I'm probably going to write about some music here that you've dismissed with a wave of the hand, but it doesn't really matter to me because I'm an adult and your opinions are irrelevant to my past. This is a post where I talk about my roots in heavy metal with a few audio samples to communicate their significance to you. The coherency of these is suspect because I'm extremely drunk while writing it. However, I just spent the past long while rediscovering my past with a bandmate of mine, and I hope some of the significance of these moments is properly communicated.
Meshuggah - New Millennium Cyanide Christ
When I was around 12, my dad was cool enough to take me to see System of a Down in concert. Yep, it's a nu-metal band (or a band that was lumped into the nu-metal scene). No, I don't give a fuck about it. I remember looking at the ticket when he showed it to me, though (understandably excited), and seeing a pretty weird thing. It said "System of a Down performing with special guests Meshuggah". I had no idea who the fuck the latter band was. Meshuggah? That's clearly not English, or it's just a made up word. I'd never heard of them before. I mostly dismissed it and just got excited for the headliner.
I sat through a couple nu-metal openers and it was almost time for System when Meshuggah took the stage. It was weird. They all got on stage with no real ceremony and I remember being struck by how militant they all looked; Jens Kidman with his shaved head, the other members with their long hair and kind of distant gazes. It was sort of intimidating before the music even started.
And then, the music.
At 12 years old, I'd never heard anything so devastatingly heavy in my life. This was right after 'Nothing' came out, possibly their slowest, most crushing release ever. I was totally floored. I didn't know music could actually SOUND like this; every member headbanging in perfect syncronization, the insanely low and brutal rhythms that felt like they were blowing me apart from inside, every element of it was the sickest thing I'd ever heard. The moment didn't hit me 'til 'New Millennium Cyanide Christ', however, that I really GOT what was going on. This song, posted above, completely changed my life. There was something about it that changed the whole way I thought about music and made me see it in an entirely new light. I still remember the first verse of lyrics by heart. System of a Down was cool, but they didn't really match up to what I had just seen. The next day, I voraciously devoured any information I could find on this new band, which was clearly the heaviest in the universe. It was the start of metal for me.
Morbid Angel - Immortal Rites
I'd listened to a lot of nu-metal and dabbled in extreme metal for a while after Meshuggah, but the main band which really gripped me, for reasons I couldn't rationally explain, was Morbid Angel. In early 2003, when I was still just 12 years old, I acquired my first actual metal album: 'Altars of Madness'. I'd done a lot of research on all the bands I liked, and I knew this was Morbid Angel's first album. I've always been a really structured guy, even at that age, so I wanted to hear their very first official album. I'd never heard anything off that release, but nonetheless, I wanted the first one. It arrived in the mail, and while playing Warcraft III on my computer, I stuck it in the other disc drive and listened.
I really wish I knew at that moment what a significant occasion it would be for me so I could more specifically remember what I felt. I knew that I had never heard anything quite like that before: how twisted the melodies were, the sheer occult darkness of that music, all the elements which make it so loved even today hit me at the same time. What I do know is that I compulsively listened to it every day for MONTHS after that. I ritually listened to it on my shitty CD player while reading the lyric sheet specifically because I wanted to know by heart every word that David Vincent rasped. I was in love, and I think I realized even then that with that album, my life had fundamentally changed and I'd found my true love and passion. Essentially nothing beats this album for me. It defines me in more ways that I could ever express.
Cryptopsy - Crown of Horns
For a while I'd explored the reaches of nu-metal and dabbled in real metal with a friend of mine (a girl, no less!) when I was 12-13. We talked a lot on AIM, and at one point she mentioned a band called Cryptopsy to me, in particular a track called Dead and Dripping. She actually outpaced me substantially in her explorations of extreme metal; while I was still wandering around Linkin Park tracks, she was already checking out Cannibal Corpse. I didn't check them out when I first heard about them from her; it wasn't a conscious decision- just something that fell to the wayside when I was exploring music I was more actively interested in.
Then, one fateful day, when I was around 13, I randomly decided to check out that weird band my friend mentioned on KaZaA (remember that shit?). The first track I listened to was 'Slit Your Guts'. It was definitely brutal and gave me pause, but it wasn't until the second song, 'Crown of Horns', that I found my new musical love. 'Slit Your Guts' was really cool but didn't hit me in that sweet spot where my obsession would take hold, but then I listened to 'Crown of Horns'.
I'd absolutely never heard anything like it. The first thing that hit me was the drumming- I had no idea that human beings could actually play that fast. Listening to Flo Mounier's blasts and double bass smashed all my preconceptions of what a person could do musically. Then there were the vocals; Lord Worm's insane barking, growling, gurgling, shrieking, and any number of other verbs were unlike anything I had heard before. What the fuck, humans can make sounds like those without effects? It was more extreme than anything I'd ever listened to before. It was only after a while that I picked up on the guitars and bass; the sheer memorability of the riffs and the care and craftsmanship of the songwriting was something I picked up in time but moved me in a way I'd never felt before. This is the moment when my passion for extremity was ignited: from this point forward, I desperately wanted to hear the most extreme, brutal, vile music I possibly could in a quest for a peak that would (thankfully) never be attained.
Wormphlegm - In an Excruciating Way...
So around a year down the road, I heard of some weird shit people called 'doom metal'. I had a vague idea of what it was like: slow, depressing, and definitely unlike all the death and black metal I had submerged myself into as a young metal listener. I was intrigued, and I decided to explore it, looking up info on classic doom records as well as more modern, extreme takes on the style. I was 14, hadn't even entered high school, and had never heard a doom song before apart from the obvious Black Sabbath. I was ready for insanity in a way I'd never heard before.
