To celebrate the release of their new album, Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape, we caught up with Black Crown Initiate guitarist/vocalist Andy Thomas to find out what five heavy albums changed his life. Read on to find out what thrash, prog, and just generally weird masterpieces helped shape the progressive death metal of Black Crown Initiate.
Metallica – …And Justice for All (1988)
Although countless albums of various genres have shaped my musical identity, for the purposes of this publication, I figured I’d stick to the heavy stuff. I bought Justice just before a third-grade field trip to the Baltimore Aquarium. From the opening guitar harmonies of “Blackened,” I was hooked. I’d never heard anything like it in my life. Even the production struck me as totally different than anything I’d ever heard. I fell in love with the “woof” of the guitars and even though I’d never personally want an album to sound anything like it, the overall sonic landscape of it immediately puts me in that bus seat, riding to the aquarium, asking “What the fuck am I hearing and why is it the sickest thing ever?” I listened to this album exclusively for over a year after the aquarium trip and I’m still known to get drunk and want to blast it, much to the annoyance of my life partner. Justice-era Hetfield, in my opinion, is the most badass man in history. If aliens came to earth and demanded our gnarliest dude ever, I’d point them to 1987 Hetfield.
Opeth – Blackwater Park (2001)
Blackwater Park is another monumental album to me. I started reading about this Swedish band called Opeth in metal magazines, and this was before the release of this masterpiece. I bought it the day it came out. As I stated before, Metallica were my first metal heroes, so I was already into technical, weird music with long songs. Because of my parents, I also had, and still have, a great appreciation for progressive music, and this album melded both worlds together in a way that I had absolutely no clue was possible. We get compared to Opeth a lot, and it is obviously a tremendous compliment, but it’s also an inevitability. Blackwater Park, just like …And Justice for All, was literally all I listened to for a very long time. Every note, every dark atmosphere, the guitar riffs, and Mikael [Åkerfeldt]’s vocals utterly sucked me in, and I’ve never been let out. While I still very much appreciate the more recent work of Opeth, Blackwater Park is an album that lives inside my musical DNA. It’s one of the most important metal albums of all time, in my opinion. So many bands, including my own, owe extreme debts of gratitude for the style of music this band channeled out of thin air. Respect.
Meshuggah – Chaosphere (1998)
If you want to discuss titans of influence within the metal genre, you’d be utterly remiss to neglect Meshuggah. They were doing things in the early 1990s that are still being imitated today. When I first heard this album I didn’t like it but I knew the problem was with my small idiot brain so I kept listening. Within a few weeks I was hooked and I didn’t want to listen to anything else. I’d never heard guitar tones so nasty, due in large part to their use of seven- and, eventually, eight-string guitars. They are the reason I first purchased an eight-string in 2008. The guitar sound and playing on this album is still some of my favorite ever. I have a Meshuggah tattoo, and I still worship them, but Chaosphere was my first drink from their angular, dissonant, violent, and visionary cup. Watching them live in their prime was also something to behold. They were flawless, and managed to be while headbanging more furiously than anyone. It’s hard having a small brain sometimes, but beautiful gifts can come if you recognize your own mental shortcomings. Meshuggah is one of the most beautiful musical gifts that I’ve been given.
Gojira – From Mars to Sirius (2005)
Rik [Stelzpflug], my first co-guitarist in Black Crown Initiate, bought this album when it was released and brought it to me, raving about it. Immediately I felt like I was being punched in the face. The music was so aggressive and weird. I’d never heard vocals like Joe [Duplantier]’s before, and I’m still a huge fan of the way he sings. The real genius of Gojira, to me, lies in their ability to take the simplest idea and turn it into the heaviest thing you’ve never heard before. Like Opeth and Meshuggah, they carved their own niche into our genre and any attempt to sound like them comes off as second-rate them. From Mars to Sirius is completely packed with incredible, primal, and pummeling riffs, but it also sports some gorgeous atmospheres and masterful use of dynamics. They absolutely deserve every bit of success and praise that they’ve garnered, and you only need to see them live to understand that. To allow myself to be redundant, it is like getting punched in the face for an hour and loving every second of it.
Strapping Young Lad – Alien (2005)
I was first recommended Strapping Young Lad in 1999 on AOL Instant Messenger by a metalhead that I would chat with from New Jersey, of all places. I can’t for the life of me remember his name, but he suggested I check out [Strapping Young Lad’s 1997 album] City, and my love affair with anything Devin Townsend-related began. Pound for pound, he just might be my biggest influence of all, artistically. It really is hard to pick my favorite album of his, but for the sake of this list, I’m going with Alien. It is another crucial album to me, and I am still, to this day, humbled by how extreme it is. To me, it sounds like a creature trying to tear itself and everything else apart, all the while exhibiting enough restraint to present incredible arrangements, performances, and a palpable atmosphere. That, to me, speaks to the awe-inspiring talent of SYL, a band that I wholeheartedly miss, even though I respect and understand, at least to the degree that I am capable, why they aren’t around anymore. Seeing [SYL drummer] Gene Hoglan onstage with Testament, wearing a Black Crown Initiate shirt, was one of my proudest moments as a human. It would also be criminal of me to not mention Devin’s voice: he absolutely is the best, and his music continues to be a significant portion of the soundtrack to my life on this fucked up, beautiful spinning rock.