Amorphis – Eclipse (2006)

Released in February 15, 2006, Amorphis’ Eclipse is the seventh album in the band’s discography, and the first one with singer Toni Joutsen. The album has been certified Gold in Finland after selling more than 15,000 copies during an era when digital music started to become rampant. The album is classified by some as folk metal, but it also has elements of melodic death metal with soaring clean vocals from Joutsen.

I first listened to Amorphis in 2005. I checked out Tales from the Thousand Lakes and Elegy and was instantly entranced, blown away by their folky melodic death metal style that was as brutal as it was sparkly. 

Around the same time, I checked out Am Universum and Tuonela, equally in marvel over their middle era, which featured a melodic style of metal that had strange elements I had never seen before. It was more alternative and even accessible, but still featured harsh vocals at times.

It wasn’t until the 2006 Eclipse record came out that I fell in love with this band though. The record soared the band to new heights with new vocalist Joutsen, who has an impressive vocal range and an eagle-like voice that spells freedom and strength.

The album kicks off with Two Moons, which has a marvelous keyboard intro that takes you right to the rest of the instrumentation. The song is melodic and fast-paced, reminiscent of the experimentation that Chuck Schuldiner did in Death but with synths that Deep Purple would be proud of.

The second song is the hit single House of Sleep, which is a beautiful tune that launched the new period of Amorphis. We hear about the dreams of Joutsen and the crushing vocals that yelp “I will make you sleep!” In a powerful chorus that cemented the band as one of the true folk metal masters of the 21st century.

Images from the Kalevala

Leaves Scar is another brutal song that has acoustic elements, whereas Born From Fire is as catchy as it is heavy. Under a Soil and Black Stone is one of the many gorgeous ballads that Amorphis has written in the Joutsen era, with lyrics taken from the mystic nature of the Kalevala, Finland’s national epic poem.

Perkele (The God of Fire) is yet another memorable song that is catchy and powerful, further restating the vocal range that we’ve gotten to know from Joutsen that goes from harsh to clean on a dime.

The Smoke was another single in the album, and it’s possibly one of the greatest songs Amorphis has ever written. The idea of smoke following someone in their dream and taking them to an unknown world of endless possibilities is beautiful, and Amorphis’ execution is subtle in this song.

Same Flesh is an anthem to the people of Finland that all bleed the same melodies and words from the Kalevala. Brother Moon is perhaps my favorite song of the album, featuring a great acoustic riff with lyrics that take us to the celestial skies and personifies the moon.

Empty Opening is a great album closer that delves into how wicked this world can be, and despite all the beautiful things we witness, darkness still exists. Finally, Stone Woman is a great bonus track from the band that has more fantastic bonus tracks than anyone else, entering the realm of love and how tricky of a thing it can be.

All in all, this is one of the greatest albums I’ve ever heard and I absolutely love it to this day. I give it a 9.5/10 and I urge you to listen to it if you have a chance.

Symphony X – V: The New Mythology Suite

The fifth offering from Symphony X transports us to ancient Egypt, a land full of wonder, mysticism, and technological advances. It delves into topics such as astrology, the sun god Ra and all the other gods of Egyptian lore, the underwater land of Atlantis and beyond. ‘V’ fuses unorthodox progressive metal patterns with power metal mythology and neoclassical passages (with samples of real classical music from Mozart, Bach, and others).

One of the great things about Symphony X is how the band always takes us somewhere else with their music. Throughout the band’s discography, we travel to Dante’s Divine Comedy, Alice in Through the Looking Glass, Homer’s Odyssey, John Milton’s Paradise Lost, and beyond. V: The New Mythology Suite is my favorite Symphony X record, sonically evoking images of Egypt as it once was, and as it continues to exist through its mythology.

The album begins with “Evolution (The Grand Design),” kicking off with a punch of raw energy that became more noticeable in the band’s later albums. Now a live staple of the band, the song’s weaving guitar passages maneuvering at lightning speed evoke the ambiance of the hot, Egyptian sun, and the laborious lifestyle of those in servitude, charged with building the pyramids.

