GSA Writer Contest, Entry #2: Five Albums That Changed Xander Turner

Guest Column

Day two of the writing contest, where we hear from Xander Turner

Hey, I’m Xander, and I’m a bit of a metal nut. I got into metal when I was 12, just after Lamb of God released the “Walk With Me in Hell” single (remember that?), which leads me to the first album in this contest’s subject thing, which, for those of you who don’t remember, is “Five Albums That Changed My Life:”

As the Palaces Burn.

So the first metal song I heard was the “Walk With Me in Hell” single and shit just took off from there. I looked into LoG’s back catalogue and found one of the most prolific metal albums yet. Even to this day, there are two albums I know better than As the Palaces Burn, but I’ll elaborate later.

As the Palaces Burn is the album that completely changed my taste in music — from classic rock such as AC/DC and Aerosmith, to the groove metal titans, Lamb of God, all in a matter of minutes. The production was rough but so were the songs; it just added to the aggression I’d always been missing from music but never knew where to find it.

From the very first track, “Ruin,” the whole album beats your face into a bloody pulp and I love every second of it. That eerie harmonic in the intro of “For Your Malice” that Mark and Willie pull off there is fucking brilliant. To this day it gives me chills. Basically, after I heard As the Palaces Burn, I was a metalhead. No turning back.

Now, my favorite album of all time — Deconstruction by the mighty Devin Townsend Project.

Since Devin has, for a long time, been my all-time favorite artist, when he revealed that Decon was going to be his heaviest album yet, I was bouncing off the walls with excitement. Then, when it came in June last year, it wasn’t as heavy as I expected.

But so, SO much better.

The schizophrenia of all of the songs is fantastic, and it really goes to show that Devin’s musical genius and madness weren’t lessened by his sobriety. The 16-minute epic “The Mighty Masturbator” truly demonstrates that you can do anything musically and still make it metal. Hell, Devin even threw electronica in there and it totally worked. I’m sorry, but if you’re a hater of Decon, you’re wrong. It’s that simple.

Fitting in between As the Palaces Burn and Decon for my top three favorite albums of all is The Sound of Perseverance by Death. Why is this on the list, you ask? Because it was this album that got my best friend into metal, and founded my current band.

The obvious progressive elements are the highlight of the album, accentuated by the drumming mastery of Gene Hoglan, as well as the haunting shrieks and furious guitar work of the late and great Chuck Schuldiner. From the shredding goodness and strange timing changes of “Scavenger of Human Sorrow” to the mind-blowing cover of Judas Priest’s “Painkiller,” where Chuck’s amalgamation of his shrieks and power falsettos is possibly the most creative use of the voice I’ve ever heard. It’s absolutely phenomenal, but yet it’s overlooked by fans of Scream Bloody Gore, which I think is a mistake. They’re missing out.

Insomnium’s Above the Weeping World definitely deserves a mention, since that album, along with Dark Tranquillity’s Character to a lesser extent, made me a raging fan of melodic death metal. The soaring melodies that Insomnium play, carried largely by Ville Vänni (lead guitar) and Niilo Sevänen (bass/vocals) mix beautifully with the melancholic lyrics and bring a death/doom feel to their style of melodic death metal. But the whole band works as a unit, creating single, unified songs that evoke powerful emotion. I do not exaggerate in the slightest when I say that the first time I heard “Change of Heart.” I knew then that metal wasn’t just aggression. Metal can be beautiful, it can be emotional, and a perfect conveyor of that emotion.

Now, I’ve never been completely sold on thrash. I’m not a huge fan of Metallica, Megadeth, or Slayer, but Evile’s 2011 release, Five Serpents’ Teeth, has completely changed my perspective. It showed me that not all thrash was that bad and now I listen to Anthrax, Coroner and Testament regularly. So many people don’t like Matt Drake’s style of singing but I honestly can’t see why. His coarse, yet tone-rich voice, which is very reminiscent of power metal vocalists like Andi Deris of Helloween, or Peter Wagner of Rage, carries the aggression of thrash but still has enough tone to carry beautiful melodies, like the bridge of “In Dreams of Terror:”

“Am I hearing the voice of reason?
Let me save myself.
Let me suffer my way.”

And with guitarist and shred machine Ol’ Drake, it’s not surprising to hear the excellent guitar work and solos all the way through the album, while still having a very thrashy feel and not being drowned out by guitar wankery.

So all in all, the albums listed and briefly ranted about above have all changed my perspectives as to what not just metal, but music as a whole, is capable of doing, and are major inspirations for me as the main songwriter for my own band. Because that’s what metal is, really. It’s an inspiration, as well as a culture, a lifestyle, and a group of metaphorical siblings that I have become a proud member of.

Sappy ending, I know, but there’s got to be some kind of moral at the end of the story, hasn’t there?

Keep it real, guys. No Gods, no masters. Just metal.

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