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The Great Eight: Concept Albums

It's been awhile since I've done one of these. Basically, this is a list of my eight favorite concept albums (or, in one case, concept EP). I'm not trying to claim that these are the best eight concept albums out there by any means. Just that, in my entirely biased opinion, these albums are all really top-notch both musically and conceptually.
12The Receiving End of Sirens
The Earth Sings Mi Fa Mi


Honorable Mention: Not technically a concept album as much as a series of vignettes with a recurring theme, this is nevertheless one of the most riveting, haunting records I've ever heard. Who knew Misery, Famine, Misery could be so appealing and, now here's the scary part, relatable?
11Nine Inch Nails
Year Zero


Honorable Mention: The level of detail and calculation put into this release was astounding: the sheer number of websites dedicated to its alternate reality storyline is both overwhelming and engrossing; the political message, despite suffering from a distinct lack of subtlety, is all too relevant; the trailer is genuinely terrifying. Oh, and the music isn't half bad, either. The only reason this didn't make the list proper is because there was already a NIN release there.
10 Coheed and Cambria
Good Apollo, I'm Burning Star IV...


Honorable Mention: This isn't my favorite Coheed release musically. That honor goes to In Keeping Secrets. It is, however, my favorite in terms of The Story. The introduction of The Writer was a really big leap for the narrative. Poetry, it's not. Interesting, it most certainly is.
9 Iced Earth
The Gettysburg Trilogy


Honorable Mention: If the rest of the Glorious Burden had been more like these three songs, it would definitely be on here. Alas, this EP (along with the Dark Saga, and portions of Something Wicked This Way Comes) represents all Iced Earth can do when they tackle a concept seriously, and without the ridiculous cheesiness that has unfortunately become their trademark in recent years.
8Opeth
My Arms, Your Hearse


Restless spirits and mourning lovers. So typical metal, right? Well, not like this. Told from the perspective of a ghost, this is early-day Opeth at their most expansive. From jazzy interludes to folksy noodling to chugga-chugga death metal (a formula they would tweak, fine-tune, and, arguably, perfect on subsequent releases), this album is as strong in its musical diversity as it is in its story. Standouts: April Ethereal, When, Demon of the Fall.
7The Who
Tommy


What can I say that hasn't already been said? Probably more, but I'm tired, and you already know all you need to about this album. Highlights: Overture, Underture, Pinball Wizard, We're Not Gonna Take It.
6Fear Factory
Obsolete


Fear Factory hit their stride with this dystopian cautionary tale about man's dependence on technology (shocker). Reading the liner notes, it becomes clear just how cinematic this album really is in scope and presentation. Fortunately, the music is up to the challenge. Standouts: Edgecrusher, Freedom or Fire, Timelessness.
5Peter Gabriel
Us


Leave it to Mr. Gabriel to make an album about the disintegration of a marriage so infectious. Not poppy, mind you -- this is a far cry from So. In fact, the most blatant attempt to recreate that feel (Kiss That Frog) is also the album's weakest moment. For the majority of its running time, however, Us proves a beautiful, uncomfortably personal listen. Definitely thematic precursor to things like Cursive's Domestica. Standouts: Come Talk to Me, Blood of Eden, Steam, Secret World.
4Mastodon
Leviathan


Although Moby-Dick is certainly no stranger to the genre of metal, never before has a band so consistently tackled the subject with such tonal mastery. You truly believe you're being pummeled by waves and worse when listening to the aural mayhem Mastodon cooks up here. And the album artwork is beautiful. Standouts: Blood and Thunder, Megalodon, Hearts Alive.
3Ludo
Broken Bride EP


It's not too often that an album can rope pterodactyls, the Antichrist, zombies, and time travel together into one narrative and still make sense. It's even less often that an album can do so and incorporate a personal element that moves the listener to tears by the end. But leave it to Ludo to do it, and over the course of a mere five songs. Astounding. Standouts: whole thing.
2Nine Inch Nails
The Downward Spiral


Sometimes it takes a few listens for an album to sink in. For this, it took countless. But one day, it just clicked. It was somewhere during the transition from Big Man with a Gun to A Warm Place. The contrast there is an apt summary of the whole album, both aurally and lyrically. Extreme beauty and pathos contrasted with extreme hostility and desperation. Truly tragic, and darkly dynamic. Standouts: whole thing, again.
1Pink Floyd
The Wall


The 'Mother' of them all (amiright?), this double-disc exercise in ego could have been such a huge disaster. It's a testament to the writing skills of Roger Waters, the conflict avoiding skills of Gilmour, Mason, and Wright (ish), and the performance skills of the entire collective that this bloated collection is so stunningly cohesive. An in-depth analysis of schoolboy angst, wartime tragedy, the corrupting power of celebrity, fascism, racism, revolutions, prostitutes, drug abuse, parental smothering, and...well...you name it, this last truly great Floyd album is beautiful, intense, epic, and captivating. Standout tracks: In the Flesh, Goodbye Blue Sky, Mother, Comfortably Numb.
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