Monday, October 12, 2015

Top 10: Bands With Only One Album

So much music, so little time!



Music is a vast oasis, and especially nowadays, there are so many different choices open to us as listeners. Whether it's classics from the past or the latest hit of the summer, we all have those songs and albums that define our musical character and are regular staples on our personal playlists.

While we all have our favorite bands and artists, and the “one-hit wonders” whose tunes we all remember but whose names we have forgotten: what about that gray area of the bands and artists who only ever released one album, but it was so good that we still consider it a favorite? Those bands who seemed like they had a bright future ahead of them with this one album, but then disappeared entirely? Those singular albums that from album opener to closing track, was nothing short of perfect?

I got to thinking about this when I was listening to an album a few days ago that falls into this category for me (and will be on this list): what are some of my personal favorite “singular albums” (for lack of a better term)? Which of these have stood the test of time and that I would deem just as good as any effort from any of my favorite artists? Maybe some of these you have never heard of, and hopefully by reading this you might feel inclined to listen to them (if you can find them!). Likewise, maybe there are some out there I have never heard of that some of you would like to share with me in the comments section.

The “rules” are pretty simple: I thought for a moment of including bands who may have released two albums as part of this list, but I think for now I will just stick to the artists that packed a lifetime of great music into one album. The only exception I have made in one or two instances are bands who released one full-length and maybe one EP or one single besides; but still technically only have one full-length studio album. There were also a few that I wanted to put on the list that I thought were the only albums of that band, but have since released material that I either have not heard yet or could not find when I tried to look online for them. So maybe I will make a separate entry later for these releases; but for now I'll just stick to the bands I know for certain made only one album in their brief existence.

Usually I am reluctant to make a “top 10” list of anything, but this is a unique subject and to try and think of more than 10 might be a little too far-reaching. To think of less than 10 would be too easy! So I think 10 is “just right”, and gives me incentive to give some real thought to those hidden gems I have enjoyed over the years.

I am also hesitant to name any releases that have made the standard lists that you can find with any Google search about this topic. (In other words, you aren't going to see yet another list including the Sex Pistols or Derek & the Dominoes; nothing against those bands, but I'm trying to do something different here.) At any rate, here's another blog entry dedicated to some of the unusual music I listen to!


Honorable mentions

Victor (S/T) (1995) 









The one and only solo effort from Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson, Victor is a departure from the progressive rock sound of Rush, but Lifeson's unique guitar style is prominent from the get-go.

Enlisting the help of talented Canadian vocalists such as Dalbello and Edwin (former vocalist of I Mother Earth), the Victor project runs the gamut from dark and eerie (such as on the eponymous title track), to quirky and campy on the song “Shut up Shuttin' Up”, which is nothing more than Lifeson's wife and her girl friend gabbing mindlessly over Lerxst's smokin' guitar riffs (punctuated by the gals at the end of every verse that he should just “shut up and play the guitar!”). If anything, this album is an interesting peek into Lerxst's mad genius; an open invitation into all that makes up the mind of the man who made the greatest Rock and Roll Hall of Fame acceptance speech of all time!



Geddy Lee: My Favorite Headache (2000)








Another Rush bandmember solo project, the triply-talented bassist/keyboardist/vocalist Geddy Lee ventures into solo territory with his only album, My Favorite Headache. Released back when Rush was on indefinite hiatus due to personal tragedies befalling drummer Neil Peart, many fans wondered at the time if this would be the closest we'd ever get to another Rush album again.

Just as it was with the Victor album for Alex Lifeson, Geddy's solo effort was something quite different from Rush, yet also distinctly familiar. Let's face it, no one has a voice like Ged's, so anytime he sings anything, it's just going to instantly be associated with Rush no matter what it is. But when you're also known as one-third of the most technically proficient power trio in the world, the drummers in your backing band can't be slouchers either: Geddy made sure of this by recruiting Seattle's finest, Matt Cameron; as well as Our Lady Peace drummer Jeremy Taggart.

Sonically, My Favorite Headache is probably more pop-rock or adult contemporary than progressive or hard-rock, but it's got Geddy's stamp all over it: the ever-familiar goofy sense of humor that Rush fans know so well is present on tracks like “Home on the Strange”; Geddy's ability to pen great rock melodies can be found on songs such as the title track, “Runaway Train”, and “Working at Perfekt”. Geddy's more sensitive side can be found with songs such as “The Angels' Share”, “Slipping”, and the deeply-personal ode to his Holocaust-survivor parents, the rousing album closer “Grace to Grace”. Word has it that this album is difficult to find these days, so if you come across it and you consider yourself a Rush fan, do yourself a favor and pick it up.


