Gateway Albums: The Power They Hold11th December 2015 0 By Fraser
I believe that often, not always but often, the first album you hear start to finish from a bands discogrpahy ends up being your favourite of their releases. This absolutely is not always the case, for example The Satanist was not the first Behemoth album I heard, but it is definitely my favourite (one of my favourites of all time, actually!), and the first Metallica album I heard from start to finish was St Anger… so yeah, not always the case! But often I find that’s the way things turn out. So while sitting in the sun with a beer and pondering the world of metal (isn’t Australian life tough!) I got thinking about gateway albums into bands, that album that may or may not be their most critically acclaimed, it may or may not be declared their best by the legions of adoring fans, but you just can’t shake it from being your favourite, and nor should you! I’ve put a wee list together of some of my favourite gateway albums into bands, in no particular order, ladies and gentlemen, enjoy!
1. Endgame – Megadeth
The year is 2009, I’m 13 years old and still just easing my way into the world of metal, having grown up thinking Motorhead was the heaviest band of all time. I’ve discovered St Anger is a really shit album, but the older Metallica albums are awesome. I’ve already got an acceptable collection of Iron Maiden t-shirts. I’m starting to probe, to research, to develop my tastes and see what’s good and what can be left by the wayside. I hear about Megadeth, and their story, and I’m intrigued – after learning they released a new album earlier that year I jump onto YouTube and make a playlist of the new songs, then get cracking. Wow.
Fast-forward to 2015, I’m a huge Megadeth fan, I’ve got most of the albums and listen to them regularly, I’ve seen them live twice and I’m on the edge of my seat for the new album (If King of All About The Rock, the mighty Craig is looking for someone on the team to review it when it drops… Nudge nudge, wink wink). Without a doubt my favourite Megadeth album, Endgame is all killer, no filler, with cool lyrics, a mountain of riffs, fantastic song-writing and insane production. I love Rust In Peace. I love Peace Sells…. I love United Abominations. But for me, Endgame is just in a league of its own.
2. Everblack – The Black Dahlia Murder
From discovering that metal is actually really fucking awesome right up until about this time last year, I couldn’t stand The Black Dahlia Murder. They are a successful and hugely well respected band, they are incredibly talented for sure, but I could not get into them at all. I tried, I really wanted to like them, but it just wasn’t happening. I listened to singles and the odd track with a cool sounding name every now and then, just to give them another shot, but I ended up resigning myself to the fact that they were just gonna be a band I couldn’t get into.
Then Jamie, one of my best mates and fellow beer drinking, head-banging, metal loving Scotsman, sent me a link to Everblack. I whinged and moaned that they just weren’t my thing, that I’ve tried to listen to them but couldn’t enjoy it, but he told me to stop being a dick and just listen, and wow. Suddenly everything clicked. Songs that mere weeks before made me go “meh” had me standing on the coffee table, horns in the hair and neck swinging like a man possessed. I now love The Black Dahlia Murder, I’ve got every album they’ve released and though I’m yet to see them live, my day will come, and it’s all thanks to Everblack. Every single song on Everblack could have been a single, it is a catchy, heavy, outrageously good album that will always hold a special place in my heart.
3. As Daylight Dies – Killswitch Engage
Metalcore has become a dirty word in the metal world, and it has been for a long time. For me, metalcore will always be bands like Killswitch, the older All That Remains albums, As I Lay Dying etc, not the auto-tuned, synth using, open chord chug fests that have sprung up over the last 8 years. And the undisputed kings of metalcore will always be Killswitch Engage, this is not open for debate.
The struggle I had with The Black Dahlia Murder is not one I experienced with Killswitch Engage. I remember it like it was yesterday – a friend from school suggested them, again I was about 13 at the time, and after bashing it into YouTube the top of the suggestion list was This Is Absolution. I was instantly hooked. I downloaded the rest of the As Daylight Dies immediately, and listened to it on repeat for months. It is very, very rarely praised as their best album – that title almost always goes to either Alive or Just Breathing or The End of Heartache, both of which I absolutely freaking love, by the way – but As Daylight Dies is just a really special album for me. It started my love affair with Howard Jones’ voice, it got me through break ups and heartaches, it was absolutely vital in developing my musical tastes – it was an album I turned to in highest highs and lowest lows. Packed with absolutely huge sounding tracks, crammed with riffs, demonic screaming and HoJo’s utterly beautiful, operatic singing, it is without a doubt one of my top 10 albums of all time, and it will forever be my favourite Killswitch Engage album, for sure.