The first artist I'd stumbled across while exploring KaZaA (again!) was Candlemass. It was kind of cool- I downloaded 'Solitude' and listened to it a couple times. I liked the general mood- the slowness, the depression, the sheer weirdness of something HEAVY but SLOW- but I wasn't quite sold on how much it resembled traditional heavy metal. Then I moved on to Skepticism, since I'd heard they were a more extreme take on the same style. I think I heard 'The March and the Stream'- now this was more my style! It was heavy and sorrowful, but the emotional aspect of it was more brutal and incisive and the music itself was more extreme, slower, and weirder than I'd ever heard before. Still (at this moment), I was looking for the most extreme and bizarre music I could find. I'd heard about a band called Wormphlegm- supposedly, they only had a demo tape out that had just leaked to file-sharing services, and it was apparently the most extreme, depraved, and inhuman doom the world had ever seen at this point. I think this was the band that inspired me to download Soulseek, a utility that would influence my musical development for a couple years after the fact. These discoveries all happened within the same couple hours, mind you.
I downloaded Wormphlegm's 'In an Excruciating Way...' demo. It was one track, over 30 minutes long? Already this was something I'd never encountered before. I'd never seen any music outside of classical that was thing willing to indulge in long expanses of pure sound, but I was eager to try it out, to see if I could stomach it or I would finally land on the sound that was too extreme even for me. I threw on the headphones and listened. About a minute of quiet, ambient sound passed- just water trickling. Then, there were a couple bass drum hits.
Then, my mind fucking DETONATED.
The shriek that erupted after those bass drum hits fucking scared me- I'd never heard music that actually made me afraid before. But this, this was something entirely different. This band, Wormphlegm, tapped into a part of my brain previously inaccessible by other music. The sheer, devastating quality of their music astounded me. I had no idea that there could be bands as brutal and heavy as Cryptopsy that did the exact opposite- that exacerbated slowness instead of speed in their pursuit of extremity. The lyrics sickened and disquieted me, the vocals freaked me the fuck out, and the bizarre machinations of the guitars and drums made me think about music in a new light: there were no rules, there were no boundaries, there was only sound to do with whatever the fuck you wanted. It was an amazing experience. You have no idea how many random people from my high school now have a buried memory of me showing them some weird band called Wormphlegm back in the day.
Catasexual Urge Motivation - Mutilation, Rape, and Serial Murder as Modern Metaphor
When I was around 12-14, Darklyrics was the primary site where I looked up lyrics for my favorite bands. Still, while finding the bands I wanted sorted by place in the alphabet, I'd always stumble across weird stuff that I hadn't seen or heard of before. I wouldn't necessarily look at their lyrics- I was too objective-minded for that- but certain names would stick out in my head for a long time after I'd seen them. A lot of times, it would be YEARS before I even bothered to investigate them- I guess I was kind of weird in that way. Still, there was a certain band I would always pass in the 'C' section of the site: Catasexual Urge Motivation.
At 14, what the fuck could you possibly think of a band name like that? Catasexual Urge Motivation; it was medical but weirdly sinister. It pointed to weird feelings and ideas that I wasn't entirely comfortable with. Shit, I didn't even know what the name properly MEANT. What the fuck does the 'cata' prefix mean? All I knew is that it was definitely weird and probably unpopular- I couldn't imagine a band with a name like THAT being well-known among even the underground metal scene. I was right! I think I discovered that name around 12, but I left it dormant until a couple years later, well into my first year of high school.
One day, much like I had with Cryptopsy, I randomly decided to look them up on Soulseek. Now this, THIS was something I'd never seen before: the song titles I saw were weird, unsettling, and odd in a way I'd never seen before. They were in English, but a staggered, broken form of it, and the things they suggested, the hidden desires and compulsions, were things I'd read about in essays about serial killers more than in other metal bands. There was something afoot here and I was intent to find out about it. I downloaded the very first track on the full-length I could find: a song called 'Rape, Mutilation, and Serial Murder as Modern Metaphor'. I gave it a listen.
That was the moment in which I discovered my favorite band, favorite album, and what I to this day consider to be the best album that metal has ever turned out.
There was absolutely nothing that prepared me for that song, for that sound, for that IDEA that metal had seemingly ignored. It started simple enough; a programmed drum beat that didn't quite use samples that sounded like a real drum kit, a staggered rhythm that didn't quite match up to anything I'd heard in metal. Then the guitars piled on: sick, distorted beyond belief, reverbed to the point of hallucinatory derangement, letting out a melody that sounded like it was recorded from strips of skin slowly pulled off an unwitting victim's body. This was bad enough, but then the blast beat kicked in. The murmuring, purring vocals, the totally alien melody, the hideous, chaotic rhythms: THIS was it. This was that pinnacle of sickness that I'd always sought out. I realized, at that moment, that I had arrived at the sort of music that I'd been setting out to find for years. Additionally, at that moment, I realized that I wanted to make music. I got a guitar and started practicing and writing. I look back at the primitive, silly, but impassioned songs I wrote back then, aping my favorite band, and I laugh, but I know they were real, genuine, and driven from an all-consuming passion to give tribute to the artist that affected me more than anyone: Catasexual Urge Motivation.
All the songs above I played for my bandmate when he was over tonight alongside his favorites and all-consuming passions from when he was a kid too. We shared all those old experiences and described in vivid detail what it was like to discover sounds like these that struck us in such a manner at a young age, making us realize that this, THIS was what we were on this earth to explore, create, and expose to others. Even at this point, when I heard the opening strains of 'Immortal Rites', I want to fucking weep. And that's what I listen to metal for.