Adam Gardiner
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Favorite Metal Artists

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2734 reviews/ratings
WINTERHORDE - Underwatermoon Melodic Black Metal | review permalink
SONIC PULSAR - Playing the Universe Progressive Metal | review permalink
STAR ONE - Victims of the Modern Age Progressive Metal | review permalink
IRON MAIDEN - The Number Of The Beast NWoBHM | review permalink
DREAM THEATER - Images and Words Progressive Metal | review permalink
REBELLION - Miklagard - The History of the Vikings Volume II Power Metal | review permalink
BEYOND TWILIGHT - Section X Progressive Metal | review permalink
IMMORTAL - At the Heart of Winter Black Metal | review permalink
DARKOLOGY - Altered Reflections Progressive Metal | review permalink
CRUACHAN - Folk-Lore Folk Metal | review permalink
ALICE IN CHAINS - Black Gives Way To Blue Alternative Metal | review permalink
AYREON - The Final Experiment Progressive Metal | review permalink
BLIND GUARDIAN - Imaginations From the Other Side Power Metal | review permalink
EPICA - The Divine Conspiracy Symphonic Metal | review permalink
AYREON - The Human Equation Progressive Metal | review permalink
EPICA - Design Your Universe Symphonic Metal | review permalink
ASTARTE - Quod Superius Sicut Inferius Melodic Black Metal
AVANTASIA - The Metal Opera Power Metal
AYREON - 01011001 Progressive Metal | review permalink
REBELLION - Arise: From Ginnungagap to Ragnarök - The History of the Vikings Volume III Power Metal | review permalink

See all reviews/ratings

Metal Genre Nb. Rated Avg. rating
1 Power Metal 361 4.14
2 Progressive Metal 279 4.14
3 Heavy Metal 230 3.90
4 Atmospheric Black Metal 189 4.08
5 Black Metal 144 3.84
6 US Power Metal 132 4.22
7 Folk Metal 106 3.97
8 Symphonic Metal 103 3.79
9 Thrash Metal 96 4.05
10 Non-Metal 93 3.87
11 Death Metal 83 3.92
12 Technical Death Metal 76 4.20
13 Metal Related 64 4.03
14 Gothic Metal 62 3.85
15 Doom Metal 54 4.03
16 Hard Rock 54 3.90
17 Melodic Black Metal 51 4.14
18 Melodic Death Metal 51 3.90
19 Speed Metal 41 3.88
20 Stoner Metal 40 4.15
21 Alternative Metal 37 3.45
22 Symphonic Black Metal 28 4.09
23 Death-Doom Metal 26 4.15
24 Groove Metal 24 3.63
25 Atmospheric Sludge Metal 24 4.21
26 Viking Metal 23 4.11
27 Heavy Alternative Rock 22 3.27
28 Heavy Psych 22 4.34
29 Pagan Black Metal 21 3.86
30 Avant-garde Metal 20 3.88
31 NWoBHM 18 4.42
32 Traditional Doom Metal 18 4.33
33 Depressive Black Metal 17 3.82
34 Stoner Rock 15 3.97
35 Sludge Metal 15 4.10
36 Technical Thrash Metal 14 4.14
37 Funeral Doom Metal 14 4.11
38 Brutal Death Metal 12 3.25
39 Melodic Metalcore 12 3.38
40 War Metal 11 4.09
41 Metalcore 7 2.57
42 Proto-Metal 7 4.14
43 Industrial Metal 5 3.80
44 Neoclassical metal 3 3.83
45 Drone Metal 3 3.50
46 Deathcore 2 1.75
47 Death 'n' Roll 2 3.00
48 Crossover Thrash 1 3.50
49 Crust Punk 1 4.00
50 Trance Metal 1 0.50

Latest Albums Reviews

BLIND GUARDIAN Follow the Blind

Album · 1989 · Speed Metal
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Germany's Blind Guardian are undisputedly my favourite band. This is mostly because of what I think of as their holy trinity: Tales From the Twilight World (1990), Somewhere Far Beyond (1992) and Imaginations From the Other Side (1995). As far as I'm concerned if anyone claims that a stronger consecutive run of power metal albums (or even metal albums in general) exists then they must have been smoking something potent and highly illegal which left their brain addled beyond repair. But today we aren't here to talk about those albums. Before those came along, we had the original incarnation of Blind Guardian who played speed metal. Follow the Blind (1989) is the second and final album of this sound before they transitioned to power metal and history was made.

