My All Time Favorite Albums
Updated: May 2
Top 10 Albums: (click link)
KISS - Creatures of the Night
My gold standard for production, drum sound, songwriting, album cover art, and so much more, this album is an absolute master piece. It came out when I was 6, my older brother got the tape for Christmas that year and I somehow convinced my parents to buy me the record soon after. The album has followed me my whole life ever since. Any time I need to regroup, get focused, let off steam, or just rock out, I play KISS Creatures of the Night. It has always been there for me throughout my life, rejuvenates me every time and never fails me.
The irony of this being my favorite album...
The irony of this being my favorite album of all time is that it flies in the face of my own purist attitude about preferring albums recorded by band members only; there are several session guitarists throughout this album while it was revealed many years after its release that Ace Frehley in fact did not play any guitar on the entire album even though he was featured on the cover. One of the ghost guitarists is none other than Steve Farris, who would later be the guitarist of another band in my top favorite albums by Mr. Mister, and he plays in the colossal opening title track. Vinnie Vincent, one of my all time favorite guitar players (second only to Akira Takasaki of Loudness), plays most of the ghost guitar tracks on the album and is credited with giving the album's songwriting its rich and varying flavor. This album is an archetype for me in many ways. It is what I like to call a perfect "anchor" album in terms of song order with its strongest tracks at the beginning and end of each side: Side 1 begins with Creatures of the Night and ends with Danger; Side 2 begins with I Love it Loud and ends with War Machine. These all happen to be my favorite tracks on the album. Besides being known as the last album before KISS removed their makeup, Creatures is best known for the thunderous drum sound and playing by Eric Carr. It has been said that he wanted a Led Zeppelin/John Bonham sound and feel, and the album delivers just that and more. This album is without any doubt the album I would want if I had to choose only one album to listen to for the rest of my life.
Kraftwerk - Computer World
It wasn't until college that I finally explored Kraftwerk, and admittedly I probably needed the maturity to appreciate the absolute genius of them. This album was the gateway for me for Kraftwerk, as one day in my senior year of college my Polish video professor randomly popped in this album at the end of class one day. I only heard the first track and I didn't yet quite know the depth of their influence on just samples alone in music, but it peaked my interest just enough.
Computer World is as prescient as...
Computer World is as prescient as an album can get musically and thematically with its fresh, spot on irresistible dance beats throughout, breakdance beats with Numbers, ambient synth exploration in Home Computer and It's More Fun to Compute, online dating over 20 years before the fact in Computer Love, and dominance of computers over all aspects of personal and societal life in the title track.
Only 6 tracks and a little over a half hour, the album is a brilliant journey through minimal sophistication of electronic music pushed to its limits for a beautiful harmony and not leaving one feeling fatigued after listening to it. This album is a culmination of Kraftwerk taking around 3 years off to restock and redesign their musical gear and studio, which was no small or cheap feat in the early 1980's, before reconvening to record this master piece.
Computer World gave me a much needed shot in the arm as an artist and musician at a turning point in my life finishing college and striking out on my own, and truly inspired me to strive for visual unity with music.
Kraftwerk - Man Machine
I usually listen to Kraftwerk's Man Machine and Computer World back to back, which is the beauty of each of the albums' relatively short play time each with 6 tracks. As I'm a musician by nature and graphic designer by trade, Kraftwerk is the perfect synthesis of both of these languages married beautifully especially on Man Machine.
This album proudly puts on display...
This album proudly puts on display analog synthesizers pushed to their extreme for a seemingly minimal result. The album is 6 songs, which is often considered an EP by today's standards. But upon listening to the whole album it feels so complete and satisfying, with the title track tying it all together. This and other Kraftwerk albums have influenced me to create shorter albums to allow for maximum focus and impact without worrying about filler tracks.
Robots and Man Machine are the mechanical bookends that protect the inner tracks that I find are more emotive like Neon Lights and Space Lab. Metropolis and The Model are the festive danceable guts of the album, showcasing a comfort of making music with electronic instruments.
