The challenge of listing the definitive "best" album openers is perhaps impossible. While we're dedicated at SPB to challenging the odds and defying convention, that might be a steep request even for us. Instead, we've chosen some of our personal favorite openers from records across a variety of genres. Inevitably, we'll miss your favorite – let us know below what songs you think kick off a record absolutely perfectly. And for bonus points, you can play our choices via Spotify below.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor – "The Dead Flag Blues" (F? A? ∞)
At first, there is only silence. A low drone can be heard if you strain your ear. You may well believe the album isn't playing correctly. And then, without prompt, a solemn man's voice begins to speak: "The car's on fire, and there's no driver at the wheel. And the sewers are all muddied with a thousand lonely suicides. And a dark wind blows." Thus begins "The Dead Flag Blues", the first piece on Godspeed You! Black Emperor's album F? A? ∞. What's so striking about this introduction is how unorthodox it is. There's no catchy riffing, no slow, melodic builds, and no atmospheric doodling. There is only overwhelming silence and one man setting the scene of America fallen from grace. Not only does it let the listener know that the music they are about to hear is a far cry from their standard fare, but it also creates such an anxious and unnerving atmosphere that it's nearly impossible to not be affected by it.
Disillusion – "...And the Mirror Cracked" (Back to Times of Splendor)
Everyone knows that progressive metal albums have a habit of throwing out their best and most intense riffs as early in the album as possible. Oftentimes the first thing you hear on an album will be the lead guitarist masturbating at the strings as hard as he can, fighting to outdo every other prog metal act worth their salt. Unfortunately, the competition for greatest introductory riff officially ended in 2004 when Disillusion released their debut and opus, Back to Times of Splendor. The first track on the album, "...And the Mirror Cracked", has a guitar line that can only be described using phrases like 'bitchingest' and 'how do I turn on the repeat function.' This song has the riff that every band wishes they had written. It's fast. It's catchy. It's intense. And it also sets the stage for the album perfectly; it adds just a dash of nostalgia for medieval high fantasy that echoes thematically throughout the album as well as hinting at the turmoil about to befall our hero. If you listen to the beginning of this song and do not immediately want to hear the rest of the album, you may be medically deaf.
At The Drive-In – "Arcarsenal" (Relationship of Command)
The anticipation surrounding what turned out to be the Texan post-hardcore visionaries' final album instantly paid off as this sub-three-minute blast smashed its way out of the gates. The drum intro and twitchy guitar scratches at the start only raise the listener's hackles in warning, and the breathy background noises and distant screamed yelps are like some messed-up foreplay leading into the climactic frenzy of guitar pushed to its audible limits, and vocals with a commanding urgency and ferocity not heard in a decade. Lyrics are typically sparse and obtuse (the entire breakdown consists of the four words "uproar east / strike west", barked by Cedric Bixler like a man possessed). The all-out assault of this opener was perfectly demonstrated when the band opened what was to be one of their final live shows, Australia's Big Day Out festival in 2001, with this song. A mere three minutes later and guitars were already on the floor, microphone stands littered the stage and the audience looked ready to drop. As a statement of intent for what was to come, a brutal wake-up call to a scene and a death knell for a band veering too close to the edge in a wildly-careering experiment, it's the perfect album opener.
Slayer – "War Ensemble" (Seasons in the Abyss)
It’s weird to look back on Slayer’s catalogue and refer to Seasons in the Abyss as a relic—it was my first CD, it can’t have been that long ago, right? Truth be told, it marked a turning point for the band, shortly before the first time drummer Dave Lombardo departed. After mixing up tempos with South of Heaven, the band wanted to make a statement on Seasons. “War Ensemble” does just that, growing lyrically as the band moved their macabre tales into the real world without sacrificing force or style. Meanwhile, the punchy riffs that build to Tom Araya’s scorching “Waaar!!” chants is a cathartic burst that showcases a frenzy of emotion climaxing in the swirling fury and pounding drums. As it alternates between chaos and melody, it introduces the formula to reappear throughout the rest of the album. Even as the band wraps up their hallucinogenic title track forty-five minutes later, that pent-up war call remains buried in the subconscious.
Foo Fighters – "Doll" (The Colour and the Shape)
Sequencing would appear to be a thing of the past. It would seem nowadays that the sequencing of an album is given only half as much thought as where to place the UPC symbol on the packaging. Beginning with the Foo Fighters' debut release in 1995, Dave Grohl has always had the innate understanding of how to start an album (and possibly an even stronger understanding of how to finish an album, but that's another list). What made "Doll" so great is that it was such an unexpected opener. Here we had come to regard the Foo Fighters as these balls-out upstart rockers and then they kicked the sophomore door with... a ballad? But as scary as it first seemed, there was something in its flow and delivery - the way it was almost able to build suspense with its softness that you knew, you just knew that we've only just begun to taxi down the runway and it was time to strap in, close your eyes and take a trip you'll never forget.