Unlike most of our faithful readership that were moshing in the utero pit to Cannibal Corpse, I took a more circuitous route to present-day metal. As a baby boomer I did get a taste of Pink Floyd, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. But I was a band nerd in high school and a music education major in college. My music world was colored by Chicago, Beethoven and John Philip Souza. A few years after I was handed a sheepskin from the old Alma Mater, I spent eight years playing keyboard in local Top 40, country and rock bands. While I was on the service club circuit with “The New Tequila Sunrise”, George Strait, Huey Lewis and Bryan Adams were in heavy rotation. Later, the deepest “In Kahootz” could dig at the bar scene and still make a paycheck was Van Halen, AC/DC and Poison.
By the time the wife and I unleashed Thallbaker upon an unsuspecting world I was out of the garage band biz. I was now able to listen to music I wanted to, not music that I had to evaluate, arrange, learn and rehearse with others so that people would dance, get thirsty and buy beer. I deep-sixed all the cassette tapes and let my younger brother steal my portable Roland electric piano. Alice In Chains, Soundgarden and Nirvana became my soundtrack of the 1990’s. Linkin Park and Rap-Rock permeated my brainwaves in the 2000’s. Then in 2010 a new decade dawned and I was disappointed in my go-to genres. By this time, my now-teenage son came to his senses and abandoned that incomprehensible pre-teen hard-core ghetto gangsta rap phase. I was relieved at this evolution. However, now he was cranking chugging screamy shit that I could not get into. Through his bedroom door at two in the morning it sounded to me like Bon Scott was being repeatedly stabbed with a pitchfork while chained to a runaway locomotive careening through hell.
Mike knew that I really wanted to be a hip dad and at least pretend to appreciate his musical preferences. Truth is some of the instrumental crunchiness appealed to this old rocker. I just could not get past the unintelligible vocals. He offered me a snippet of a song with an accessible, comical EDM breakdown. This first olive branch was Attack Attack’s “Stick Stickly”. At last! There was humor, or at least a point of reference, for me in this forbidding wasteland. That offered a glimmer of hope that I could find something I would enjoy.
Recognizing that gurgles and squeals were my biggest road block, Mike played me some songs with at least some clean vocals. They were like little breaths of fresh air, brief rays of sunlight piercing an otherwise relentlessly dark and foreboding morass. Those songs became my gateway into those groups. These groups became my favorite bands and in turn introduced me to another layer of artists. Now their catalogs dominate my mp3 player, even the songs without clean vocals. Here are my gateway songs, roughly in order of my introduction to them.
Bullet for My Valentine – Disappear
Although I have become a bit of an elitist and they have become more of a top-40 act since I was first introduced to them, I liked the clean verse and scream chorus. The group “Hey” shouts after the breakdown reminded me of Motley Crue’s “Shout at the Devil” and “Looks That Kill.”
All That Remains – Six
Oli Herbert’s smooth jazz to cascading guitar solo hooked me. I still haven’t figured out the meter on the verses. I first heard this scream-first, shout-second song on Guitar Hero. That time-suck family of games also introduced me to Shadows Fall and Killswitch Engage. There are differing opinions on current-day Phil Labonte and ATR but there is no denying Oli Hebert’s chops and the impact of ATR’s earlier work.
Shadows Fall – Redemption
I love the snarling energy of this one. It has a quasi-thrashy John Bush / Anthrax feel to me as the latter group’s “Only” is one of my favorite songs of the early ‘90’s. The soaring, sweeping chorus in half-time meter is an uplifting, freeing counterpoint to the otherwise relentless pace of the rest of the song. Brian Fair’s vocals later got me interested in Overcast, especially their song “Seven”.
Killswitch Engage – Hope Is
There is a unifying thread to the songs I’ve mentioned thus far. I started running in 2010 and all the songs to this point clock-in at a good 180 to 200 bpm pace. “Hope Is” remains on my running playlist. It is a high energy, hard-charger about perseverance. The group shouts leading into the Howard clean/unison shout chorus get the blood pumping. The half-time, more subtly- intense section prior to the closing chorus encourages me to gather my thoughts and resolve to make one final push to the finish line.
The Empire Shall Fall – We the People
Did someone say Jesse Leach? 5/8 meter chorus to 6/8 verse… what jazz musician would not love this? The verses are spoken lines echoed by screams. This was an “A-ha” moment that helped me to later deduce lyrics in other songs that also employ this “call and response” technique. The “people versus establishment” narrative is still appealing to this 50-something white collar supervisor because the message is a rallying cry to get off your ass and strive for change rather than just sit around and bitch. The shifting of gears from half-time acoustic to stomp march to jazz in the midsection is jarring yet flowing.
August Burns Red – Internal Canon
The Spanish guitar sections were an instant hook for me. I would later recognize that mid-piece breaks showcasing idioms of country, surf, Middle Eastern, etc. (all represented on their latest album “Found in Faraway Places”) and spoken sections are the norm for this group. (Spoken sections opened the door to Misery Signals). These musical oases emboldened me to dive more deeply into other sections of their songs. In fact, while researching for this article, I just now deciphered the 5/8 meter of the second verse.
Periphery – Icarus Lives
Love the syncopated nearly-funk feel of the beginning. Maybe this was Joe Walsh’s Funk #51? The song from the Boys from the Beltway introduced me to the genre of Djent and led me to Animals As Leaders and Tram. Spencer Sotelo’s soaring cleans opened to door to ERRA. To this day, when I hear the beginning of “Captain On” I have to double-check the artist.
This is just a handful of songs that made an impact on me. Now it’s your turn. In the comments below tell us what person and what songs ushered you into the Pit.
– Old Skul