10 bands whose second album was their best

Matt Benton <matt@holdtight.co>

Not every band hits the ground running. Some take a while to reach full speed. For them, their debut album was a warm-up lap – or in some cases a false start – and it's the follow-up where everything comes together in one glorious rush of genius. Of course, that's not always the end of the story – many of these outfits go on to make other great albums. But for these 10 bands, their second album remains the pinnacle of their often-illustrious careers.

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Fear Factory – Demanufacture (1995)

With their second album, Fear Factory refined and sanded down the more extreme elements of their sound with stellar results. The nodes aligned perfectly on Demanufacture, leaving an indelible mark on the decade and remaining to this day one of the most forward-thinking metal albums ever created: a bleak view of a dystopian future that still hits home with the force of a piston factory.

Alice In Chains – Dirt (1992)

Alice In Chains' debut offering, Facelift, helped to catapult a nascent Seattle scene into the mainstream. By 1991, and the releases of Nirvana's Nevermind, Pearl Jam's Ten and Soundgarden's Badmotorfinger, the whole world had been introduced to this brand new genre – grunge – and it had taken on a life of its own. 

But everything was just about to get darker – a whole lot darker – with AIC's sophomore record, Dirt. Heavy, bleak and brutally self-lacerating, Dirt was AIC’s epic junkie confessional. Sadly, it’d prove all too prophetic for Layne Staley.

Nirvana – Nevermind (1991)

You cannot overstate the influence Nirvana have had on the geography of music since the release of their second album in 1991. In one fell swoop metal and rock  were irrevocably altered and the doors to the charts were smashed open for a legion of bands that would include The OffspringGreen Day and even Weezer.

Trivium – Ascendancy (2005)

So much has already been written about Ascendancy’s impact, but even after all these years it still sounds like it could take on the world and smugly laugh atop its fallen adversary. When every song could be a single (even the B-sides are essential) and the likes of Light To The Flies and Pull Harder On The Strings Of Your Martyr are essential additions to any 00s playlist, it’s easy to see why Trivium were hailed as metal’s new heroes.

Kyuss - Blues For The Red Sun (1992)

Kyuss are what Black Sabbath would sound like if they’d grown up in the desert, and Blues For The Red Sun is a work of genius –  one which would directly and indirectly feed into what followed in the 1990s. Distortion, nu metal, grunge… it’s all here, through songs like Green Machine, Molten Universe and Thong Song. Without realising it, Kyuss clearly defined a brave new world.

Mastodon – Leviathan (2004)

Mastodon’s second album was the point where it became apparent that they were more than just another sludge metal band content to churn out filthy great riffs to clubs of sweaty fans until the end of time. Leviathan features all the elements that would come to define the Atlanta band, from stunningly heavy riffs to the vortex-warping prog wizardry and the conceptual narrative that would become part of the band’s arsenal.

Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral (1994)

While The Fragile remains Trent Reznor’s greatest statement in a sense of scope, The Downward Spiral is Nine Inch Nails’ definitive moment and one of the grimmest depictions of the human condition ever. Loops of live drums, anaemic, wiry guitars, bass-heavy death-funk and the unbearably stark Hurt – rock rarely gets bleaker or more brilliant than this.

Celtic Frost – Into The Pandemonium (1987)

Former Celtic Frost mastermind Tom Fischer – aka Tom G Warrior – is one of metal’s great visionaries, and the Swiss band’s second full-length album was his magnum opus. No band has made an album like Into The Pandemonium before or since. Taking thrash metal as their jumping off point, Frost dived into uncharted territory for bands: mournful requiems, operatic laments, post-punk covers, primitive hip hop and even pop-friendly backing singers – no musical path was off limits. Not for nothing was it christened ‘avant garde metal’ – this was something entirely new.

Cradle Of Filth - Dusk And Her Embrace (1996)

The pinnacle of Cradle Of Filth’s ‘green period is a masterclass in extreme metal. Epics such as Heaven Torn Asunder and A Gothic Romance (Red Roses For The Devil’s Whore) are inspired by Sisters Of Mercy as much as they are Emperor, taking the ugly face of black metal and spurting a garishly gothic seed all over it. Everything from Dani Flth’s yearning, Byronic lyrics to the expansive production values oozes the kind ambition other bands from their genre have rarely matched.

Testament – The New Order (1989)

Arriving almost two years to the day after their debut, the band’s second album took The Legacy’s blueprint and upped the stakes to produce their finest collection of songs to date. Into The Pit, Disciples Of The Watch and the title track are indispensable thrash hallmarks while even the rushed Aerosmith cover – added to fulfil the contractually obliged 40-minute length – adds to The New Order’s formidable status.

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