1. Queensrÿche: Rage For Order (1986)
In 1990, Queensrÿche was riding high on a wave of popularity driven by their most commercially successful album to date, “Empire.” The hauntingly beautiful lead single, “Silent Lucidity,” and its FM radio omnipresence helped launch the album and its followup singles into the stratosphere, in much the same way the “Black Album” had recently made Metallica a household name.
Well, I absolutely loved “Silent Lucidity.” It had strings, which as a 13-year-old film score aficionado scored major points with me. It had cryptic, almost sci-fi lyrics about lucid dreaming, which appealed to me as well. And it was just a really catchy song.
Anyway, I walked to the record store with ten dollars in my pocket, hoping to obtain the album. I was saddened to discover that I was about a dollar short, but I didn’t want to leave empty-handed, so I opted instead for “Rage For Order,” which was cheaper.
When I popped that tape into my boom box, it made itself at home in there for a good three to four months. I lived and breathed that album. It had a crisp, clean, production that felt big and open and futuristic, and somehow managed to sound both organic and robotic at the same time. I still perceive it that way when I hear it today.
It sounds nothing like anything else that had been recorded by anyone prior, and its not dated by typical ’80s rock production values that sucked the life out of everything. It breathes. It feels alive, but not fully human. More like a cyborg. It’s a work of art that will always invoke strong feelings of nostalgia in me, and I still adore it. I can’t even choose a favorite track; they’re all amazing. Of course, I eventually picked up “Empire,” but it’s not nearly as good as the albums that preceded it, especially this one, in my opinion, even though the general consensus is that “Operation Mindcrime” represents their finest hour. I respectfully disagree.
2. Megadeth: Rust In Peace (1990)
A friend from school had dubbed me a copy of “Use Your Illusion II,” and Had some space left at the end of the tape to add a few extra songs. He chose three tracks from the then-new Megadeth album “Rust In Peace.” I had no idea what it was when it came on, but I’d never heard anything like it in my life. It was jaw-droppingly good, and I had to have more.
I’d been into hard rock for a couple of years, and I’d been introduced to metal via “Rage For Order”(see above), but this was on another level. It was fast, snarling, ugly and vicious, and it kicked my ass. How mere human beings ever managed to craft such a stunningly perfect album is beyond me, but I’m glad they did. I’m still not convinced there wasn’t some sort of alien or time traveler intervention involved. It opened the door, for me, to more extreme forms of metal later on. The entire thing shreds from start to finish. The phrase “all filler no killer” most certainly applies.
3. The Sex Pistols: Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols (1977)
The year was 1994, and I was sixteen. I was into stuff with attitude, like Megadeth, Public Enemy and Guns N’ Roses, all of which had already begun to fall out of public favor. I didn’t care, though. Green Day was making a lot of noise, and I thought they were cool, and I liked the “Dookie” album well enough, and Offspring was cool, but I kept hearing and reading comparisons to ’70s and ’80s punk rock and for really curious about what that stuff sounded like. I finally came across a copy of the Sex Pistols album, and within five seconds of pressing play in my CD player, I knew this was my shit. It had the distorted chainsaw guitar tone of Guns, and the brevity and catchiness of Green Day, but the whole thing was just a big sloppy mess…and I loved it. Still do, and still listen it. It was my true introduction to punk, and opened up the door to other bands I came to love, like the Ramones, Misfits, Exploited, Social Distortion, Circle Jerks, etc. Sloppy, sneering aggression with pop hooks that made Green Day seem like garbage in comparison. No disrespect to Green Day, of course.
4. Cannibal Corpse: Gallery of Suicide (1998)
^^^Pictured: the “censored” cover, which I always thought was cooler than the uncensored one I had, just because that castle looked so creepy.
I had “Vile” before I had this album, and while I enjoyed it as I was first beginning to get into death metal, it wasn’t until “Gallery” came out that my love for the band was fully cemented. I sought out the older albums with Chris Barnes on vocals and then my interests started branching out into other bands like Obituary and then-newcomers/now legends, Nile. And to this day, when Cannibal Corpse releases a new album, I go out and purchase a physical copy, even if it’s getting harder and harder to find them. Last album, I finally tracked it down at Best Buy. They had one copy, on a little “New released” cardboard stand by the registers.
Cannibal has always had the catchiest songs, though, next to Obituary, anyway, and I particularly appreciate the way George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher is able enunciate his words clearly while still maintaining one of the most powerful and instantly recognizable voices in death metal. I met him once, in 2012 and he was such a sweet guy, and a starstruck fan accommodator. Walked right through the venue between acts and stopped to take pics with everyone who swarmed him.
Some people prefer the guttural nature of the Barnes vocals prior to “the Bleeding,” but “the Bleeding” is my favorite Cannibal Corpse album precisely because the intelligible vocals made the lyrics so much more menacing. You can growl along with “Stripped, raped and strangled” in the car. I like that. I can’t do that with Deeds Of Flesh.
Anyway, Gallery was a couple albums deep into the era when Cannibal was evolving, technically, by leaps and bounds with each album, and this one marked a major step forward for them, in terms of song composition and overall musicianship. They even included an instrumental, something not commonly done then or now. They did one more on a subsequent album, but I’ve always wished they’d have explored that more and included one on each album, because this one is great.
5. The Crucified: ST (1989)
My mom, concerned with my budding interest in metal around 1990 or so, had read an article in a Christian Magazine about Christian metal bands and she thought it’d be a good idea to steer me in that direction.
She took me to the Salt Cellar, a local Christian book and supply store and let me pick out two tapes. One was Bloodgood, a solid band that sounded kind of like Queensrÿche collaborating with Bon Jovi, but with crappy production. I dug it alright. It got a lot of play. The other one, though, was the Crucified.
This wasn’t weepy, sappy Christian rock with a singer crooning about Jesus in some vague way that could be easily misinterpreted as a love song about a woman. This was a guy with a shaved head barking unashamedly about God, Jesus, repentance, forgiveness and unity, and presenting hope to angry, alienated teens who felt confused and frustrated by life. It spoke to me on a deep level.
The musicianship is top-notch, and although it’s not much of a stylistic departure from any other crossover(hardcore punk and thrash metal) thrash band, it was the first thing of its kind that I heard. The riffs are sick, the solos rip, the drums sound raw and unprocessed, like you’re sitting in the room with the band, as opposed to the “BOOM, BASH, BOOM BOOM BASH” Def Leppard-style drums that had infested mainstream rock and metal in the eighties. Even some of the bands that pioneered that sound, like DRI, fell victim to that awful 80s drum sound. DRI’s late 80s drums sound like all the air has been sucked out of them and each snare hit has been vacuum sealed in a plastic bag. This was like a guy beating on a garbage can and I loved it. It was intense and noisy and obnoxious and my parents were angered by it, which meant it was good. They released a followup, but I didn’t get a chance to hear it until I was an adult. It’s great, too, but this album has encoded itself into my DNA. I still like it better than anything DRI has ever released. I was later thrilled to find it on cd, back before digital music was a thing
Hope you enjoyed my musical trip down memory lane… stay tuned for part two, featuring The Doors, Dr. Dre, The Beach Boys, Led Zeppelin and Sepultura.