Every now and then I get nominated for these music challenges on Facebook. This one was more conducive to a long-form blog, as I knew that my explanations would be a bit wordy.
How did I determine these albums were the ones that changed how I perceived heavy metal? Each one I heard at just the right time in my life exactly when I needed to. The beauty of this kind of thing is that it’s totally intimate and unique to the listener. This isn’t about which albums are my favorite. For example, the Anthrax album I listed isn’t my favorite album from them, it was just the one I heard that expanded my mind and my perspective and made me appreciate that group and what they did, and how it influenced me as both a lover of music and a musician. These are in somewhat chronological order according to when I heard them.
Are we ready? Let’s go!
1. Def Leppard- Pyromania. Picture it, fifth grade. I was ten years old. This record came out and it changed my world. I liked rock music before, much of which would fall under AOR or classic rock today, but this was different. There was something about this that was just harder than the AOR that was being played, a hypnotic quality to the acoustic guitars and the silvery shine of the vocal harmonies. And the solos, the guitar solos… I spent much of my time in class drawing this album cover.
2. Van Halen-1984. So let’s stretch the definition of metal a little bit. Van Halen gets in because every fucking metal guitarist at one point wanted to learn how to play like Eddie. In 1984 I was a drum enthusiast who wanted to play like Alex. The songwriting on this album is perfect. Drummers today still try and play the beginning of Hot For Teacher even more than guitarists try and play Eruption. It really was the culmination of their career and it hasn’t been topped by them since.
3. Anthrax- I’m the Man EP. I remember buying this at a store in the local mall on cassette and thinking, I need to hide this from my parents. Hard rock was fine and all, but this was *gasp* thrash metal! These guys probably worshipped Satan and I was endangering my soul by listening to it. What I got was a band unafraid to mash genres even in a goofy way. More to that, though, this EP opened up my mind to thrash with their live cuts of Caught In A Mosh and I Am The Law, two songs that still to this day make me want to punch babies (not really but still…). And their cover of Sabbath Bloody Sabbath exposed me to the Godfathers of heavy metal for the first time.
4. Metallica- Ride the Lightning. I damn near wept when I heard this. I did weep when I heard Fade to Black. My jaw dropped when I heard Fight Fire With Fire… that double bass drumming blew my mind. Call of Ktulu sent me down an imaginative epic rabbit hole of creative thought. I had never heard a band do things like this, ever. If I had to pick one record above all that changed my musical perspective, this would be the one. Cliff never would have let Metallica devolve into what they became. If I could bring one person back, it would be him.
5. Guns N Roses- Appetite For Destruction. Welcome To The Jungle grabbed me right away. The album broke big just before the Summer of 1988, but I was hooked from the beginning. Here was a rock/metal band that wasn’t just talking the talk. They were nasty. They were ugly. Their sound was grating and not polished at all. The guitar solos wailed with real emotion and energy. This album was not a canned hair metal record, it was something else. It had a dangerous vibe, and it changed mainstream metal in such a way that every one of those cheese-laden poseur bands tried to toughen up their image and make their sound a little heavier. Nobody wanted to be Jon Bon Jovi or Brett Michaels, they wanted to be Axl, who, love him or hate him, is one of the greatest frontmen ever. Sure, they became dinosaurs themselves four years later, but damn, what a great debut album.
6. Iron Maiden- Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. Now, this was not the first time I heard Maiden, but this was the first album I heard that really grabbed me. Of course I went back and devoured all their earlier stuff, but from beginning to end, this record turned me on my ear. ‘Soaring’ and ‘epic’ are words that fall short of describing this masterpiece. It’s still my favorite Maiden record to this day.
7. Faith No More- Introduce Yourself. I heard of this band because I saw a picture in which Lars Ulrich was wearing one of their T-shirts. As a result I caught them before they blew up donuts with The Real Thing. Even today, this record holds up. It’s far ahead of its time, even when juxtaposed with today’s music. Sure, Chuck Mosley’s voice isn’t as spastic or dynamic as Mike Patton, but the music is just unreal and otherworldly.
8. Death- Human. It was 1991. I was setting up my drums for a gig with my then-band Psychotrauma. I was 19. Cut me some slack. Across the PA, I hear the drums come in and build slowly, I hear the guitars chime in, and then a pause… and then all bloody hell breaks loose. Oh. My. Gods. Even today the record stands out as a game-changer for both death metal and progressive metal. It was the first time I heard Sean Reinert’s drumming. Chuck Schuldiner’s songwriting really leapt ahead of anything else at the time. Unbelievable record, best dude. He’d be my second choice to bring back from the dead.