As the album progresses, it takes on a softer approach with songs like “Communion and the Oracle,” which has a more sophisticated tone reminiscent of the pharaohs and other members of high society in ancient Egypt. Meanwhile, the song “Egypt” delves into the sense of wonder that you can find in Disney’s depiction of Aladdin or in the tale of the Arabian Nights.

Symphony X as a whole has 6 truly killer albums that have stood the test of time and continue to be in regular rotation for me. Several of them have a longer track as the centerpiece of the record—something that V: The New Mythology Suite doesn’t have. However, the album reads like an ancient epic, where you feel your body riding a white horse and traveling through the desert at great speeds, stopping at various places to enjoy the scenery.

As the name suggests, the band’s music is very symphonic, using instruments that go beyond the guitar, bass, drums, and vocals. You hear violins, strings, woodwinds, and other elements of an orchestra to give that grandiose feel to the album. The ivories of Michael Pinnella’s piano add a deft, delicate touch to the album against the backdrop of the heavy, dissonant guitars. Plus, the synthesizer sound of his keyboard add a sense of forward-thinking life to an era in mankind where great technological advances were brought forth over a short period of time.

Singer Russell Allen takes on the role of the storyteller, speaking of this kingdom of gold where you will become the ruler of space and time. Storytelling used to exist in the oral tradition, and Symphony X does that for us, saving us the trouble of reading these tales and moving us through them in a Jumanji way, bringing them to life and transforming us into a character in the tale.

The amplification in the guitar of Michael Romeo is the main driver of energy in the album, running at the crux of the action while the rest of the instruments dance alongside it. Romeo’s guitar turns to a clean tone at times when necessary, bringing us moments of respite amidst a turbulent and beautiful sea of madness.

All in all, this is an album that I consider to be perfect. The best music transports us, and V does that as well as any album in my collection.

The Stone Roses – ‘The Stone Roses’

I am still baffled by how little The Stone Roses are known in the U.S. Their eponymous, first album — released in 1989 — is one of the great musical releases of all time. It’s the high-water mark of the Madchester scene in the UK that combined the sounds of classic rock, psychedelia, dream pop, and shoegaze into one cohesive, wavy trip through the unsettled mind of Manchester’s youth at time some call the “second summer of love.”

My last essay was about my experience with cancer, the body- and mind-altering effects of chemotherapy, and the sonic dissonance that helped me overcome it. I didn’t get into ‘The Stone Roses’ in that essay, but it was one of the albums I discovered during those days.

I remember mindlessly surfing through the Manhattan subway to meet a friend for a canoli while listening to this album. It fuses a lot of musical sounds that fascinate me, from the acidic tone of the guitar riffs found in early The Who recordings, to jammy interludes reminiscent of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Free Bird,’ water-splashing drums promising the innocence of childhood, a dirge-y bass tone that wasn’t as aggressive or dark as Motorhead, and the voice of Ian Brown, which was as angry as it was affectionate.

The album is like the bridge between the classic rock of the UK that died in the 60s and 70s (Rolling Stones, Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd), and the new era of britpop that emerged in the 90s with bands like Oasis, Blur, and The Verve. But Stone Roses has a distinct flavor that you can’t really liken as being in the same category as any of the megastars that came before or after them.

The Verve

I think the main reason why that album was so big for me in those days has to do with the feeling it gives you. For me, music is about feel before you even get to the lyrics. And Stone Roses feels like you’re being wrapped in a warm, fuzzy blanket that tingles and vibrates every now and then, giving you comfort when you’re weary, a massage when you’re sore, and a piece of candy when you’re bored. 

Something about that combination really struck gold for me in the chemo days, when I was looking for some respite in a unique way to get out of my own body and head—and that album filled that gap. It melded with my consciousness, and took me away to some shiny fairyland, helping me forget about the pseudo-hellish reality I was facing at the time.

It also got me thinking about getting back to college. I was gonna miss the next semester, but instead mustered the strength to power through it. The school made me write an essay arguing why I’d be able to come back, and it was the desire for intellectual stimulation and jovial camaraderie with my friends that motivated me. 

Albums like ‘Stone Roses’ expanded my idea of what music could do with its lush, wall-of-noise sounds that permeates other shoegaze groups. The dense foliage in their sound was equal parts sensual and relaxing, and it pushed my idea of what art could do. What you choose to write, compose, film, paint, or draw can be an unapologetic representation of who you are with optional bells and whistles that capture a particular mood you’re trying to evoke. And that album did that to perfection.