One of the things I find most charming and relatable to this album is that the drum tracks, while done on electronic drum pads, are played manually as traditional drum kits are played instead of being programmed, and have a distinct human feel to them.
The visual Russian Constructivist cover with the members of the band posing their bodies in such a way that compliments the Constructivist style, is a perfect compliment to the sound of the album.
Ministry - The Land of...
My gateway into hardcore electronic music, this album was a case of sheer happenstance that I even had it in my possession in the first place, as a neighbor randomly left this tape, along with Skinny Puppy's Rabies, in my best friend Chris's apartment one day in the 8th grade. My best friend said I could have them if I wanted it, along with other random stuff like clothes we would barter and trade with each other. The tapes would sit in a drawer for over 2 years.
Then, my parents...
Then, my parents separated and began divorce proceedings, and my entire world became completely unhinged. Up to then, I went from being a metal head and glam metal guitar player to becoming obsessed with electronic music like New Order, Depeche Mode, and Pretty Hate Machine era Nine Inch Nails (all introduced to me by my best friend also). I to this day don't understand what compelled me, but I took out the Ministry Land of... tape, pressed play, and from the first scream of Stigmata to the end of Flashback, the album did all the screaming for me. It brought me much needed relief, catharsis, and comfort. Thankfully, this album would be the timely remedy for all the confusion and hurt I felt over my parents splitting up, and I credit it for introducing me to music that would keep me focused, off drugs, and out of trouble. The music on this album expressed for me my anger, feeling like I was losing my mind and going crazy, and relentlessness to find some resolution even if only temporarily. This was because The Land of... is angry, crazy, and relentless with a precision and boldness unmatched before or since.
After recent years of diving deep into electronic music while still loving heavy guitar and metal, The Land of... married these two seemingly disparate elements into a powerful result. Stigmata is a full on assault that leads into The Missing and Diety without mercy, and by the time the 4th track Golden Dawn arrives I feel like I've had a full workout. Golden Dawn reveals sparce but archetypal synthesizer with layers of spoken word and cinematic sampling. Destruction brings in rich effects and atmosphere to ease in to the side B opening title track, which comes right out with thunderous, militaristic drums and elaborate synths. You Know What You Are is the song that always comes to mind for me anytime I hear reference to industrial music, featuring what truly sounds to me like industrial sound elements. It is just a demented track, and has the perfect droning drum beat carrying the song. I knew people that loved to only play rap and hip hop in their cars that liked to play this song to show off their stereo systems. Then, this all builds up to Flashback, a harsh track backed with a sped up punk beat.
I'm glad I know The Land of... by the tape version that has fewer tracks than the CD as I believe the tape version allows for less to be more. The distorted vocals have influenced my own vocal tracking immensely, as I had never heard anything like it before listening to this album. The songs demonstrated to me just how well my beloved heavy guitar sound could work so incredibly well with electronic music, and I've been hooked ever since.
I am grateful that this tape was ready and waiting in the wings for the years leading up to when I would need it most. It screamed and cried for me and with me.
Vinnie Vincent Invasion
I have never heard an album anything like this before or since first hearing Vinnie Vincent Invasion's debut album. My Mom bought me the tape along with Bon Jovi's Slippery When Wet on a trip to Target when I was 10 years old.
Being a huge KISS fan I knew Vinnie's guitar playing would be awesome like on Lick It Up, but when I put the tape into the big blue Dodge Ram family van's tape player, put my seat belt on and Mom started driving, it was an onslaught of walls of guitars like I had never even imagined was possible.
The production was slick with layers of...
The production was slick with layers of relentless metal guitars and searing vocals by Robert Fleischman that still somehow maintains an aggression and growl. When the solo of the first track Boyz R Gonna Rock came crashing in, it was the first time I had ever heard the cat purr whammy bar technique that I wouldn't figure out how to do on my own guitar until years later in college, and the first time I had ever heard such shredding on the guitar. I quickly learned that Vinnie's guitar playing in KISS was extremely subdued compared to his solo music. After having listened to the Lick It Up album easily a couple of hundred times, I had no idea he played guitar this way and didn't even know what I was listening to. By the time we pulled up to the driveway at home, we were almost done with the first side of the tape and I simply couldn't wait to run inside and hear the rest of the album on my older brother's stereo in his room I had helped myself to after he'd run away a couple of years before.
