Thursday, April 4, 2019

The Ten Songs Every Metalhead Should Know

As an addendum to the first part of my Hesher Canon - and a teaser for future installments - I thought I'd list the ten songs I think every metalhead should know, regardless of your age or what era of the genre you jumped in.

Black Sabbath - Black Sabbath

The eponymous song from the eponymous debut, in which the blueprint for heavy metal is laid out: Manic vocals? Check. Oppressive riffs? In spades. Satan? Summoned and hailed, thank you. It's impossible to imagine metal's stylistic vastness - from Slayer to Sleep and everything in between - existing without those three notes. If you're new to metal, this should be your morning meditation.

Motörhead - Overkill

It took Black Sabbath three notes to create heavy metal; Motörhead just needed an additional kick drum to create the template for thrash. Under the rumble, you can hear a teenaged Dave Lombardo embrace his destiny.

Iron Maiden - The Trooper

Your devotion to capital "H", capital "M" Heavy Metal can be determined by your feelings about Iron Maiden. Perhaps their best known song, I've witnessed countless bands across various genres - punk, thrash, hardcore, and death metal - attempt to steal fire by covering it at gigs. There's just no denying that galloping bass line and those twin guitar histrionics.

Judas Priest - Metal Gods

As to what the best known Priest song is, it's a coin toss (or a roll of a 20-sided die, which seems more appropriate). But I'll go with "Metal Gods" from the unimpeachable British Steel, which also marked the point when metal became self-referential (and reverential). From there, it was only a matter of time before bands started referencing "metal" in their own band names. Speaking of which...

Metallica - Battery

This may be obvious, but if you call yourself a metal fan, then you have to know Metallica's speed metal rallying cry. This should be mandatory for all teenage heshers, along with a black t-shirt and being told to get a haircut.

Venom - Black Metal

It bears only a vague resemblance to the arson-inspiring cacophony that people associate with black metal, but there's no denying Venom created this sub-genre, and upped the ante for the devil's music.

Possessed - Death Metal

Among the bands that get credit for coining the term, Possessed alone can claim to be a direct influence on death metal as it took shape. They set a new standard for extremity; when Death and Morbid Angel issued their debut albums, the extent to which they used Possessed as a blueprint was immediate and obvious. Possessed's blasphemous assault broke ground for a great beast to climb into our world.

Slayer - Raining Blood

Imitate those three staccato drum hits on a table, and it's only a matter of time before a fellow hesher scats out the main riff in response.

Napalm Death - You Suffer

If you can credit one band for single-handedly creating an entire genre, then grindcore owes its existence as something other than harder-core punk to Napalm Death. The trio of Mick Harris, Nik Bullen, and Jim Whitely pushed the "shorter, faster, harder" ethos of hardcore and the guttural nastiness of the nascent death metal scene into hyperspeed on Scum, which reached its ludicrous zenith with the album's infamous twelfth track. At barely a second long, "You Suffer" would become a rallying cry for grind bands and fictional tech provocateurs alike, and there' no need to ask why.

Entombed - Left Hand Path

Hard to believe that back in high school, people used to ridicule me for listening to a "Swedish death metal" band; not sure which part of that phrase was more ridiculous to them - the style of music? Or the country it came from (which was better known for its chefs)? But Entombed made sure that this "nationality+genre" descriptor became as well-known as "Bay Area Thrash" or "New York Hardcore". 30 years later, there are still bands firing up their HM-2 pedals to travel the path Entombed created - and these days, most of them aren't even Swedish.