It also just… made me feel good. And my college experience was great—throughout my treatment, I was craving that friendship and love from those closes to me, and ‘Stone Roses’ ignited my dreamy mind, reminding me that a brighter future was on the horizon. And look, there were no guarantees that I was going to survive or that there would be a new dawn that would take all the pain away, but that album gave me hope. 

There is something very underrated about hope, and it’s ability to fuel you when your physical, emotional, and spiritual resources are depleted. And for me, music like this is what keeps the light flickering during those moments of darkness and pain. 

I’ve been listening to this gem almost every month for the last 10 years, and there is something truly timeless about it. It doesn’t wear out, and it doesn’t lose its grit nor its shine as the tides change. It is one of those albums that becomes a part of you, and reminds you of everything you experienced when you first put it on. 

There is an unwavering, endless, and inexhaustible amount of hope in this world, and for me, ‘Stone Roses’ is an album that helps me tap into that place without asking questions.

PS: If you were to only listen to one song from this album, check out ‘I Am the Resurrection.’ It’s an 8+ minute epic of two halves—the first is a rockin’ youth folk tale about a troubled love, and the second half is as close to perfect as you can get with a jam session that loses the chains of conventional songwriting found in the first half, and breaks into an epic session of riffage and soloing that tugs at your heart strings in a way that is as tender as it is profound without losing its edge.

The Who – ‘Tommy’

Released in 1969, ‘Tommy’ is a rock opera that follows a “deaf, blind, and dumb boy” who has an impeccable pinball game. He is a literary manifestation of guitarist and songwriter Pete Townshend, who may have gone through childhood without the knowledge that there may be greater forces at work in the universe than the human mind can comprehend. Lacking this understanding, he made his way through life by following the vibrations of the world.

I got into Tommy over 10 years ago, and was instantly mesmerized by the sound of Pete Townshend’s guitar. It’s bold, melodic, and adventurous.The intro sets the tone for the urban epic that is to come, in a city overlooking bright, rolling hills where life has gone stagnant. That is until Tommy is born, and nothing is ever the same again.

The Who bassist John Entwistle is representative of Tommy’s subconscious desires. The bass is the deepest part of the music, and I think it embodies who Tommy is at his core. While everything around him is humming along to nature’s rhythm, his internal music is moving in its own direction. He has his own idea of what the world should be like, and he’s bringing that forth through his pinball prowess, influencing people at a subconscious level.

The drummer is madman Keith Moon, an eccentric personality who once filled the inside of his drum set with dynamite in live TV that exploded and left Townshend deaf in one ear. His 21st birthday is also the stuff of legend. In Tommy, Keith ramps up the tempo and takes the music “outside the box” while still respecting the natural structure of the box. A form of controlled chaos that pushes the other musicians to step up their game, adding color to the sleeping town (a la Pleasantville)through Tommy’s dreams. 

Roger Daltrey is the singer. Every instrument is building up to a message, and Daltrey is the voice that delivers it. He is the energy that emits out of Tommy and into the world, sending vibrations to everyone around him, igniting the inner light inherent in every bedazzled spectator of Tommy’s pinball game. Soon enough, he has a following who are marveled by his talents, which Tommy developed out of necessity. He was born without the ability to see, hear, or use his intellect, so he created his own way of connecting with the world in order to survive. And Daltrey’s voice delivers that innocence, power, and desire to feel something.

——————————————

  • Standout Song: Pinball Wizard

He stands like a statue,

Becomes part of the machine

Feeling all the bumpers

Always playing clean

He plays by intuition,

The digit counters fall

That deaf dumb and blind kid

Sure plays a mean pin ball!

The most iconic song from this album is “Pinball Wizard.” Word has gotten around about Tommy’s talents and how never loses at pinball. His mastery of the game has sent shockwaves throughout the town, building a buzz over the talent that this child possesses. I think Pinball Wizard is a reminder to never count someone out if they don’t fit the mold of what society deems to be a “normal” person. We all have a gift within us, and surrounding ourselves with those who nurture that talent is how we become the happiest version of ourselves.

