I discovered what heavy metal was in 1986.
Prior to 1986 I had heard AC/DC. There was Van Halen and the Scorpions. There was even Quiet Riot. All these bands had their place in laying the hard rock foundation that would become heavy metal, but I never realized what heavy was until I heard those thunderous drums and machine-gun guitars that Metallica laid out in Kill ‘Em All.
That year I was living in Air Force housing in Biloxi, MS. I was new to the area, having moved from Peterson AFB in Colorado Springs just a little before this. At 12, I was still trying to find my place in the world. I liked reading and writing, but I also liked certain sports. I liked my southern heritage, but there were things about it I despised. Musically I was raised on country, 50s rock and gospel, but there was always something about the faster beats and harder-edged music I craved. Little Richard’s Keep On Knocking was probably my first clue of the potential of fast music.
I’m not sure how exactly, but one day I met one of my neighbors who was a couple of years older than me. We started talking about music and my lack of knowledge became quickly apparent. He was asking: “You’ve never heard Metallica?” “How about Megadeth?” “Slayer?” I had to admit that I had not, but he quickly remedied that. I’m pretty sure the first thing we listened to was Kill ‘Em All, but the album I remember liking best was Ride the Lightening. It’s still my favorite Metallica album. And then Megadeth. Oh, how much I liked them. I guess I’ve always been attracted to intricate music and Megadeth had it all over Metallica in that regard. After a couple of hours of listening I was hooked. In no time, I was bringing over blank tapes to dupe so I could listen to them myself.
It’s also important that 86 was a watershed year for heavy metal. Metallica released Master of Puppets, Megadeth released Peace Sells … and Slayer released Reign in Blood. There were other great albums released that year as well, but these thee albums are considered to this day to be some of the most important albums in heavy metal history.
This was all so exciting to me. Not only because it was an entirely new kind of music to my ears, but also because it felt kind of wrong. I was raised in a very religious environment - the kind that frowned on all things rock and roll. We went to the kind of churches that taught about the dangers of “subliminal messages in rock music” and the “backwards messages” secreted in rock recordings. So listening to this “evil” music added an extra element of excitement. It’s similar to what the Ramones sang about in Rock and Roll Radio: “Do you remember lying in bed, with the covers pulled up over your head? Radio playing so no one can see.” Maybe I didn’t pull the covers over my head, but I totally understand the sentiment. At the time it was something I had to keep secret. Something I had to hold as my own.
In retrospect, that was all kind of silly, but I’m sure it’s what helped make that music, music in general, feel that much more special to me.