening song "Follow the Hollow" is a stand-out track that embodies these concepts perfectly.
Prior to the release of Natural Born Chaos, Soilwork had already created 3 albums: Steelbath Suicide (1998), The Chainheart Machine (2000), and A Predator's Portrait (2001) – and they're all fantastic. Musically, however, they're all over the board. Each album feels as if it has trouble deciding what it wants to be when it grows up. This results in a collection that isn't three individual stories, as much as it is severely talented people coming up with riffs and making a boat-load of songs. These prior albums still sound distinctly like something Soilwork would make. However, Natural Born Chaos is the place where the genre-bending settles into a formula that simply works. Check out the crown-jewel of the album "As We Speak":
Goddamnit, "As We Speak" is a great song. We find Strid lookin’ a little Billy Corgan-y, but, I like that the video is stripped down and without pretension. The trumpety-synth during the chorus is a brilliant little hook. The breaks of intensity and time-signature changes throughout give the song a subtle momentum and depth.
The album is solid start to finish. Other standout tracks include" Song of the Damned" – a slower but intense song that could almost be called a ballad. "The Flameout" has incredible drum work that gives me the "I just smelled something bad" face because it’s so good.
I give Natural Born Chaos it's honorary place here on Throwback Thursday because it brought double-bass, harmonized solos, chuggy intricate interludes, and mix of clean vocals and growls to a world-wide audience. The melodic death metal we have today no doubt takes a chapter from their book. This particular album came out the in the same year as Opeth's monumental game-changer Deliverance. And yet, it and still manages to find its influence alongside such a heavy-hitter.
I wouldn't be the first person to call this album perfect. It has its drawbacks of repetitive vocalizations, and the stand-out tracks are so good, that the other tracks pale a little in comparison. However, Natural Born Chaos is a great addition to any heavy library.
What albums do YOU consider classics? I'd love to hear from you, and thanks for stoppin' by!