9. Alice in Chains- Facelift. Of all the bands that redefined hard rock in the early 90’s I feel this one gets overlooked the most. It was a tough choice between AiC and Soundgarden because both bands are phenomenal and in 91, they were both at the top of their game. Where bands like Nirvana took a more punk/alternative sound and made it harder, AiC took gritty, bluesy riff-based metal and gave it a… ummm… Facelift? Many people hail Dirt as their peak, and that’s great too, but Sea of Sorrow, Love Hate Love… and it was the first time I heard them and it changed me. And yes, Layne Staley would be my third resurrection.
10. Earth Crisis- Destroy the Machines. Don’t let anyone tell you that this isn’t a metal album. It absolutely is. Even though ExC has always been rooted in hardcore, the seminal roots of what would become metalcore lie here with the early 90’s Victory Records explosion. Up until that time, I had never seen a crowd lose their collective shit like they did at an ExC show. Every person shouting the lyrics. Massive pile-ons. The hardest mosh I had ever seen. And a message that was much more pro-environment than the cheeseball expressions that thrash metal was doing around 89-90. Yeah, we get it, you hate toxic waste, rip another bong duuuude. ExC was a band putting everything into their message of environmental consciousness, veganism, and straight edge, and whether you agreed with them or not you couldn’t deny the ferocity of their music or their conviction.
11. Soilwork- A Predator’s Portrait. I hadn’t heard Swedish death metal before this. In fact, I thought there must be a mistake. To me death metal was Cannibal Corpse and Morbid Angel. This is way too pretty, with lots of harmonies and hooks and clean vocals and keyboards. Yet, it was undeniably heavy and catchy, combining the speed and power of death metal with the epic scope of bands like Iron Maiden. Soilwork introduced me to European metal that was booking in the 90’s that we here in the US mussed out on. Metal went into hibernation, especially as Metallica went mainstream and nü-metal took over and reduced the genre to a simple, reduced form of a once great art.
12. Cradle of Filth- Midian. While this is not the album that most people credit with being the genre changer, it was my introduction to them, and I had never heard anything like this before. This was the first time I realized just how cinematic metal could be, with deep orchestration and dynamics that I’d only heard in movie scores before. It also introduced me to Adrian Erlandsson, which led me to At the Gates (who would make this list if I had five more slots). I can remember hearing some of these operatic passages in my sleep the night after I heard this. Such a good record.
13. Wintersun- Wintersun. This is the only album in which I have the cover art tattooed on my body. Many bands inspired and influenced me, none so much as this, though. Recorded entirely by two people, Jari Mäenpää and drummer Kai Hahto, this record upped the ante for melodic metal and mashed the lines between folk, power, and prog like no band before or since. It’s truly a perfect album and one which is the standard by which I judge all metal albums.
14. Insomnium- The Day It All Came Down. It’s so hard to pick an Insomnium album because they are all so good, but this one stands out because it’s their sophomore effort and it’s the perfect combination of their youthful rage and the beginning of what would be a fabulous maturation as a songwriting unit. It’s here where they began to pull away from similar artists and forge their very unique sound, and from there they have enaged in a very methodical evolution which has spanned almost 20 years. Listen to their first album and their most recent and the change sounds drastic, but listen to their albums sequentially, and you can see, like the time lapse image of turning seasons, how they got from there to here.
15. Devin Townsend- Ziltoid the Omniscient. I’m picking this Devy record because of all his efforts, this one was born from his most creatively free space possible, and it’s pure fucking genius. He had just broken up Strapping Young Lad and was either awaiting the birth of his son or he was just born. The album itself is musically not unlike a lot of other Devy stuff, but the concept of an omni-dimensional omniscient alien who plays guitar and lists for coffee invading the earth only to be rebuffed by a hero named Captain Spectacular (who in the sequel, is revealed to be Ziltoid half brother and dies saving the earth from the War Princess- spoiler alert!)… but do you see why this is fucking awesome?
So there you have it. Will I revisit this at some point and change my mind? Maybe. But for now, this stands as the list from which my metal blood flows. Sadly there were many albums I would have loved to include but alas, I only had 15 spots to give. Here are some honorable mentions in no particular order:
1. Sepultura– Beneath the Remains.
2. Testament– Practice What You Preach.
3. Slayer– South of Heaven.
4. At the Gates– Terminal Spirit Disease.
5. DragonForce– Sonic Firestorm.
6. Sonata Arctica– Reckoning Night.
7. Ensiferum– Iron.
8. Strapping Young Lad– The New Black
9. Wilderun– Olden Tales and Deathly Trails.
10. Gojira– L’Enfant Sauvage.
11. Agalloch– Ashes Against the Grain.
12. Into Eternity– The Scattering of Ashes.
13. Undying– The Whispered Lies of Angels.
14. Dimmu Borgir– Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia.
15. Pantera– Far Beyond Driven.