Triumvirates of our Time
As part of a series, 'Fish staffer Joshua Walker will be providing reviews of three classic works of music. Stick around, maybe you'll learn something.
Heavy Metal’s Greatest Albums
My brothers are both a number of years older than me. Their love of hard rock and metal rubbed off on me at an early age, and I never quite recovered. I remember when my best friend lent me his copy of Pearl Jam’s Ten in middle school. He and I had come together over a fascination with Zeppelin and avant garde fashion choices only we thought were funny. (There was a lot of duct tape and ski gear.) I took Ten home and gave it a spin. I thought it sucked; I returned it and forgot all about it for the rest of the school year. Then over the summer, Ten broke on radio and MTV, and my friend coasted to some level of notoriety based on his prescience.
The band my friend and I had went on to cover “Polly” from Nevermind and “Immigrant Song” from Led Zeppelin III, and even “Alive” from Ten but there had emerged a rift between us. We politely endured each other’s taste instead of geeking out together over the same stuff. I learned in those years to keep my love of Testament, Scorpions, Anthrax, and Saigon Kick on the down low. Such proclivities were unintelligible to most of my peers and never shared. I knew better than to act on my desires past some rockin out in the car.
I grew up, moved on, and my taste expanded, but no one forgets their first love. I bristled at the derision of hipsters in the emo years, then the Iron Maiden T-shirts at Hot Topic, but tried to keep my thoughts to myself.
Last year, video gaming reached new heights with Rock Band storming into the living rooms of console owners. Friends who have known me for years asked, “Wow, how do you know all the words to this stuff?” and my preteen nephew was excited to hear everything I knew about Blue Oyster Cult.
If you’re a wizened music fan who just never got around to finer points of metal, or a Rock Band aficionado who is embarrassed that your knowledge ends with the game’s song list, I have brought forth this Triumvirate of our Times. Likely no one who has ever lived would back me up on all these picks. Still, I maintain these are the three greatest works metal produced. So face forward and keep your eyes open, shortstack, and I'll show you how we roll.
W.A.S.P. Headless Children (1989)
Imagine, if you can, what it would sound like if Saruman at the height of his corrupt power turned to making music. Then, he assembled a philharmonic of half-orcs that had the strength of men, were unafraid of daylight, but fought and rocked with the ferocity of the vilest goblin. The album they would put out would be Headless Children.
It is likely that the closest equivalent we have for Saruman the Wise in our age is indeed Blackie Lawless, the man behind WASP--a tall, temperamental creep who has a codpiece that shoots sparks and made a name for himself in the early 80's by throwing raw meat at his audience. Just like Saruman, Blackie even swears an honest-to-goodness oath to a Dark Lord on track 4, “Thunderhead.”* The oath is presented as a series of questions to the lead singer, each of which is answered in turn in the affirmative. Now this oath seems like more and more of a raw deal as it goes along, but the spirited Blackie just seems to get more enthusiastic: “Will you lie, cheat, deceive, dishonor everything and even kill thy brother for me?” Blackie's response is a chipper, “Yes, YEEEES!” If we take a look at the inside cover we can see Blackie flanked by his bandmates and the half-orc theory is given uncanny credence.
Lawdy, can those Uruk-hai play; a cover of the Who's “The Real Me” has drum and bass work that gives me the Boo-yas.
If you have any kind of culture, you will know comedian Brian Posehn, who has a joke about WASP guitarist Chris Holmes in his act (Holmes is on Blackie's right). He relates the time a drunk Holmes told a young Posehn to “grow some tits” if he wanted an interview for his college metal fanzine. God Bless Brian Posehn for continuing to tell that joke even though nobody in the audience has any idea who he's talking about.
*OK, technically Blackie is playing the part of the junkie who’s swearing fealty to drugs, but if you don’t pay too much attention you can pretend it's Sauron. A girl can dream, can’t she?