It had only been a little over a year since the release of Battalions of Fear (1988), but it's clear on Follow the Blind that Blind Guardian has become a much more polished and professional sounding unit in that time. This may be due at least in part to the band attracting Kai Hansen (Helloween) to guest on the album (and the two that follow it) and I'm sure the soon to be power metal band must have learned some tricks under the wing of one of the guys responsible for creating the genre they went on to play.

The debut Blind Guardian album of course has that special first album charm, that for me at least has always brought me to like it a little more than Follow the Blind. But this isn't an album that should be sold short or overlooked, despite it's quirk of closing with a cover of Barbara Ann originally by The Regents, which admittedly feels completely out of place. I actually stopped the album after the much more logical cover of Demon's Don't Break the Circle for many years and it was only later that I found an appreciate for Barbara Ann and started playing the album in its entirety. In hindsight it seems a rather ballsy thing for a band only on their second album to go ahead and do.

The original tracks on Follow the Blind are where it shines of course. Of particular note is Valhalla where we get guest vocals from Kai Hansen. I remember that as among the first Blind Guardian songs I heard and really loved. It had such a classic sound that screamed at me that this was what metal sound be all about. It remains a favourite Blind Guardian track to this day, with other highlights from the album being Banish from Sanctuary and Damned For All Time. The band's speed metal sound on this album is probably the closest they ever came to having some actual thrash metal material. If they'd been American, that's probably the direction they'd have taken next. Luckily they were German and speed metal over there meant proto-power metal rather than proto-thrash and so a legend was born.

While it's not quite top tier for Blind Guardian, Follow the Blind is an album I absolutely love. Even after listening to the band for over a decade, I'm still blown away by them and hold them up as the standard of what metal should be like.


Album · 1994 · Progressive Metal
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Every artist has at least one album, possibly several, that the majority of their fans will proclaim blasphemy of other fans if they refuse to be sheep and say they don't like it. For US progressive metal band Dream Theater they have three albums this could be said of. They are Images and Words (1992), Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory (1999) and the subject of this review, Awake (1994). The other two are pretty damn fine progressive metal records that are rightly held up as classic examples of their genre. Then there's Awake.

I don't like Awake.

There, I said it, may the God of Prog strike me down for being a heretic.

(The author of this review takes a moment to look around, waiting for a lightning bolt to smite him. Nothing happens, so he continues writing).

It's true, I do not like Awake. I do not hate Awake either, but there's a big difference between not hating something and actually liking it. Awake exists in a void between these two extremes, a void that we could know by various names like 'the middle of the road' or as the kids of today might say; 'meh'. It is an album that does have a few highlights like Lie and the acoustic The Silent Man is also pretty nice, but most of it is fairly average fare for Dream Theater, bland and worse than bland, also pretty soulless. Like the sound of a band who doesn't know quite how they should follow up Images and Words and just went through the motions for a follow-up.

I have owned Awake for a long time now. I don't recall exactly where or when I bought it but I reckon it was in either 2007 or 2008. Over a decade certainly. It was certainly after I'd bought at least Images and Words, Metropolis and Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence (2002) – the latter of which was my first Dream Theater album. I loved all of those releases. Then Awake inevitably came onto my radar. I was aware of it's reputation. I was excited to get a hold of a copy. And then I listened to it.

And it just wasn't very good.

I spent the next couple of years intermittently returning to Awake and hoping that it would click. It never did. And prior to this review I reached a point where I did not feel inclined to play Awake ever again. It has in fact been over ten years since I last played the album in full. This is more than Falling into Infinity (1997), it's follow-up, which I can honestly say I don't think I have ever listened to more than once (though I do intend to revisit that album soon). Today I finally got up the courage to listen to Awake again. And nothing has changed. It's still not very good, has only a few highlight moments that still pale next to those from other Dream Theater albums and it still comes across as soulless pap. It's also still not bad, also still not an album I actively dislike or hate (unlike their The Astonishing (2016)). Awake

The kindest thing I've ever really felt I could say about it is, as stated, that it's not an actively bad album. But in a twist of fate that's perhaps also the worst thing I can say about it as well. We can have a good laugh at a bad album then write it off and forget about it. Awake instead falls into the worse category of (almost) total mediocrity. At least with an out and out bad album you can pinpoint exactly what's wrong with it. But you'll still remember it, if for the wrong reasons. They say bad publicity is better than no publicity. For me that can also be applied to music: a bad album is still better than a forgettable album. Awake for me is a very forgettable album, yet technically has nothing wrong with it on paper.

