Made By Metal

So far I’ve been over my first forays into music and also the period of the late ’80’s where I got big into hair metal. Today it’s time to drop the hair and really get into metal.

I’m going to save part of this for next week. Simply put, Iron Maiden is my favorite band of all time, and also they’re putting out a new album on Friday. Next week seems like a good time to talk more about them so I’ll get into them specifically then. But I did start listening to them in 1988, just for context.

I was content with hair metal in 1989 and even 1990, but let’s be real – change was coming. Grunge did not actually come out of nowhere when Nirvana hit in 1991 – they, Soundgarden and Alice In Chains were known entities already, though of course still a bit undeground before ’91. But grunge isn’t all that important to me because I didn’t entirely take to it, at least right away (save AIC).

What did start catching my attention was heavy metal. And at that time the strain of metal that was abundant was thrash.

I dabbled on the edges of thrash for a bit but nothing really took for awhile. That would change in October of 1990. For some reason we got out of school early that day, some sort of teacher conference or whatever. With my family being teachers I was left to do absolutely whatever I wanted. One of the skateboarders I was friendly with was also bored so we wandered around town a bit.

At one point he shows me a tape, an album that just came out. He said it was intense and killer and I should check it out. We went to my house and put it on.

That’s when heavy metal really hit for me. Before I would find thrash a bit off-putting, I was still young and more used to the slickly produced, smoother tones of hair metal and pop rock. But Megadeth eliminated whatever barriers remained between me and headbanging.

It was off to the races after that. It wasn’t always easy for me to come by thrash albums. It was less popular than other stuff so it wasn’t as easy to find. Plus, my tiny hometown wasn’t a mecca of music shopping.

But I made do. I slowly started accumulating Overkill, Testament, and the like. And sure, it wasn’t all about thrash – I did also start with King Diamond around that time, and I’d pick up Judas Priest right around the time Painkiller hit. I’d also, while intending to buy Queensryche’s current hit Empire, wind up with their prior album, Operation: Mindcrime. Though it’s another story for another time, that is my favorite album ever recorded. And this is the time period I acquired it in.

This all sets the table for entering 1991. I’ve touched on it before and will talk more about it again – 1991 was the most important year in music for me. No matter what came before or since, that was the year that blew everything wide open.

That year I’d work my first job over the summer. I was making enough money to have plenty of disposable income for an almost 14 year old. In most cases, a 14 year old’s entire paycheck is disposable income. While I’d previously been into baseball cards and comic books, my focus in 1991 shifted to music and very heavily into metal. I went from having a few tapes to having to buy a new caddy to hold them. (Of course, I wasn’t necessarily paying full market price for all of them, thanks again Columbia House!)

Heavy metal itself is kind of a mutating entity – it doesn’t remain constant, it is always shifting. Just as you find one strain of it, a new one is already being worked on. In the fall of 1991 in freshman algebra class, the guy sitting in front of me asked if I wanted to check out something he was listening to on his walkman. I said sure and got my first dose of Sepultura. It was the title track of Arise. I was instantly hooked and that also set the table for me to go even deeper than thrash.

Going beyond thrash and mainstream metal would take me a bit, though. There is one more metal-related issue to discuss involving 1991. One band refined and polished their sound and absolutey took over the world with it. That band, of course, was Metallica.

I got straight into the “Black Album” when it hit just as I was starting high school. There wasn’t going to be any hair metal parties like I had previously envisioned in high school so Metallica quickly became a badge to define one’s self. Poison posters would be replaced with Nirvana in most lockers, in mine it was Metallica. It was gratifying to be into something that was so popular, some kind of validation or whatever from it. (That’s absolutely a thread for future discussion, too).

But just as I went along wherever we might roam, I also sat with their first four albums. And that was the Metallica I wanted more of. Hell, Master Of Puppets is probably a perfect metal album. Ride The Lightning is ferocious and has some of their best songs on it. I sort of backed into the older albums due to my age, but I would wind up becoming one of the “old guard” Metallica fans who would eventually turn on the Black Album.

There’s another discussion about heavy metal and being young, especially in the early ’90’s, to be had here. For me it was deeper than just liking heavy music. It did mean something more.

As I was growing up I was supposed to be the proto-typical “good kid” – good grades, gifted classes, scholar-athlete type of thing. Well, I hated it. I couldn’t stand the people involved with that stuff, I got messed with one too many times for my tastes in junior high, and I felt the whole thing was soulless and useless. I came from a family of people who did all that stuff and achieved things through it, but I did not see myself on that same path.

My freshman year of high school I rebelled. No more sports – I wasn’t good at them and no one in my scholar-athlete family seemed to care enough to help me get better. No more “honor society” or whatever, I simply quit going to that. I went to school, then went home and sat in my room, listening to metal.

This line of discussion could certainly go on into more issues, deeper issues, all of that. I’ll leave that set where it is for now. I’ve considered writing more along those lines, about the trials of scene and identity as it relates to music. But being real, it gets to be some heavy shit sometimes and I don’t know if it serves my purposes in this day and age. Might be something that pops up down the line, though. We will see.

But the die was cast in 1991 – I was a metalhead. Of course people in my family scoffed at it, declarinig it was “just a phase.” I know many a metalhead has heard that.

Of course it’s just a phase. It’s a phase that is 30 years strong now and has no end in sight. Hails and horns, brothers and sisters – we’re riding this train of “satanic death rock crap” all the way to the end.

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