GSA Writer Contest, Entry #5: Five Albums That Changed Andy Boyle

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Voting begins next week, but first…read this fifth entry in our ongoing writer contest. The winner will join the GSA ranks, and we need your help picking the best of the bunch. Next week. Join us on Facebook to participate in the vote.

I’m late for work. Again. I’m scrambling to get out the door, so I make sure I’ve got everything I need. Wallet. Phone. Keys. Got ‘em.

Tunes? Fuck. With thousands of CDs to choose from, how can I make this decision in mere seconds? I have all kinds of music, from all kinds of artists. I’ve got classics, new shit, and everything in between. Why not go back to the music that shaped me? Those albums that in some way actually changed my life. Because it’s not just that those albums themselves are so great; they are the blueprints by which I’ve judged most of the music that I’ve discovered since then. As an awkward, pimply-faced 13-year-old, I went down to my local record store and bought a brand new copy of Metallica’s black album right after it came out.

I had been getting into hard rock and metal for about a year at that point, but this was new territory for me. I’d heard their other albums, but didn’t own any of them at that point. This was easy for a pre-teen metal newbie to get into. It was catchy. The vocals were more melodic than their previous work. I wasn’t quite as fast, and didn’t have some of the longer, more complex songs. And that’s exactly why people rip on it. That’s when Metallica “sold out.” I myself went through my own phase of denouncing it. But as an adult, going back to listen to it, the album has its own merits. Some of the guitar harmonies are so sweet, on songs like “The God That Failed,” or “My Friend of Misery.” And while it may not quite live up to the standards set by their first four albums in terms of speed or intensity, the album is crushingly heavy.

The dropped-D main riff of “Sad But True” carries so much weight by itself that I can’t help but crack a smile whenever I hear it. It may not be the greatest, or most representative thrash album, but it’s what led me down this path, and it influenced so much of my musical tastes to come. As much as I loved that first album I bought from Metallica, it wasn’t long before it wasn’t enough to satisfy me. It wasn’t heavy enough, so I went looking for something to slake my thirst. I wasn’t quite ready to make the leap into death metal yet, but soon enough I found what I was looking for.

Vulgar Display of Power was that sound, that feel that I had wanted, without even knowing exactly what it was I needed. Once I heard it, I realized that was what was missing from my life. It was heavy. It was pissed off (and so was I). And it grooved. In that moment when I first heard that album, I not only became a Pantera fan, I was readying myself for a whole new realm of extreme metal that was out there for me.

So, yeah. I love metal. I always have, always will, and will always wave the banner proudly. One thing that hasn’t always been so great about being a metalhead is the proverbial corner I was painted into. (It’s better now, believe me.) Because I was a metalhead, other music fans wouldn’t take me seriously. And the other meatheads, I mean metalheads, couldn’t give a fuck about anything that didn’t “RAWK!” Those people still exist, I just don’t hang with them. The average person is just a lot more likely these days to be accepting of someone like me when I say, in the same sentence, that two of the best shows I went to last year were Anthrax and Bon Iver. One of the first non-metal albums that blew my mind (as it should anyone’s mind) was Dark Side of the Moon. My dad turned me on to Pink Floyd, and sitting in my parents’ living room, spinning his pristine vinyl copy of that album on their turntable opened my mind to entirely new dimensions of music.

Here, musical virtuosity isn’t encumbered by the need to stay true to any kind of “scene.” Listening to that album, I feel enveloped by the sound those four dudes were churning out. It’s apparent to me that a lot of thought was put into the songwriting there, and it paid off. Ditto for Tom Waits’ Bone Machine. This album made me realize that music doesn’t have to be heavy to be extreme. Listening to that album sent chills up my spine. His gruff voice, the use of odd and obscure instruments, the lyrical content, all work together to create a mood and atmosphere that is much darker than anything that can be conjured up by some distorted guitars and some guy screaming about Satan.

Tell me, what’s creepier: unintelligible, guttural vocals that you have to look up the lyrics to, or Tom crooning raspily along to an out-of-tune piano about a 15-year-old girl climbing into a van with a vagabond?

So, the next time I’m running late for work (tomorrow) and I’m trying to pick out something to listen to, maybe I should just grab one of those five classic albums. Or maybe I should think about what it is about those five albums that shaped how I listen to and appreciate all the other music in my collection.

Wait. That’s only four albums? Not five? Fine. Fuck it. Black Sabbath. Paranoid. My dad pretty much made me buy that CD when I was in Junior High. It changed my life. If it weren’t for that album, most of the other albums in my collection wouldn’t exist. You disagree with me, then you’re retarded.

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