Somehow, the mid 1980's cliché and misogynistic song titles and lyrics were woven somewhat palletably in only a way Vinnie Vincent could pull off. The second track Shoot U Full of Love 🤣 jumps right in with a bluesy riff and the guitar tone continues to screech relentlessly. The occasional feedback from the guitar allows for a human element within the slick perfectionist production. After the first 2 tracks alone tax the ears, No Substitute smooths things out with a sweet ballad type track that hints of a Def Leppard Photograph vibe with melodic guitars and a guitar solo that sings tastefully in a less is more vain.
Then just like that, Animal slowly builds back up to a metal jam with a climax at the end that busts out a blistering over the top shred. Twisted closes out side 1 with very complex and layer vocal sampling that I'd never heard before with of course even more insane soloing.
This album allows no room for filler tracks, and side 2 flows with solid tracks almost like it's a whole other album. Back on the Streets has a slowed down heavy groove, and the album culminates with Invasion, a powerful track of a man being invaded and conquered by his female lover (a vengeful turn of the tables after the all the album's shameless but playful and juvenile womanizing) that features ambient guitar tracks that lurk throughout the song until finally building up to an incredible, epic conclusion with a collage of guitar sounds that represents a massive UFO invasion and ultimate capture with a bizarre, unsettling, very hypnotic 3 note guitar loop that repeats for over 2 minutes and abruptly ends.
Quite coincidentally, the amazing drummer on this album Bobby Rock is not only from my home town of Houston, but was good friends and went to high school with my older half sister, coming over to the house on occasion (not the one I lived in though) not too long before he hit it big with Vinnie Vincent Invasion.
This album also features one of my favorite album covers with a symmetrical graphically designed cover depicting a UFO invasion of a city that is pure graphic satisfaction of linear perspective and typography. I liked the album cover so much that I drew it with colored pencils when I was 13 years old at my grandmother's house, and she suggested I do graphic design which is what I would ultimately receive college degrees in years later.
Needless to say, this album made quite the indelible impression on 5th grade me and completely blows me away to this very day as though I'm hearing it again for the first time.
Mr. Mister - Welcome to the Real World
As a kid in the 1980's, my family would gather around almost every Saturday to watch Saturday Night Live. When I was about 9 years old, we watched an episode that had musical guests who played a song called Broken Wings which I had heard on the radio a few times. I was inexplicably drawn to the keyboardist of all people, as I had just started taking guitar lessons and loved hard rock and heavy metal. The song was sparce, and didn't even have drums come in until midway through the song, so the keyboards had plenty of room to be prominent. It was the first time I remember seeing someone play a keyboard live, and I wasn't sure what I was even listening to with so much atmosphere coming from just the keyboard player.
At first I missed the name of the band so...
At first I missed the name of the band so I made sure I stay glued to the TV since I knew the musical guests came on a second time. Then when they came back on and were announced as Mr. Mister, I made sure I made a mental note and was blown away once again as they played Kyrie. My Dad was also blown away at the fact that right in the middle of the decade of devil's 80's rock that a song would be played anywhere that sang "Kýrie, eléison" (Lord have mercy). So at my next trip to the record store I'd have a way easier time convincing my parents to let me buy the Welcome to the Real World tape by Mr. Mister than I ever did any KISS albums.
What excited me most about first listening to the tape was that the whole album start to finish was just so good. I loved every song, and it was so incredibly fresh to me. I had always found the keyboard sound to be cheesy before, but these were so tasteful and powerful along with the full drum sound, sparce but distinct guitar licks, and strong vocals. This to me was a perfect modern sound for 1985 and '86, and it was the soundtrack that took me from the 4th grade into the 5th grade.