...And now, on to the actual list!

#10
Evilion: Vanity (2006)









Finland is known for its symphonic metal scene, so it's no surprise that there is an abundance of female-fronted symphonic metal bands from the region. However, Finland's Evilion did something a little different for their time, and might have even been trailblazers of the genre in their own way. Rather than incorporate the standard angelic female voice coupled with the growling male voice (the typical “beauty and the beast” formula that has become a staple in symphonic metal), Evilion had two female singers: one a sweet, operatic voice; the other, a strong rock voice. Nowadays it seems that the genre has evolved to where more bands are doing something similar to this, or finding vocalists who can pull off both types of vocal styles.

From the atmospheric opening track “My Silver” to the cinematic “Hide the Stars” to the doomy “Shadow”, all the way to the haunting album closer, “Mirage”; Vanity possessed all the components of a promising symphonic metal band on the rise. Something else that made them stand-outs at the time (which is also something that many bands seem to do a lot of nowadays): when Vanity was released, Evilion made the entire album available free for download on their site so as to reach as many new listeners as possible. Back when Evilion released this album, not a lot of bands were really doing these sorts of things, so while Evilion's time in the music world was short-lived, they seemed to have made a mark on the scene and left behind a musical blueprint for similar bands to follow.



#9
Meanstreak: Roadkill (1988)









Usually when the name Meanstreak is mentioned, it is in connection to Dream Theater; as three of the bandmembers of the all-female thrash-metal band are married to current or former members of the prog-metal giants. I admit, this affiliation is also where I first heard of the band! (That being said, I also think it's pretty cool that among the two factions, the women are in the thrash-metal band and the males are playing the melodic metal; where one might think the two would be reversed!)

However, if that's all you know Meanstreak for, then you are missing out on a metal masterpiece that is deemed one of the best thrash records of the ’80s by many fans of the genre; which is saying a lot, considering that the year 1988 alone brought us some groundbreaking thrash albums such as Metallica's ...And Justice for All and Slayer's South of Heaven, just to name a couple.

Even though this album only clocks in at a little more than 32 minutes, it packs a mighty punch with the opening title track, the Middle Eastern-inspired “Snake Pit”, headbang-inducing tracks such as “It Seems to Me” and the album's final song (which takes up one-fifth of the record's running time, reaching nearly 7 minutes!), “The Congregation”. This obscure classic is sure to please any thrash-metal purist, and anyone who considers themselves a fan of females in metal needs to add this prize to their collection.



#8
Temple of the Dog (S/T) (1991)









During the height of grunge in the early ’90s, some of the Seattle scene's heaviest hitters joined together to form a supergroup tribute to deceased Mother Love Bone frontman Andrew Wood, and Temple of the Dog was born.

Their one and only collaboration remains one of the best albums from the era and many Chris Cornell fans hold this in as high regard as any of his work with Soundgarden. The album's two singles, “Hunger Strike” and “Say Hello 2 Heaven” can still be heard on classic rock radio to this day, but this album has some other amazing tunes—the hard-rockin' “Pushin' Forward Back”, the bluesy album closer “All Night Thing”, or my personal favorite from the album (and one of my favorite songs that Chris Cornell sings, hands-down), “Call me a Dog”.

Most anyone who remembers the rock scene in the early ’90s probably remembers Temple of the Dog's self-titled release (if they didn't own it themselves), so this entry probably isn't as little-known as some of the others on this list. But on the other hand, since this album is nearly 25 years old, perhaps some of you readers out there who haven't thought of it in a while might want to dust off your copy sitting on the shelf and give it another listen; or maybe some of you younger readers who have only heard of the grunge era in passing might not necessarily know of this album in your search for Nirvana and Pearl Jam tunes to add to your classic ’90s playlists.

While Temple of the Dog was only a one-time project, this album stands as much as any other landmark release of the time as an embodiment of the grunge movement's refreshing innovation and exciting spirit.



#7
Sethian: Into the Silence (2003)









Another metal band from Finland, this was a sort of “supergroup” comprised of Tapio Wilska (former singer of Finntroll), ex-Wizzard guitarist Juuso Jalasmäki, and Nightwish bandmembers Tuomas Holopainen and Jukka Nevalainen. The farthest thing from symphonic metal, Into the Silence is more hard rock-influenced with some gothic and progressive overtones; very reminiscent of Queensrÿche, whom the band cites as a major influence.

