Several months ago, I began a journey which would take me through the decorated annals of metal history.
It began on January 22nd, when I listened to Epicus Doomicus Metallicus by Candlemass. If I had actually followed my plan to listen to 100 albums in 100 days, I would have been finished by May 1st. As it stands, it officially took me 195 days, or nearly twice as long as I intended. I listened to the final album - Kings of Metal by Manowar - on August 4th. And it still took me two weeks to find the time to write this post.
I'm sure most of you are wondering why I did this. The answer can be summed up in one word; ignorance. Pure, blissful ignorance. I'm a fan of all kinds of music, especially metal. I am a child of the metalcore era of the late 2000's - I'm talking As I Lay Dying, Still Remains, Killswitch Engage, Unearth, August Burns Red, etc. These are bands that I'm still a fan of today (except All That Remains...yeesh). Along with Between the Buried and Me, Zao, Misery Signals, and several other bands, I realized that I don't really listen to straight-up metal. I listen to derivatives - hardcore, metalcore, deathcore (lol), some prog here and there. But what about the classics? What about Black Sabbath? Devin Townsend? The mighty Death itself? The pillars and foundations of the vast temple that is metal music were never present in my iTunes library. They weren't even in my CD case(s).
With this harrowing realization in mind, I scoured the internet for knowledge. My research began in earnest. I read countless "Top 100"and "Best of" lists. I posed the question on Facebook and several forums. If there was a band I was researching that had a large discography, I would go to Spotify to see what their top songs were - and then I would go to Amazon to see what their best reviewed albums were. In time, I was able to compile a list of 100 essential metal albums. Why 100? Because it's a nice round number. It was comprised of the purest genres - death, black, grind, doom, etc. It looked beautiful.
For a frame of reference, prior to beginning this list I had only heard 8 of the 100 albums. Only 8! And 3 of them were Metallica albums! Everyone has heard Metallica. I had never listened to a Judas Priest, Slayer, Iron Maiden, Anthrax or Mötorhead album. My friend's band covered "Raining Blood" and "The Trooper" in high school. My mom told me about a Judas Priest concert she went to one time. I may have heard "Tom Sawyer" in a movie or something.
Isn't all this sad and pathetic? And I called myself a fan of metal.
So it began. My goal was to listen to one album a day for 100 days. I would listen to every album at least twice without skipping a song or giving up before the end. Then I would write a small blurb about the album and grade it on a 1-10 scale. I recorded my progress on the now-defunct absolutepunk.net (RIP). I was caught off guard by the site shutting down, so I lost all of my ratings and blurbs. Luckily, I had the original list with updated scores on a notepad file, so I migrated over to chorus.fm (AP's spiritual successor) and continued the process. Initially, 90% of the time I would listen to an album while I worked. The other 10% of the time I would listen to an album in bed at night, but I kept falling asleep so I nixed that and kept my experiment limited to daylight hours.
As I mentioned, I rated each album based on a 1-10 scale. Fortunately, a fair majority of the albums I rated well above 5. I had three albums I scored at 5 and only two below, which was a good sign - I was enjoying most of what I listened to. There was a proliferation of albums I ranked at 7.5 and 8 - twenty-four in each category, to be specific. Twenty-eight albums landed scores of 8.5 or higher, with only one coming in at 9.5.
It's important to note that I didn't rate albums based on their historical impact or how influential they were to metal as a genre. Otherwise, Master of Puppets would probably be at the top surrounded by Slayer, Iron Maiden, and Black Sabbath albums. I approached each album as a mere fan of music with little expectations. However, it became pretty clear early on that I preferred certain genres/bands over others.
There were many albums and bands I immediately fell in love with - Atheist, Cynic, Dark Angel, and Blind Guardian, to name a few. Others were slow burners. I returned to Bonded by Blood by Exodus several times after initially giving it an average rating because I didn't understand why I didn't like it, until it finally clicked one day. Likewise, Dissection took me a while to 'get' but now I blast Storm of the Light's Bane in my car all the time. Unfortunately, there were also albums on the opposite end of the spectrum. I particularly did not enjoy Dimmu Borgir, Godflesh, or Repulsion. I broke my own rule with Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia, giving up about 85% of the way through. That only happened once, I swear.
