I’ve been listening to metal for over 20 years now. From first hearing “One” by Metallica on the radio to my cousin introducing me to Overkill and Sepultura to the obsessive internet digging to find the next undiscovered underground gem – it’s been quite the journey.
Recently, I’ve noticed that the 20th anniversaries of several formative albums for me are nearing or have already come to pass. Albums like My Arms, Your Hearse; Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk; City; and Calculating Infinity have celebrated their 20th anniversaries this year or in the last few years. Other albums, like The Inalienable Dreamless and Oceanic, will be celebrating theirs in 1 and 3 years, respectively.
Seeing these 20th anniversaries pop up via the various metal journalism pages I follow on Facebook has engendered several emotions within me.
First, it obviously just makes me feel really old. To think that many of these albums came out when many current college students were being born is…a bit depressing to say the least. It does help give me some perspective by thinking about what I was like at that age listening to these albums and how far I’ve come and how much I’ve changed since then. I’ve had a lot of great experiences that most people don’t have in their lifetimes. Still, there is something slightly depressing about growing older. However, what’s great about the passing of time in regards to these albums is that many of them have aged REALLY well. And I mean REALLY WELL. Calculating Infinity or My Arms, Your Hearse still sound like they could have easily come out in 2019 or any other year since their release.
Second, it makes me a little pensive or wistful – but not the way you might expect. Albums like Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk and My Arms, Your Hearse were certainly influential on me in several ways, especially concerning my guitar playing and songwriting. But the way that I remember listening to them as a desperately sad, brooding 17-year-old was as vessels in which to pour my pent up misery. Melodramatic, I know, but everything felt like the end of the world at that age. Whether it was as a result of unrequited high school love, normal hormonal changes, or the frustrating inability to understand and share my own emotions, I was able to enter these worlds of sorrow, isolation, and desperation and see my own reflected back at me. I’m not sure if “finding solace in the darkness” is the right phrase for it, but even as a 34-year-old I still find a semblance of comfort in gloomy music in my darker moments.
Third, it encourages me to relisten to these albums with a 34-year-old’s set of ears. When I listened to these albums as a 14-year-old or as a 17-year-old, I was listening with virgin ears. I remember never having heard ANYTHING like Seminar II: The Holy Rites of Primitivism Regressionism and Seminar III: Zozobra before. I remember never having heard anything as complex or as technically brutal as Calculating Infinity or Black Seeds of Vengeance, respectively. I remember obsessing over the minimalist blue sky and ocean painting that adorned the cover of The Inalienable Dreamless and the abstract, highly literate lyrics found within its DVD case.
At that age, I idolized, romanticized, and mythologized my favorite metal musicians, bands, and albums. As a 34-year-old, the enchanted veil has been lifted. Musicians like Jon Chang or Mikael Akerfeldt aren’t mysterious figures producing dark music anymore – they’re just dorks like the rest of us. Now that I’m relistening to these albums, I can approach them at face value to a certain extent but with the caveat that there is still that 14-year-old or 17-year-old still inside of me listening with giddy wonderment.
It’s wild to think about the way that these albums have been, in a way, my companions for the last 20 years. When I needed a vessel into which to pour my pent up misery or angst, they were there. And while I don’t have the same pent up misery or angst as I did when I was a teenager, these albums retain a story that is uniquely my own whenever I listen and reflect.