11 of the best double-albums in rock and metal
Back in the days when music primarily came pressed onto a disc of polyvinyl chloride, two sides were sometimes not enough. Bands like Pink Floyd and the Grateful Dead could prog out or jam their way through far more music than could fit on a single vinyl long-player, leading to the birth of the double-album.
A number of metal, punk and hard rock bands also embraced the format. Here we’re only looking at double-albums that were released as such, not running concepts or pairs that were intended as doubles but released individually – often due to industry politics. That rules out the likes of Helloween (Keeper of The Seven Keys), Coheed & Cambria (The Afterman), System Of A Down (Mezmerize/Hypnotize), Opeth (Deliverance/Damnation) and Stone Sour (House Of Gold & Bones).
We’re also striking out live albums and collections, but that still leaves plenty of stonking double-discs to go…
Iron Maiden – The Book Of Souls (2015)
If we were looking at live albums, Maiden’s Live After Death would be right up there, but the Brit metal icons also scored a huge worldwide smash with their 16th studio album The Book Of Souls. Clocking in at just over 90-minutes, it was the band’s most epic outing yet. Eighteen-minute closer Empire Of The Clouds replaced The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner as the band’s longest track, and if you played that, The Red And The Black and The Book Of Souls back to back, you’d have a running time longer than the whole of The Number Of The Beast album. “In a way it was purely accidental because we didn’t have any idea about the album order until we finished it,” Bruce Dickinson told Kerrang!. “So we got to about track six and I went downstairs [in the studio] to Steve and went, ‘We either stop now or it’s a double-album.’”
The Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness (1995)
Billy Corgan reportedly wrote more than 50 songs for the project that would become Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness – which he intended to be “The Wall for Generation X”. It didn’t sell as many as Pink Floyd’s prog-paranoia classic, but it did achieve its own iconic status. The songs are varied and expansive, ranging from dream-pop lullabies to metallic anthems, while the themes of mortality and sorrow keep the whole thing hanging together. It still sounds great a quarter-of-a-century on.
Nine Inch Nails – The Fragile (1999)
In many ways this was a sequel to The Downward Spiral, but in the five years after the release of that particular slab of anguish and filth, Trent Reznor had expanded his vision. The Fragile is still the sound of a mind on the verge of falling apart but it’s more nuanced, with soundscapes and atmosphere replacing – or at least accompanying – the distorted all-out assault. Trent told the Los Angeles Times: “I wanted this album to sound like there was something inherently flawed in the situation, like someone struggling to put the pieces together. Downward Spiral was about peeling off layers and arrival at a naked, ugly end. This album starts at the end, then attempts to create order from chaos, but never reaches the goal.”
Baroness – Yellow & Green (2012)
When Baroness took their colour-coded album naming concept into two-tone territory, they combined Yellow & Green to stunning effect. It wasn’t just longer; this double-album was also a substantial departure from the progressive but still abrasive sludge of their Red Album and Blue Record. This saw a much more melodic and rock-oriented approach, with very little filler over its 18 tracks.
Dream Theater – Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence (2002)
This masterwork took the concept of the concept album and doubled it. The first disc’s conceptual suite explored themes of personal struggle including alcoholism, loss of faith and self-isolation. The second was a sprawling 42-minute track telling the tale of six different people suffering from different mental illnesses. The music employs elements of metal, classical, jazz and more without ever losing cohesion and is every bit as accomplished as you’d expect.
Biffy Clyro – Opposites (2013)
Unlike all those planned double-albums that were ultimately split up, this was initially envisaged as two distinct releases: The Land At The End Of Our Toes and The Sand At The Core Of Our Bones. The titles were retained as the names of the discs as Biffy assembled a collection with two very different lyrical approaches. “One’s about putting things in the worst possible way and thinking you’re getting yourself into a hole. The other looks at things more positively,” frontman Simon Neil told Zane Lowe. “We wanted to make the first double-album that you could enjoyably listen to from start to finish,” he added. Biffy would ultimately achieve that goal with a full complement of bagpipes, kazoos, Mariachi bands and gold-plated arena-cracking choruses.
The Clash – London Calling (1979)
The Clash’s next album would be a triple, but the sprawling Sandinista! was too patchy and unfocused to justify its own self-indulgence. Whereas London Calling was just about perfect, and still saw the band growing beyond their early punk roots. The band’s experimental streak would prove hugely influential as the entire scene began to look beyond its boundaries, but there remained plenty of raw attitude as they delved into ska, pop, hard rock and more.
Say Anything – In Defense Of The Genre (2007)
You could probably draw a line from The Clash to Say Anything, although it would be seriously wonky. Pop-punk is not always known for its expansive scale, but Say Anything always had a broader ambition. 2004’s …Is A Real Boy was a pre-Black Parade emo-rock opera of sorts, but In Defense Of The Genre took things even further in a grand double-album sweep. It’s also notable for its sheer proliferation of guest appearances, with more than 20 featuring including the scene A‑lister likes of Gerard Way, Hayley Williams and Matt Skiba.
Hüsker Dü – Zen Arcade (1984)
Hüsker Dü were always a band with a grand ambition. “We’re going to try to do something bigger than anything like rock’n’roll and the whole puny band touring idea. I don’t know what it’s going to be, we have to work that out, but it’s going to go beyond the whole idea of ‘punk rock’ or whatever,” guitarist/vocalist Bob Mould told Steve Albini in the fanzine Matter. That might sound somewhat pompous considering Zen Arcade – the story of a boy who runs away from home only to find the outside world is even worse – was essentially a collection of guitar-driven rock anthems. They did have a wonderful emotional resonance, however, and their bridging of hardcore aesthetics with poppier, more melodic elements provided an alt.rock blueprint that can still be heard today.
Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti (1975)
Led Zeppelin were so wedded to the idea of the album as an entire entity that they refused to release singles (in the UK at least – in the States it was a stipulation of their record deal). It made sense, then, that they would eventually create a double-album and they did so on the epic Physical Graffiti, which took in a rollercoaster of sounds, styles and emotions. Even the original album cover is considered a design classic, with a New York tenement block whose windows could be opened and peeked through like a rock’n’roll advent calendar.
Guns N’ Roses – Use Your Illusion I and II (1991)
Okay, so the two volumes were released separately, but they came out simultaneously and with each available in a double vinyl disc format – you could see this as a quadruple album if you really wanted to. Sure, there is some fat to be trimmed in places, but there are still enough genuinely classic songs – November Rain, Civil War, You Could Be Mine – to hustle this firmly onto the list. Just think of the amazing single album they could have squeezed out of it, though.
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