Cult Of Luna
I was a teenage metalhead.
It was 1986, and I was entering 8th grade. We had moved to a bigger suburb after my parents divorced. Being able to reinvent myself and shrug off the stigma of being the “weird kid” who always got his ass beat was a wonderful feeling. As I entered 8th grade I was a regular kid. I liked to race BMX (I was pretty good, actually), had hopes of making the football team and liked rock and heavy metal. Mostly, I was really into Iron Maiden, Van Halen, Rush and Motley Crue. I remember seeing photos of Metallica in some magazine and without actually hearing their music, thought “That’s too crazy. I won’t like that. It’s just noise.”.
Meeting the kids that became my peer group at my new school, I discovered they were more “big city” than I. I ended up falling in with kids who would probably be called burnouts. They smoked cigarettes, talked about drinking “Jack” and how they’d smoked a joint in the park over the weekend. I was almost aghast at their behavior, believing every word. In retrospect, what 8th grader knew the first thing about whiskey? The dividing line was if you liked or disliked Metallica. They had just released Master Of Puppets, and if you weren’t on board, you weren’t cool enough to hang around. I, of course, wanted desperately to hang around, so I thought I had better figure out this band.
I borrowed a cassette version of Ride The Lightning from what was universally accepted to be the hottest girl in our class, Jenni XXXX. She spelled her name with an I and wore skin tight pink jeans and had long blond hair. She was perpetually smiling, and hung around guys much older than the rest of us. It was safe to say I was smitten with her. She warned me “keep listening, some of the songs start off kind of weird”. The intro to Fight Fire With Fire rolled, and I waited. It wasn’t that weird. Just a classical, acoustic piece…. and then… then, hell was unleaded upon my stereo. A stereo I might add that was pieced together from various Radio Shack parts, a turntable that was handed down from a neighbor. It wasn’t pretty, but sounded remarkably good.
There’s a picture that music paints for the listener. Metallica’s music painted a very detailed, vivid picture in my brain. I became obsessed. Here was the sound I had been looking for my entire life, or so it would seem. I just didn’t know it. I skipped lunch all week, and picked up a crisp, shrink wrapped copy of Master Of Puppets on Friday from our local record shop, The Exclusive Company. When I asked the guy at the counter (beard, mop of brown hair, glasses that would tint when you got outside) where the Metallica LP could be found, good sir, he seemed put out and sighed “Metal section, kid” vaguely pointing towards the middle of the store.
I slowly moved my way back, looking at stacks and stacks of records. I bought most of my records with my Mom at K-Mart or at Total Eclipse Records, which was near my old house. We used the dry cleaners next to them, so while Mom dropped off curtains or sport coats to be cleaned, I got to hang out with stoners who asked if my Mom knew I was trying to buy Iron Maiden's Piece Of Mind LP. Once they were assured it was cool, they never hassled me again. But I digress… new city, new record shop. It took me a minute to find the one row titled “Metal, Punk and Hardcore”. It was probably 70 records deep. As I thumbed through, I passed records by Motorhead, Celtic Frost, Raven, Venom, Slayer, Exodus, Suicidal Tendencies and Anthrax. I was blown away. I had never heard of any these bands, but their artwork was fantastic. I knew I wanted to hear all of them. I grabbed Master Of Puppets and headed home, deciding to always skip lunch.
I spent the rest of the weekend laying on my bed, poring over the cover and sleeve, reading the thanks list and staring at the photos. The band looked not much older than me… skinny kids with the faint trace of teen acne still there. Skin tight ripped up jeans, sleeveless black t-shirts, and long hair. I knew exactly where I was headed, fashion-wise. I wanted to be in Metallica. Shit, I wanted to be Metallica. The following weeks saw the weather start to turn cold, as it did in suburban Wisconsin. I took a razor to a favorite pair of jeans, cut the sleeves off my few black shirts and vowed to never cut my hair again. I’m sure I looked pretty goofy, but it was important I look like one of them. To let other people know that I wasn’t just a little kid anymore. I was on the fringe, onto new shit. Shit you’ve never heard of. You wouldn’t understand.
Going back to the Exclusive Company, I would discover a new band through the thanks list of an older band I already knew. For example, Metallica thanked Anthrax, so I picked up Anthrax’s Fistful Of Metal. Anthrax thanked Overkill, so I bought Overkill's Taking Over, and so on. I felt like I was finding these buried treasures amidst all the crap normal people liked. A guy would come in and buy Van Halen’s synth heavy first record without David Lee Roth, and I’d be listening to Manowar - Fighting The World. Celtic Frost was grunting their way through songs with french horns and timpani drums. Metallica loved the Misfits, and so naturally, I did too. Finding a copy of their Walk Among Us LP was… mind-blowing. And so it went. Every week discovering new amazing, angry music. Agnostic Front, The Cro-Mags, Misfits, Die Kreuzen, Voivod, Minor Threat, Dead Kennedys, Slayer, Megadeth, Warzone, Destruction, Coroner, Death, Possessed, Suicidal Tendencies, Wasted Youth, DRI, Overkill, Motorhead, Sodom, Carnivore, Whiplash, Testament, Exodus, etc etc… .as long as it was fast, faster, and fastest, and pissed off, I had to have it. And what did I have to be so mad about? I was a white kid, growing up in a suburb that suffered very little in the hardship department. Most of my classmates were from middle class, well to do homes. But there was plenty of drug use, sex (man, I got laid a lot for a teenager), and access to various substances. But there was a feeling of “Oh, this is for me. These guys understand me. I understand them.” It was like a lightbulb went off in my brain. Be angry. Be aggressive. Be pissed. Be discontent. To my young mind, it was a revelation. Just the act of wearing a Slayer shirt was subversive enough to get you sent to the school psychiatrist. Years later, they’d be concerned by my attire when I eventually, in search of heavier/faster/more brutal, ended up at death metal. My Cannibal Corpse long sleeve with dead babies and zombies going down on female corpses apparently was perceived as a signal for help.
Years later, I still get that same feeling when I sit and listen to my freshman metal record list. Now, if only I could get some of those actual LP’s back… first print editions of classic metal records are surprisingly expensive and hard to come by these days. But that’s a story for another time.