——————————————

Tommy sought to create a world where people got in touch with their emotional core, which he believed was a fundamental element of the human experience; an element that many of us had forgotten in the hubbub of civic life where moneymaking and materialism are king. However, one cannot exist on emotion alone, so Tommy needed everyone else as much as they needed him. 

A certain degree of pragmatism is needed to “make it” in life, which is why we live in a world where we work to earn money, which we use to buy nourishment, shelter, and luxuries. But that world is not enough without the and spiritual fulfillment of human emotion, and therein lies the beauty in Townshend’s Tommy. 

The album serves as a spiritual complement to modern society, as well as a possible pathway for those who have yet to discover their authentic self. And in my own life, Tommy was the album that ignited that light within me.

Silhouettes 7: Black Metal and Diabolical Masquerade

My role as an inpatient was reprised one last time, with my hemoglobin levels barely making me fit for the intensity of chemotherapy. Other doctors at the hospital denounced the decision to take me in due to the fact that I could barely stand. My lungs were filled to capacity with each breath, emitting a high-pitched wheezing whistle with each exhalation. My bones ached from the inside out; a rusty jangle flamed from within with every step. 

Ultimately, my doctor and I decided to go in—I was hooked to the machine once again. I only remember one nurse from this shift: my first male nurse in the entirety of the treatment who had soft, feminine hands and a wiry physique that gave him a sensitive, yet sturdy presence. The only sonic booms that comforted me apart from his touch was my end-of-the-line playlist, comprised of existential black metal mind warps. 

My soul seemed to vacate several planes simultaneously as I underwent the last of the chemical affair, with my mind drifting in and out of consciousness. My body floated from a rotten state of extreme discomfort, stomach plagues, and a lack of comprehension of my surroundings, to absolute peace in the absence of any corporeal vibratory presence. It seemed as if my mind, body and soul were dancing between heaven, hell, and Earth, unable to decide. 

The sound of ripping skin was heard inside my psyche as flesh filaments seemed to tear from each other. This transformation of tissue muddied my vision, adding considerable light to my tunnel sight. The fluorescence of the hospital roof’s light bulbs sharpened in hue while my peripheral vision darkened. For a brief moment, my breath escaped me wholly and my eyes stopped blinking. Pure silence. 

From a distance, a familiar guttural groan came towards me, gaining in intensity. The dissonant crunch of amplified, wailing string devices ignited a candelabra of bones. A loud, resonant bass wound the gossamer dermis together, enriching their thin veneer. The pounding of medieval catapults struck the closing veins, opening the sanguinary dam once again. The lights, colors, and sounds evened out as the live carcass made the perennial climb towards homeostasis once again.

Silhouettes 5 and 6: Surgery and Bathory

Silhouettes 5: Surgery 

The marrow is among the most sensitive areas in the human body. My doctor warned of the possibility that my lymphoma had reached Stage IV, at which point the cancer would show in my skeleton. The biopsy was a precaution and a necessary evil. 

I turned around, bent over, and prepared for a drill to penetrate my pelvis. With needle in hand, the doctor said the anesthesia would render my midsection devoid of all feeling. I clutched my stomach and clenched my teeth on a pillow, waiting for the sting of the syringe to perforate my lower back. 

The thin, stabbing prick undulated throughout my body; my eyelashes flinched. A cold gel entered my hip for 45 seconds before the doctor withdrew the syringe. My nerves should have been temporarily dead, but the steel prick on my rear end lingered. The doctor assured me I would only feel pressure—no pain—as the drill pierced through my bone. He was wrong. 

My right foot arched itself as the inch-long incision caused me to squeal, muting my scream through the cushioned interior of the pillow. I yelled, begging him to stop, confirming that it was pain and not pressure. The doctor removed the drill and switched back to the needle, doubling my dose of the drug. 

I expected to be absolutely numb the second time around, but the sensation remained as tender as was the initial incision. My spine stood erect, stiff and alert, tightening my tendons as the drill gyrated rapidly. The doctor collected two inches of my bone that were as wide as pencil lead, creating a hole that would never heal. 