The 10 songs are crafted in such a satisfying order that they build up to each sing at just the right time. Black and White opens up with a carefree feel, and leads right into Uniform of Youth with an almost militant drum beat, dare I say industrial-sounding synth background, layers of arpeggiated keyboards reminiscent of the movie Tron, and a tasteful guitar solo. Then Don't Slow Down delves into a deliciously mushy and serious 80's romantic dilemma, which leads into Run to Her which quite honestly is one of the most beautiful ballads I've ever heard to this day. Side 1 ends with In My Own Hands, where every member takes their chops to the next level before Side 2 opens with 3 straight songs that were plastered all over the radio in the mid '80's.
Is It Love opens Side 2 as the perfect 80's movie soundtrack archetype, and you could swear you've heard it somewhere in the opening credits of some movie. Then Kyrie eases in with a synth bass under beat, and lays down a major hammer when the fat drums and loud guitar come crashing in. This song was a rarity in that it wasn't pushing for shock value with the flirtation of devil worship or admonishing God as so much music did at that time. It was instead a positive anthem that managed to not come across as cheesy. Then finally, Broken Wings arrives with the incredible multi-layered synthesizers and polished melodies that lingers until the drums finally emerge with a groove along with a synthesizer soundscape of vast atmosphere. This is the apex of the album, followed by 2 tracks that are somehow light-hearted and depressing at the same time. Tangent Tears for some reason always gave me a somber feeling despite its less serious tone, and the closing title track has a fun tempo and keyboards, but I remember always feeling sad when listening to this song because I truly didn't want the album to end. The final seconds of the song have a deep pulsating drum beat that reverberates far into the distance with the synthesizer staying on one set of notes, to finally have drum beat end and the synthesizers fade with a guitar note ringing out. This part always made me want to cry although I never actually did so, and most often I would then quickly flip the tape over and play just the opening track of the album to take away most of the sadness.
This is how impactful this album was to me even at the young age of 9. To further build up the legend of this album for me, Mr. Mister's guitarist Steve Farris contributed ghost guitar playing on my favorite album of all time KISS Creatures of the Night. Mr. Mister is also entirely comprised of session musicians, which is incredible to me as the level of emotion contained on this album is anything but clinical or what may be expected of musicians usually sought after for their technical skills. This album was the impetus of my marrying the guitar with synthesizers.
Skinny Puppy - VIVIsectVI
I first happened across Skinny Puppy in the 8th grade when a neighbor came over to hang out with a pretty girl I was friends with (he probably wasn't there just to see me). And the 2 of them struck up a conversation about all of these groups I hadn't heard of, as I was just starting to get into electronic groups like New Order and Depeche Mode after being such a metal head my whole life. Skinny Puppy was one of the groups mentioned, and I asked if that was really the name of a real group and they both looked at each other and laughed with a "silly rabbit!" vibe.
Fast forward a few months, and...
Fast forward a few months, and my best friend gave me Skinny Puppy's Rabies tape left at his apartment by his neighbor along with Ministry's Land of... After sitting in my drawer for 2 years I curiously popped in Rabies and was immediately hooked. A few months later, I was at a friend's house party and in his bedroom where people were smogging out (I abstained much to the annoyance of everyone) there was some guy drawing sketches while music was blaring of what I instantly knew had to be Skinny Puppy. The songs would be Who's Laughing Now and Testure. I had really like Rabies but instantly loved whatever album this was.
I rushed to the record store within a couple days and surmised it was the album VIVIsectVI from remembering the sample "who's laughing now" matching the song title.
From start to finish this album had zero filler or uninteresting tracks. Never had I heard such an organic form of complex electronic music that lacked the rigid feel of most other bands. Songs like VX Gas Attack and Human Disease had dance beats but no clear verse-chorus-verses or any discernible hooks. In fact none of the tracks did!
Harsh Stone White has a very unique drum loop to it and several emotional, contemplative moments in it that is astonishing especially for such a harsh sound and genre. This song would often be in my head during this time as a representation of feeling a little crazy while my parents separated, and the moments of sustained notes and distant distorted melodies absorbed much pain and sadness for me, and made me feel affirmed that I wasn't the only one feeling crazy and in despair with the world. After that emotional roller coaster, Human Disease follows and picks the tempo right back up.