Nicknamed “the most wicked voice in metal”, Wilska shows off his vocal chops outside of his ability to growl and grunt with the best of 'em: his singing voice is no less powerful, as proven on songs such as “Blood Calling” and “Dead Reckoning”; but also invitingly hypnotic on tracks like “Love Under Will”, “Dream Domain”, or my favorite track from the album, “Magdalene”. It's really a shame nothing more came of this band; but I suppose when two of your bandmembers are part of the most world-famous band in Finland, it's a little hard to get together and jam on new songs!



#6
Salty Dog: Every Dog Has its Day (1990)









L.A. sleaze-rock at its most decadent, Salty Dog embodied the Sunset Strip scene in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Not to be confused with the perfectly-coiffed glam-metal pretty boys that are often associated with the Hollywood metal scene, Salty Dog is gritty, down-and-dirty, and just good old-fashioned rock-and-roll music.

For being their only album, Every Dog Has its Day is 13 songs chock-full of naughty, trashy hard-rock goodness. The album's opening track and only radio/video single, “Come Along”, was one of the last songs ever played on KNAC before they went off the air, so Salty Dog will always be tied to those memories of my days as a young metalhead and all the great music I was lucky enough to have discovered during that time.

Tunes like “Cat's Got Nine”, “Ring my Bell”, and “Heave Hard (She Comes Easy)” are cheeky, feel-good rock songs that make you want crank the volume up and get into a party mood. They can also get bluesy and soulful with tracks like “Lonesome Fool”, or pen a ballad worthy of lighter-waving such as “Sacrifice Me”. Jimmi Bleacher has got some fuckin' pipes on him, as demonstrated on a song like “Come Along” (of which the last vocal line is among some of my favorite high-pitched metal screams); guitarist Scott Lane gets down on the banjo on a couple of the tracks while bassist Michael Hannon holds down the groove; even drummer Khurt Maier gets his moment in the sun on the short instrumental track “Sim Sala Bim”. Pete Reeven is an unsung guitar hero, as shown on tracks like “Where the Sun Don't Shine” or the band's cover of Howlin' Wolf's “Spoonful”. Then the band absolutely tears it up on the all-out sleaze-rock jam that is the album's final track, “Nothin' But a Dream”. 

It's too bad we never heard more from these guys; as the scene changed drastically around the time their big break finally came, and they were one of the many promising young bands that were an unfortunate casualty in the whirlwind of grunge. If given a little more time, they might have really made some waves and given their big-name contemporaries a serious run for their money.



#5
Phoenix Reign: Destination Unknown (2007)










Not only is this one of my favorite singular albums, but this is one of my favorite albums in general.

Hailing from New York, Phoenix Reign is a fantastic power-metal band: their high-spirited anthemic music combined with ambitious lyrics rooted in Greek history, this female-fronted quintet charged out of the gates with this superb masterwork containing memorable tunes like “Transcendent”, “Masquerade Angel”, “Another Night Alone”, and the epic closing track “Constantinople 1453 (On the Eve of the Fall)”. With such a strong start, it seemed as though this band was poised to be one of the break-out stars in the rapidly-growing symphonic/power-metal scene in the U.S.; but sadly, Phoenix Reign faded away as quickly as they came. However, this album stands as a testament to what power metal is capable of at its best.

Too often power metal has been accused of staying in the same place creatively and never venturing outside of the same tried-and-true methods that has gained its loyal following in the first place. But an album like Destination Unknown shows what can happen when those same creative boundaries are pushed beyond their limits. If you consider yourself a fan of the genre, or of good female-fronted metal, you owe it to yourself to give this album a listen.



#4
Demolition Pit: 13 Lessons in Aggression (1996)


Declared as “Southern California's answer to Pantera”, Orange County's Demolition Pit was another one of those local bands that never quite experienced the success they might have had under different circumstances.

I discovered the band's music through a chance meeting with the band's bass player, Raul, while at the beach one day. I instantly became a fan, and it was really cool to watch them rise through the club scene, to getting airplay on KNAC in those final months before its demise, to the pinnacle of watching them open for the legendary Motörhead at Lemmy's 50th birthday party gig; where Metallica made a surprise guest appearance, and Will (the band's drummer) got to play on Lars Ulrich's kit! (This was also my very first date with my boyfriend; who I am still with to this day. Just goes to show that metal is the secret to a long-term relationship!)

Sadly, that was probably the beginning of the end for Demolition Pit, as inner band turmoils caused lineup changes and the overall music scene kept shifting further from metal. Unfortunately, I learned several years ago that Raul had passed away, and at the time Demo Pit was still trying to make a go of things as a 5-piece, and changed their sound from more of a thrash vibe to a hard-rock or alternative sound; but they never reached the brass ring that seemed just within their grasp in the mid-’90s.

