Petra, Jimi Hendrix, Iron Maiden, Megadeth.
by Dave Skipper
While growing up I was blissfully unaware of the world of pop music: it was simply not on my radar, not on the radio at home, and not something any of my school friends listened to. I was vaguely aware that a step beyond pop was rock, and somewhere way beyond that was heavy metal. When some of the older boys at school talked about and exchanged tapes of Christian rock band Petra I was intrigued. One of them copied two albums (On Fire! and Beyond Belief) onto blank tapes for me. I remember taking our family portable cassette player down the garden to have a listen, and it was exciting! The riffs, the energy, and most of all the guitar solos! These were two of my favourite songs:
Petra: I Am on the Rock
When I told my friend which songs I liked, he immediately recognised that I gravitated to the heaviest songs and said, “Oh, you’d like heavy metal then – you should check out the latest Petra album (Unseen Power).” Sure enough a couple of the songs on that album were distinctly heavier. The standout track in this vein was Destiny:
I was surprised: my image of heavy metal had been grisly Iron Maiden t-shirts, and I assumed it was all just a load of terrible shouting! But now I knew that the intensity and riffage I was looking for would be in that world of heavy metal. I borrowed an Iron Maiden album (Fear of the Dark) from the local library and I was very surprised at how melodic it was! And the guitar solos were super-cool! Going through a few Iron Maiden albums I was definitely uncomfortable with some of the imagery and song topics, but I generally looked past that. (Growing up in a Christian family, and continuing on that path as a believer myself, I have a definite aversion to lyrics and imagery that indulge in certain themes, desires, fascinations, and worldviews which are prevalent in heavy metal, and noise for that matter, but which are opposed to a Bible-oriented lifestyle and mindset. On the other hand, there are also a lot of generalisations, presumptions and misunderstandings against heavy metal and noise which are not uniformly true or helpful. Tackling these issues with discernment and nuance is not the purpose of this particular series of articles, however.) Here is a classic song I always liked:
Iron Maiden: The Prisoner
I then listened to the BBC Radio One Rock Show, and what stood out was material from new albums by thrash metal giants Slayer and Megadeth. Ok, so thrash is the next step! Faster, heavier, riffier! I didn’t pay any attention to what these bands were singing about (which half the time I couldn’t figure out anyway), and I didn’t care for the posing. It was always 100% about the sonics, the sounds, the textures, the riffs, the solos. I’ve picked out three of my favourite Megadeth songs, all war-themed and extremely riffy:
Megadeth: Set the World Afire
Megadeth: Take No Prisoners
Megadeth: Architecture of Aggression
Going back a bit, the same friends who introduced me to Petra also mentioned Jimi Hendrix as a highly influential guitarist, and they played a couple of his songs on a car ride one time. I knew that he was a great guitarist and that he took lots of drugs, but nothing else. Intrigued, I bought a Hendrix cassette, The Jimi Hendrix Concerts. This was one of the most pivotal moments in my musical journey. This album completely blew me away – the strength and dexterity of his playing, the massively extended improvised soloing, the range and dynamics of sounds he could coax out the electric guitar. In fact, I distinctly remember wondering why everybody wasn’t listening to and talking about Jimi Hendrix all the time! I also thought that maybe this music should be illegal, it was just too good! It turns out I had hit the jackpot with that particular album. It’s a collection of some of his best live performances, and is now very hard to find. Of all the Hendrix albums I have listened to over the years, this one remains top of the pile for me. There are a few tracks on there that still blow me away every single time I listen to them. Only one of them is on YouTube at the moment. One of the remarkable things about Jimi was how he would play the same song so differently every time. This version of Stone Free is particularly long, and the momentum and trajectory of the soloing almost defies belief when you realise it was totally improvised.
Jimi Hendrix: Stone Free
Where to go from heavy metal and Jimi Hendrix? Well, the next logical step was to seek out the best, the fastest, the most technical, the most renowned electric guitarists. My interest at this point was almost exclusively the guitar solo, which also prompted me to start learning to play the electric guitar myself (but more on that in another part of this series). Next, I will revisit some of those ‘guitar heroes’ I discovered at this point, which was in my mid-late teens.