Hall of Fame Countdown: Tiamat’s Wildhoney

Ah, necessity: the well-meaning yet often overbearing mother of invention. She was certainly putting in work in early 1994, when three-fifths of Tiamat hit the bricks and remaining members Johan Edlund (vocals/guitars) and Johnny Hagel (bass) were left scratching their beards, wondering what to do next. Luckily for all of us, giving up was never on the boys’ radar…but, as Chris Dick details in his excellent Hall of Fame article (you can buy the issue here), drawing upon the awesome power of psychedelics to craft one of the trippiest death/doom albums of all time certainly was.

Twenty-two years later, Wildhoney remains a marvel—a truly mighty bridge that countless bands have since crossed in an effort to meld the brutal with the otherworldly. There are 10 individual songs, but each flows effortlessly into the next via instrumental segues and repeated themes, which essentially turns the album into one gigantic piece of music. Not the easiest setup for a Hall of Fame Countdown, but here we go anyway:

10. Wildhoney
The first of Wildhoney’s four instrumental tracks is also the least interesting—birds chirp, guitars strum and an ominous keyboard melody floats by, but outside of the context of the album as a whole, it pretty much has zero replay value. At least they didn’t name it “Intro.”

9. Kaleidoscope
This interlude is slightly more compelling than the title track—the rain and thunder set a familiar yet haunting tone, and that acoustic guitar riff is pretty goddamn morose, but ultimately, its only purpose is to serve as the lead-in for a proper song.

8. 25th Floor
Every time I hear this creepy-ass interlude, the immortal words of Hunter S. Thompson echo in my mind: “We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.” If a bad mushroom trip had to choose a theme song, “25th Floor” would be at the top of its list. An unsettling piano melody, monstrous voices swirling overhead, the guttural rumblings of some ancient (and possibly underwater) machinery…thankfully the trip wears off after one minute and 50 seconds instead of permanently Syd Barrett-ing our brains.

7. Planets
Wildhoney’s last instrumental is also the most psychedelic track on the entire album, with shimmering layers of electronics, eerie synth lines and mournful electric guitar taking center stage. I’ve written to the Morrison Planetarium several times asking them to set an infinite loop of “Planets” to the latest Hubble Space Telescope footage in place of the 16 millionth Dark Side of the Moon laser show, but they’ve yet to respond. Maybe one of you can put that together on YouTube. Oh wait…

6. A Pocket Size Sun
Metal bands were damn familiar with ballads by 1994, but how many of them were experimenting with drug-addled lullabies? “A Pocket Size Sun” doesn’t have many remarkable riffs or melodies, but its tranquil atmosphere and dense layering give it a spellbinding power that’s wholly unique and undeniably engaging. And as the last song on an album that’s teeming with psychedelia, what better way to go out than pumped full of opiates, floating gently toward the moons of Jupiter on a nebulous cloud made of your own tears?

5. Do You Dream of Me?
The best part of this creepy doom ballad is the syncopated drum/shredding flamenco guitar breakdown that happens a little past the three-minute mark. Tiamat spend the first half of the song lulling you into a wistful dream state, and just when you’re about to drift into the warm embrace of nothingness, you’re yanked back to reality by a single thought: Sweet playing, breh.

4. Gaia
I’ve always loved this song, even though it has one of the least brutal choruses in heavy metal history: “Spiders, snakes and the little mice!” Waldemar Sorychta’s ceremonial keyboard work sets a perfect tone from the outset, and Edlund’s vocals have rarely sounded more emotionally charged. “Gaia” is also a great showcase for guest guitarist Magnus Sahlgren, who lays down one of Wildhoney’s tastiest solos at 4:48.

3. Visionaire
Even though the opening chord progression is, as Lars Ulrich would politely put it, a little stock, it leads to the best riff on the entire album, so fuck it (that’s 0:49 if you’re keeping track). “Visionaire” also benefits from some seriously trippy lyrics, which conjure celestial images that are usually only accessed by imbibing a series of sacred plants: “With a solar knife I split the sky”/“I stole the colour of night”/“I count the stars in my hand and dream myself strong.”

2. The Ar
The best way to listen to “The Ar” is in the context of Wildhoney as a whole, as it begins its life by playing off the closing theme of its predecessor, but like any great song, it also stands firmly on its own feet. The main riff is one of the most memorable of Tiamat’s career, and Birgit Zacher’s operatic guest vocals provide a regality that fits perfectly with the band’s somber atmosphere. The acoustic/industrial hybrid breakdown in the middle is a brilliant piece of dynamic songwriting—when the main theme kicks back in, it carries even more weight.

1. Whatever That Hurts
Much like “In a Dream” off Clouds, “Whatever That Hurts” is the quintessential example to use when tasked with describing mid-90s Tiamat to an unfamiliar ally. In less than six minutes, everything about the band is established: evocative melodies, emotionally raw vocals, pockets of shredding guitar, instantly memorable riffs and a chorus that was born to be howled at the moon. And don’t you dare forget about that classic “riff within a riff” moment that occurs for the first time at 0:15, when a syncopated drum and bass movement steals the show from an already-epic guitar phrase. Psilocybe tea!