Listening to hard rock has been one of my hobbies since middle school. I’ve found it an avenue to safely channel aggression and negative feelings. Why scream about something when there’s a voice in your ear screaming for you? 🙂
Here are the 5 rock albums that defined my ascension to heavy metaldom.
These albums were not selected based on quality. These records just happened to show their gritty faces when I was getting into the metal scene eons ago. So, without further ado…
5. Ratt– Out of the Cellar
Man, I remember this so vividly.
I was in 8th grade. I started to religiously watch VH1 (MTV had already gone down the tubes. They’re probably sewer Ratt shit at this point, who knows?). It was during VH1’s 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock special hosted by Carmen Electra, with various musicians and industry-insiders giving commentary. Ratt clocked in at number 79. There was something about their overall appearance that just fascinated me.
I had a very abstract idea of the 1980s glam metal scene (musicians wore glitzy outfits and used gallons of hair spray). Ratt was the first specific band from that period that I learned about (long before I knew the names Motley Crue and Guns N’ Roses). I remember my brother having an iTunes account and I paid him 10 bucks, cash in hand, to download the Out of the Cellar album and burn it to a disc for me. This was long before YouTube streaming was even a thought. Good times.
To be fair, Ratt was far from being the greatest band ever. Stephen Pearcy, the vocalist, is just okay and his limited vocal range is apparent at times. Their strongest point, I think, was their lead guitarist Warren DeMartini. He happened to come up with a sick solo while the rest of the band wrote some catchy lyrics for Round and Round, their 1984 megahit. The album also had minor hits with Wanted Man, and Back for More but I never cared for them. Without Round and Round, they would’ve sunk into obscurity back then. Nevertheless, this album was my introduction to the glam metal genre, and Round and Round will forever be a staple on my iTunes list.
I knew right from the beginning…that you would end up winning…Ratt
4. Metallica – Master of Puppets
When we think of Metallica, there are two distinct eras in the band’s history that we swear allegiance to: the 1980s Metallica and 1990s Metallica. There’s nary a fan that simultaneously enjoys both. Metallica in the 80s was what you expect any metal band to sound like: fast riffing, screaming vocals, songs about death and destruction, etc. When the 90s came by, they altered their musical approach to be more radio-friendly and sell more records.
For the 1980s version of Metallica, the Master of Puppets album was them at the peak of their musicianship and songwriting. Every song on this album is mind-blowingly incredible. Every song stands out on its own. Metallica did a great job capturing the atmosphere of war in Disposable Heroes, sadism and helplessness in the title track, and rampaging lunacy in Battery. It feels like every song was a carefully-constructed theatrical arrangement: the sound fits the overall theme of the story and message. The lyrics are carefully worded with the literary force of an epic novel. Talking about this album in text won’t do it any justice, in all honesty. You’d have to hear it for yourself.
The album’s predecessor, Ride the Lightning, was a great album though 2-3 songs were either filler or generic. You can’t say the same for Master of Puppets, though, as it’s a more complete album. I know I may be jumping on the bandwagon here, but Puppets is easily the best album they’ve done. This record showed me what heavy metal really is, in all its godliness and glory.
3. Guns N’ Roses – Appetite for Destruction
While Guns N’ Roses is often considered to be part of the 80s glam scene, they were essentially the Big Bang that ended the 80s and acted as a Genesis to the 90s Grunge era. Think of Ratt and Poison but injected with a ridiculous amount of testosteone. You’d get a sleazier voice, thicker riffs, and a punkish attitude to boot. Ratt and Poison were like the drag queens performing in luxurious venues. GNR was the gritty, streetwise drug dealer with a nihilistic worldview, but willing to do anything for those close to him. Axl Rose was grittiness personified. It isn’t a trait that can be replicated or manufactured. You either have this sleaziness or you don’t.
Like Master of Puppets, every song on Appetite for Destruction stands out without being repeitive or formulaic. Every song has its own unique hook, punctuated by Axl’s screeches and yelps. He oozes so much charisma on this album, it’s crazy. Of course, there’s also Slash with the riffs capturing the dark underworld of Los Angeles, and the melodic sentimentality that can be found there, as well.
Axl’s persona is what defined this entire album for me. His raw vocal power couldn’t be matched. It takes years of training to successfully pull off tracks like Welcome to the Jungle and Paradise City. Axl is a complicated character who’s had his share of hardships. He taught me that the most beautiful art comes from people that are complex, fractured human beings. All you got to do is let go, and make yourself vulnerable for the entire world to see and respect you, warts and all.
2. Anthrax – Among the Living
Anthrax is one of the Big 4 Thrash metal bands (the others being Metallica, Slayer, and Megadeth). There has been some debate in the fan community whether Anthrax truly deserves to be mentioned with the other three. The argument is not without merit, if we’re being honest. Two of Anthrax’s biggest hits were covers (Got the Time, and Antisocial). The band didn’t make a name for themselves until around 1987, compared to 1983-84 for the other bands mentioned above.
Nevertheless, they have created some compelling original songs. Scott Ian has gotten well-deserved recognition for his rhythm guitar-playing abilities. Joey Belladonna is a decent singer. He struggles with vocal harmonies sometimes, and sounds like he’s straining his vocal cords. His voice is still distinctive and, I’ll submit, decent.
Anthrax’s Among the Living represented a break from a norm for me. At the time I first bought it, I consumed too much Metallica day in and out. I needed a break. I needed some variety. I looked at the other Big 4 bands. I passed on Slayer since they were too gothic and dark for my liking. Megadeth seemed like the jealous ex-friend that you should stay far away from. Dave Mustaine used to be in Metallica and feuded with the band after getting fired. As a Metallica junkie, my instinct was to avoid him.
Years later, of course, I would learn to appreciate the talent Mustaine actually has, and that’s a topic for another time.
Anyway, Anthrax seemed to be just right. They weren’t too dark, and they seemed to be “just metal” enough for me. I bought Among the Living and was hooked on the title track, I Am the Law, and Caught in a Mosh. What intrigued me is they wrote songs about novels, comic books, and other random stuff (like getting caught in a mosh). Anthrax was tongue-in-cheek and didn’t take themselves seriously. For me, this album was certainly a welcome departure from the depressing gravitas of your average thrash band. What I got from Anthrax was an essential spice called variety.
1. Metallica– Black Album
We already talked about 1980s Metallica, now it’s time for their 1990s incarnation: the commercial rock group that probably deserved an asterisk after the “Metal” part in their name. Metal*lica’s 1991 album, which is officially self-titled, is sometimes called the “Black Album.” After Master of Puppets was released and bassist Cliff Burton died, Metallica shifted their trajectory and experiemented with different arrangements in And Justice for All in 1988. They even went so far as to mute the bass sound altogether, out of respect for their fallen bass player. But what is a heavy metal song without its bass sound? The bass is what gives the song its muscle.
But I digress. They brought the bass back for the Black Album while slowing the riffs and upping the emphasis on Kirk Hammet’s guitar melodies. I would listen to Enter Sandman on repeat, literally. I couldn’t get enough of it. I would also binge on Wherever I May Roam and Of Wolf and Man. The Black Album was my first introduction to rock music, long before I even knew of Anthrax, Ratt, or GNR.
The Black Album is where it all began.
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