Fifteen records at 15 years old: the class of 2006

I’ll address this right now: ‘The Black Parade’ ain’t here. There’s just no need for it to be. We all know that album, we all know My Chemical Romance, we’re all familiar with those songs. It’s a given! To the point that allowing ‘The Black Parade’ a spot here – as much as I love it and MCR – would yank the limelight away from other stellar releases from this year. So with that little formality out the way, let’s jump into our time machines and shoot back 15 years for 15 great albums that helped to truly define ’06. 

The Hope Conspiracy – ‘Death Knows Your Name’

Many notable hardcore records dropped in 2006: ‘The Big Dirty,’ ‘The Things We Carry,’ ‘Sundowning,’ ‘Supremacy.’ But I have to give it up to The Hope Conspiracy with this hair-raising, nail-biting offering that’s still an exhilarating shot of adrenaline 15 years on. As the stabbing intro riff to ‘They Know Not‘ ends its cycle, as the Boston crew pull the pin on their figurative instrumental grenade, and as intensive frontman Kevin Baker decries “guilty fucking pigs!“, Hope Con lay down one of the angriest albums in all of hardcore. Anger in terms of sheer heaviness or mathy instrumentals is easy as piss, but anger, as a true form of emotion to communicate within, is something else. A hard, rare thing to nail. Admittedly, some more recent releases like Mortality Rate’s 2019 EP or Dying Wish’s 2018 split weren’t far off from this. Yet nothing can touch the ball of fury that Hope Con unleashed under the still-young Deathwish label on September 19th that year with pounding songs like ‘Animal Farm,’ ‘Hang Your Cross,’ ‘A Darkness in The Light,’ ‘So Many Pigs So Few Bullets‘ and ‘Stolen Days‘.

The Blood Brothers – ‘Young Machetes’

FIRE FIRE FIRE! On their final album, The Blood Brothers went out with a universe-originating and ending bang. ‘Young Machetes‘ has all of this group’s weird dissonant quirks (‘We Ride Skeletal Lightning‘), their love for odd jazziness (‘Camoflague, Camoflague‘), their explosive brand of chaos (‘Vital Beach‘ and ‘Set Fire To The Face On Fire‘), as well as their noisiness but danceability (‘Laser Life‘). All things that people fondly knew of and lovingly remember this bat-ship band for. While I must declare that ‘Crimes‘ (2004) is the top dog in the pack that is The Blood Brothers‘ discography for me personally, ‘Young Machetes‘ is a close second. It’s a wild and weird experience, a pop-meets-noise-meets-jazz and keyboard-heavy post-hardcore that’s sometimes challenging and odd, but always extremely memorable. There’s just such a staggering level of character and urgency found in these 15 songs that it’s hard to ignore the genius and skill behind it. Henry Rollins once said that “The Blood Brothers make music that will save us all.” And he was right! They don’t make ’em like this anymore.

SikTh – ‘Death Of A Dead Day’

Wanna know where Periphery, Veil Of Maya, and multiple other bands who lead the new wave of progressive-metal, metalcore and prog from 2010 onwards all jacked their shit from? Look no further than SikTh’s eccentric, technical and progressive metal opus, ‘Death Of A Dead Day.’ It still honestly blows my mind that this shit came out in 2006. Obviously, those other bands pulled hard from the likes of Meshuggah, Dillinger Escape Plan, The Human Abstract, and Protest The Hero, but few give credit to this English group’s influence. SikTh’s second album is an avant-grade and math-metal album that was truly years ahead of its time.