Nonetheless, 13 Lessons in Aggression still remains a kick-ass album from one of my all-time favorite local bands, and I still listen to it to this day. Songs like “Wrong Doings”, “Fight”, and “Control” are still perfect go-to songs when you need a little music to let off steam in a pissed-off mood.



#3
Spys 4 Darwin: Microfish (2001)


Take one part Sponge, two parts Alice in Chains, and one part Queensrÿche, and you've got Spys 4 Darwin, one of the first supergroups of the 2000s and overlooked entirely when referencing the wave of supergroups to have formed over the decade. 

A 6-song EP that is filled with just the kind of grunge-laced alternative rock that you would expect from a lineup featuring 3 prominent Seattle musicians; even if one of them is known more for progressive metal than for alternative music. Sponge vocalist Vin Drombowski's gravelly vocals shine on the opening track, “Submission in Love”, and the Alice in Chains rhythm section of Mike Inez and Sean Kinney rock it out from start to finish. An album that is so rooted in grunge influences, however, is brought a little bit of progressive melody when you add former Queensrÿche guitarist Chris DeGarmo to the fold. His intricate guitar sound is apparent on the entire EP, but most espeically on songs like “Dashboard Jesus”, “Insomnia Station”, and “Cold Dead Hands”. 

This is another short-lived supergroup that showed so much potential and possibility, but ultimately were pulled away by their original bands or other projects, and that is a crying shame. Since Alice in Chains has since regrouped over the years, it doesn't look like a possible Spys 4 Darwin reunion is in the cards either. But Microfish is a stand-alone solid piece of work and if you were/are a fan of the grunge movement or of ’90s alternative rock, then add this to your music library if you are lucky enough to find it!



#2
For my Pain...: Fallen (2003)


Yet another supergroup on the list, and another one from Finland besides; For my Pain's Fallen is a gothic-rock masterpiece that to this day, I find myself still listening to quite often and would cite as one of my top-favorite albums of all time (in case you haven't figured it out, this was the album I was listening to when I got the idea to make this list).

Featuring an all-star lineup from all across the Finnish metal scene, For my Pain is another supergroup that Tuomas Holopainen was involved with during 2003 when Nightwish was on a brief hiatus while then-vocalist Tarja was finishing her studies in Germany. Ex-members of Charon, Reflexion, and Eternal Tears of Sorrow also make up the band's lineup. 

Many fans of the Finnish metal scene hold this album in high regard; with dark, beautiful melodies on songs like “Dancer in the Dark”, “Sea of Emotions”, and “Bed of Dead Leaves”, it's easy to understand why. Both the opening track, “My Wound is Deeper Than Yours”, and the deliciously wicked “Dear Carniwhore” are quintessential gothic rock, fused with just enough high-energy hard rock that makes you instantly want to turn it up loud and get to rockin’. Whether it's Juha's seductive vocals, Tuomas' trademark keyboard sound, or the impassioned twin-guitar work of Olli-Pekka Törrö and Lauri Tuohimaa; For my Pain is a must for fans of Finnish rock bands like HIM or The 69 Eyes.

The band released a follow-up single in 2004, “Killing Romance”; but no more has been heard from them since, and both Fallen and the “Killing Romance” single are hard-to-find rarities these days. Whenever asked about a possible For my Pain reunion, Tuomas has joked that everyone is so involved with their own bands and projects that they will probably all be in the retirement home before they find the time to make another album together!



#1
Vendetta (S/T) (1993)


Originally based in Texas, Vendetta was one of the many bands who came to Southern California in the late ’80s/early ’90s, trying to make a go of the still-thriving Sunset Strip scene. Just like any other band in the stage of trying to get their name out there, they still had to work day jobs to support themselves while waiting for their lucky break; and this is where I first met Vendetta's vocalist Ron James, who was working at the same place as a close family friend.

It was the summer of 1992, right before I turned 14, and was definitely at that point in my life where music was starting to become a huge part of my identity. Ron shared with me his band's demo tapes, which I loved and played nonstop that summer. I guess you could say that Vendetta was my very first concert ever, but I never looked at it that way because Ron was a friend, so we were supporting a friend by coming out to watch his band. But I have to admit, as a young teenage girl, I thought Ron was gorgeous; he was probably my first real real “rock-star crush”, and his onstage performance left a lasting impression on me. Then again, watching him strut on stage and flaunt his masculine attributes during a song called “Sex” is certainly going to have some kind of impact! 