I do not think that I will ever be able to understand why Awake remains so highly regarded among Dream Theater's work. I know from when I was first discovering the band that there is a faction of fans out there who remained really hung up on the Kevin Moore era of Dream Theater, so maybe that's why. Who knows? I certainly don't care at this point. For me there is absolutely no way that Awake should be mentioned in the same breath as Images and Words and Metropolis. Except of course, to distance it from them.

THE NEAL MORSE BAND The Grand Experiment

Album · 2015 · Metal Related
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I have a lot of favourite bands, but not so many individual musicians I could single out as being of particular renown to me. Sure, most bands have one or two more key members to their writing process, but historically it's only been Arjen Anthony Lucassen that I really felt was one of my favourite musicians. But I'm come to realise that there is one other I should put on that very short list. Neal Morse. A modern champion of progressive rock and prolific since getting his start with Spock's Beard. The Grand Experiment (2015) is the debut studio album from his The Neal Morse Band venture.

Many may see this entity as just an alternately named Neal Morse release, especially since the line-up features his usual collaborators Randy George (bass) and Mike Portnoy (drums), but it is actually a separate project, with a five piece main line-up completed by Bill Hubauer and Eric Gillette, both of whom provide vocals in the band in addition to their instruments (keyboards and guitars respectively), as does Portnoy, not just Morse, though he does remain the lead, especially on this debut, but that would change with their next release. It also features a collaborative effort at song-writing. With the notable exception of One (2004), Neal Morse solo albums are usually written solely or majorly by him alone.

It's easy to hear that this isn't the case with The Grand Experiment. While many Neal Morse elements are present, it has a distinctly differently feel, including the use of more hard rock/heavy metal elements (Eric Gillette has released progressive metal solo albums and Mike Portnoy is course best known for being the original drummer of Dream Theater) than most Neal Morse work does (the notable exception being Sola Scriptura) within his usual symphonic prog sound. While Morse has used those before, it's not been to quite the same feel as on this album, which the five musicians went into the studio for with no pre-prepared material at all, hence it's title. The result is some songs that feel very typical Neal Morse like the epic length The Call and Alive Again, but others that feel fresher for him, especially the hard rocking Agenda, a track that I personally wasn't sure of at first but have quickly grown to love. It's a short and quirky number, hearkening back to Spock's Beard's use of humour.

There may only be five tracks on The Grand Experiment, but that's not an unusually low number for a progressive group. The album is bookended by two epics as well, with the closer Alive Again running for a mammoth 26:45. The three songs in-between are all much shorter and more direct compositions showing off different styles of music. The Grand Experiment is nothing if not a varied release and I dare say the most exciting Neal Morse release since Transatlantic's comeback six years prior. The group as whole proves once again that Morse is as much a team player as a leader and while this particular group may still have his name on it, it's clearly the sum of all its parts and more.


Album · 1995 · Non-Metal
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The Light (1995) is the debut full-length studio album by US progressive rock band Spock's Beard. This album sees Spock's Beard in what could almost be considered a prototype form for what was to come later. The band has most of its core line-up already at this point having made an early bassist change from John Ballard to Dave Meros, but they don't yet have Japanese keyboardist Ryo Okumoto in their ranks, so most of the Spock's Beard duties normally assigned to him are instead handled by band leader Neal Morse.

The Light only contains four tracks, most of them epics and two of them prog suites. The writing is reflective of a young band in that it's not as refined as later material, but oozes youthful passion, though also anger in a certain part of The Water that may seem out of place on a progressive rock record and certainly has since become a source of embarrassment for Neal Morse, a man who later become a born again Christian. The lyrics can also be noted for their humour, perhaps more so than any other Spock's Beard release. This is evidenced especially in the title track The Light, which became the band's signature song, where you get movements of the suite with titles like Señor Valasco's Mystic Voodoo Love Dance and The Return of the Horrible Catfish Man.