It’s a record that starts with the utter madness of ‘Bland Street Bloom,’ the manic sounds of ‘Flogging The Horses‘ showcasing Mikee Goodman’s feral screaming ability, the prog-metal epicness and guitar gymnastics of ‘Way Beyond The Fond Old River‘ and ‘Summer Rain,’ then it switches into the harmonically interesting and dynamic slow-burn of ‘In This Light‘, beautifully lead by co-singer Justin Hill, before basically becoming proto djent with the rush-of-blood that is the fret-board fucking ‘Sanguine Seas Of Bigotry.’ And that’s just the first half! Don’t even get me started on hectic cuts like ‘Another Sinking Ship.’ Dan Weller’s “fiddly-widdly” riff output, the bonkers rhythms, Mikee’s ASMR moments about environmentalism that’d make Mike Patton envious, ambitious sense of scope, and instrumental performances that range from tasteful to complex, make it all overwhelming. Bewildering, even. ‘Death Of A Dead Day‘ is a cornerstone of where modern prog-metal went. An acquired taste, no doubt, but once you get the hunger for it, its enigmatic genius comes into awe-inspiring view.

Anti-Flag – ‘For Blood And Empire’

Following fan-fave ‘The Terror State‘ (2003), we get the crown jewel for Anti-Flag. When it comes to political-commentating punk rock, few do it as well as these four Pittsburgians. With albums like ‘For Blood And Empire,’ there’s two criteria to be met in order to make it great. The first is having the songs, obviously. The equally important second component is how you use said songs as a conduit to inform the audience. ‘For Blood And Empire,’ long and far away Anti-Flag’s best record, is king in both fields.

The riff-driven melodic punk of ‘I’d Tell You But…‘ and ‘The Press Corpse‘ address genocide and invasions, and biased media distortion respectively. Anti-Flag will use deceptively simple but catchy sing-alongs to educate people about the agenda of neoconservative PNAC think-tank in ‘Project For A New American Century,’ or fun upstroke ska-influence running through the veins of the anti-war protest piece, ‘War Sucks, Let’s Party!‘ to get you moving. Frontman Justin Sane will implement an acoustic folk jingle to deliver ‘1 Trillion Dollar$,’ a critique of America’s unfathomable military and defence spending during the Bush era. Other times, Anti-Flag just stuck to what worked and said all they needed to say, like on ‘Depleted Uranium Is A War Crime.’ And sometimes, they just wanted to shout loud about revolutions, like on the feel-good stand-out, ‘Cities Burn.’ Anti-Flag had so much commentary to make here, and they said it brilliantly with these 13 songs.

Killswitch Engage – ‘As Daylight Dies’

The first four Killswitch Engage records are pure, pocket-lining gold for metalcore. There’s a reason why every “best metalcore albums” listicle has at least one of them. Of the three albums that Howard Jones fronted, ‘As Daylight Dies‘ has got to be my personal favourite. Originally, I had this spot tied between this record, 36 Crazyfists‘ ‘Rest Inside The Flames‘ and Zao’sThe Fear Is What Keeps Us Here‘ (both great albums), but Killswitch won out. Simply due to the impact of this record, the legacy of this band, and the strength of outright bangers like ‘This Is Absolution,’ ‘For You,’ ‘The Arms Of Sorrow,’ ‘My Curse,’ the wicked B-side ‘This Fire Burns,’ and their faithful modern take on ‘Holy Diver.’

As Daylight Dies‘ is just such a goddamn consistent listen from front to end, and looking back, it remains the last truly great Killswitch album. (If rather repetitive, at least.) And I don’t just mean the best from the Howard days, but from the extremely derivative records following the second coming of Jesse Leach. It’s the perfect follow-up the band could’ve made following ‘The End Of Heartache,’ fully capitalising on the polished, well-balanced sound of their monumental 2004 classic. Just a really good album.

Billy Talent – ‘Billy Talent II’

The numerically logical sequel to their 2003 debut, ‘Billy Talent II‘ is one hell of a second chapter. It’s the explosive melodic punk rock and super-charged choruses of the Canadian quartet’s first album, except everything was pushed way past ten. It really was bigger and better in every sense. Production, budget, riffs, energy, and choruses, all topped off by what is inarguably the tightest and most consistent track-flow of any Billy Talent release. As soon as that thick, fuzzy and evil intro riff from Ian D’Sa starts ‘Devil In A Midnight Mass,’ a song tackling the ugly sin of child molestation, specifically within the church and that of Boston priest John Geoghan, you’re in for a serious and mature rock’n’roll roller-coaster.

