Hellbilly Deluxe 2 by Rob Zombie
I've been a fan of Rob Zombie's solo career ever since I stumbled across a CD of Hellbilly Deluxe in 1998 and decided to give it a shot, mostly because I really liked the White Zombie single "More Human Than Human." HD was a revelation to me, and I was hooked on Rob Zombie ever since. I even had the pleasure of seeing him perform live in concert twice (including one time with Lacuna Coil opening--a great show!).
His latest, Hellbilly Deluxe 2, lives up to its name as a return to form after 2006's disappointing Educated Horses. Though it doesn't quite reach HD standards--I think I'd put it more on par with 2001's The Sinister Urge--Zombie's back to his old tricks of incorporating church bells and snippets of dialogue from cult films into his songs. There are a number of tunes on HD2 that are directly reminiscent of that original juggernaut album: "Mars Needs Women" (despite its minute-and-a-half-long acoustic guitar intro), "Virgin Witch," "Werewolf Women of the SS" (which includes clips from Zombie's own Grindhouse trailer of the same name) and "The Man Who Laughs" (if you're not counting the tedious, 4-minute drum solo--WTF, Zombie?). The only problem with Hellbilly Deluxe 2 is its lack of standouts. There's no "Dragula" to be found here, no "Living Dead Girl" or "Bring Her Down (to Crippletown)." That said, though, the disc has really been growing on me. I find myself listening to it a lot, and taken as a whole it's actually much better than the sum of its parts.
Indestructible by Disturbed
I've been a longtime fan of Disturbed's too, ever since I first heard the songs "Stupify" and "Down With the Sickness" back in the early Aughts. I feel like Disturbed really came into their own, though, with 2005's disc Ten Thousand Fists, and 2008's Indestructible, which I finally got my hands on, continues in that same vein. Though now Disturbed's two distinct styles are gelling: on this disc, songs utilizing the intelligent, emotive hard rock of Fists are joined by songs in the older, insanely aggressive style of 2000's The Sickness, making Indestructible a nearly perfect album for Disturbed fans from start to finish. It's enough to make me forget about their lackluster 2002 disc Believe.
However, if there's one bad thing to be said about Indestructible, or perhaps Disturbed in general, it's that there's a sameness to the music--sometimes it feels like the same chords and the same notes over and over again. Often, David Draiman's vocals are varied enough to keep you from noticing, but play this album enough and it starts to show through.
Hypnotize by System of a Down
In terms of sheer diversity of song styles, System of a Down's 2005 disc Hypnotize, which I also just finally got a hold of, tops the other two hands down. In twelve short tracks, Hypnotize almost comes off like an anthology of different bands, with only Daron Malakian's instantly recognizable voice--he reminds me of a cantor in a synagogue--alerting the listener to the fact that it's all being done by the same group. System of a Down gets more mature with each release, and even if I find their political commentary overly simplistic at times, their songs still have a depth and resonance that makes them stand out from the forgettable rock tunes about cars and chicks. As with Hypnotize's companion album from the same year, Mezmerize, the real joy for me isn't in the thrashing guitar or speed singing, but in the moments when the songs slow down and the vocal harmonizing kicks in. That more than anything is when I realize I'm listening to an extremely talented band. I'm tempted to say Hypnotize is a slightly superior album to Mezmerize, but that may just be a reaction to how new and shiny it is to me. Taken together, as they were intended to be, the two albums form quite a good musical journey.