Well, we should kinda call this Five Heavy Albums that Changed My Life with Matt Harvey of Gruesome, Exhumed, and Pounder, not to mention Expulsion (who rule), etc., etc., etc. But, today we focus on Gruesome (although quick PSA: new Pounder EP is killer), whose latest album, Twisted Prayers, dropped on June 1. The album takes the Death-homage group to new heights, tackling the legendary DM band’s Spiritual Healing era and sound with much success.
So it makes sense, given Gruesome’s penchant for looking back, that we would round up Harvey and make him look back on the five heavy albums that changed his life.
Metallica – Master of Puppets (1986)
I can truly say, without any fear of exaggeration, that this album had the single most profound impact on me of any piece of music I have ever heard. I was 11 years old when I first slid my first Metallica tape into my walkman. I was a fan of Ozzy, Maiden, Dio, Twisted Sister, W.A.S.P., as well as newer and more potentially embarrassing acts like Cinderella and Poison, but nothing prepared me for hearing this album. The day before, I was an 11-year-old rock fan that was also interested in school sports, performing in school plays, and had dreams of becoming a comic book artist. The next day, I lost interest in anything that wasn’t the heaviest metal I could possibly get my hands on. I started to grow my hair out and gathered the courage to pick up a guitar and see what I could do with it. Hearing Puppets was a true epiphany—one moment that struck me like lightning (too bad it wasn’t that record they did with the blue cover, or that would have been a great set-up) and changed everything in its wake.
Slayer – Hell Awaits (1985)
I purchased Reign In Blood in early 1988, and then proceeded to devour Slayer’s back catalog. Hell Awaits sticks out in my mind particularly as a milestone, for a few different reasons. Firstly, I don’t think anyone else in junior high had heard anything from the band that wasn’t Reign, so Hell Awaits was kind of “my” album. Secondly, I remember sleeping over at a buddy’s house (as one did at age 12) and we took our allowance money to the store together. He purchased Appetite for Destruction and I bought Hell Awaits. We listened to the tapes that the we had bought, and I remember being disgusted by how weak Appetite sounded in comparison to Hell Awaits. My buddy seemed to have a similar reaction to my burgeoning appetite for extreme metal. He looked physically repulsed when we listened to the tape. I remember walking home the next day thinking, “We’re not going to be friends anymore; this just isn’t going to work.” Listening to this record felt like I was sealing a personal pact with the underground—keep in mind, I was 12 at the time, so…—to stay true to the heaviest, nastiest, grossest metal I could find.
Celtic Frost – Morbid Tales (1984)
Later in ’88, I purchased Morbid Tales on cassette, based on a Frost track being on some Metal Blade compilation tape or other (I hadn’t heard the compilation, I just would read the tracklistings at the record store and make mental notes of band names that seemed interesting) and the cryptic, dark cover art. This album became deeply personal to me as a guitar player, because as I was hacking my way through the usual “I’ve been playing guitar for six months and here are the riffs I know” repertoire of “Am I Evil?,” “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “South of Heaven” and a few others, I knew that the way I was playing these songs (or attempting to play these songs) wasn’t really sounding like the records. It wasn’t just that I didn’t have proper equipment or anything like that, it was simply because I couldn’t play with the level of precision to bring stuff like “Fight Fire with Fire” to life. But “Into the Crypts of Rays” was something that sounded pretty similar to the record when I played it. In short order I set about learning all of the riffs on the album and playing along with it on my boom box from front to back. Everything I know about heaviness comes from this band—the record makes Black Sabbath sound like fucking Air Supply.
Judas Priest – Stained Class (1978)
Fast-forwarding a bit into the ’90s, just in case you thought all my profound musical experiences happened when I was a pimply-faced virgin… I remember sitting in Exhumed’s original drummer Col’s car outside a local “fest” show with tons of bands and listening to this tape. During the mid ’90s, I voraciously dug through metal’s past and was aided in the en masse abandonment of the genre; you could pick up Maiden, Venom, and Priest records at any used record store in the bay area for less than $5 all day long. I finally made the long journey to Priestduring this time. I remember that particular experience of listening to Stained Class at that particularly uninspiring show packed with generic “more-brutal-than” death metal bands and realizing that what I wanted to do as a musician was to preserve an artistic throughline from metal’s beginnings through to the more extreme stuff that I had been playing. Stained Class crystallized the link between ’70s metal and thrash and heavier, darker stuff for me as a listener. Priest became some of my heroes—proudly into metal, sporting leather, studs, and chains proudly and taking on the fucking world. Trailblazing stuff that is personally special for me in that it helped open my eyes to the connectedness between the genre’s past and my personal and musical future.
Nasum – Inhale/Exhale (1998)
I could have picked probably hundreds of albums that fit the bill for this piece, but when Inhale/Exhale came out in 1998, right around the time we released Gore Metal, Exhumed was very much still a “local band” that happened to have a record deal. We had no idea how to actually make a good sounding record (as our debut album glaringly demonstrates), and here was a band that we had a lot in common with (our sounds were both centered around the early Earache Records stuff) yet sounded nothing really alike, and they were leaps and bounds ahead of us, and just about every other grind band of the day. The sound of the record alone was invigorating—clean, powerful, extremely loud and in-your-face, but then the material was something else. Nasum reignited a passion for grindcore that had been severely waning in the US extreme metal scene for some time. We played a bunch of shows with them in 1999, and it was amazing to watch the songs come to life every night. I don’t think I missed a single song of any of their sets. On that tour, we became friends with the guys, but we also remained fans of the band in the truest sense of the word. Again, after working with the late, great Mieszko Talarcyzk on our second record, I was shown a way forward for my own musical development, and if that isn’t life-changing, I don’t know what is.