Guest Column: Five Albums That Will Change You By Jay Reiter Of Skrog

Guest Column

In our continuing series of guest columns, we’ve asked a bunch of metal’s heaviest hitters to provide us with a list of five crucial albums they think will change you — either for the better or the worse. Today, we hear from Jay Reiter of Skrog.

Transformers — The Movie Soundtrack
This is the album that laid the foundations for my musical passions and career. I remember the first time I saw “Transformers: The Movie.” I was utterly blown away by the level of animation, story, and music in the film. I’m an ‘80’s kid and I LOVE the Transformers. Always have, always will. But keep in mind, back in ’86, the cartoons they were showing kids like me in the U.S. didn’t have the best animation, the stories were always the simplest concepts of “good vs. evil,” and the music was shitty midi.

Then came “Transformers: The Movie.” That changed it all. The heroes that could never be injured actually died (brutally!!!!). The animation was some of the best of its time. The film mesmerized me and I think the soundtrack subliminally entered into my brain and has been lurking there ever since.

The thing I love so much about the “TF:TM” soundtrack is it blends some great ‘80’s heavy metal with fun and well thought out electronic music. This concept of blending hard rock/metal with electronic has been something of an enigma to me my whole life. I’ve been seeking out new forms of this type of music since I first started buying music. The “TF:TM” soundtrack had some great songs like “Hunger” and “Nothin’s Gonna Stand In Our Way” by Specter General, NRG’s “Instruments Of Destruction” — which has a vocal track that even Rob Halford would be proud of, and probably the BEST adaptation of a kids’ show opening theme — Lion’s “The Transformers (Theme).”

I mean, c’mon, even Weird Al Yankovic’s “Dare To Be Stupid” is on this thing! Can’t be beat! And Vince DiCola’s electronic works are all masterpieces. I absolutely love “Unicron’s Theme” and “City Under Siege.” All of the musical material from the film has, in one way or another, influenced my musical works. The “TF:TM” soundtrack was the very first CD I ever bought and I’ve been studying it ever since. Just to prove how awesome the “TF:TM” soundtrack is, the movie’s flagship song – “The Touch” – was used again in the movie “Boogie Nights.” When’s the last time your favorite ‘80’s throwback was referenced in a film about a porn star? Never? Yeah, that’s what I thought, fanboy. “Transformers: The Movie” soundtrack for the win.

Metallica –- Ride the Lightning
I know a lot of people are more into Kill ‘Em All or Master Of Puppets but for me it’s Ride The Lightning. That was the first Metallica album I ever bought. It was the second CD I ever bought. Man, I jammed to that thing so much it was ridiculous. I learned every song on that album within a few weeks. The level of intensity and aggression on Lightning was unlike anything I’d ever heard before. From the opening “Fight Fire With Fire” to the closing “The Call of Ktulu,” I blasted that album morning, noon, and night for months.

The material just spoke to me like no other album had before. It was great to blast when I wanted to piss off my parents, it was great to blast when I’d had a shitty day and just wanted to get away from it all, it was great to blast when I picked up my guitar and just wanted to jam. I grew up in the age of MTV where aggressive rock wasn’t hard to find. Be it Guns ‘N Roses, Motley Crue, or even the short lived fame of Twisted Sister, hard rock was everywhere at the time. But all of that stuff fell short when compared to Ride the Lightning. Sure, some of the MTV pop had a more “mass appeal” I guess, or even a catchier hook here or there, but none of that stuff was as technically well written or executed as the material I found on Lightning. This album laid the foundations for my guitar style and writing/structuring techniques. It also broadened my musical spectrum from just MTV rock to more thrash related stuff like Pantera, Megadeth, White Zombie, Testament and of course, Slayer.

Slayer — Seasons In the Abyss
Slayer’s my favorite band ever. Period. Nobody does metal as well as Kerry, Jeff, Dave, and Tom. It pains me to have to list only one of their albums here, as almost all of them are the best metal known to man, but if I must then it’s got to be Seasons. Slayer’s 1990 album took the brutality and speed from Reign In Blood (“War Ensemble,” and “Hallowed Point”) and blended it with the more subtle, slow, creativity from South of Heaven (“Dead Skin Mask,” and “Skeletons of Society”).

Even though Divine Intervention was technically the album that got me into Slayer, Seasons In the Abyss is, in my opinion, their opus. And again, I know this is a similar debate just like Metallica’s MoP versus RtL, where most fans are going to say, “Dude. Are you fucking kidding me? Everybody knows Reign In Blood is Slayer’s best.” Well, I love RIB but I also love SoH. And to me I get the best of both worlds in Seasons.

I guess I feel that Seasons defines the end of a chapter in Slayer’s career. There’s the Metal Blade Slayer stuff (Show No Mercy, Hell Awaits, Haunting the Chapel, and Live Undead), there’s the Rick Rubin stuff with Lombardo (Reign In Blood, South of Heaven, Seasons In The Abyss, and Decade of Aggression) and then there’s the Rubin stuff post-Lombardo (Divine Intervention and on).

Each of these three chapters has its own unique style (And yes, I know there’s technically a fourth chapter — the post-Rubin material with Lombardo returning, but I don’t really count that stuff) and I guess I just happen to prefer the second chapter in the book of Slayer over anything else they’ve done. I don’t remember who I heard first: Cannibal Corpse or Slayer. Both were kind of a one-two punch, musically and creatively speaking. Both bands gave me the immediate reaction of, “Holy shit! Where the hell has THAT music been my whole life??” and both bands have been highly influential in my writing style as well as “gateways” to expanding my musical palate. This is why Slayer and Cannibal Corpse are my two favorite bands, in that order. I guess I just feel that the guitar styles King and Hanneman brought to the table are way more in line with my own musical style and tastes than anything else I’ve ever heard. It’s kind of funny, when I really got into Slayer was about the time that Metallica’s Black Album peaked (I know, I’m a late bloomer).

