Kevin Hufnagel’s Metal Journey
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It was sometime around 1984, when I was a child attending Catholic school in West Milford, NJ, that I first came in contact with heavy metal music. It was on the school bus, and all the cool and scary-looking kids in the back were armed with it, via their boomboxes, each morning on the way to class. Prior to this, my musical taste was pretty much limited to Michael Jackson's Thriller and some various classical pieces and disco my mother would listen to around the house.
AC/DC, Twisted Sister, Mötley Crüe, Dokken, and Def Leppard were some of the bands I was first exposed to. The strictness of Catholic school made it more fun to rebel, and metal was my soundtrack. Hating my teachers, almost failing 4th grade, (trying) to grow my hair out ("Jesus had long hair!" I would tell my principal), putting fake blood and bandages on myself, and drawing monsters in my notebooks were now occupying a lot of my time. MTV had a show called Heavy Metal 1/2 Hour back then, which I would watch at friends' houses after school, too afraid to view it around my parents. Whether it was a grim reaper with a handful of brains in an Iron Maiden video, or Doro Pesch's sexy hair tossing in Warlock's "Fight for Rock" clip, I just felt wrong for enjoying it (stupid Catholic guilt).
It's amusing to me now when I think of how I used to lower the volume of certain songs whenever they mentioned anything demonic (Twisted Sister's "Burn in Hell" and Yngwie Malmsteen's "Disciples of Hell" come to mind), while listening to them in my room... and yet, I would blare the sleaziest, raunchiest tunes, unaware, due to the lyrics being so metaphorical, of what they really meant (Ratt, Van Halen, and 80's Judas Priest were good with these). After all, I was really just listening to the riffs! Kids at school loved to talk about how AC/DC stood for "after christ, the devil came", that KISS was "knights in satan's service", and W.A.S.P. stood for "we are satan's people" or "we are sexually perverted". The W.A.S.P. one might have been true.
Within the walls of the log cabin my family resided in, I was fortunate enough to be able to tune in to a radio station called 89.5 WSOU. This station became a gold mine of metal discovery for me. I would sit for hours in front of my radio with a pile of bootleg TDK blank cassette tapes and record everything they played. This was when my tastes widened, and I discovered a whole new world of underground metal. There was a fantastic show called Monday Night Mayhem which only played thrash metal. I was into Metallica and Anthrax already, but here now were bands like Overkill, Nuclear Assault, Sodom, Coroner, Kreator, and the like. I distinctly remember being creeped out one night while lying in bed, tuning in, as Megadeth's "Loved to Death" came on. I miss the days of actually being scared of bands.
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Drew this in middle school
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Sneaking out of my bedroom after midnight to watch Headbangers Ball on MTV became a weekend ritual as well. On top of this, I picked up every issue of Circus, RIP, and Metal Mania I could find at the local mall, and plastered my walls with my new heroes. Trips to Spencer Gifts to look at various band paraphernalia was the most exciting thing in my life at that point. The feeling I got of wearing an Anthrax shirt to school on "dress down day" was a new thrill, and made me look pretty bad-ass (in my mind, at least).
Around this time I also got my first electric guitar as a Christmas gift from my parents (who were now starting to accept my passion for this music). Intrigued by shreddy guitar work, I began seeking out more advanced metal. Eventually, I all but left behind the simpler and softer sounds of Cinderella, Whitesnake, etc. (Ozzy was still OK, though) for bands like Fates Warning, Chastain (I named our family dog after this band), Helloween, Impellitteri, Racer X, and Savatage. Queensrÿche were the gateway band to this world, as (circa the 1980's) they possessed both an incredible sense of melody and a musically creative approach to metal. Weekly trips to Sam Goody ensued, and I discovered that reading through the "thanks list" inside the cassettes I bought was another good way of finding more like-minded bands. Every once in a while I would purchase something based on the album cover or how evil the song titles sounded. Sometimes I would try and get my younger brother to buy it, in case it sucked.
After moving to Virginia towards the end of middle school, I met a new group of friends who were into death metal. A cassette dub of Death's Scream Bloody Gore was the first record of this kind I'd ever heard. To be honest, it was too much for me at that point. However, shortly thereafter I heard Atheist, and Death had just released their Human album. This was death metal that grabbed me on first listen, as the extra sense of experimentation fascinated me. Voivod were another turning point in my metal listening. This is when I began to feel that my metal had to be SERIOUS and INTELLECTUAL! No more good-times metal for me. In fact, I even got bummed out when I read an interview with hyper-prog metal band Watchtower, and their vocalist said he thought "party metal" was OK and had its place. No, it didn't!
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My first real band, The Fifth Season.
Never made it past a 4-song, unreleased demo.
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Anyway, I spent many hours with records by Confessor, Anacrusis, Mekong Delta, Thought Industry, Cynic, and any other other oddball metal bands I could find, contemplating their lyrics and trying to figure out what chords they were playing. Also, the days of watching Headbangers Ball were more aggravating now, since I no longer had any interest in pop metal (who the fuck cared about Roxy Blue, or Every Mother's Nightmare!?), and one usually had to wait until the last video of the night for something cool. The depressive sounds of doom metal became appealing as well, which to me meant bands like Candlemass, Solitude Aeturnus, Cathedral, and Anathema. You could also say these artists were gateways to my interest in ambient music and goth rock too, but that's a whole 'nother story.
Speaking of which, a funny thing happened when I went off to college. While not entirely abandoning metal, I definitely put a lot of it under the bed for a bit while I explored other genres. The mid and late '90s were a rough time for this music, and not much excited me. Obscura by Gorguts was a notable exception. To me, this record was the most abrasive, jarring, ugly thing I'd ever heard a metal band release. I read reviews of it being "no-wave" influenced, which again sent me searching into far-off genres. It would be some time before another metal record REALLY blew me out of the water. That time finally came when I picked up Deathspell Omega's Fas - Ite, Maledicti, in Ignem Aeternum. I felt like a kid again upon that first spin. A sort of giddiness, awe, and excitement came over me while listening that I didn't even think was possible to feel again at that point in my life.
In the past year or so, another funny thing happened: I started having a desire to hear some of those old pop metal albums I first got into as a kid. Not all of them held up, but some of them did. In fact, I will defend Def Leppard's High 'n' Dry, and even Dokken's Back for the Attack (just look up the song "Mr. Scary" and see why) as solid records. Poison's Look What the Cat Dragged In? Not so much anymore. Sorry, guys.
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Still have my old vinyl.
Dokken rules! One number forever!
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