Sunday, July 26, 2015


As part of my ongoing Everyone's at Gen Con so why bother series, where I relax the tone and content of the Blog, I am going to discuss rock and metal albums that had a big influence on me when I was really getting into music and gaming. Not going to link to youtube clips out of copyright concerns. I will suggest songs from the albums worth checking out. This isn't everything I was listening to a the time, just stuff that had a large impact. 

1. Black Sabbath (Black Sabbath)
Black Sabbath (Black Sabbath)
My uncle had a big stash of old records in his cellar and somehow I managed to get my hands on this one. It was still the late 80s I believe so we had a record player and I was able to play it (along with his Cheech & Chong albums). This album had a huge impact on me. I don't think I'd ever heard anything like the opening song, Black Sabbath. It was straight out of a horror movie and as a kid who grew up on Hammer and Universal, I instantly knew I wanted more music that sounded like this. Before I'd heard Sabbath, I was into stuff like Guns N Roses and the Doors. This opened up a whole new world to me. 

The entire album is great. Black Sabbath (the song) is ominous and plodding. N.I.B. is another one of my favorites but it has more of a groove. 

2. Live After Death (Iron Maiden)
This is an amazing live Album from Iron Maiden. It was also my introduction to the band and it was a good choice because it gave me a window into three of their greatest records: Number of the Beast, Power Slave and Piece of Mind. They also had material from their first two albums. Live After Death was my first real experience of musicianship in metal. Before Iron Maiden, I didn't really now much about harmonies or complex solos and melodies. 

3. Night of the Stormrider (Iced Earth)
Night of the Stormrider (Iced Earth)
This was a band that appealed to my gamer side. The Night of the Stormrider feels like a D&D campaign brought to life and opens with something like Carmina Burana. I won't lie, some of it is a bit on the cheesy side (it really sounds like the guy wrote an album around a chaotic evil character that went to town on the setting). It features two distinct vocal styles as well. Check out Angels Holocaust, the opening song. I don't think Power Metal was quite a thing yet, but it definitely has that sound with a bit of thrash and King Diamond thrown in. 

4. As the Flower Withers (My Dying Bride)
This was a band my drummer introduced me to. I was very much into doom metal by this point and this was well before the internet made music easy to find so learning about new bands was pretty challenging. You either relied on fanzines, magazines, word of mouth, fan tapes or you took a chance at the record store. I don't know where he heard of this band but he showed me the second track, Sear Me, and it was so different from anything I'd heard to that point. The beat was odd, it was little on the jazzy side I think (I'm not a drummer and my rhythm is terrible so don't quote me on that). The vocals were basically death style but the guitar surprised me. It was heavy but had a little bit of that Iron Maiden fondness for melody, except instead a focus on twin harmonies, it was more like counterpoint. They also had a violin in there as well. And the lyrics were in latin. It was a bit on the pretentious side for sure, but they had the skills to back it up and they were clearly paving a new direction musically. 

My Dying Bride was an interesting band because their sound really evolved following this album. The vocals became increasingly more melodic, for example. 

5. Forest of Equilibrium (Cathedral)
Forest of Equilibrium (Cathedral)
This was an album that had the same impact on me as when I first heard Black Sabbath. In a lot of ways, it harkened back to that sound. Forest Equilibrium was the first album from the doom metal band Cathedral. There is some debate over who was the first to really slow things down, but this was the first I time I ever encountered any doom that was truly slow. All the doom metal bands I'd heard to that point had been plodding for sure but Cathedral, on this album at least, played about as slow as you possibly can without getting ridiculous. 

It isn't just the speed of the album that attracted my interest. Cathedral was clearly on the experimental side (similar spirit to My Dying Bride but totally different sound). The cover of the album pretty much says it all. It opens up with a wild flute solo that morphs into the first droning notes of Commiserating the Celebration. And while Forest Equilibrium is notable for its slow pace it also has a bit of funk (which isn't too different form Sabbath, but by this point Doom bands pretty much eschewed that). The vocals are hard to characterize, not quite death, but not clean either. There is a guttural wobbliness to them. And they are kind of in the background. They also do interesting things with melodies on the guitar. There is a section in one of the songs that took me forever to learn because they don't repeat a single note, even though the whole thing sounds a little redundant. A good sample of the slowness can be be heard in the songs Ebony Tears, Serpents EveA Funeral Request and Forest Equilibrium. If you only look into one album from this list, check our Forest Equilibrium if only because it is so unusual. 

After Forest of Equilibrium and Soul Sacrifice (an album that featured the song Autumn Twilight and as far as I can tell there is no record of its existence anymore), they moved into funkier territory and jettisoned the slowness they established in their first venture. 