4. Shogun – Trvium
Trivium have become an absolute juggernaut in recent years – whatever your opinion of the band, you cannot deny they are doing very well for themselves. Every single album they have released has had a very clear and definite evolution from their previous record, no two have been the same. From the metalcore of Ascendency to the more hard rock sound of the last two albums, Trivium have worked hard to grow as musicians and songwriters, and they are on track to take over the world. For me, however, none of their albums contend for the number one spot quite like Shogun does.
After hearing Down From The Sky, I immediately listened to the rest of Shogun, and swiftly fell in love with it. It carries a lot of the metalcore influences from Ember to Inferno and Ascendency, but it also carries a lot of the thrash sounds of The Crusade, and it even begins to include a hint of progressive metal in there. It is their most unique album, their most technically brilliant and every single song is a classic. I am under no delusions, Metallica are not releasing another Master of Puppets, In Flames won’t be cranking out Whoracle Part 2 anytime soon, and Trivium are never going to release another album like Shogun – hard though it may be I have come to terms with it, but if they could just play the whole thing, start to finish for just one tour… Fuck, man.
5. Pray For Villains – DevilDriver
Who here has even seen Scrubs, the medical sitcom which ran from 2001 right up until 2010? There is a couple of occasions in which one of the characters, Lloyd the Delivery Guy, can be seen driving his truck with DevilDriver blaring through the speakers (Devil’s Son, from the self-titled debut, and Driving Down The Darkness from The Fury Of Our Makers Hand), and after seeing this I hunted on YouTube to find the full songs. After finding a handful of DevilDriver songs, I discovered they had a new album coming out, so a few days after the release I went into HMV and picked it up – this new album was Pray For Villains.
Pray For Villains, for me, is the best album DevilDriver have released – there was a steady improvement in quality building up to it, and nothing they’ve released since has come close to matching the quality. Dez’s voice is the clearest it has ever been, but is still filled with aggression, there is more groove and more melody in this album than everything else in their back-catalogue put together, and just about every song is worthy of being a single. A truly fantastic release – and the Iron Maiden cover in the bonus tracks is awesome!
6. The Formation of Damnation – Testament
Once again, a more recent album from one of the thrash titans was my gateway. As I began to discover that thrash metal actually sounds nothing like St Anger and is, in fact, really fucking awesome, I started to do a bit research into the scene. I discovered that East Coast thrash wasn’t really my thing, I discovered that German thrash definitely was my thing, and I discovered Testament, a serious contender for my favourite thrash band of all time. It is a true tragedy that Testament have not reached the same level of success as their brothers in the Big Four, they have churned out some of the heaviest, fastest, meanest thrash tracks going.
So I listened to some of the tracks from The Formation of Damnation, then I listened to the full album, and I didn’t listen to anything else for about a month. Then I thought to myself “Y’know, Fraser, if this is their ninth album, maybe they have some other awesome albums as well?” And boy oh boy was I right? Testament absolutely fucking slay, and their early albums could hold their own against the early works of Slayer or Anthrax easily enough – this just makes them not reaching the a similar level of success all the more painful for me, however. But as good as The Legacy and The Ritual are, as much as New World Order and Souls of Black give me whiplash, for me they just don’t compare to The Formation of Damnation – maybe it’s the better production? Maybe the songs genuinely are better, and it’s not a case of the gateway album syndrome you’ve seen from me so far. Who knows? All we do know is the new Testament album is going to be awesome.
7. Seventh Son of a Seventh Son – Iron Maiden
Okay, so Iron Maiden are my favourite band of all time. And my favourite Iron Maiden album is an odd one – almost everyone who prefers Bruce-era Maiden will say, in my experience anyway, The Number of the Beast or Powerslave, which are both phenomenal albums. And then there is the people who, as good as the Bruce albums are, just prefer Iron Maiden or Killers. Certainly from my experience of talking to fellow Maiden fans (something I take great pleasure in!) that seems to be the general consensus. But for me, it has got to be Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.
