Aug 182016

Gustave Dore-Satan from Paradise Lost


(Andy Synn wrote this opinion piece that ends in some questions for you.)

So I was listening to the new Allegaeon album, Proponent for Sentience, this morning (spoiler: it’s really good) when a question suddenly struck me… what is the optimal length for an album?

It’s not a new question by any means, as it’s one I’ve discussed with friends and colleagues over a cold beverage several times before, but it’s definitely one I keep coming back to, particularly when – as happens upon occasion – some overly-angry, impulse-control deficient commenter rears their ugly head and lambasts a writer (whether here or on one of the many other sites I frequent) for daring to suggest that an album is “too long”.

There’s definitely a certain subset of people (I suppose we can call them “fans”) who get unnecessarily indignant at any such suggestion, and who insist in no uncertain terms that more is always better, and how dare anyone be so churlish and ungrateful about it.

In many ways they’re a polar opposite to those “fans” who consider themselves entitled to anything and everything a band puts out, the ones who constantly demand more, and feel like they deserve everything for free because “without us, you wouldn’t even have a career” (seems to me like they don’t have much of one with you… but I digress…).

But though I can’t stand so-called “fans” who act as if a band owes them something, I’m also not big on the idea that we should just blindly accept whatever they give us without criticism.


Gustave Dore-Paradise Lost-angels of hell


You see, to declare that criticising an album for its length is completely off-limits seems like a pretty ignorant statement to me, one which wilfully ignores questions of flow and structure, form and function, and how an album is ultimately put together.

And though I’m sure not all of you think about these things, or think they’re important, that doesn’t mean you get to dictate to others who do.


Of course it varies from band to band and from person to person where this line is drawn, but for me an album needs to be more than just a random collection of songs – that way lies madness of the most disjointed and uneven kind – and instead reflect a particular period of time in a band’s existence, a particular set of writing and recording sessions, maybe a particular line-up, in microcosm.

It should be a statement, sometimes (though not necessarily) a story, with a beginning, middle, and an end. And choosing where and how to end an album is just as important as choosing where to begin. The listener should never be caught thinking “wow, this is still going”. They should reach the end of an album and think “damn, it’s over”. They should always be left wanting more. Not less.

It’s why having a solid closer is so important, something that wraps things up in style but also immediately makes you want to listen to the whole thing again, whilst simultaneously stoking your hunger for the band’s next release. It shouldn’t just trail off because they ran out of space/songs…


Gustave Dore-paradise_lost_11


There are other issues involved as well. Issues of listener fatigue. Issues of overall dynamic. Questions about whether the material actually needs to be an album, or whether it might be better served by the more concise and focussed format of an EP. All these and more.

But to extend the literary metaphor a little bit further, I’ve long held the opinion that sometimes it’s better to produce a truly excellent short-story or novella, than to overreach yourself and fall victim to the standard tropes and clichés of the full-length novel. And I don’t see why the same can’t apply to music too.


So here’s my question to all of you – what albums do you think are “too long”? And why? I want to hear your opinions (and, if you’re lucky, I might share some more of my own) about album lengths and album structures, about whether bigger is necessarily always better, or whether less truly can be more!

As always, play nice and be respectful of others… because if you don’t I will hunt you down like the dogs you are.

  12 Responses to “TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING?”

  1. I feel like no matter how I answer this I might shoot myself in the foot haha

    In general, I think 60 minutes is the sweet spot. While the feeling of wanting more is definitely always a good one, some albums – ones that hover just over 30 and barely scratch over 40 minutes – make the feeling a bit unpleasant. The newest Brutality has some great stuff on it, but an 11 minute cover song means the *actual* new music on the album is barely 30 minutes, and I paid $25 for it. Way too short, especially considering the time supposedly put behind it.

    Considering my own last two album are both over 120 minutes, it shouldn’t be any surprise that my favorite albums tend to be 90-120 minutes. I love really long, adventurous and lengthy albums. Most notably Ayreon’s releases from Universal Migrator all the way until his latest, The Theory of Everything, and Porcupine Tree’s “The Incident”. I’m also a big fan of the “single song albums” that are 40-60 minutes of a single slab of music. Pretty much anything Monolithe does, and both Crimsons by Edge of Sanity are standout examples to me.

    I really like investing in something like this, but of course, the material is under much more scrutiny, and these tend to be concept albums with long thought connections and interwoven parts that make it easy to invest in them.

    Dream Theater’s the Astonishing is too long, it’s also drenched in mediocrity, and for being a favorite band of mine, they absolutely do not know how to handle a concept album like Ayreon does. Way too much filler, and a lot of unnecessary additions to try and force the story down your throat (which is a cringeworthy one)

    Yob’s “Clearing the Path to Ascend” needed to be one song less, I felt. Good album, but it fatigues the shit out of me. None of the individual songs are bad, but its like when you hear a band wants to play a five or six hour concert. Sure, I may love the music, but I don’t wanna fuckin’ stand for six hours.