6. Tales of Creation (Candlemass)
Tales of Creation (Candlemass)
Tales of Creation is an album from the epic doom metal band, Candlemass. It isn't my favorite Album by the band but it was my introduction them (Ancient Dreams is my favorite album). This is another one that did things I hadn't heard before when my singer first showed them to me. It was one of two albums that helped me understand where I wanted to go with my own band at the time (the other being Beyond the Crimson Horizon from Solitude Aeturnus). At the time I was mainly familiar with thrash, death and classic metal acts like Iron Maiden. Me and the guys in my band felt our only options in terms of vocals were something guttural. I liked thrash and death guitar so that was good, but I was never a huge fan of death vocals (I listened to plenty of Death Metal bands but it was always for the guitar). While I eventually acquired a taste for death vocals, I wanted to do something different and it was with Candelmass and Solitude Aeturnus that I realized something a bit more clean was still possible with a heavier sound (because to that point anything heavier than Dio in my mind had to basically be a scream). 

Candlemass is a bit on the eccentric side. Their vocalist's name at the time of this release was Messiah Marcolin (talk about hubris) and he sang almost like an opera singer. The closest I'd heard to that style in metal before Candlemass was Bruce Dickinson, who was operatic but this sounded like proper opera. And it was still doom. Candelmass was dour, not uplifting like the later Power Metal Bands that would employ a similar singing technique in the following years. The guitars were amazing. The musicianship was there but so were the composition skills. This sounded like classic music, real classical music, brought into heavy metal. At least to me, at the time, that is what it felt like. 

Another important thing about this album was at the time it proved to me that you could sing about religious themes without veering into Satanic territory. This was important because I was still quite religious and a Christian and my singer was Jewish. My views on religion would change over time, but until then, this opened up an area for me to explore musically. I should state Candlemass wasn't a Christian band or anything, they just were comfortable using the mythology on this particular album. 

There are a lot of highlights on this album, but I'd recommend The Edge of Heaven as a first exposure to the band. 

7. Beyond the Crimson Horizon (Solitude Aeturnus)
Beyond the Crimson Horizon
(Solitude Aeturnus)
This was one of those albums I bought on a hunch based on the cover image in 1992 (which must have been my sophomore year of high school). I remember I also bought some sandal wood incense that day as well for some reason, and ever since I've never been able to dissociate this album from that aroma. 

The first track stunned me. It may sound silly now, but at the time I really hadn't heard a band like this (and I think this was prior to me hearing Candelmass or around the same exact time). The vocals were soaring, the drums were pounding and the guitars were heavy with thrash elements but a bit more plodding. Even more than Candlemass the religious themes on the album were strong, covering everything from the killing of Abel (Seeds of the Desolate) to the corruption in the Catholic Church (Black Castle). The whole album is great, from start to finish. For songs I'd suggest Seeds of the Desolate, It Came Upon One NightPlague of Procreation and Beneath the Fading SunSolitude Aeturnus quickly became my favorite band in the doom genre.

This album was also important because I used their list of inspirational bands on the sleeve as a guidebook for what to buy for the next year (it is where I found Cathedral, Count Raven, and St. Vitus I believe). 

8. War Master (Bolt Thrower)
This was a band I came to from a friend in my gaming group who discovered them. By the time this came out, death metal was an established genre, but the opening to this defined the sound for me. I was familiar with Obituary and Morbid Angel but it was something about the way they mixed the sound that I felt the guitars on this really shined. The guitar sound had honestly been around since at least Slayer. This just managed to get a richness and weight that felt like a barge moving through the sea. Plus the cover art was right out of Warhammer. Definitely recommend checking out the song ...Unleashed (Upon Mankind)

9. Rust in Peace (Megadeth)
Rust in Peace (Megadeth)
Growing up I was more of a Metallica fan than a Megadeth fan, but this album I think is one of the greatest metal records ever. I know some people will disagree with that assessment, as Rust in Peace was more clean than their previous albums Killing is My Business... and Business is Good!, Peace Sells but Whose Buying?, So Far, So Good...So What!. Those were good albums but I think Rust in Peace is a new level of musicianship for the band and super tight. The cleanness is why it is so great. It is crisp but they don't sacrifice heaviness. It's heavy but it isn't sloppy. The whole album coheres well and there isn't a single bad song. I think Marty Friedman really worked well with Dave Mustaine on this one. My favorite songs are Hanger 18 (because learning it got me into my first band), Tornado of Souls, Holy Wars...the Punishment Due, and Five Magics

10. Gothic (Paradise Lost)
This was a band that I just didn't know what to make of when I first heard them. My drummer introduced me to the album Gothic, and I simply had no idea how to categorize the sound. The guy sang like a Death Metal vocalist, but the guitars were pretty far from death, almost a groovy rock sound, with some cool melodic lines. Occasionally it sounded heavier but these definitely weren't the guitar sounds I was accustomed to. Then on top of all that they had a woman (Sarah Marrion) singing the chorus. Now women singing chorus isn't that unusual, but in 1991 I don't think I'd ever heard a metal band do that. They were much more in the realm of My Dying Bride than some of the other stuff I was listening to. But I quickly became a fan and followed them through the remainder of the 90s. Stand-out songs for me are Gothic, The PainlessRapture, and Eternal. I think The Painless really captures what was unique about this band when Gothic was released. 

We ended up calling them rock-death. No idea what label ended up sticking with them though. 

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