I am not a cool person.
Despite concerted efforts to highlight my exceptional taste, willingness to branch out, and seek artistic alternatives within overcrowded frameworks, I’m just a nerd. Anyone who knows me in real life can attest that I’m in fact not the cool person (ironically) pictured above. Actually, this blog is as much about my own embarrassing history and musical hangups as it is trying to turn people onto good things. The point is it’s all kinda good, you might just need to shift your perspective, lower your expectations, or revert your brain to a child-like state to enjoy them.
This write-up is definitely one of those. Don’t expect any discussion on “traditionally good” music, thoughtful insight, or analysis of the new Kendrick Lamar album. Make no mistake, this is all embarrassing shit.
A few months back I tried to compile a list of my favorite albums of all time. What originally started as a top ten list quickly evolved into an amalgam of over 100 albums spanning dozens of genres. From the first time I heard AC/DC at 11, to high school heartbreak, to collegiate celebration, this document is a comprehensive look at my taste and who I am as a person.
While the hip-hop section needs some diversification, I’m pretty happy with the general makeup of this look at my musical soul. One of the biggest sources of shame, however, is the “metalcore” category. It’s a genre that I listened to all the way through high school and has become taste-defining for better or worse. Metalcore is a very “seasonal” genre for me, and with spring officially upon us in Oregon, I’ve recently broken out a handful of these records and found myself falling back in love with them.
I’ll be the first to admit that this is almost fully nostalgia. I don’t think these albums are high art, or even worthy of the praise that I’m about to heap upon them, but they bring me back. You know what I was doing in 2009? Enjoying life. I had my first real girlfriend, I was walking to school every day in the warm sunlight with a (now sadly discontinued) Quaker Oatmeal To Go bar in-hand. I was listening to this music, my friends were listening to this music, and it was a scene that I cared about deeply. It was a healthy way to let out teenage angst, and it felt like a genre that was “alive,” with new bands and ideas popping up regularly… Honestly very similar to how I feel about the hip-hop scene right now. But in high school metalcore was just unknown enough and just unpopular enough for me to fully rally behind. It informed my personality, my clothes (shout out to Hot Topic), and absolutely served as the soundtrack to these four formative years in my life.
A Skylit Drive - Adelphia
Adelphia is the sophomore effort of Californian metalcore band A Skylit Drive. Fronted by abnormally-high-pitched singer Michael “Jag” Jagmin, Adelphia allowed the band time to take a more structured, varied, and thoughtful approach to their songwriting which improved markedly on the band’s earlier sound. The combination of Brian White’s screamed vocals with Jag’s nearly-feminine singing is an intoxicating mix that (when paired with the tight instrumentation on this record) made for ASD’s most memorable record.
Pair with: Gears of War 2 King of the Hill on Pavilion
Of Mice & Men - Of Mice & Men
Of Mice & Men began with a blistering cover of “Poker Face” uploaded to Myspace in early 2009 (in case you needed a reminder of where we’re at in time). After being kicked from electronicore band and crabcore creators Attack Attack!, screamer Austin Carlile embarked on a new venture named after the Steinbeck novel of the same name (cleverly differentiated with an ampersand). Within a year of the Gaga cover, OM&M had dropped their eponymous full-length album to critical acclaim. Clocking in at a little over 30 minutes, Of Mice & Men is an unflinching album that rides on the coattails of Carlile’s throat-shredding vocals, as best exemplified by the closing track’s final minutes.
Pair with: post-work drives to nowhere in particular
I See Stars - 3-D
Perhaps most embarrassing of anything on this already-embarrassing list, I See Stars is a techno-influenced metalcore act from Ohio. Comprised entirely of teenagers at the time, I See Stars released their debut album 3-D in April of 2009. With song names that alluded to Fight Club and Shell Silverstein, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more Taylor-Grimes-tailored album in 2009. Everything about this album, from the keyboard-infused breakdowns to the inexplicable Bizzy Bone feature just clicks for some inexplicable reason. I don’t believe in guilty pleasures… but there’s definitely music I listen to that I wouldn’t play in the presence of others, and 3-D is one of those.
Pair with: 7 am springtime walks to high school while enjoying an aforementioned Oatmeal Bar
In Fear and Faith - Voyage
In Fear and Faith stand alone as one of the most unique bands on this list due solely to their instrumentation. This genre reuses the same sounds, themes, and ideas so much that it became cookie cutter within a few years of its explosive growth at the end of the 2000’s. In Fear And Faith presented an alternative: a metalcore act that centered around a theme (pirates of all things) and more importantly the Niroomand brothers Mehdi (drums) and Ramin (guitars and piano). Ramin’s keys alone added a level of composition and sophistication that was unlike anything else in the genre at the time. Their debut Ep Voyage remains my favorite release of theirs, but their second EP Symphonies highlights the absurd talent of the Niroomand brothers.
Pair with soaking up the sun and basking in the insanely violent X-Men Origins: Wolverine game (which was better than it had any right to be).
Broadway - Kingdoms
The enigmatic (and hard to Google) Broadway is a metalcore band that takes queues from pop-punk and tackles a variety of relationship issues from the perspective of the band’s high-pitched singer and screamer Misha Camacho. The band’s debut album Kingdoms follows the exact beats of a relationship that’s in the process of falling apart and served as the perfect medium for me to project my own relationship strife onto at the time of its release.
Pair with: sadly playing Metro 2033 in the midst of a breakup.
Alesana - The Emptiness
Speaking of breakup albums, Alesana’s The Emptiness was my go-to album for a sad spring break trip to the Oregon coast. The Emptiness is a concept album loosely based around a mishmash several of Edgar Allan Poe stories told through Shawn Milke’s shrill clean vocals and Dennis Lee chilling screamed vocals. This cinematic and aggressive retelling of a failed relationship was exactly what I needed to hear at the time.
Pair with: a sad, rainy Oregon coast.
We Came As Romans - To Plant A Seed
We Came as Romans were one of my first few “real deal” concerts (i.e. going with a group of friends and not my parents). Experiencing the rawness, energy, and passion of this genre firsthand was a life-affirming experience that solidified the genre’s legitimacy for me. We Came As Roman’s debut album To Plant a Seed features 10 vaguely-religious tracks that delicately balance Kyle Pavone’s autotuned cleans with Dave Stephens’s low growls. Being within 20 feet of the entire band as the music faded and the entire venue joined in on the opening track’s group chant was a magical moment I’ll never forget.
Pair with: a crowded, sweaty Hawthorne Theater
Miss May I - Apologies Are For The Weak
Last but not least, we have Miss May I’s debut album Apologies are for the Weak. This tightly-honed metalcore album is biting and unrelenting enough to hold your attention, but just lyrically veiled enough to serve as background music when you need it to be. The defining moment is the breakdown in “Forgive and Forget” accompanied with clean vocals of all things.
Pair with: learning to drive in the early Oregon Summer in between fits of GTA IV.
I don’t think these albums are high art. I don’t think they’re the greatest of all time. Hell, I don’t even think they’re the greatest within their own genre. My favorite season is always whatever one we’re currently in the midst of, and this spring has simply brought out an immense happiness in me. Partially because of the sun, and partially because I can revisit all these albums again, if only for a few months. They’re special because I only listen to them a handful of times a year. Sure they inform my taste, personality, and a very distinct time in my life, but it’s nice to be able to revisit those memories. Even if they only evoke split-second pangs of beauty and happiness, this grouping of albums served as the soundtrack to a formative time in my life, and what are we if we don’t appreciate where we’ve come from? That’s something to treasure and hold close, no matter how embarrassing.