It’s largely taken for granted that, as we grow older, we move on from the music we liked in our youth. There might be some records or bands that stay with us, but odds are that we’ll look back upon our first musical loves with something approaching horror – especially if you’re the sort who lives and dies by the underground. So, I thought it would make an interesting piece of writing to go back and listen to some old favourites for the first time in about 15 years, and see if they hold up at all. This means that those records I liked at that time and still listen to – such as The Fragile by Nine Inch Nails, or anything by Cradle of Filth, or the first two Placebo records, or Kid606’s GQ on the EQ++ (a song from that compilation gives this article its title) – are naturally exempted from this exercise, as are those bands that I’ve had exposure to in recent years via something close to cultural osmosis and enduring mainstream status (such as Green Day or Blink 182). This is about going in with older and, perhaps, wiser ears, and seeing if anything I’ve discarded from my youth is worthy of remembering; or if I stopped listening to it for good reason. So. Here we go.
American Head Charge – The War of Art
There was probably a three week period where I couldn’t stop playing this album; but I’ve barely thought of it since. Prior to re-listening to it for this article, I couldn’t remember how a single song sounded. That shouldn’t really be held against the album, though – after all, I grew up in the age of Napster, and then broadband internet, and music was absurdly accessible for a teenager with rapidly expanding tastes. So, how does The War of Art stand up, seventeen years later? Really fucking badly. The mix of mainstream indsutrial metal and nu-metal makes for a bleak listen; but worse than that, it comes across as uninspired, simply going through the motions of what a metal band at the turn of the millenium should be. So, there’s rapping, what sounds like DJ scratches, and lots of repetitive nu-metal riffs. There’s some sense of melody, and the chorus of ‘Just So You Know’ actually works really well, so it’s not a total disaster. But at 16 tracks long, and with a lack of real variation, I couldn’t make it to the end.
Powerman 5,000 – Tonight, The Stars Revolt!
I fucking loved this album for what feels like a long time, but was probably only about a year or so. It was only with reluctance that I finally sold my CD copy (and merch) a year or two ago; and had vague ideas of how most of the songs still sounded. So, this one has some sentimental value. Listening back, I can kind of understand why; in comparison to practically every other metal album on this list, Tonight, The Stars Revolt! is energetic, charismatic, and almost (by comparisson) optimistic. But it suffers from the same problems that ruined so many bands of this era, with melodies being strangled at the expense of clunky nu-metal riffs instead. It drags on towards the end, but closer ‘Watch the Sky for Me’ is actually kinda enjoyable – until your older self realises that’s because it has literally stolen its main melody from ‘One More Kiss, Dear’ from the Blade Runner soundtrack, at which point you just feel annoyed at such an act.
Korn – Follow the Leader
Even though some choices for this piece were excluded because of the way they can’t be avoided in either popular culture or my local environment, somehow I’ve gone at least ten years without (knowingly) hearing a Korn song. So, Follow the Leader is a perfect candidate for this article – I mean, ‘Freak on a Leash’ was the first song I ever downloaded from Napster, an act that would be pivotal in me getting into heavier and more obscure music. Follow the Leader used to be my favourite Korn album, but how does it – and their music more generally – hold up?
The first three tracks sound incredible. The one-two-three of ‘It’s On’, ‘Freak on a Leash’, and ‘Got the Life’ is surely the best opening to any nu-metal album, and Ice Cube’s contribution to ‘Children of the Korn’ is blistering. Elsewhere though, it’s a mixed bag. ‘Dead Bodies Everywhere’ aims for moody and spooky but just sounds to my adult ears like it’s kinda juvenile; ‘Pretty’ is all sorts of uncomfortable, and not in a way I want to revisit; and the less said about ‘All In The Family’, and its Fred Durst guest-spot, the better.
One thing I didn’t remember though, is just how much casual homophobia there is in the lyrics. It seems like every song has Jon Davies calling someone a faggot. It’s no fun at all, and detracts hugely from the record.
Slipknot – Slipknot
After so many none-more-nu-metal riffs, coming back to this after almost half a lifetime came as a surprise. I remembered it being fast and aggressive, but fuck me, there’s real extreme metal in here. Sure, the DJ scratches, dustbin percussion, and ultra-gimmicky masks detract from that (to say nothing of the aimless angst in many of the lyrics), but there’s genuinely extreme stuff going on here. There’s also a lot more melodies and leads than on almost anything else I listened to for this, which makes the songs more memorable, and provides some much-needed contrast (something nu-metal, as a whole, was sorely lacking in).
Even so, there’s only so far you can run on pure aggression and momentum, and Slipknot doesn’t quite go the distance. Over the course of 17 tracks, the lyrics become wearying, the aggression over-bearing and tiring, and the constant stream of angst and negativity lapses into self-parody as the album progresses. Still, ‘Wait and Bleed’ is one hell of a single, and it’s clear why Slipknot’s popularity endured even as those of other nu-metal bands waned significantly.
Papa Roach – Infest
Somehow, I’ve gone for years and years without hearing ‘Last Resort’ – and yet, as soon as it kicked in, it felt like I could remember every word. It’s a genuinely great, catchy song, and whilst the lyrics may take centre stage, the combination of backing guitar melodies and stomping riffs is what really makes it work for me. And, throughout, the actual music remains the best point about Infest; there is a classic rock touch to many of the riffs, and a sense of when to sit back and let the song breathe. Lyrically though, so many of the songs seem to be written from the perspective of a 14 year-old kid, which there’s always a market and need for; but it also means that, as someone in their mid-30’s, songs like ‘Broken Home’ miss their mark (and the casual homophobia scattered throughout the album is very off-putting, even if it’s not as prevalent as on the Korn album). Which makes the topics of ‘Binge’ (addicition) and ‘Revenge’ (domestic violence – well, other than a very strange ego-gloating rap mid-section) stand out in stark contrast. But, of the albums revisited, this is the year I’ve enjoyed most, even if I probably wouldn’t listen to it again.
So, an interesting enough distraction, that reminded me of exactly why I’d left these records behind. Compared with the riches to be found by exploring the underground, nothing here felt worth reclaiming or holding on to. Back in to the past they go.