Spock's Beard has always seemed to be pigeon-holed in the symphonic prog sub-genre of progressive rock but for their most part I don't relate their discography to this style of music and associate it more with Neal Morse's prog solo work and that with the band Transatlantic. On The Light it's more appropriate, but the band would later prove to be more eclectic than they are often given credit for, with some albums being much heavier than this one, although like all Spock's Beard albums, there's at least a few moments where their heavier and hard rocking side rears its head. The Light though, remains a favourite of mine, like many fans for its title track especially. Of the two suites it is the better one, but I do like The Water as well. The FU/I'm Sorry bit, which sees Morse swearing like a madman, does indeed seem out of kilter with how the music sounds though. The other two tracks are also very good.

The Light could have stood to have been a little more polished, but it makes up for what it lacks there in charm. I cannot quite consider it a top tier Spock's Beard release because of noted faults, but it's one I'm personally very attached to and find myself drawn to more than many other, more technically accomplished Spock's Beard releases.

TRIVIUM Ascendancy

Album · 2005 · Melodic Metalcore
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A Journey Into Metal Part II

The tale of how I first became a metalhead through the most unlikely of sources, Metallica's St. Anger, has now been told. It is advisable that you if haven't read it that you do so now, so that this next chapter of the tale may be taken in context. And if you have read it, possibly read it again as I revised the first part quite considerably before starting this next piece of work, as many memories flooded back to me.

Okay, all caught up?

One can become a metalhead through just the one starting album. But that hardly completes our tale. Much like metal itself was started by Black Sabbath, it later become refined by the likes of Judas Priest and Rainbow with albums like Sad Wings of Destiny and Rising respectively. It was perhaps only by the time of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal that we might consider metal to have been fully formed as a genre. Or at least, the first genre of it, heavy metal itself. An individual metalhead can form much the same way. Although many will probably cringe at the comparison, St. Anger was to me what Black Sabbath was to the formation of the genre. Which means the second chapter of the story into metaldum is the refinement stage. The turning point, if you will, before one can consider themselves the person and metalhead they are today.

But first, it's important to get caught up.

I gradually picked up the rest of the Metallica albums. And my view of Metallica basically went that the first five were excellent. I did not know enough about metal at this point in my life that I even realised that the Black Album was considered a different genre to the first four. I knew all five sounded a lot better than St. Anger though, so I wasn't listening to that album too much. I did not think much of either Load or ReLoad, but I liked the covers album Garage Inc. I thought that was pretty fun. I think I may have listened to S&M once and have not bothered again to this day.

In the wider metal world Dimebag Darrel had been murdered on stage in 2004, which was a rather Earth shattering experience for both my best mate 'C' and myself who'd both got heavily into Pantera in this time. That kind of thing just didn't happen to metal guitar idols in our world. Looking back I believe we took his death quite differently. I seem to recall that 'C' started listening to Pantera more, especially poignant tracks like Cemetery Gates and Hollow. I, on the other hand, found it difficult to listen to Pantera's music with the same enthusiasm for a long time. Every time I put it on I just imagined Dimebag getting gunned down while playing. My young mind could not handle it. And so Pantera never really had the chance to become the stepping stone band that they really could have been for me. They were certainly the most extreme thing I was listening to at the time. They were the spark, at least, but not the true turning point. That was to come soon though.

The year was now 2005, almost two whole years since the release of St. Anger. This was my last year in secondary school. One thing that did happen when that school year came to a close is that a lot of the group mentioned in Part 1 drifted apart. I still see 'C' to this day, but sadly have lost touch with some of the others. I was glad to see the back of 'L' though. 'L' really took things too far in 2005 by taking the piss out of the Dimebag murder. I'd never given a fuck about what 'L' thought of the music I liked but that crossed a line. I like to think that a few others realised what a dick he was by that point, but probably not. 'L' was just one of those people that others gravitated toward and became sycophants to. I have no idea what happened to 'L' after school finished. And I don't much care. Wherever he is I don't expect his taste in music has improved.

