Listening to hard rock has been one of my hobbies since middle school. It’s been an avenue of safely channeling aggression and negative feelings.
Why scream about something when there’s a voice in your ear screaming for you? 🙂 Heavy metal is a catharsis, man.
Here are the 5 rock albums that defined my ascension to heavy metaldom.
Note: These albums were not selected based on quality. These records just happened to show their gritty faces as 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 crap at this point, who knows?).
I was watching VH1’s 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock special hosted by Carmen Electra. The special had various musicians and industry-insiders providing commentary and insight.
Ratt clocked in at number 79. There was something about their overall appearance that just fascinated me.
I had a somewhat abstract idea of the 1980s glam metal scene (musicians wore glitzy outfits and gallons of hair spray). Ratt was the first specific band from that era that I learned about (long before I knew the names Motley Crue and Guns N’ Roses).
Gotta get me some Ratt
I remember my brother having an iTunes account on the family desktop (nowadays, it’s Apple Music). The Out of the Cellar album was just drifting there, begging to be downloaded and burned. So I paid him 10 bucks, cash in hand, and the dirty deed was done.
This was long before YouTube streaming was a thought. And this was after the whole Napster fiasco.
That’s right, this was the era where people actually had to pay to listen to music.
One Hit Wonders?
Back to Ratt. If I’m being truthful, they were far from being the greatest band ever.
Stephen Pearcy, the vocalist, was just okay. His limited vocal range is apparent at times. Their strongest point, I think, was the lead guitarist Warren DeMartini. He happened to come up with a sick solo while the band wrote 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 fairly quickly.
Nonetheless, this album was my introduction to glam metal, and Round and Round will forever be a staple on my playlist.
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 1980’s Metallica and 1990’s Metallica.
There’s nary a fan that simultaneously enjoys both. Metallica, in the 80’s, was what you’d expect any metal band to sound like: fast riffing, screaming vocals, songs about death and destruction, etc.
When the 90’s came around, they altered their musical approach to be more radio-friendly and sell more records. Money talks…
Before Commercialization Hit…
For 80’s Metallica, the Master of Puppets album was the peak of their musicianship and songwriting. Every song on the album is mind-blowingly incredible. They all actually stand out on their own without being depressingly generic.
It feels like every track was a carefully-constructed theatrical arrangement. The sound fits the overall theme and message like a glove.
The band did a great job capturing the atmosphere of war in Disposable Heroes, sadism and helplessness in the title track, and rampaging lunacy in Battery.
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, if I’m being honest. You’d have to hear it for yourself.
‘Tallica at their Best
The album’s predecessor, Ride the Lightning, was a great album though 2-3 songs were pretty fillerish. You can’t say the same for Master of Puppets, though, as it’s a more complete album.
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 Satanic godliness and mouth-frothing glory.
“Bodies fill the fields, I see. Hungry heroes end. No one to play soldier now, no one to pretend. Running blind through killing fields, bred to kill them all. Victim of what said should be. A servant till I fall…”-Metallica
3. Guns N’ Roses – Appetite for Destruction
While Guns N’ Roses is considered part of the 1980’s glam scene, they were essentially the Big Bang that ended the 80’s and the Genesis to the 90’s Grunge era. They were the only rock band that enjoyed success in both periods.
With GNR, 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.
The Real Deal
Ratt and Poison were like drag queens performing at 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.
All Killer, No Filler
Like Master of Puppets, every song on Appetite for Destruction stands out without being repeitive or formulaic. They all have their own unique hook, punctuated by Axl’s screeches and yelps. He oozes so much charisma on this album, it’s crazy.
There’s also Slash with the riffs capturing the dark underworld of Los Angeles, and the melodic sentimentality that can be found there, too. But…yeah.
Back to Axl.
Rose in Bloom
His persona is what defined this entire album for me. Axl’s 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 Rose is a complicated character who’s had his share of hardships. He taught me that the most beautiful art comes from complex and 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.
Just let go.
“Do you know where you are?!”-Guns N’ Roses
2. Anthrax – Among the Living
Anthrax is one of the Big Four of thrash metal bands (the others being Metallica, Slayer, and Megadeth). There’s been some debate in the 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.
Nonetheless, they’ve created some compellingly original songs. Scott Ian has gotten well-deserved recognition for his rhythm guitar-playing.
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.
For me, Anthrax’s Among the Living was a break from the norm. When I first bought it, I was consuming too much Metallica day in and out. I needed a break. I needed some variety.
So I looked at the other bands in the Big Four. Slayer was too gothic and dark for my liking, so I passed.
Megadeth seemed like the jealous ex-friend that you’d rather stay far away from. (Dave Mustaine used to play for Metallica. He feuded with the band after getting fired) As a Metallica junkie, my instinct was to avoid them.
Years later, 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 its title track, I Am the Law, and Caught in a Mosh.
Class Clowns of the Thrash Scene
What intrigued me is they actually wrote songs about novels, comic books, and other random stuff (like, I don’t know, getting “caught in a mosh”).
Anthrax was tongue-in-cheek and didn’t take themselves seriously. This album was a welcome departure from the depressing gravitas of your average thrash outfit.
What I got from Anthrax was an essential spice called variety.
“When the Sovs started the Apocalypse War, Megacity was bombed to the floor. But Dredd resisted and the Judges fought back. Crushed the Sovs with their counter-attack!”-Anthrax
1. Metallica- Black Album
Here it is, bros and babes. The Number One Album that defined my childhood.
We already talked about 1980s Metallica, now it’s time for their 1990s incarnation. This was the commercial rock group that arguably deserved an asterisk after the “Metal” part of their name.
Metal*lica’s 1991 album, officially self-titled, is usually called the “Black Album.”
Road to Commercialization
After Master of Puppets was released and bassist Cliff Burton died, the band shifted their trajectory and experiemented with different arrangements. In 1988’s And Justice for All, they went so far as to mute the bass sound altogether.
Some say it was out of respect for their fallen bass player. Others say it was a dig at new bassist Jason Newstead. The band members themselves have said it was purely for mixing reasons.
Regardless, 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.
Exit Light, Enter Night
I used to listen to Enter Sandman on repeat, literally, as I couldn’t get enough of it. I’d 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.
“Say your prayers, little one. Don’t forget my son, to include everyone!”-Metallica
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