    • tl ; dr

    • I sometimes feel like EVERY album (or at least, more than admit it) is a concept album in some way. Even if it’s only a vague over-arching theme to the tracks.

      I’m not sure if I agree about “Clearing the Path…” but I’m not saying I necessarily disagree either.

      Some examples for me of recent albums which might benefit from some judicious pruning are Fallujah’s “Dreamless” (just end it on “Wind for Wings” and you’ve got yourself a stew going), and taking the song “Bury Me” off of “Trauma” by Harakiri for the Sky.

  2. I love lightbearer but their album “silver tongue” is a bit too long (72 mins if i’m correct).

    Also, from mars to sirius is also too long for my liking.

    • Interesting… what would you suggest cutting from “From Mars…” (I’m not saying you’re wrong, btw, just intrigued).

  3. My only issue with long albums is that I almost always listen to albums in full, which means I don’t always have the time to play through that 60+ minute opus. I find 40-45 to be the optimal length as it forces bands to toss out the filler. There are very few 60+ minute albums which are good first song to last, while I find that ratio increases for shorter albums.

    • Some good points there. It’s like having a great meal… I feel bad if there’s stuff left on my plate I still want to try, but if I’m stuffed, I’m stuffed.

      Of course the amount you can consume before getting stuffed (musically or gastronomically) still varies person-to-person.

      • My case-in-point against long albums is Midnight Odyssey. Now I think Dis Pater is musically brilliant, a real genius type, and I love basically everything the man has put out. But I have only listened through “Shards of Silver Fade” (which I think is his best work under the MO moniker) a handful of times, because it is 150 minutes long. I know part of this is just me being stubborn or whatever (listening almost exclusively to albums as opposed to individual songs, preferring to listen to 2 or 3 albums rather than just one if I have 2-3 hours of free time, which is rare). Anyway I find myself more and more choosing the shorter options when trying new stuff, and I agree wholeheartedly with your sentiments in the article, Andy.

  4. If it’s fast: shorter is better. If it’s slower, more atmospheric and has more variability in the style: longer suits better the album.

    The first examples I could think of:
    Reign in Blood, Slayer: 28 minutes, excellent album, adequate length.
    Blackwater Park, Opeth: 75 minutes, excellent album, adequate length.

    If it’s bad: it better be as short as possible.

    Exceptions may apply.

    • I’d say those are generally good rules of thumb.

      I also like the assertion that bad albums should be as short as possible, so we can get through them quicker… unfortunately that requires bands to realise they’re making a bad album!

  5. So here we are.. talking about length 😉

    It seems there’s a bit of a consensus forming that around the 60 minute mark is the maximum you can take without an album wandering, or losing focus. I’d say on average that seems about right, but of course it’s never black and white. Schammasch’s “Contradiction” for example – I had no idea how long it was until I tried to copy it to a CD to play in my car… wtf, it doesn’t fit?! It *feels* like the right length.

    Another would be Sylosis’ “Edge Of the Earth”, at 1:17 including the bonus track (which is fully A grade material as well). I never feels “long”, just “awesome” 😉

    In all honesty I struggle to think of albums that have felt too long off the top of my head, which I guess is a good sign it doesn’t happen to me much anymore. But one that sticks out from recent memory is Machine Head’s “Blood and Diamonds”; an album like that fits the description you’ve got above – they wrote all that stuff, but it didn’t all *need* to be on the album. Pruning it back to give it more punch would’ve made the album as a whole feel right.

    Which also leads me to think I guess it also comes down to whether you’d listen to the whole album, versus a track or half-album of highlights – and I think metal fans on a whole are far more inclined to listen to a whole album in a listening session; and I’d fully agree it’s like every album is a concept when you’re listening to it front to back.

  6. I typically think less is more.

    Nothing better than an album that ends and begs a repeat listen straight away. I find this to happen the most with albums under 40 mins. I’m getting ready to release an album clocking in at 37 minutes. It’s the band’s debut album and I trimmed it down from 45 min (part due to filler, part to achieve a better length for a debut album in the general punk genre).

    50 minute albums are too long. 60+ minute albums are dumb.

    The latest Midnight Odyssey is a double record with well over an hour on each disc. It’s good, but it’s entirely too long. Also take a look at “Hail Death” by Black Anvil. Pretty good album most would agree. But an hour and eleven? They could have easily cut out a HALF HOUR of stuff and released a stronger album. Also fuck them for doing a Kiss cover on an already bloated album.

    Eh whatever, to each their own. Just my $.02.

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