I’m not kidding when I say that this album is wall-to-wall stacked. For instance, the rebellious youth anthem of ‘Red Flag‘ was a huge hit for ‘Billy Talent II,’ making its way into games like Burnout Revenge. Then there’s the dry, upbeat instrumental punch of ‘Where Is The Line?‘ dealing with individuality, featuring one of the most irresistible refrains I think Ben Kowalewicz and his buds have ever written. Elsewhere, the iconic delayed riff in ‘Fallen Leaves‘ begets a dark rock track about heroin addiction; unrequited love and relationships that’ll never happen rush forward in the dynamically intense ‘Surrender‘; death and the washing away of one’s existence hit hard on ‘Burn The Evidence‘; the marching bass-lines and rhythms of ‘Worker Bees‘ evoke droning masses that do what they’re told; there’s so much awesome material that it’s almost criminal for Billy Talent to be this cool.

I Killed The Prom Queen – ‘Music For The Recently Deceased’

Like ‘Killing With A Smilein the sister 2005 article to this piece, Parkway Drive and the rest of the Aussie metal scene were set on riding the coattails of whatever their European and American peers were doing. Blatantly jacking shit straight from Heaven Shall BurnHatebreedUnearthKillswitch EngageIn FlamesSoilwork, and At The Gates. Leaving their 2003 debut album behind and undergoing a vocalist change from Michael Crafter to Ed Butcher – say what you want about Ed, he could fucking scream – I Killed The Prom Queen were no different. Fredrik Nordström even produced this second outing. It doesn’t get any more Euro-metal than that!

The worst thing to be said about ‘Music For The Recently Deceased‘ is that it’s a one-note album with nothing in the way of dynamics; that IKTQP just recycled the same song ten times and called it a day. (And that the barely-three-minute closer of ‘There Will Be No Violins When You Die‘ is superfluous and doesn’t add anything.) All valid and fair assessments, yes. But what a fucking song it is to repeat! ‘Sharks In Your Mouth,’ ‘Say Goodbye,’ ‘The Deepest Sleep,’ ‘Headfirst From A Hangman’s Noose,’ ‘Slain Upon My Faithful Sword,’ and the brutal coup d’état that is ‘Like Nails To A Casket‘ were some of the best metalcore compositions to come out of Australia from around this period. Equally riffy, brutal, and melodic, those songs helped made this record a big deal Down Under. One that is still so fondly enjoyed to this day, by myself and countless others.

Rest in peace, Sean Kennedy.

Rise Against – ‘The Sufferer And The Witness’

Nowadays, I don’t connect with Rise Against’s recent material. Maybe because they’ve already said and done so much in their lyrical activism, or maybe it’s because they’ve barely grown their sound since the golden era of 2004-2011. Perhaps it’s both? Either way, ‘The Sufferer And The Witness‘ is often cited as one of the band’s biggest moments, even when just talking about its commercial success. Rise Against’s fourth LP is such a huge statement, both in the points that it shares and in the songs that power its political messages. With rip-roaring punk rock anthems situated left, right and centre, I don’t think it’s a stretch to label this as one of the 21st century’s best punk releases. C’mon, no one can resist that “all because of you!” hook in ‘The Good Left Undone.’