This album is another example of seamless visual art to go with the sound of an album, with beautiful dark x-ray imagery to go with the vivi sect theme. A true master piece by Skinny Puppy to accompany so many other incredible unmatched works by them.
The Cure - Disintegration
For some strange reason but perhaps fittingly, I'm vague about how I came into possession of Disintegration by The Cure on tape. I was a high school sophomore and I either got it from my first ever real girlfriend, or my friend Steve. It was the summer before my sophomore year of high school. My girlfriend had become involved with someone else and I was crushed. Looking back now it of course seems silly, but at the time it was without a doubt devastating. I had somehow gotten mono, was bed-ridden for almost 2 weeks, my already slim 15 year old body had lost a lot of weight.
So by the time 10th grade began in the fall...
So by the time 10th grade began in the fall, I was quite stripped down and had a long road ahead of healing. To make matters worse, things began to unravel between my parents shortly after. What I was experiencing was more than a garden variety teenage sadness spell - I was experiencing my first bout with deep depression for the first time in my life. Even though my girlfriend asked for forgiveness and I stayed with her after she ended her involvement with the other dude, I found myself with a very damaged self esteem that would take the better part of a year to repair. Enter The Cure's Disintegration. Up to this point, I had a few songs from them on tape, but upon listening to this full album I was enraptured by the sheer length of the album and range of moods through the course it. Somehow it allowed me to escape my despair while expressing my despair at the same time. From the beginning, the lush atmosphere and layers of the guitars, bass, and synths of the opening track Plainsong right into the utterly beautiful Pictures of You and Closedown, passionate Last Dance, gritty Fascination Street, and Prayers for Rain, allowed me to swim in all the sounds surrounding me. Love Song and Lullaby (a song with some of my favorite guitar work on the album) sonically brought things more up front with extremely clever layered guitar parts that stirred up my sensibility as a guitar player and highly creative song writing. The album culminated to a fast-paced climax with the title track racing towards the end with crashing drums, arpeggiated synthesizers, thick bassline, and layered guitars, with the epic album ending with the breathtakingly gorgeous Untitled with tender lyrics and a soothing, satisfying melody.
This is an album that takes me on such a long adventure with so many varying nuanced emotions that I forget that all of the emotions on the album are still confined within the sad and somber range of the emotional spectrum. What amazes me is that while it is a beautifully sad master piece of an album, I've never found myself drained of fatigue after experiencing the whole album and have frequently listened to the whole album a few times in succession. It is also astounding that a band that had already produced such incredible music up to this point was able to create this amount of solid, impactful music still. Disintegration is another album that came along in my life at just the right time, guiding and validating my sadness and providing a world of refuge for me to express all these new and difficult emotions while showing me a way through and out of the sadness. It also appealed to my own creativity as a musician, demonstrating that all this sadness could create music and sounds that are quite beautiful and powerful.
Consolidated - The Myth of Rock
I bought this tape for myself on my 15th birthday along with Die Warzau's Disco Rigido at the mall. I had the songs Consolidated, Message to the People, and This is a Collective recorded on tape from my best friend Chris's vinyl collection as an aspiring DJ (as he introduced an enormous amount of electronic/club music that opened up my metal head mind). So I got the full length album and was immediately hooked to the power of the music and energy of its lyrics although I didn't understand much of what they were rapping about.
This was the early 90's, and they were...
This was the early 90's, and they were lamenting hyper capitalism decades before concepts like democratic socialism became mainstream and years before similar sentiments were made popular by the likes of Rage Against the Machine. I had no idea what they meant by fighting fascism, what a collective was, what they meant by lamenting American exceptionalism, or why they claimed rock and pop music were nothing more than a mirage and just a means of distraction (hence the Myth of Rock album title). I just knew that I liked their style: full spectrum sound with low bass, vocal distortion to arouse attention, and elaborate sampling.