Silhouettes 6: Inpatient 

Busy medical charts tapped against each other as they were picked up, put down, passed around, opened, and closed. The three-day affair began Wednesday, and it was the first of three such treatments. I had seen my doctor and had a CAT scan between inpatient and outpatient cycles. My tumor was already in remission, but we would go through with the rest of the treatment. These doses of chemo were a necessary overkill. 

This one was called R-ICE, with the same R from RCHOP and three new medications. Two of them were only a few hours long, but the third was about 60 hours long, including a steady and constant stream of nausea medication that barely remedied the malady. A second bag of nausea medicine was attached to my veins, slowing the shuffling of my gown against my bed sheets. 

My energy levels were enough to consume a movie, chosen at random from my younger brother’s folder of digital films for my entertainment. Brimstone and smoke roared through the breath of a dough-eyed creature staring back at me. A slender and resourceful teenager captures the blue reptilian beast and considers ending its life. The clicking of sharp ivory follows the animal’s motion, a show of good faith to the kid as he retracts his teeth. He is dubbed Toothless, and the pair battle across fire and death in Nordic territory, saving their fellow Vikings from the Valhalla that awaits them. (“How to Train a Dragon”) 

I closed my laptop, I thrust it into the padded cloth in my bag, and entered the wee hours of morning with earbuds. My eyes met the elegant dripping of the multiple liquids entering my body, mimicking the sound of a distant river flowing. A shining hall reveals a loud horn, gathering the human steeds in their march for glory. The muffled growling and operatic counterpoint mimic the voices of giants and Valkyries, running aghast. The repetitive triple-kick coiling in my head adds legs to these finest of men, stomping across the eternal feast. My mind drifted away to the serpent, the wolf, and the other monsters within the golden mausoleum.

Silhouettes 3 and 4: Iron Maiden and Moonblood

Silhouettes 3: Iron Maiden 

I pulled out strands out of my long mane of hair for an hour before calling the barber. He shaved my head and cleaned the patchwork on my face where there once was a beard. I wore jeans and a black T-shirt—maybe Metallica’s ‘Master of Puppets,’ or some other raucous artist I could sink my teeth into. I sought for an avenue to jumpstart my corpse-like body, deprived of adrenaline and hormonal activity since treatment had begun. 

The subway walls were plagued with dark shirts, leather jackets, long hair, and shaved heads—the metal militia in full stride, ready to take over Madison Square Garden. The underground humidity of summer was palpable, but so was the gnarly euphoria that emanated from the headbangers’ cross-armed smirks, ages 10 to 75. 

The pavement halls of the legendary coliseum vibrated with the crunchy base of double-kicks, snare lines, and aquatic bass licks. As we moved past the walls and towards the seats, an arabesque sitar gyrated beneath the glistening aura of polished synthesizers. My rusty bones spun and my eyes widened in the melodic downpour, calming my nerves, bracing my skeleton for the headliners. The transition seemed quick enough within the electric confines. As Maiden set up their gear, my bald held tingled as the crowd’s shackled buzz created a magnetism that strengthened the room’s gravitational field. 

And then it happened—the trio of guitar maestros strummed their instrument to ignite the panorama, churning and twisting their necks into roaring thunder riffs and flame-dashing solos that sliced and diced through the repressed collective, skulking about. The flubbed exterior off the top of my head hardened. The music slit through the grooves of my brain, energizing my toiled mind to a sweat-drenched, head-banging frenzy that increased in speed and ferocity. The air inside the arena thinned, becoming crisp. 

Silhouettes 4: Record Store 

The humidity of summer sliced my pores open along the subway walls, musty and heavy. The buildings of dreams that never sleep seemed blinding with afternoon sunlight, blowing hot breeze along the New York streets that form checkered tunnels. Narrow apartments stacked upon each other in vertical formation; restaurants and businesses horizontal. 

One door stood apart from the residential cement with patches of grass for Manhattan dogs to relieve themselves. Inconspicuous and dim, the door was invisible to all who didn’t know or didn’t care. 

The blinds were shut tight, masking what lay behind the door. I opened it, encountering a crimson locale shaped like a rectangle, long and tapering. Blood-stained walls shot echoes of guttural rock music, encompassing a blast-beat pinball action underneath the unfettered amplification of guitars. 

