10 Best Metal Concept Albums
Concept albums can be a tough undertaking, as they leave a band with two difficult tasks — tell an interesting story and record some kick-ass songs. What these albums do is transcend the realm of music, weaving a story into their musical fabric and into the minds of listeners. In what can certainly be a daunting task, many bands have executed this album style to the point of near perfection.
Here, we’ve defined a concept album as having a plot, characters, and a setting. Albums with a general theme, like war among other things, get lumped into the concept category, but we are putting those albums aside in favor of ones that serve up a true musical narrative. Let your imagination take you on a journey through the 10 Best Metal Concept Albums:
‘The Crimson Idol’
Originally intended to be a solo album, Blackie Lawless spent three years creating what would become ‘The Crimson Idol.’ Replete with all of the rock star life excess, the story is a woeful one of success without happiness. The main character, Jonathan, is not accepted by his parents and he turns to drugs and alcohol after his brother is killed. He steals a guitar, becomes a star, but still never gains the acceptance of his parents. Unable to cope, Jonathan hangs himself using his guitar strings that were never able to give him the one thing in life he truly desired.
Florida’s Nocturnus broke ground for death metal in 1990, incorporating keyboards to texture the atmosphere, most noticeably in a sci-fi fashion. ‘The Key’ deals with a typical extreme metal lyrical affair with its anti-Christian content. A cyborg travels back in time to not only thwart the rise of Christianity, but erase it in its entirety. Nocturnus meld progressive elements in regards to a concept album and keyboards in a time when death metal was just getting its legs and taking shape, showing they were ahead of their time.
Mastodon have managed to carve their own niche in the metal world, achieving widescale success without compromise. Their sound took a leap with ‘Blood Mountain,’ and is their most curious release to date. The album deals with the struggle of climbing Blood Mountain to find the Crystal Skull, which will remove the reptilian brain and allow for the next step of human evolution. The climber encounters strange creatures on his ascent, including a Cysquatch, who warns him of what lies ahead. The music complements the story in equally wild and psychedelic nature.
‘Nightfall in Middle-Earth’
J. R. R. Tolkien’s work has had a big impact on the metal, but most fittingly in power metal. In 1998, Blind Guardian took on the daunting task of creating a concept album based on ‘The Silmarillion,’ which is comprised of five parts chronicling the universe of Eä and all the lands contained within it. ‘The Silmarillion’ details just about everything to give a backing story to ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ series. Blind Guardian insert spoken narratives between songs to help listeners keep track of the stories.
Progressive death metal masters Opeth took their music to new heights on ‘Still Life,’ their second concept album. A man is banished from the town for not having the same beliefs as everyone else, but returns after years of exile to Melinda, the woman he loves. She is engaged to another man, but stays with her original lover. Melinda is killed for this, and in a murderous rage, the exiled man takes the life of numerous townspeople. He is caught and hanged, but feels Melinda’s presence about him before his life is extinguished.
Edge of Sanity’s crowning achievement was ‘Crimson,’ an album consisting one 40 minute long death metal opus. The story is a tale of a world where humans can no longer breed. The King and Queen birth a daughter, which the people take as a sign for the future from God. After the King and Queen die, a new King wins the throne. The daughter gains power through an unholy entity, slays the new King, and rules Earth. She kills the elders and when rebels blind her, she is placed in a preservation tank of crimson fluid that held the elders.
‘Metropolis, Pt 2: Scenes From a Memory’
After endless requests from fans to write a sequel to the song ‘Metropolis, Pt. 1’ off ‘Images and Words,’ Dream Theater secretly labored away at what would become one of their most monumental albums. ‘Metropolis, Pt. 2: Scenes From a Memory’ is the story of a man, Nicholas, who believes he has lived a past life. While under supervision from the Hypnotherapist, Nicholas discovers the troubled past of a girl named Victoria. He becomes obsessed with unlocking the truth to her murder, unable to be at peace in the present until he finds the answer.
‘Seventh Son of a Seventh Son’
When Iron Maiden began to incorporate synthesizers into their sound, they sacrificed nothing in terms of quality. ‘Seventh Son of a Seventh Son’ is based off the Orson Scott Card fantasy novel, ‘Seventh Son.’ The story deals with a prophet being born in the manner of the title’s namesake, his struggles to understand his power, and the impending doom that lingers on the horizon. Iron Maiden took great care not to mention specific events from the novel, but depicting the concept and its underlying themes.
King Diamond has a dark and creative mind, telling a story with each one of his albums. The most horrifying story is undoubtedly ‘Abigail,’ an album full of eerie guitar work and a haunting production. The album starts with a gruesome scene of the seven Black Horsemen nailing the coffin lid shut of baby Abigail. The La’Fey couple move into a haunted mansion after declining the warnings of the horsemen. Miriam Le’Fay becomes impregnated with the ghost of Abigail. The baby is born and Miriam dies giving birth as the Black Horsemen arrive once again.
‘Operation: Mindcrime’ is a rarity in that it can be considered a truly flawless album in every aspect. The lyrics, music, and Geoff Tate’s voice have a bombastic synergy that saw Queensrÿche reach their creative maximum in 1988. The story is a flashback from the character Nikki, who is a heroin addict manipulated by the leader of a revolution, known as Dr. X. Nikki is brainwashed by Dr. X and becomes an assassin for the radical group’s plans for social and economic change. Later, Nikki is conflicted by his actions after he gains affection for Sister Mary. In the end, he awakes in the hospital as the album comes full circle.