Along with the 3 tracks mentioned, one of my other favorite songs on the album has always been America Number One, with a disturbing but poignant sample from the movie The Network of Warren Beatty's chilling monolog about the utter grip of corporate control over all aspects of our lives, to the point of usurping America and its very democracy itself.
The album is a continuous thread of beats, woven layers of samples, and a huge range of heavy topics including racial inequality, sexism, environmental abuse, the misogyny of rock music, reproductive rights, dumbing down of consumers, hyper consumerism, labor rights, and galvanizing against all of these oppressive things present in our institutions. Most of it was well over my 9th grade education and far to the left of my conservative upbringing up to that point, but the delivery and aesthetic of this album has had a profound sonic influence on me to this day.
The beats and their sound on this album is still unmatched, with the flurry of beats in songs like Consolidated and Strike, the danceable beats of This is a Collective, America Number One, and It's About That Time, and extreme deep heavy beats of White American Male and Love, Honor, and Respect. The amount of sound and speaking samples are so numerous that I've over the years found myself recognizing the samples in movies like This is Spinal Tap and The Network, and songs by artists like Prince, N.W.A. and a lot more.
The Myth of Rock is an absolute masterpiece by Consolidated, right down to the album cover that I drew when I came down with mono a few months after I bought the tape. The artistry of this album opened my mind and eyes, and introduced me to the marriage of politics and music like I had not heard before and (other that Rate Against the Machine) haven't heard since.
Aes Dana - Pollen
Around the year 2000, my enthusiasm towards music being released (particularly in the mainstream) began to wane and by around 2010 my enthusiasm dried up completely. With the exceptions of The Crystal Method, System of a Down, Interpol, and a couple of other groups that rose around 2000, I found myself deeply disappointed and bored of what "the future" was producing. By around 2005 or so I listened almost exclusively to music I had liked previously and was closed off to any new music and frankly thought it all just plain sucked.
Then one day in 2016 I perused YouTube...
Then one day in 2016 I perused YouTube, curious to find any appealing recently released ambient or trance music and stumbled across a good amount of sampler compilations and if I heard a track I liked, I'd try and find more material by that group. Aes Dana was one such group, and when I looked up more material I had hit a mother lode that raised my long dormant spark for music back from the dead, and may very well have resurrected me as a musician. After years of finding myself stagnant musically, it is no coincidence that within a year of finding this much needed shot in the arm I was back to recording my own material at a different level than ever before.
This group's sound and sophistication is a cut far above much of the other novice sounding electronic music around at the time (even though some of it is also quite good). I became obsessed with several of Aes Dana's albums like Perimeters and Leylines, but nothing like the obsession I quickly developed for Pollen. It is start to finish an unbelievable master piece that is palatable today yet still ahead of its time.
The entire album is an incredible journey through atmosphere. Opening track Jetlag Corporation is a moving, stirring introduction to the next hour of your life. Borderline follows as a pensive slow beat that levitates you with its underlying bassline. Tree.Some is the perfect soundtrack for driving through winding roads in a fast but silent racecar. A Carmine Day is another danceable track with a simple low bass hook that keeps you enraptured. Along with the opening track, Riven is my favorite track that truly pulls out emotions you may have suppressed that need releasing. The closing tracks are just as satisfying as all the rest, and even though it's been an hour long journey, there is no fatigue but quite the opposite effect of feeling lighter and more at peace.
On a personal note, this is the album I listened to on the way to and back from driving between Houston and Waco, Texas to see my father in hospice in the last months of his life. Today, I often listen to this when I simply don't have it in me to speak and need something to calm me down and steady my mind so I can concentrate or find inner peace. I am beyond grateful for how this album has helped me through some of the hardest times in recent years of my life.
This album, in my opinion, is the best album to come out so far in the 21st century and is exactly (and beyond) what I had hoped music of the future would sound like leading up to the year 2000. I have no idea what the members of Aes Dana look like and know very little about their biographies (further adding to their mystique), but they are truly superstars to me and are masterful artists with an impeccable catalog.
Other Important Albums
It's taking a lifetime to build the soundtrack to my life, and these masterpieces are at the top. Here are more of the countless albums that accompany my story...