Still, I am not a shallow person and at the end of the day, it is all about the music. Listening to this many years later, there is much of it that could be considered derivative of the sound during the tail-end of that era, such as the power ballad “Julia Smile” (which, if it had been given the right exposure, probably would have been a huge MTV hit), still one of the most beautiful rock ballads I've ever heard. Songs like “Can't Get There From Here”, “Welcome to the Real World”, and “Smile” (featuring some of my favorite lyrics: “smile, never show the real emotion...smile, it's only for a while”) showcase the band's shining talent and ability to craft great rock songs filled with melody and good hooks. But it's the stand-out closing track “The Night” that is the ultimate proof that they had more going for them and might have possibly hit their stride with another album or two. I still have the 3-song demo tape that Ron gave me over 20 years ago, and I remember how happy I felt for them when I saw the ad in Metal Edge magazine for this album. 

Here we have yet another band that got swallowed up in the tidal wave of grunge, but at least they did manage to release this one album before quietly fading into the annals of time. Sadly, a few years ago, when looking online to see if I could find any copies of the super-rare album available, I learned that Ron James had died tragically in a plane crash back in 2009. Unfortunately, I can find no further information about this, so if anyone has any more info besides the one website that has it mentioned in a Google search, I'd appreciate it. Needless to say, I'm very saddened to hear about this, even if it did happen over 6 years ago. I do not know Ron's actual age at the time of his passing, but I think it's safe to say that he was not exactly an old man when he left this world, which is a tragedy unto itself. I don't know why learning about this pierces my heart the way it has, but it does. 

Over the years, Vendetta's only album has been a constant favorite that I have turned to many times; it was one of the first albums I transferred to my MP3 player when I got one, because it's that much a part of my life. You can still find me listening to it on a fairly regular basis; depending on my mood, it can be anywhere from a couple times a year to several times a week. Classic music is timeless and this album gets my top pick because over 20 years later, it still sounds as new and exciting to me as those summer days in 1992 when I discovered my love of sharing the gift of music with others, when I went all over my neighborhood plastering flyers for Vendetta shows all over the place.

Ron gave me a rare gift when he shared his music with me; in an indirect way, he helped turn my path to the course it is on now, and it is because of him that I discovered my passion for sharing music with others. I am only sorry that I will never get the chance to tell him this. But for all of you reading this, maybe some of you will be curiously interested in hearing this band, and for every one of you who will seek out this long-buried treasure, Ron's gift of music will live on.

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The point of making this list was not only to share some rare and obscure albums that you may not have heard of, but also to show what a lasting power music has whether a band or artist has a long-time career or if they were just a blip on the screen. Much of what gives music that sort of power is from the emotional connections people form with songs or albums. Just a few notes of a long-forgotten song can instantly transport you back to a happier time in your life, or comfort you in difficult times. 

So, when compiling this list and choosing the top entry, it was a no-brainer that I would pick an album that has not only held up over the years, but is also tied in to personal memories; because good music should both stand the test of time and have the ability to connect with the listener. In fact, all of these albums have some sort of personal connection to some place in time in my life; some more than others, but all of them represent some chapter either in my evolution as a music listener, or in my own life.

This is why I wanted to make such a list, because I think it is a pretty cool idea that there are bands and artists out there who managed to create the soundtrack of a lifetime all in just one release. Maybe some of them expected to go on further and do greater things; or maybe some of them felt that they said all they needed to say in just one go-around. Whatever their intention, music lives forever so long as there is one person to listen to it. So it is with that hope that those of you who took the time to read this will also feel inclined to seek out these albums and listen with an open mind and an honest heart.

How about all of you? What are some of your favorite “singular albums”? Share them with me in the comments section, because I'm sure there are some I have forgotten, and I always like to discover new music!

Until next time...

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Special thanks to the good folks at the Counterparts Forum for engaging in discussion on this very topic and being the deciding factor on adding the two honorable mentions to the list.

1 comment:

  1. I thought nobody remembered Evilion!! I still have that album from their digital giveaway... Coronatus' debut came out a bit later, so yeah, Evilion must've been something of "forefathers" of the "double female fronted" thing. I wish there were more of those, though. I can only remember these two. Why She Kills had their demos out around the same time, although they were more of a "rocker and a witch", with a rock voice and a growler.

    Floor Jansen has been doing her blend of pop/rock and classical vocals since 2001 at least - I remember we were listening to Decipher with a friend and she was, like, those two girls are cool, and I was, like, wait, it's the same singer, listen closer. Ah, good times.

    Sandra Schleret from that late 90s band Dreams of Sanity was more of an oldschool metal singer, although she had her classically sounding parts, so she also qualifies in a way.

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