For a while now, I’ve been trying to think of an interesting ongoing feature for this site, a long-term project that would not only take some time to complete, but also provide me with something of a challenge. To the outsider, a top 100 albums list might seem like one of the most obvious choices possible and not a particularly challenging one either. I beg to differ. I’ve been living with some of my favorite metal albums for over a decade. They’re almost a part of me. Listening to them is nearly as routine for me as getting up at 6:15AM, taking a shower, brushing my teeth, getting dressed, hopping on the bus and heading into work Monday – Friday. What do you say about an album you’ve been so close to for so long, an album that has become a part of the very fabric of your existence? Herein lies part of the challenge. The other part lies in the fact that I am not an expert on metal, rather, I am a student of metal. I am still learning, still discovering new favorites all the time, whether they be in the form of recent releases or old classics I missed out on the first time around. I seriously doubt that THKD’s Top 100 Metal Albums will be totally solidified until the final entry is posted, and I envision a lot of agonizing in my future.
A few things to know before we begin. First, this list will be in no particular order. It would be next to impossible for me to sit down and rank a top 100 albums. The rankings would likely change daily depending on my mood and whatever bands/subgenres/etc I happen to be obsessing over at that particular moment. Second, I have no set timetable, schedule or completion date. This list is meant to be a living, breathing, ongoing project and I will work on it as inspiration comes to me and time allows… besides, I fucking hate deadlines. Third, this is a list of my favorite metal albums, and “favorite” doesn’t necessarily mean the same as “best” “most groundbreaking” etc. It does mean albums I love, albums I have a personal connection with, albums that make me want to fuck on the floor and break shit. Hopefully, this list will feature some albums you haven’t heard, haven’t thought of, or haven’t previously held in the same esteem that I do. That’s what makes these things fun!
So, without further ado, I present the first entry in THKD’s Top 100 Metal Albums…
Although the Netherlands might not be the first place that comes to mind when one thinks of the extreme metal, there can be no doubt that the country has made some unique contributions to the genre. Celestial Season’s awesome Solar Lovers just might be the pinnacle of those contributions, a gothic/doom/death metal masterpiece featuring dueling violinists and riffs for miles.
Easily rivaling and in some cases surpassing anything recorded by the “Peaceville Three” (aka Anathema, My Dying Bride and Paradise Lost), Solar Lovers is heavy, hypnotic, sorrowful and Sabbathian. It was probably amongst the most uncool albums to be unleashed upon the post-Cobain musical landscape of 1995 (which is definitely a big part of its charm). It must also be remembered that by 1995, the second wave of black metal had forever changed the prevailing concepts of musical extremity, death metal was in a state of decline and that doom metal, quite frankly, has never been cool. These factors seemingly go a long way towards explaining why Solar Lovers remains a largely overlooked/forgotten gem from that era.
Ah, but what a gem it is. Celestial Season certainly shared similarities with the aforementioned trio of UK death/doom bands, but the music on Solar Lovers is also possessed by an eerie, opium dream vibe (which can be largely attributed to the fuzzed-out yet thick as a brick guitar tone) that borders on both stoner rock and psychedelia, setting the Dutch septet apart from their contemporaries. Death metal is the smallest piece of the puzzle here, manifesting itself mainly in the vocal department, and the album is all the better for it. The druggy, doomy atmosphere created by the aforementioned down-tuned fuzz of the six-strings mixes with the gothic overtones of the violins to produce a truly intoxicating listen.
What really makes Solar Lovers worthy of the THKD Top 100 is the way it all flows together so perfectly. Each track stands on its own, yet all the tracks work together to create a complete listening experience, a journey into the realms of ultra-heavy, depressive yet trippy and darkly romantic soundscapes; even a cover of Ultravox’s ’80s new wave hit “Vienna” is seamlessly incorporated into Celestial Season’s forlorn, narcotic world. It’s positively tragic that Celestial Season would never make music this interesting again, totally abandoning their death/doom/gothic foundation in favor of a straight-forward stoner/desert rock sound, only to be met with deafening apathy.
Solar Lovers is special for me on a personal level because it’s an album I approached with zero expectations. I picked it up from a used CD bin for five bucks back when I’d blindly buy just about anything with a Metal Blade (they licensed the album from Displeased for North America), Relapse or Earache logo slapped on it, and it ended up blowing me away, becoming a staple of my metal listening for close to a decade now. To this day I’ve still never heard anything quite like it. I reckon it’s time to start hailing this largely unsung slab of death/doom as the classic that it is.