KISS - Unmasked
This particular KISS album is not generally lauded as everyone's favorite along with Destroyer or Alive, but it is very special to me from the growth and company it kept me during a rather jolting time in my life at age 8. After a couple of years of tumult in the home, my older brother whom I idolized all my life finally ran away from home for good. On many levels, it thrust me into places I wasn't at all prepared for: becoming the oldest child in the house to my younger brother and sister, going to my Dad's house on the weekends alone, and many other changes.
I first went into his room...
I first went into his room, which he left untouched, for a little while everyday until I began sleeping in his bed, and eventually I moved into the room altogether. I always envied his room with the navy blue painted walls, a full length mirror, 8 track player and Magnavox stereo with a record player and tape deck with real speakers. This gear was far superior to the small jambox and Fisher Price record player I had always used.
I had a kid-sized plastic orange toy guitar from Toys R Us, complete with stickers of the giraffe mascots, and I decided to peel the stickers off, remove the nylon strings that never tuned to anything, and paint my orange guitar with a super high gloss black Testor paint that my brother had for his model cars and airplanes. I ended up with a pretty cool looking fake black guitar, although a little small for my slightly taller than average frame at the time.
I would come home from school, go into my brother's room, and put tapes into his stereo and lip sync to the music while playing air guitar on my shiny black guitar in front of his full length mirror. After a few days, I found myself only doing this to KISS Unmasked, often 2 or 3 times in a row. I missed my brother so much it hurt, and this was my way of coping with it and trying to maintain some feeling of closeness to him. Unmasked somehow served as a nice, simple album for me to express my new-found dream of being a rock star and exploring what that might look like for me. Tomorrow always stood out to me as my favorite song with its satisfyingly poppy lyrics and sound. You're All That I Want always made me feel sad as it faded out because it ended the album, which was often why I would end up repeating the album over again. I especially liked how Ace Frehley sang 3 songs on this album, my favorites being Talk to Me and Two Sides of the Coin. Naked City and What Makes the World Go Round were also favorites of mine.
After a couple of months, I got a wild hair in me and I took my glossy toy black guitar outside on my street and smashed it into pieces like Pete Townsend so that I would learn to play a real guitar, specifically the Spanish guitar I discovered in the garage that was given to my older brother many years before by my grandfather from Guatemala. I felt that this would force me to really learn instead of just dreaming about it, and a few months later when I turned 9, I began lessons with my brother's old guitar.
In time, I would move my things into his room and hang my own posters. Over the next 2 to 3 years I felt I had grown into that room, very much a rite of passage to become the oldest child in the house. I still listen to KISS Unmasked to this day when I need a sense of a safe space, comfort, or a way to calm down. And I have to think my glossy black toy guitar was a precursor to my having all (but 1) black guitars today.
Queensryche - Operation Mindcrime
Queensryche is a band that was slowly pieced together over many years for me until I really dove deep into them. It started back in elementary school when I would see their name in Hit Parade and Circus magazines, but didn't know how to pronounce it until a classmate of mine started rattling off names of bands who he thought were crappy, and Queensryche was one of them so I then finally knew how their name was pronounced.
A few years later in junior high...