The crisp production from Descendants drummer, Bill Stevenson, brings out Tim McIlrath’s excellent voice more so, as he does the band’s instrumental voices, no matter how fast they were playing. Like that above Anti-Flag record, this had much to say. Whereas Justin Sane and pals do it in a very specific manner, Rise Against are more generalised, more poetic, but it’s just as effective. This saw ‘Sufferer…‘ talk about climate change (‘Ready To Fall‘); the ethical, moral impact on third-world people’s due to unchecked consumerism and rampant capitalism (‘Prayer Of The Refugee‘); a metaphorical verbal argument between two lovers during a fateful car ride (‘The Approaching Curve‘); the search for, strength of and danger in undying convictions (‘Worth Dying For‘); rejecting apathy (‘Chamber the Cartridge‘), and having hope for tomorrow after the struggles of yesterday (‘Survive‘).

Tim once told the Pittsburg Post-Gazette that: “There’s a bigger picture than just the Bush administration and specific problems of 2006, and I want people to relate to that, even if they’re listening to it 10 years from now.” And here we are now, so mission accomplished.

Lamb Of God – ‘Sacrament’

Sacrament‘ is a quintessential Lamb Of God release. Their fifth album was like turning over a new leaf for the Richmond group. For one, Randy Blythe’s lifestyle change in significantly lowering his drinking and getting his shit together, also pushing his voice to the next level. Evident across the whole LP, both in delivery and the choice words he has for himself and society. This album was LOG no longer being a dysfunctional unit, and the songwriting reflects that collective growth as people, with some of their tightest songwriting. As always, Chris Adler crushes it behind the kit and this record (and this band) just wouldn’t be the same without his hands and feet guiding it all. ‘Sacrament‘ was informed by their hardcore and metalcore shades but grew fiercer and more aggro in its thrash, speed and groove metal sensibilities. Then there are its accolades, such as ‘Redneck‘ getting nominated for a Grammy and the album being one of the best selling metal albums from 2006. Then there are the remaining songs! ‘Again We Rise,’ ‘Foot To The Throat,’ ‘Forgotten (Los Angels)‘ and ‘Blacken The Cursed Sun‘ are some of the most vicious songs LOG have ever summoned forth. ‘Descending‘ and ‘More Time To Kill‘ are ugly as fuck metal tracks, but that’s their greatest asset. And ‘Walk With Me In Hell‘ is outright demonic in its menacing tone. As I said, quintessential.

AFI – ‘Decemberunderground’

Decemberunderground‘ is an often dismissed and misunderstood record of AFI’s. It’s this wonderful moment in time, caught between the older punk side of AFI, and the poppier stuff they would don moving forward into 2009’s ‘Crash Love‘ and beyond. (I don’t care what old heads say, ‘Crash Love‘ is a cool album.) Some may consider this a limbo to be trapped within. I see it as a bridge between two different eras of a terrific band; a band who was really stepping out of their comfort zone and ready to explore a genuinely interesting mixture of EDM, new-wave, goth-rock, punk, and synth-pop with their most diverse record. Gifting us excellent sleeper hits like ‘The Killing Lights‘ and the international bonus track, ‘Rabbits Are Roadkill On Rt. 37.’ Honestly, the black sheep that is ‘Decemberunderground‘ is almost like the perfect starting point for anyone wanting to get into AFI and their storied history.

When it boils down to it, ‘Decemberunderground‘ just has everything that AFI was so widely loved for. They were always a dramatic band, and this album is fucking dramatic. Just look at that transition from ‘Prelude 12/21‘ into ‘Kill Caustic‘, any number of the lyrics or vocal performances, or even that really cool, quite sudden Massive Attack-esque final third to ‘Affliction.’ You had Davey Havok’s snow-melting vocal range from low husks, to his higher tenor and caustic screams. Jade Pudget’s excellent guitar work, whether it was in-your-face thrashes or his more subtle and supportive roles, was always top-notch. And there were mighty choruses galore here (‘Love Like Winter,’ ”Summer Shudder‘ and the career-defining ‘Miss Murder‘), moodier and more delicate approaches made (‘37mm,’ ‘The Missing Frame,’ ‘The Interview‘), and also fist-pumping hardcore punk with a polished veneer (‘Kill Caustic,’ ‘Affliction‘). I love the horror and gothic punk of AFI circa 1997 and 2003 as much as the next white dude in this scene, but I urge any naysayer to give this one another chance. For it holds up extremely well.