Things had changed at home with the arrival of a computer with the Internet the previous year, but I hadn't yet discovered YouTube, which first launched in early 2005. I expect that discovery came in 2006, which I see as the pivotal year as that's when my household first got Sky TV and I found the Scuzz station that led me to many early interests in metal. But in 2005 itself things hadn't improved much. 2006 would also be the year I subscribed to Metal Hammer, so the amount of progress made between St. Anger and then was pitiful. Foo Fighters and Nickelback were still in heavy rotation. The former had released In Your Honour (which I know I'm spelling wrong but sue me I'm English and we invented the language!) and the other had released All the Right Reasons. It had a pretty angry song on it about Dimebag's murder that really resonated. The late guitarist even played on it by virtue of a sampled guitar solo. Both albums were well liked by yours truly at the time, so that's evidence that my taste hadn't really moved on all that much. I look back more fondly on one of those albums today than the other. See if you can guess which one. 2006 would also mark my discovery of Iron Maiden, who at the end of that year became my first proper concert. But for now we're stuck in 2005 and the album that is the ultimate subject of this story was released. Ascendancy by metalcore band Trivium.

Before Metal Hammer, Scuzz and YouTube changed everything, it was actually a guitar magazine, which wasn't supposed to be metal specific but often did seem to focus on it, that provided the much needed resource that my younger self required. 'C' also benefited from this. It is how we found Pantera. We liked the guitar track the magazine had put on the CD for Cemetery Gates so much that I bought Cowboys From Hell without ever hearing Phil Anselmo's vocals. Total Guitar's free CDs though were also notable for sometimes including album tracks and this was how I got my first taste of growling vocals. I don't recall if it was Avenged Sevenfold or Arch Enemy I heard first, but both were among such bands featured. However the first such album I bought was Ascendancy. I do not actually remember when or how I first heard Trivium proper. I suspect they were featured as an album track with Total Guitar, or else maybe I'm misremembering the dates of all this and I didn't discover this album until it had been out a while. It was about fifteen years ago after all. Either way, Total Guitar was certainly how I first became aware of Trivium. There was a lot of Trivium hype going around at the time which carried over into Metal Hammer and online, as those avenues were opened up to me. They got airplay on both Kerrang and Scuzz. An important factor that piqued my interest was their branding as the next Metallica. 'Next Metallica' quickly became apparent as something that people in the media just liked to say. Mastodon got saddled with it as well around the same time.

Ascendancy remains one of only a few metalcore records I ever bought. The others mainly either being also by Trivium or were bought in second hand shops for no other reason than they were that cheap, the best result of such pot luck being the discovery of Protest the Hero. I'm sure there's probably stuff of more worth out there than I've heard, I have in fact in more recent years been drawn to a couple of acts like Converge and Erra. There's something very different about those bands though than the kind of metalcore played by Trivium and other more household metalcore names of the time though like Bullet for my Valentine, Caliban and Killswitch Engage. And in general it became a genre I don't hold much love for. Much like with St. Anger and it's sound that most accept as alternative metal, which was the genre a lot of my early metal bands belonged to, discovered both before and after this album. But although I don't much care for these genres these days and don't actively seek them out, they were both very crucial stepping stones for me. Which is why like with St. Anger I still hold a lot of appreciation for Ascendancy.

There's a big difference with this album to that one though. It is actually really fucking good.

My metal peers of the time, by then not generally people I grew up with but people I was encountering online, on the then very new YouTube (which was a much different website much then with much better community features including groups that served as a minimalist forum (my first experience with such a platform)), heavily disagreed with the hype of Trivium. In fact they were so put out by Trivium (like they'd been personally offended by their existence) that they'd start dedicated hate channels for the band on YouTube and take every opportunity to dish dirt on them, about where they'd stolen this or that riff from and so forth. Yeah, the spirit of metal wasn't doing too well in them days. While the 'experienced' metalheads were bashing bands like Trivium for all they were worth, the kids were starting rap verses metal flame wars and shouting about TR00 Trash Metal (accurate spelling of the day). All in all it was a much more toxic community than was really healthy for the developing metalhead.

