12 albums that changed my life
There is a meme going around Facebook involving albums "that changed your life." Most lists I've seen have disappointed me, mostly because they're just lists. Sure, albums change your life - but how? Here is my attempt to answer that. I've limited my selections to hardcore punk and metal. (I could make such lists for many genres.) What these are not: my favorite albums, albums I consider classic, albums that soundtracked various parts of my life. Those would all be different. The criterion here is rearrangement of DNA.
Unlike Facebook, I'm not "tagging" anyone specific. If you're reading this, consider yourself tagged. What records changed your life - and, more importantly, how?
Youth of Today - Break Down the Walls (1986)
Summer camp, 1991. Kate from Mahwah, NJ introduced me to New York hardcore: Agnostic Front, Gorilla Biscuits, Youth of Today. YoT especially grabbed me. Ray of Today had the most ridiculous yell, like he was trying to wrap his throat around words. The straightedge thing was intriguing, too. I started writing "NYHC" on notebooks in school.
Fugazi - Repeater (1990)
My first role models came from hardcore - Henry Rollins, Ian MacKaye, the whole Minor Threat/Fugazi/Dischord world. In high school, I mail-ordered a Dischord sweater that I wore for about 15 years. It came with a handwritten note. That's how you treat customers. When it got threadbare, I let the sweater go. "You are not what you own" - Fugazi taught me that.
Judas Priest - Painkiller (1990)
The title track and its video blew my young mind. But as I age, the rest of the songs have also become anthems. They're the sounds of middle-aged men looking in their pants, confirming "All Guns Blazing," and proving it. Despite their success, the guitarists kept learning new things, like sweep picking and two-handed tapping. Rob Halford sounded half his age. That Priest kicked this much ass while pushing 40 is a lesson to all.
Pantera - Vulgar Display of Power (1992)
I saw the video for "Mouth for War" on MTV'S Headbangers Ball. It was new territory for me. Pantera hadn't yet become parodies of themselves. They were a machine. This was my first metal record beyond thrash.
Sepultura - Chaos A.D. (1993)
Until Chaos A.D., I had virtually no geopolitical awareness. I learned about the LA riots weeks after they happened, and only after a schoolmate told me. Then this record dropped: "Chaos A.D. / Tanks on the streets / Confronting police." Suddenly, there was a world out there.
Helmet - Betty (1994)
Helmet hooked me with the monolithic Meantime. Betty, though, was scattered and experimental. Page Hamilton's guitar became exposed - odd tunings, noise freakouts, even banjo licks. My own guitar playing shifted accordingly. I saw the tablature for "Milquetoast" and gaped at the closing "solo." Instead of the typical single-note excursion, it had blocks and blocks of strange, jazzy chords. I hear similarities today in black metal bands like Averse Sefira and Foscor.
The Haunted - One Kill Wonder (2003)
You will notice a time gap here. From 1997 to 2003, I listened to no metal except Godflesh. I was a drum 'n' bass and techno DJ during that time. Dnb fizzled out creatively by 2003, and I was curious what I had missed in metal. I poked around Amazon, not knowing where to look. From a "if you like Slayer, you'll like The Haunted" recommendation, I picked up One Kill Wonder. It was the record that got me back into metal.
V/A - Metal for the Masses, Vol. 2 (2003)
Early 2004. I was going through a breakup. To medicate myself, I went to the mall. (There are few surer ways to my heart than mall food.) On a whim, I bought two cheap CD samplers at Hot Topic. The first was Century Media's Metal for the Masses, Vol. 2. All the bands were new to me. (See track list here.) I remember liking Arch Enemy, God Forbid, Lacuna Coil, Haste, and Glass Casket. For about a year afterward, I didn't know that Arch Enemy's singer was female.
V/A - Contaminated 6.0 (2003)
Relapse's Contaminated 6.0 was the other sampler I bought. It had two discs, with a lot of dreck. (Or so it seemed then - see track list here.) I wrote down the names of the bands I liked and made myself a mix out of the compilation. Hearing bands like Mastodon, Dillinger Escape Plan, and Pig Destroyer for the first time was thrilling.
Nasum - Helvete (2003)
Until Nasum, I got my ethics from hardcore and my music from metal. I had heard political lyrics in rock before, but Mieszko Talarczyk's were the first to stick with me. I thought, "There are others out there like me." No musician had given me that feeling before. I didn't know any punks. Metal bands seemed like distant gods. Talarczyk spoke his mind in plain language, and took both the right and left to task. Rest in peace, Mieszko. Thank you for so much.
Converge - You Fail Me (2004)
Fall, 2005. I was knee-deep in metal, but had not heard hardcore in 10 or so years. I kept hearing about this band called Converge. So I went to Amoeba Records, the Berkeley store - the memory remains vivid - and picked this up, used. It scared and baffled me. Harsh and grinding, it was miles away from NYHC singalongs. I realized I had a lot of ground to make up in hardcore.
1349 - Hellfire (2005)
Hellfire was the first black metal record I ever reviewed. What I had heard before didn't interest me. (For a while, my favorite soundtrack for going to sleep was Dark Funeral.) Black metal
seemed so un-metal - weak production, no balls, where were the riffs? But I wanted the challenge of writing about black metal. So I picked 1349, mostly because the name seemed cool, and forced myself to "get it." I'm glad I did. Exploring black metal has been a joy ever since.
Download these tracks as a mixtape here.