Breaking things down into genres, it became apparent that THRASH IS FREAKING AWESOME. This was already known, but it was reaffirmed. I went through a huge thrash kick, with Sepultura, Testament, and Sodom regularly blasting me away with their intensity. Death Metal - be it tech or straight-up pure death - was always enjoyable. I instantly became a fan of Morbid Angel, Bolt Thrower, Gorguts, and the pioneers themselves, Death. Doom was a new one to me, and I explored the weird world of stoner doom courtesy of Sleep and Electric Wizard. Heavy metal was often a toss-up, as Operation: Mindcrime blew me away, while Abigail and Lightning to the Nations I found to be mostly average. I was pretty much immediately turned off by grind, and I consequently could not get into Napalm Death or Terrorizer.
By far, I found black metal to be the most challenging genre to absorb. I gave Darkthrone a try very early on (probably around February) but was turned off by the lo-fi production, constant blast beats, and indecipherable shrieks. Spoiler alert: that's kind of what black metal is as a whole. I shelved A Blaze in the Northern Sky and continued the list. I went through Emperor, Bathory, Immortal, Mayhem, and Ulver with a gradual change in my attitude towards the genre. Eventually, I returned to give Darkthrone another listen, and I ended up enjoying it far more than I did the first time. It inspired me to check out their other albums, and it's increasingly easier to digest. I'm a long ways away from corpse paint and membership in the MLO, but I'll get there some day.
For those of you who came for the actual scores and not the fluff, here are the ratings:
Megadeth - Rust In Peace
Atheist - Unquestionable Presence
Atheist - Piece of Time
Cynic - Focus
In Flames - The Jester Race
Mastodon - Leviathan
Metallica - Ride the Lightning
Morbid Angel - Altars of Madness
Opeth - Blackwater Park
Rainbow - Rising
Slayer - Reign in Blood
Agalloch - Ashes Against The Grain
Anthrax – Among the Living
Behemoth - The Satanist
Blind Guardian – Nightfall in Middle-Earth
Carcass - Necroticism
Death – Human
Death - Symbolic
Devin Townsend - Ocean Machine
Dissection - Storm of the Light's Bane
Dream Theater - Images and Words
Iron Maiden - Powerslave
Mastodon - Crack the Skye
Mercyful Fate - Don't Break the Oath
Metallica - Kill 'em All
Metallica - Master of Puppets
Neurosis - Through Silver in Blood
Rush - 2112
At the Gates - Slaughter of the Soul
Black Sabbath - Paranoid
Bolt Thrower - Those Once Loyal
Carcass - Heartwork
Cryptopsy - None So Vile
Dark Angel - Darkness Descends
Darkthrone - A Blaze in the Northern Sky
Dio - Holy Diver
Dream Theater - Metropolis Pt. 2
Electric Wizard - Dopethrone
Gorguts - Obscura
Judas Priest - Painkiller
Manilla Road - Crystal Logic
Metal Church - Metal Church
Motorhead - Ace of Spades
Obituary - The End Complete
Queensryche - Operation: Mindcrime
Rush - Moving Pictures
Sepultura - Beneath the Remains
Slayer - Hell Awaits
Sleep - Holy Mountain
Symphony X - The Odyssey
Testament - The New Order
W.A.S.P. - The Crimson Idol
Bathory - Under the Sign of the Black Mark
Black Sabbath - Black Sabbath
Black Sabbath - Master of Reality
Cattle Decapitation - Monolith of Inhumanity
Dark Tranquility - The Gallery
Death - Scream Bloody Gore
Diamond Head - Lightning to the Nations
Emperor - In The Nightside Eclipse
Entombed - Left Hand Path
Exodus - Bonded by Blood
Hammerfall - Legacy of Kings
Iron Maiden - The Number of the Beast
Kreator - Pleasure to Kill
Manowar - Kings of Metal
Megadeth - Countdown to Extinction
Meshuggah - Destroy Erase Improve
Meshuggah - obZen
Motorhead - Overkill
Ozzy Osbourne - Blizzard of Ozz
Pentagram - Pentagram/Relentless
Slayer - South of Heaven
Sodom - Persecution Mania
Ulver - Bergtatt
Voivod - Nothingface
Candlemass - Epicus Doomicus Metallicus
Fates Warning - Awaken the Guardian
Immortal - Pure Holocaust
Judas Priest - Sad Wings of Destiny
Kamelot - The Black Halo
Mayhem - De Mysterriis Dom Sathanas
Venom - Black Metal
Witchfinder General - Death Penalty
Bolt Thrower - In Battle There Is No Law
King Diamond - Abigail
Napalm Death - Scum
Dismember - Like An Ever Flowing Stream
Iced Earth - Something Wicked This Way Comes
Possessed - Seven Churches
Terrorizer - World Downfall
Suffocation - Effigy of the Forgotten
Autopsy - Severed Survival
Celtic Frost - Morbid Tales
Repulsion - Horrified
Dimmu Borgir - Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia
Godflesh - Streetcleaner
It's funny looking back on this. If I had to redo the list today, I'd change a lot of ratings and spin many of the albums a few more times. For example, I'd probably rate Godflesh above Dimmu Borgir (I at least got through Streetcleaner twice). Suffocation would probably be much higher, as I was very distracted at the time of listening. Every black metal album would have better scores. Several other albums would join Rust In Peace at the top. That's the beauty of this list. These scores reflect where I was and how I felt at the time of listening to each album, and I can recall 90% of what those first thoughts were.
