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It's Friday, you know what that means, it's time for the new Question of the Week!
Everyone loves a good story. Humans are always drawn to fascinating stories, it's what makes us who we are. In celebration of this, I thought we would talk about concept albums this week.
What is a concept album? Simply put, it's a music album where all songs, when listened to in order, tell an overarching narrative through lyrics, musicianship and other means. Typically songs will flow between each other so that when listening to the whole record, its not clear where one track ends and another begins as they are all part of the same whole. Imagine every song being a chapter in one story that unfolds as you listen to the album. Now, often people also call an album conceptual when all songs simply follow a common theme. That may be the case, but that's a debate for another day.
The best way to illustrate this is with an example. Let's start with an absolute classic, The Wall by Pink Floyd. It tells the story of a jaded old rock star who becomes frustrated with society and goes into self-imposed isolation. The different songs explore his thoughts and feelings and his journey. In fact, most Floyd albums are conceptual:
Our next example is the classic known as Thick as a Brick by fellow British progressive rock legends Jethro Tull. This album shows another trend for concept albums - the whole record is one single 43 minute long song. It's only split into two parts in order to fit on both sides of a vinyl record. It's an amazing record and having a flute as a leading instrument makes JT a truly unique band:
On the poppier side of things, we have the album Trench by powerhouse duo Twenty One Pilots. This album tells the story of the city of Dema, which is surrounded by the titular Trench, and the lives and struggles of the children who live within it. This story is then used to explore personal themes as is typical for TOP:
Even the Queen Madonna's album Confessions on a Dance Floor can be considered conceptual. It's structured like a DJ set in a club and goes from happy dance songs to more personal confessions as the album progresses, hence the title:
On the heavier side of things, we have to talk about the dark masterpiece The Downward Spiral by industrial rock legends Nine Inch Nails. It tells the harrowing story of a man whose life has reached rock bottom and shows his turmoils until he reaches his tragic end as the album concludes. It's very heavy subject matter and it's exceptionally dark, but damn is it captivating:
From industrial rock to the pioneers of industrial metal, Fear Factory. Their 1997 masterpiece Obsolete is an amazing story-driven record about how machines have destroyed and superceeded humanity, humans themselves becoming obsolete, hence the title. The tale follows a man known as Edgecrusher, one of the few survivors, as he leads his rebellion against the mechanical overlords. In the physical issues of this album, there is text exposition and even dialogue between various characters included between the tracks that adds more context to the whole experience, it is really fascinating:
You can't talk about concept albums without mentioning progressive metal gods Dream Theater. Their most acclaimed record is Metropolis Pt. 2 Scenes from a Memory, an ecclectic and wild metal opera with an amazing narrative:
Or maybe their 2016 work The Astonishing, a 1 hour and 30 minute long double album behemoth exploring a dystopian future government toppled by a rebellion lead by the power of music:
One more shoutout, for Finnish melodic death metal legends Insomnium. Their 2016 epic Winter's Gate, which tells the adventure of a group of Vikings searching for a fabled island amongst insurmountable odds. The whole album is a single 40 minute long track, but for ease of the listener, this is divided into 7 parts covering a multitude of sonic landscapes:
To finish up, let's take it one step further. Concept albums are awesome, but how about a conceptual discography. Yes, you read correct. What if a band's entire career is building an overarching narrative similar to an epic fantasy series like the Wheel of Time or Game of Thrones? Those exist!
For one, we have Anglo-Scottish power metal party animals GloryHammer. Their entire discography details many generations of the Scottish rulers of the Kingdom of Fife, all named Angus McFife, as they battle the evil wizard Zargothrax and his plot for domination. The tales span many eras, starting from medieval times all the way to the distant future where humanity is a space-faring, galaxy-spanning race. Each band member potrays a character in the story and during live performances, they are in full costume and act in character, it's truly amazing:
Finally, we have the unique industrial metal masters from Mechina. Their entire discography details the story, called "As Embers Turn to Dust", of how Earth was ravaged by a global war, forcing humanity to abandon it and colonize new planets, the twin planets of Acheron and Xenon, many lightyears away in the distant future. Then, a war of untold proportions unfolds on these new worlds, fought by man and machine alike. It's an epic tale like no other. Oh, and this song here samples Bulgarian folk music. How cool is that? :
Anyway, I think I've rambled on long enough. Now I wanna get your scoop on this. What epic concept albums do you know? What are they about? Let us know, we'd love to hear them!