Playlist #7

~ Metal changed the game for me. Guns N’ Roses, AC/DC, Scorpions. But especially, Metallica. I’d never heard anything like what they put down. Raised on classic and soft rock and the sounds of the piano, hearing Master of Puppets on the radio for the first time set me off balance. I pumped the volume up and I’ve never righted myself since. Metal held a unique spell over me, the slamming riffs amplifying me in ways that music never had before, with blood rushing, psyche-blasting heat that willed one to bang their head alongside those electric chords. In the realm of metal, Metallica is still the best to ever do it in my book.

But not long after my bouts with other metal bands – Megadeth, Iron Maiden, Slayer, Black Sabbath, I discovered a more advanced, deeper and more progressive realm of metal. It first came with my encounter with Liquid Tension Experiment, and from there drew me into the folds of the band called Dream Theater. This music was housed within a different genre: progressive metal. Metal but heightened in complexity and style, the power of metal mixed with the philosophical tenets of jazz… Enthusiast performers, obsessed with the craft, fixated on creating rock operas with weird time signatures, experimental concept albums, 10+ minute songs full non-sequiturs and chaotic art rock, all of it. I didn’t just dig it, it consumed me. I was into my own music now. I was home. Soon, I made discovery after discovery. These are the best in class.

Dream TheaterLearning To Live ~ My favorite Dream Theater song from my favorite album of theirs, Images and Words. This song displays everything DT has to offer, in a progression, the guitar work, keyboard, drums and bass all coming together in cycles, all astride beautiful lyrics that speak to the way your heart beats making ‘all the difference in learning to live.’ Forever I am learning.

The way your heart sounds
Makes all the difference
It’s what decides if you’ll endure
The pain that we all feel
The way your heart beats
Makes all the difference
In learning to live

MastodonOblivion ~ Mastodon’s Crack The Skye was the second album I ever downloaded to my iTunes, after DT’s Scenes From A Memory. And so, obviously it holds a special, indelible place in memory. As a result, it was on repeat for a while right next to Scenes. This whole album must be experienced together {this is true of every song on this list, they and the albums of which they are part are necessarily inseparable}, and that’s why I have chosen the first song to represent it, and the band itself, to kick one off on that journey. Mastodon is heavy, their dual vocalists cover two distinct spectrums, and their drummer goes fuckin’ hard. Mastodon makes heavy metal to be listened to in space.

Falling from grace cause I’ve been away too long
Leaving you behind with my lonesome song
Now I’m lost in oblivion

OpethThe Drapery Falls ~ This was the song that finally got me into Opeth. I was resistant to listening to this band. A Swedish progressive death metal export, they were a challenge to unpack. Mikael Åkerfeldt, who has since become one of my favorite vocalists and performers in all of music, held a powerful duality within his spirit ~ that of the angelic singing voice and that of the scowling daemonic growl. He can do either, and he often does within the very same song. The Drapery Falls has it all, the swinging back and forth between haunting acoustics and sweeping metals, falling like the song’s namesake, and the vocals touching light and darkness within the same 11-minute span. Opeth is spectacular, their instrumentation is grand and orchestrated like gothic classical music. Imagine Metallica but if Dracula was on the mic and a pack of werewolves shredded at his back. Lead vocalist Akerfeldt goes from angel to demon and back again. You simply will not hear any other band on Earth like this. Blackwater Park is their favorite album of mine and it deserves a full listen. But all their albums are darkly beautiful, and feature artwork in the same vein.

Please remedy my confusion

RiversideBeyond The Eyelids ~ These guys are more low-key progressive metal. Keyboard takes the lead, takes you on a journey into the depths of the psyche. Bass guitar carries you along its wave, dulling your mind for the music you aren’t really ready for. A Polish band, their sound has changed over time. All their albums are themed around the mental spheres and the differing levels of unreality they often pit us against. Riverside’s music swells and lulls like the psychoses and the dreams they sing about. There’s a lot going on here and it’s fucking good.

If I still believed in me
I would lie
If I had another chance
I would try
If I lost my dreams
I would blame myself again
If I were myself I would be someone else

HakenThe Point of No Return ~ Aquarius stormed onto the scene in 2010. This was the latest entrant into my prog metal hall of honor. English progsters, their first official album was a concept about a mermaid with magic blood capable of saving humanity from global warming-caused flooding. Full of technical and magnificent orchestration led by excellent keys and whimsical guitar riffs, every song is long as hell and yet crafted for impact. This album hits different. The rest of their albums get even crazier, probably even better. But this will always be the one I associate with Haken.

A child is born tonight
And love has come to life

ToolLateralus ~ 🌀