Underoath – ‘Define The Great Line’

No 2006 album list is complete without ‘Define The Great Line.’ Sorry, I don’t make the rules. This was a game-changer for Underoath and for so many bands in that Myspace-era scene of metalcore and post-hardcore, regardless of whether they were a Christian band or not. Because it’s all heart. Underoath, as musicians, aren’t very well versed in theory, as they themselves will tell you, but they didn’t need to be to make such impactful songs. They just went and did it! This only adds to the album’s theme of identity, of coming to understand who you are; finding out where you will finally draw and define your own (great) line in the sand. Knowing what we all know about what Spencer Chamberlain was going through around this time with his heavy drug use, and the effects on his body and mental health, it makes this album all the more personal and powerful. (Same thing goes for the monster that is ‘Lost In The Sound Of Separation,’ which was more obvious about such topics.)

Countless others tried their hardest to replicate a dual-vocal relationship that’s as good as Spencer and Aaron Gillespie’s chemistry is here, and have all failed miserably. (‘Writing On The Walls‘ is a phenomenal example of their interplay, and how their parts overlap.) That tape-reel sample combined with Tim McTague’s angular, weirdly-timed drop D riff gets all the mid-2000s scene kids bopping for Da Lord. Talk about an insane opening moment, and as a whole song, an insane first song to start off one of the biggest records from this whole era. Go big or go home! And that bombastic drum fill that starts ‘Moving For The Sake Of Motion,’ the car-crash momentum of ‘A Moment Suspended In Time,’ that absolutely mental second section in ‘Everyone Looks So Good From Here‘ 30-seconds in, and the crushing post-metal ISIS-worship of ‘To Whom It May Concern‘ all definitely went big.

Alexisonfire – ‘Crisis’

Alexisonfire do not have a bad record. That’s a fact. However, each of their albums barring their final LP, 2009’s ‘Old Crows/Young Cardinals‘ (my favourite) all feature songs that I skip. Yet of those first three albums, ‘Crisis‘ has the least amount of songs that I skip: just ‘We Are The Sound‘ and ‘You Burn First.’ I feel strongly that the album doesn’t need those two particular songs whatsoever. Which is opposed to the four or five songs from the self-titled release and ‘Watch Out!‘ respectively that I do not like, care for or even really remember. Now, post-hardcore had a lot to offer us in 2006 – ‘A City By The Light Divided,’ ‘The Always Open Mouth,’ Saosin’s self-titled effort, and (ugh, fuck me) ‘Dying Is Your Latest Fashion‘ – but with the context of Alexisonfire’s career and this particular year, ‘Crisis‘ is a HUGE deal.

Drunks, Lovers, Sinners and Saints‘ just starts, no foreplay, and the band dive right in with resounding urgency and careful songcraft. Which starts an incredible five-track run, moving onto a song that’s synonymous with the band’s name, ‘This Could Be Anywhere In The World,’ ‘Mailbox Arson‘ and its stellar push-and-pull, the soul-seeking anti-wage slavery of ‘Boiled Frogs,’ and the sing-along packed ‘We Are The Sound.’ After the two previously mentioned songs that cop the skip button, it picks back up with the panicked and warning sounds of the titular ‘Crisis.’ All before a main-stay of the album’s Side-B rears its head in the fast and furious form about frail friendships with ‘Keep It On Wax.’ ‘To A Friend‘ shows a somewhat lighter, softer side to Alexisonfire, another prime example of how talented Dallas Green is as a singer, how he defined an entire decade and genre with his voice. And then it ends with the beautiful ‘Rough Hands,’ showcasing how they always knew how to end a record with perfect finality.