Black stacks of music records along the walls held the sounds of howling wolves, wailing demons, slain Vikings, zombie trees, and will-o’-the-wisp. Above them, images of mist appeared adjacent to fog and moonlight. A single bulb hung in the middle of the ceiling, flickering and swinging from its socket. 

Two customers browsed through the black metal and noise collections. One was draped in skin-tight black apparel with hair down to his ribs, smelling of a fine berry shampoo. The other wore a blue shirt and gold tie, shiny Italian shoes, and slicked-back hair; his stock portfolio hung from his waist. 

The owner returned from the back of the shop to bring out a rare German bootleg, changing the sonic atmosphere from burning Norwegian churches to synthesized nausea; the owner’s expression was pallid. 

Silhouettes 1 and 2: Wolves in the Throne Room and Alcest

Silhouettes 1: Wolves in the Throne Room 

A long, thick needle with a voluptuous body of red chemicals emerged from the nurse’s bag. She flicked on the side of the tool as Phase I of treatment began for my stage II lymphoma. Two weeks of Prednisone prepared me for my first session of chemo as the anti-inflammatory meds shrank the size and shape of my throat from a baseball to a golf ball. I was also given an assortment of green, white, and blue pills for pain and nausea in a water cup smaller than a baby’s fist. 

The prick in my forearm made my mind hiss, successfully penetrating the skin and the green exterior of my vein. The syringe was set to rebuild the architecture of my cardiovascular constitution. A warm, woozy sensation crept from my arms to my torso as the nurse plunged down in a slow and steady manner for exactly four minutes. After she finished, another needle with the same red liquid stuck me. And then a third and a fourth. 

The treatment was called RCHOP: each letter representing a different chemical that tackled the bulbous mass from a different angle. I remember the Prednisone and the four red syringes, but the other three all blend together in my memory as a six-hour chemical bath. Two IVs were stuck inside me, over-saturating me with an acidic napalm. An anti-nausea stream also flowed through me, along with a relaxing painkiller, and a chair that seemed too comfortable to leave. The Benadryl was quite powerful due its ability to lull my synapses and calm my heartbeat to a sluggish thump. 

My blurred eyesight could only make out the crackling of roots in a dying, autumn evening, somewhere in Washington or Oregon. I was in New York City, but it was the sounds of the Pacific Northwest that soothed me from my MP3 player. I heard a wolf’s howl echoed in the distance, and the motion of air sauntered in waves, above the reverberating amplifiers that appeared to be submerged in aqueous soil. The chaos in motion bellowed brief moments of respite with the guttural cry of a human, ringing dissonance in the woods.

Silhouettes 2: Alcest 

Alcest – ‘Ecailles de Lune’

The busy buzzing of yellow passenger cars swoosh through wind tunnels Monday morning. The alarm stops, but the clock ticks incessantly, dragging one second after the other. My once-runner legs shake off the stagnant dust of my uncle’s apartment. Tenth-floor vertigo overtakes my vision; my morning nausea increases in magnitude. 

I carry my gaping throat towards the toilet, achieving a bout of dry heaving, but nothing comes out. My 7 a.m. ritual is broken with an everything bagel. Thank God for the sesame, onion, poppy, and garlic morsels lathered on—the cream cheese delight would be too saccharine without them. Orange juice and walnuts complete the pre-work routine. I swallow, hard and deep. 

Shower, towel, khakis, and a blue-stripy ready me for corporate work. I head to Wall Street with headphones on—the ethereal quality of sub-arctic shoegaze gently drapes my skull on sound walls, numb. The subway train is filled to capacity with other khaki, blue-stripes drowned in their preferred psychoacoustics. Some wear suits; some actually carry a briefcase. 

Alcest

I enter the cubicle walls and wave awkwardly at the grumpy man on the computer. He never waves back. Does he hate his job or is he sick of people looking down on him? My eight-hour shift begins with the New York Times and a merry smile from my cousin.

Translating documents from Spanish to English to Spanish in a loop, lifeless and clinical. 

Devin Townsend – Addicted!