Judas Priest: British Steel (1980)
It’s hard to nail down which Priest album to include here but decorum insists that one of them make the list. On Steel you won't find the winner of the "Best Priest Song Written By Someone Completely Different." That honor goes to “The Green Manalishi (with the Two-Pronged Crown)” penned by Fleetwood Mac, although the Joan Baez song, “Diamonds and Rust” and the one by the Christian praise music guy, “Some Heads Are Gonna Role” make for strong competition. (No, seriously, they do.)
Nor will you find any of Rob Halford's classic love songs that always leave me wondering if Rob wants to have sex with me or shank me in the kidneys (Love Bites, Jawbreaker, Turbo Lover). (If I had to guess I would say both...but in which order?)
Judas Priest's Rob Halford
So what, pray tell, you are asking, does British Steel have on it? Well, “Breaking the Law” for one, which is all half you kids know about Judas Priest anyway. Nigh as rockin though, is “Living After Midnight,” which is when the band “makes its moves right.” Getting less airplay but no less entertaining are songs like “Grinder” which goes, “Grinder, looking for meat/Grinder, wants you to eat.” That line always makes me think of the titular Grinder as some sort of Jewish-mother-as-giant-meat-packing-machine-covered-in-spikes. As you are picking finically at your plate, she says to you, “What, yoa a supermodal now? There’s no meat on yoa ribs. No man wants to marray a waif.”Perhaps the most moving song on the album is “Metal Gods” where Rob Halford gets really street. And when I say street, I mean he tells us what’s going on out there outside our comfortable little middle-class row-houses. “Metal Gods” is all about big, bladed, fire-breathing robots rising up against us smug humans and killing everyone in sight. They’ve got “laser beaming hearts” and they are “ripping men apart.” Rob and a few survivors try “hiding underground” for fear of being “reaped by robot scythes.” Man, what a way to live. Once the robots take over we are presented with a choice, death or “be the slaves to their wicked ways.” Unfortunately for Rob such a choice is only a passing fancy as he is “engulfed in molten breath.”
Yes, it is as awesome as it sounds. Sonically, perhaps the best part of the song is the chorus, “Meeeeeeetal Goooooods” sung in a long, low droning harmony as if the band is already cyborg zombies hailing their new metallic masters in lockstep praise.
Megadeth: Youthanasia (1994)
Youthanasia holds the record for Longest Run of Awesome Songs Without Interruption on an Album. Tracks 1-5 represent the finest 22 minutes the world has ever known. And that's all the more a remarkable considering after “Elysian Fields,” I'm not even sure what else is on this album; I pretty much tune out. What's that I hear you say? What of early Medadeth? Before they got all soft? Just go back to sleep, little retarded metalhead, the people not on drugs are talking now. You can take your monotonous 80's speed Megadeth, Dave Mustaine & Co. were always pretty cool, but with the 90's came the band's greatest lineup and this record, which can cure cancer, bucko.
Part of the entertainment value for Megadeth is Mustain’s vocals, which never rise above the tone of an angry 13 year old trying to growl and snarl in his most grown up voice. No amount of words could describe for you the wackiness that ensues when Dave tries to sound angry. Just once in your life you have to hear Dave sing “Sweating Bullets,” if singing is what you call what Dave does. When he erupts in fury at the end of “Bullets” with, “Here I come again!,” it sounds like he is sick and tired of all the spitwads you have been hitting him with all study hall long and he is ready to show you the moves he learned watching Bloodsport. It is the contention of one of my friends that the best Megadeth is the stuff where Dave tries to go pop, because he is so hopelessly metal that he utterly fails and makes something completely more interesting in the process.
Rockin like Dickety Don Dokken!
Youthanasia also has printed on the top of the CD the funniest known picture of the band. Here we see the guys remorselessly rocking out; serving the metal hard and fast. Whether this image is meant to be sincere or ironic is a heated debate among scholars. The question is, what do you mean when you do it?
January 10, 2009