So what results has this had on my tastes in music? What has changed?
I can tell you that more than just my taste in music has changed. Metalheads have always had this reputation of being elitist snobs. I won't speak for the masses, but by observing myself over the past few months, I'd personally say that this is pretty true. I find it hilarious that I ever considered myself to be a fan of metal with what I had been listening to over the past decade. I was disgusted with kids wearing Veil of Maya tank-tops and Born of Osiris tees at a show I went to two days ago. And it was at an Oh, Sleeper show! They don't even have a page on Metal Archives because they're metalcore! And speaking of metalcore, don't ever bring up genres when discussing music with a metalhead. You'll find that everything you listen to is filthy unwashed pleb noise. That doom metal band you like? Sorry, they're actually post-fuzz un-blackened re-blackened goregrind, you noob. Obviously you're not kvlt or trve enough. What does that even mean?
I'm glad you asked. Here's the Urban Dictionary definition for kvlt:
"Epitomising the musical ideals of sub-underground black metal - the kind of stuff that comes out in limited editions of 300 through vinyl-only labels based in a cave in Belarus. The exact requirements of kvltness vary depending on who you talk to, but usually involve icy, impenetrable production, black-and-white cover art, and concepts drawn from black magic, pagan myths or out-and-out nihilism.
Like anyone who takes art seriously these days, kvltists are the target of much mockery even from fellow extreme metal fans."
While we're at it, here's the entry for trve:
"Used by kvlt black metal kiddies to describe how awesome a new album is even with its horrendous sound quality at shitty album art. Also used mockingly of said group."
So yeah, that's where I'm headed. Even though I have Chevelle and Breaking Benjamin on my iPod, I'll find my way to the Mecca of trve-ness.
In all seriousness, I can't stop listening to metal even though my experiment has ended. I visit Shreddit and the Metal Archives multiple times a day. I ordered several patches for my battle jacket. What's that? I'm glad you asked:
I took that image from a website called cvltnation.com.
I also ordered this book:
Because I'm intrigued by the murder, suicides, and church burnings associated with the genre in the early 90's. But seriously, the history is pretty compelling...if you're into that stuff.
I've gone on long enough. This experiment was long and eye-opening and I'm glad I was able to educate myself. Next time we're hanging out we can finally discuss what our favorite Swe-death bands are.
I can just hear the sounds of keyboards clicking frantically as most of you will inevitably un-friend me and/or block me on various social networks. I don't mind. You're just a False anyways. You'll always be a False.
May your winters be icy and your riffs meaty.
PS - if you actually enjoy metal, here are some bands with new albums this year that I've enjoyed thus far: Zhrine, Oranssi Pazuzu, Vektor, Ripper, Howls of Ebb, Chthe'ilist, Cobalt, Deströyer 666, Grave Miasma, Agoraphobic Nosebleed, Obscura, Coffin Lust, Dark Funeral, and Lycus.
PPS - if someone did a nu-metal or alt-rock version of this list, I swear I'd do it with them.