Devin Townsend Project – Addicted

Released in 2009, ‘Addicted’ was part of a Devin Townsend four-album cycle that he wrote after “retiring” a year or two prior. The first was dark acoustic album ‘Ki,’ followed by dance party metal release ‘Addicted,’ wacky progressive death tunes in ‘Deconstruction,’ and uplifting folky magic in ‘Ghost.’ 

Devin is a prog virtuoso who has dipped his toes in everything from the aforementioned genres, plus space country, lo-fi ambient weirdness, industrial songs, and more. That’s his music. His lyrics go into everything from hippie nature Gaia stuff to collective consciousness uplifting lines, and even the deconstruction of a cheeseburger—all while not taking himself too seriously.

I’d been a big Devin fan for several years before Addicted came out, an album that totally changed my perception of what you could do with a metal album. I heard the single ‘Bend It Like Bender!’ first, and I was instantly blown away by how fun of a song that was. 

That track makes you feel like you’re dancing under bright, flashing lights with an eclectic group of people just looking for a good groove. All your self-identifying features dissolve when that track comes on, and it becomes a moment of pure magic where only the music matters. 

I don’t mind when some musicians get into social issues, but I’m also glad there are guys like Devin who make feel-good music where the lyrics don’t really matter. Sometimes you just need to blow off steam and have a good time. 

That song became a big part of my workout routine during my sophomore year of college, putting me in a trance-like state where my bodily sensations escaped me and I felt like I was flying. I find that my favorite music is much like my best friendships—they help me to get outside of myself, and simply enjoy my surroundings. And that’s what Bender! and the rest of the album does for me.

Songs like Resolve! continue the Bender! vibe but with a more focused/let’s get work done feel to it. ‘Hyperdrive! ‘makes you feel like a low-battery iPhone feels when you plug it into a charger that’s connected to the wall socket thingy. It just recharges you.

‘Numbered!’ is one of those cool collective consciousness song that makes you feel unity with everyone you know, and everyone else too. ‘Ih-Ah!’ is like a love song that romanticizes the beauty of the unknown, or the mysteries of the universe.

The album closes out with ‘Awake!’, a song about “waking up” and making sense of our lives by deconstructing our experiences and knowledge, which theoretically leads to our freedom. It also modifies a classic Shakespeare line into “All the world’s a stage and we are home again… All the world’s afraid but we are home again.” That line brings me back to watching Disney films as a kid and seeing characters like Simba who are young and fearful, but also strong and brave. Not sure why.

As you probably noticed, every song title in Addicted ends with an exclamation mark, which accurately represents the enthusiasm of the album. Devin’s music has a way of bringing people back to primal emotions like fear, love, and anger. And for me, this album is Devin’s way of tapping into the joy of life from a place of innocence and courage.

Megadeth – Rust in Peace

Megadeth – Rust in Peace

Released in 1990, ‘Rust in Peace’ is an iconic metal album that touches on topics such as warfare and the military, comic books, the “hidden” elements of the human condition, existentialism, and more. Main songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist Dave Mustaine created the band in 1983 after being ousted from Metallica for partying too hard, and he created Megadeth to prove he could carry the metal torch without Metallica. 

Rust in Peace is the band’s masterpiece, combining elements of thrash and progressive metal into one blazing, labyrinthine journey through the genius and often disturbed mind of Mustaine. To this day, many consider the album among the best heavy metal creations of all time, named alongside other genre juggernauts like Slayer’s ‘Reign in Blood,’ Metallica’s ‘Master of Puppets,’ Black Sabbath’s ‘Paranoid,’ and Iron Maiden’s ‘The Number of the Beast.

I first heard about Megadeth during the summer/fall of 2004. It was around that time that I had just started dipping my toes into the metal world. I was infatuated with the first four Metallica albums, but I still considered myself more of a rock guy than a metalhead. One of those albums had the name Mustaine in the liner notes, and after some research, I learned the story of Megadeth. A few months later I listened to the opening riff of Hangar 18 from Rust in Peace, and now I’m 15 years into my love affair with the heaviest music in the planet.

The second that riff blasted from my high school laptop, I was hooked. The sound combines melody, intensity, and technique in a way I had never experienced before. There are many who say metal is similar to classical music, and that’s always made sense to me. 