The first Maiden album I heard start to finish, it just enchants me. The concept is incredibly interesting, the lyrics are superb, and every single song is simply awesome. I mean, don’t get me wrong, Powerslave, The Number of the Beast and Piece of Mind are utterly stunning albums, and everything post Bruce’s return has blown me away, but Seventh Son is simply jaw-dropping. Even my beautiful girlfriend, who much prefers modern metal to the older albums of our forefathers, agrees Seventh Son is an outrageous album and absolutely fucking slays. So go grab yourself a beer, light a cigarette, joint, scented candle, whatever floats your boat, and crank out Can I Play With Madness? right this very second.
8. The Blackening – Machine Head
Right, you’ve heard a longwinded variation of this story enough times already in this article if I tell it again you’ll probably cry – just discovering world of metal, a friend suggests a band, I check out the newest album from said band and fall in love with it. There is absolutely no one that can deny The Blackening is a fucking awesome album – it was pretty much universally considered the best metal album of the ‘00s and for good reason.
Coming in at an hour long with just eight tracks, it is Machine Head’s heaviest, fastest and most ferocious album to date – The Blackening is an absolute monster. However, I kind of shot myself in the foot by having it as my first Machine Head album – no matter how many times I tried to listen to their older albums I just couldn’t get into them because, in my eyes, they couldn’t hold a candle to The Blackening. It wasn’t until 2011’s Unto The Locust that I could enjoy any of Machine Head’s music pre-The Blackening. They are one of the best bands in the world now without a doubt, they have a fantastic back-catalogue (which I can now appreciate!) and they have an utterly phenomenal live energy – but The Blackening will always be my favourite!
9. Twilight of the Thunder God – Amon Amarth
Much like with The Blackening, the stars seemed to align when I discovered Amon Amarth and my first experience with them was the album that is widely considered to be their best. Twilight of the Thunder God was the album that made the metal world as whole sit down, shut up and take notice of the Norse loving Swedes! The base elements from Amon Amarth’s previous works were still there – they still had the melody, the aggression and the fantastic musicianship – but in the release the Norsemen thrust upon the world in 2008 was all of these things wrapped up in polished, intriguing and attention grabbing songs. Twilight of the Thunder God is all killer, no filler, an album where every song could be a single.
From Twilight of the Thunder God I discovered the works of art that came before, and kept my ear to the ground for a new album as well – which eventually came in Surtur Rising – but no album written before or since Twiligh… comes close. There isn’t a single mediocre song on there, it is an absolutely stunning release and yet another example of a time where my gateway album into a band ends up being my favourite.
10. Phantom Antichrist – Kreator
Okay, I was sooo late to the party with Kreator. When learning that thrash metal is awesome, I, naturally, dipped into the German scene briefly – but this was around the same time I was discovering death metal, and though I heard a couple of Kreator tracks my adoration of death metal swept me away from them and they fall of my radar for a time. And then I found Phantom Antichrist. Not too long after it dropped, it came to my attention and after giving it a spin I was kicking myself up and down the street for allowing myself to get swept away from such an incredible band.
I got myself Hordes of Chaos, Enemy of God, Endless Pain and Pleasure to Kill pretty much immediately after I got Phantom Antichrist, and by my beard they are fantastic albums – but they don’t quite do for me what Phantom Antichrist did. Much like with The Formation of Damnation, I can’t quite explain it, all I know is Kreator are Testament’s biggest rivals for my favourite thrash band, and I am absolutely buzzing for a new album to drop!
So there we have it, 10 of the albums that got me into some of my favourite bands, and are still my favourite albums from those bands to this day! Some are unsurprising – Twilight of the Thunder God is probably most people’s favourite Amon Amarth album – but Endgame over Rust In Peace? Phantom Antichrist over Pleasure to Kill? It shows just how powerful the first album you hear can be! What are some of the gateway albums into your favourite bands that you still hold as their best album? Let us know in the comments!
About the author
This bearded wildman from North of the wall survives the harsh ever-present winter of Scotland on a healthy diet of thrash, death metal and beer.