In Flames – ‘Come Clarity’

Originally, this spot was going tp Heaven Shall Burn’s intimidating ‘Deaf To Our Prayers‘ album. But after more consideration, and totally not because I forgot this In Flames LP existed (and had a great time rediscovering it), I chose ‘Come Clarity.’ ‘Come Clarity‘ works because it sits at this sweet spot between the veteran Swedish band’s melodic death metal roots and the more accessible mainstream metal sound they’ve since ventured onto post-2011. Whilst perhaps a safe album, save for the chilling, titular mid-tempo rock ballad and the noise piece of ‘Your Bed Time Story Is Scaring Everyone,’ this thing is savage. A lot of these songs are undeniably familiar, fitting the same mould of progressions, structures and tempos – ‘Leeches,’ ‘Scream,’ ‘Crawling Through Knives,’ ‘Our Infinite Struggle‘, ‘Vanishing Light‘ – but it’s solid. ‘Take This Life‘ is a seminal In Flames track, and the deep-cut of ‘Dead End,’ featuring Swedish singer Lisa Miskovsky providing a beautiful tonal counterpoint to Anders Fridén’s ferocious barks that snarl as well as Peter Iwers‘ bass tone, this was some blissful melo-death. 

Taking Back Sunday – ‘Louder Now’

Some of the best Taking Back Sunday songs, taken from one of, if not the best Taking Back Sunday album, with the band’s strongest line-up. ‘Louder Now‘ is one of the most commercially successful records in their discography. Yet it wasn’t because of dumb luck or even because of time and place. It sold like hotcakes due to the ear-worming hooks, colourful riffs, and the confidence and character that it oozes every step of the way. There isn’t even a remotely sub-par song to be had here! That “difficult third album” was conquered with this, Taking Back Sunday not sounding like they broke a sweat doing so.

The lyrics felt a little more grown-up, a bit more mature, and it’s compelling. Mainly due to Adam Lazarra’s vocal personality and how it interacts with Fred Mascherino’s complimentary backing lines. On top of some varied guitar styles, we get some extra piano and strings, and even some haunting xylophones heard on ‘Divine Intervention‘. There’s a lot going on with the album on a subtle level, whether it’s in the more understated parts or in the arena-filling rock heights. The production is unlike anything else the band has done before or since. The guitar and drum mix sound weird when compared to their other works, but also like their own thing. Placing ‘Louder Now‘ on a different, higher shelf to its sibling releases. It’s got their most memorable riffs (‘What It Feels Like To Be A Ghost‘ and ‘I’ll Let You Live‘); their most dynamic and thoughtful songwriting (‘Divine Intervention‘ and ‘My Blue Heaven‘); their loudest rock flourishes (‘Error: Operator‘ and ‘Spin‘); and unforgettable refrains that are on some next level shit (‘Up Against‘, ‘MakeDamnSure‘, ‘Twenty-Twenty Surgery‘). This was peak TBS.

Set Your Goals – ‘Mutiny!’

There are a couple of little gripes that I have with ‘Mutiny!‘, like the album’s shoe-string budget definitely leaving something to be desired with the production when going back to it now. Yet Set Your Goals‘ debut album makes it onto this list because the songs are just that fucking good! The huge crew vocals, the great pop-punk chorus melodies, the big hardcore breakdowns, the chunky-as-hell riffs – like Four Year Strong and A Day To Remember, they had that perfect blend of pop-punk and hardcore. The kind that made them noted easycore lords. I think the most endearing part of their first LP is the general coming-of-age fun of it all, as a young band learns the ropes and works their way up the ladder, being their authentic goofy selves in the process. It’s like a good underdog story, you just want to see these young six blokes from Californian succeed at their dreams. Off the backs of the towering eponymous song, the heartfelt tale of emotional and mental perseverance in ‘Echoes,’ and sweet pop-punk gems like ‘An Old Book Misread‘ and ‘This Very Moment,’ SYG might as well have succeeded. I mean, I’m talking about it 15 years after its original release? They certainly did something right!

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