Much like with the initial disapproval of my folks and peers over starting to listen to metal with St. Anger, this reaction from the supposedly more in the know metal crowd only fuelled me to stand against them. Hey, I was a teenager, we're supposed to rebel against our elders and their beliefs. Trivium was a band that allowed me to do that. It also in hindsight scratched an itch for more extreme music that proved a catharsis over lingering anger over Dimebag's murder that even Metallica's early thrash couldn't scratch.

But I'm in my thirties now and I have say that I think those 'in the know' metalheads of the time were wrong about Trivium, especially over this album. While it's true that Trivium is not a band I return to often, I still think that Ascendancy is a very accomplished album from the then young band, perhaps even a classic of its era. An album that does possibly show adolescence in its song-writing, but honestly it's more forgivable here considering the age of the band at the time. Matt Heafy was only 19 at the time of the album's release and that was only a couple of years older than I was! Old school metalheads of the time probably thought the kids should be looking up to the same bands as them (and maybe now it's our turn we do the same to the next generation and don't even realise it) and so vehemently rejected Heafy and his band Trivium, but to us who were of that sort age he was a figure to look up to.

Tracks like Rain, A Gunshot to the Head of Trepidation and Like Light to the Flies still find their way into regular random rotation from my PC media player and other tracks less frequently so. Because the YouTube haters of the day I'm afraid I can't listen to Pull Harder on the Strings of Your Martyr with a straight face any more because of a rather infamous misheard lyrics video which last time I checked could still be found on YouTube.

Unfortunately Trivium probably took the whole 'next Metallica' thing to heart, so their next album was The Crusade and it seemed designed to imitate Metallica as much as possible, which ultimately just gave fodder to their haters. But for me personally Ascendancy was the album that opened me up to extreme metal, broadened my horizons and opened the floodgates for all kinds of exciting new genres of metal that I began getting exposed to the following year during my gap between school and college. Like with St. Anger, I'll always hold a special place in my heart and collection for it. If it wasn't for this particular would I have become interested in other metal genres like death metal and black metal? Well probably eventually, but this album sure seemed to speed up the process. I was certainly starting to check those out on that first computer at home soon after this. It was the album that spurred me onward. I found genre after genre from that point on. Progressive metal through Dream Theater. Folk metal through Cruachan (one guy I met on YouTube was so insistent that I listen to Cruachan that he emailed by every song from Folk-Lore track by track - highly illegal of course, but Cruachan remains my favourite folk metal band and I own every album they've made so I think they'll forgive us). Black metal through Immortal. I could list every genre with a key band and it all branches out from Ascendancy, another album that was often maligned, although not to the extent of St. Anger.

This concludes the second chapter of this tale and I think it also has to be the last. The branching out starts here. I began to become fully formed as a metalhead. I'm still living the third chapter of this trilogy. Some probably thought I'd grow out of metal music and that would bring the story to a close.

I don't think it's going to happen.

Latest Forum Topic Posts

  • Posted 12 hours ago in The Great Collection Rediscovery
    Must say, I'd really forgotten just how good Dream Theater are (my dislike of Awake aside). I lost interest in them largely over the last decade with The Astonishing being like a final nail in the coffin, though I am feeling inclined to see how that album holds up after a few years. I've been really digging them again today though, which is why I ended up doing four in a row for this blog. I expect I'll be spinning most of these again sooner rather than later.They'd probably be much higher on my stats if most of my DT listening hadn't been during 2007-2009, before I joined the site. 
  • Posted 15 hours ago in The Upcoming Albums Thread
    John Petrucci's new solo album drops in October. It's been 15 years since his first one. Also more notable is that this will be the first time he and Mike Portnoy recorded together since the other left Dream Theater. 
  • Posted 15 hours ago in The Great Collection Rediscovery
    Artist: Dream TheaterAlbum: Sex Degrees of Inner TurbulenceOld Rating: 4.5/5Verdict: My first Dream Theater album and also surely my first prog album (though it may also have been Opeth's Ghost Reveries, I can't remember). The Glass Prison was the first DT song I heard which is why this has to be my first from them and not a more famous album. It's never been a 5 star album for me though, until now that is. There were always a couple of songs from the first disc that never clicked for me fully before (Disappear especially) but they did this time. New Rating: 5/5


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