Sure, I got into the Black Album a bit but it certainly was a disappointment in comparison to anything Metallica had released prior. And don’t even get me STARTED on that Load/Reload bullshit. Once upon a time Slayer and Metallica were tied for my number one fav but once Load came out… I’m pretty sure I burned everything I owned with a Metallica logo on it. Seriously. I don’t think I own a single Metallica based thing anymore outside of the albums Kill ‘Em All through …And Justice For All.

Anyway, yeah. Slayer. Best band ever. Seasons In the Abyss. Best album ever. ‘Nuff said.

Cannibal Corpse — Tomb of the Mutilated
Just when I thought music couldn’t possibly get any heavier than the likes of Metallica, Megadeth, Pantera and White Zombie comes Cannibal Corpse. I’d never heard anything like this before. Of course the first time I was exposed to CC was in the film “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.” I was hooked from the opening cymbal catch in the now epic club scene of the film. I remember looking over at my buddy sitting next to me in the theater and asking him, “Is this band for real?” My buddy was all like, “Yeah. They’re a signed and touring band with a legitimate fanbase.” I replied, “No shit? And you’ve heard of these guys before? Why the hell didn’t you tell me there was a band out there called Cannibal Corpse?!”

The hunt was on. At the time, death metal wasn’t very popular in my home town of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Cannibal Corpse wasn’t found at Best Buy back then and the Internet barely existed. Fortunately for me this buddy of mine, Josh, had Tomb of the Mutilated on tape (I said it – TAPE) and he gave it to me. I couldn’t stop listening to that thing for weeks. I took it everywhere. I’d bring my Walkman (The precursor to an iPod, kiddies) in to school, on dates, at social events, hell I even brought that tape with me to bible camp (Yes, my parents sent me to bible camp. Fuck you). I’m pretty sure that poor tape was absolutely destroyed eventually from simple usage.

Of course “Hammer Smashed Face” was played a bunch. I learned it on my guitar and everything but I also dug the rest of the songs on that album. Tomb of the Mutilated is still one of the few albums that I can listen to front to back without skipping a track or fast forwarding a part in a song. TotM showed me that a whole new genre of metal existed and lead me down the path of finding other bands like Deicide, Suffocation, Dying Fetus, and others.

Ministry — Psalm 69
I’m a big industrial fan. I love music by Frontline Assembly, Strapping Young Lad, Bile, NIN, KMFDM, etc. But no one, and I mean NO ONE has been able to do it like Ministry. I knew I had to give a major nod to the industrial world in this top five and I really debated over which band and album should take the cake. And let’s face it, when it comes to industrial music the leaders are Nine Inch Nails and Ministry. I debated between the two, I do love both, but Ministry came out on top. The first time I was really exposed to industrial music was about the time that NIN’s “Closer” hit the charts. All my friends (especially the girls) just went gaga over NIN. Pretty Hate Machine especially. I guess I ended up getting sick of it. Where Pretty Hate Machine went more teenage angsty and whiny, Psalm 69 was a complete metal explosion in my face. And I loved it.

The first time I’d heard anything by Ministry was while watching Bevis and Butthead on MTV. The two animated knuckleheads were critiquing the video “Just One Fix.” The heavy metal-style guitar licks I recognized but there was an electronic edge to the music that I hadn’t heard since my Transformer days. I went out and bought the album and fell in love. The use of samples, synths, and other electronic noise amalgamated with the crushing metal riffs was just too much for me to let go of. I’ve been a fan ever since.

The songs “N.W.O.,” “Just One Fix,” and the title track, “Psalm 69” were brutal and punishing. Just what a metal maniac needs. But the album goes a bit deeper for me. I studied the way that Ministry used the electronic world to enhance their music. I also took note of the types of effects Al was putting on his voice. Coming from an elitist metal viewpoint (Anybody remember how crucial it was in the ‘90’s for metal vocalists to point out that there were no effects on their voices??) I found it refreshing to find someone that had the balls to not only put effects on his voice and play metal but to SMASH THE FUCK out of his voice with effects. For me it was like taking metal, which would be a “10” and cranking it to “11” with this new (to me) idea of industrial music. I really got in to the track “Corrosion” which was just a complete aural assault of aggressive metal-like guitars and drums blended with electronic noise. No words. No meaning. Just hate noise. And I loved it. The track also reinforced something that Metallica had started with me – the instrumental. I really dug how Ministry would put industrial based instrumentals on their albums just like Metallica would put progressive metal instrumentals on theirs.

I long for bands to bring this idea back so I added my own instrumental to Skrog’s debut album The Global Elite. That is absolutely thanks to Metallica and Ministry. And a certain video game I grew up with. But more on that in a future interview. I also loved “Scarecrow” which was a much more ambient and droning song. Not nearly so in-your-face as the rest of the album but heavy nonetheless. Of course with the discovery of Ministry came a scavenge to find other, like-minded material. And a retreat from hating NIN to loving them. Of course that would take years of erasing obnoxious, drunk, pissed-off girls listening to NIN over and over and over and over again out of my head.

…But I digress.

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About Chris Harris

Chris Harris is an internationally-published music journalist and writer whose work has appeared on the pages of Rolling Stone, IFC, Revolver, Alternative Press, and Radar. The former news editor for Noisecreep, Harris also served as co-host for the site’s weekly podcast, “Creep Show." Before that, he spent four years writing for MTV News.