Beethoven wrote music that captured the aggression of Germanic culture, but it also had the beauty and tenderness of the romantic landscape that permeated Europe in the 19th century. His symphonies reflected the glory of that era, while also marking a spike in intensity compared to predecessors Bach and Mozart (who greatly influenced him). His work was loud, highly technical, elaborate, and it took you on a journey through Beethoven’s mind.

Similarly, Megadeth captured the anti-establishment rebellious feeling of the 1980s and early 1990s in a consumerist society with loud, aggressive, and technical music. Mustaine drew from the early metal tradition laid down by the guys from the 1970s British metal scene, but he took it to the next level. 

His voice had the grizzled disturbance of Black Sabbath’s Ozzy Osbourne, his guitar the lightning speed of the Priest’s axe duo K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton, and the grandiosity of Diamond Head (which Metallica’s Lars Ulrich cited as “the blueprint for Metallica’s sound” that vocalist James Hetfield and Mustaine created in the early 1980s). 

The “x factor” that made Megadeth unique was taking these elements and combining them with Mustaine’s displeasure over being ousted from Metallica, and his desire to exact revenge on them by writing metal that was faster, more aggressive, and more intelligent than ‘tallica.

I listened to plenty of Beethoven as a boy, and I consider it the soundtrack of my childhood. If that is true, then Megadeth was for sure the sound of my adolescence, and I believe understanding the latter led to the former. Enough on Mustaine’s story though, let’s get deeper into the album.

The Hangar 18 lyrics aren’t exactly at the level of a Hemingway or Kerouac, but they fit the song well, and they include the timeless line, “Military intelligence, two words combined that can’t make sense.” What makes that song a thrash gem is the twin guitar riffage of Mustaine and lead guitarist Marty Friedman. These were the MySpace days, and my top 8 spots included 7 of my real-life friends and Friedman on the number 1 spot. 

Rust in Peace was Megadeth’s fourth album, but it was the first one with Marty, and he’s a large part of the reason why that album is such a classic. He’s a guitar virtuoso who was heavily influenced by Eastern musical motifs, which he incorporated into his solo instrumental metal music and neoclassical metal classic ‘Speed Metal Symphony’ (buy that shit). 

Marty then went to Megadeth and brought his technical prowess and mysticism from the Orient into Mustaine’s thrash metal framework. And in Hangar 18, the two guitarists trade guitar solos throughout the song, spacing them with tense metal riffs in unison, almost as if they’re mythical heroes battling each other to the death, with each passing moment building in intensity.

But the real gem of the album is the first track ‘Holy Wars… The Punishment Due.’ The first half of the song is about the senseless nature of religious warfare with lines such as:

Brother will kill brother

Spilling blood across the land

Killing for religion

Something I don’t understanding

Holy Wars also takes a dig at the empowered, egomaniac political leaders who carry forth such atrocities, with Mustaine putting himself in their seat:

Upon my podium, as the

Know it all scholar

Down in my seat of judgement

Gavel’s bang, uphold the law

Up on my soapbox, a leader

Out to change the world

Down in my pulpit as the holier-

Than-thou-could-be-messenger of God

The second half of the song is about the comic book ‘The Punisher,’ with Mustaine playing the role of a man who’s lost his family, and will now seek revenge on those who crossed him. 

Marty’s playing stands out in this song, especially in between ‘Holy Wars’ and ‘The Punishment Due’ when his guitar sounds like a sitar in an Arabian desert, adding an exotic flair to the tune. His Eastern influence is also apparent in ‘Tornado of Souls,’ which features one of the greatest metal guitar solos of all time.

The blistering drumming of Nick Menza (RIP) and foreboding, yet crushing bass riffs of David Ellefson round out the album.

What makes Rust in Peace such an important album for me is that it opened the door for hundreds of other great metal records that would shape my thinking, writing, and actions for the next decade and a half. That gateway has led to me learning about ancient Egyptian history, Norse mythology, Western literature, what life in 16th century Hungary was like, and much more. 

But it’s real importance in my life comes from the fact that it’s given me an avenue to channel my life’s pain and trauma in a cathartic manner. And that’s what I think metal is ultimately about—helping people get through life, while also connecting them with likeminded individuals. It offers a path towards peace and joy, and Rust in Peace was the beginning of that for me.