A few years later in junior high, I recorded a show on the radio every Sunday night at 9PM called Metal Block on 101 KLOL in Houston, and in one of these shows I first heard and recorded Breaking the Silence by Queensryche, and I remember liking it and thinking that this was how I imagined them sounding with the odd guitar part at the beginning of the song. Within the next year, I frequently heard other tracks on the Z Rock metal station especially on the weekends when I'd go to my Dad's house, who'd almost always have the radio playing at home and driving. I Don't Believe in Love and Eyes of a Stranger, occasionally along with Operation Mindcrime, were played almost every hour. I really liked the songs but for some reason felt satisfied just recording the songs of the radio in lieu of buying the Operation Mindcrime album. About 2 years later, Queensryche came out with Silent Lucidity from their new album Empire, and I liked it so much that I immediately learned it on the guitar and just loved playing it (still do), and bought the Empire album on tape. Yet I still hadn't bought the Operation Mindcrime album although I'd still loved jamming to the title track and Eyes of a Stranger. Then one day about 25 years after hearing Queensryche in my Dad's truck on the weekends, I decided to finally listen to the whole Operation Mindcrime album on YouTube to enjoy the nostalgia of all those songs from my earlier years. But when finally listening to the whole album, I had no idea that it was a concept album on the level of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon or The Wall, and I couldn't stop listening to it. I had heard the first full track Revolution Calling a few times and did buy the mp3, but hearing how it opened the album and continue right into the onslaught of Operation Mindcrime, Speak, Spreading the Disease, and The Mission was mind blowing. Then the second movement starting with Breaking the Silence, I Don't Believe in Love, and closing out with Eyes of a Stranger truly rounds out an epic album that has more than stood the test of time. The album took on a whole new meaning for me in 2020, when my mother's health quickly declined. For months, anytime I got into my car to drive and see her or come home, I listened to this album. Anarchy-X at the beginning of the album grounded me and gave me much needed focus, and the album would take its course and keep my mind stimulated to help me avoid the heaviness and severity of the prospect of losing my Mom. When she did pass, Operation Mindcrime was the only album I listened to for months just to keep me even remotely grounded. I bought the DVD Operation Livecrime to lose myself in the concert of the album and escape the impossible loss. Operation Mindcrime has had several meanings to me for decades, and I'm beyond grateful for the excitement, growth, and support it's provided for me. To say that it has been an object of my obsession would be an enormous understatement.
Hubert Kah - Sound of My Heart
This album lives right in the heart of my freshman year of high school, once again introduced to me by my best friend Chris when I recorded his So Many People 12" record onto tape. I bought the album on tape a few months later. The album carries such a strong identity as an album, with upbeat tracks and occasional breaks in between them, and is easily listened to from start to finish.
Hubert Kemmler has such...
Hubert Kemmler has such an amazing and distinctly unmistakable voice. The gorgeous synth work of Michael Cretu (who would later record as Enigma) has an enormous impact on the sound and texture of the album. Most tracks are quite danceable and very catchy but without being obnoxious, with driving beats and often an effeminate sensibility with occasional female vocals present like in tracks like Cathy.
One of the things I've always loved about this album is that it has very deep, atmospheric interludes or intros throughout the album, like with the opening track Welcome, Machine Gun, or the middle break of Military Drums.
I have always been especially drawn to the slower tracks Midnight Sun and Victim of Brain, which tug at my heart strings to this day. Midnight Sun is always in my head around Christmas time every year, as the song opens with mention of Christmas Eve and a sound fitting of a cozy winter. The song has a movement into many parts and a buildup that grows throughout the song. It doesn't sound like song released in 1989, but much later. Every time I listen to it, it brings back such a crisp clear memory of what my life was like back then: a cold winter in Houston, a huge amount of new friends at my huge new high school (Hastings in Alief ISD), growing with my handful of lifelong friends, at the peak of my innocence right before the lifting of the veil in the following months of first love, heart break, and long periods of emotional roller coasters.
Victim of Brain, with all its lushness and eeriness, is a slow song that is a notable, powerful departure from the rest of the album. I was still less than a year into discovering electronic music, and this song really took my senses and emotions on a deep fantastic journey that pushed electronic sounds like I hadn't quite heard, much in the way Depeche Mode's Waiting for the Night did for me. This song showcases Hubert Kemmler's ability to define emotion with his wide vocal range, and the band's mastery of complementing his voice.
Among the several other songs I like are Military Drums with its many movements and segments, and melodies that are just cool and impossible to not bob your head to. The title track is a smooth closing track to side 1 and is a perfect example of the beautiful composition of keyboards layered throughout the album. Again, the masterful synthesizer work on this album cannot be overstated. So Many People was the popular single from the album with a distinct hook, and the song has a really cool extended remix version (which is the one I recorded from my best friend).
On top of it, I can't help but love the shameless German pop album cover. Admittedly, I've caught some flack from some of my metalhead friends when popping this in, but I don't care (I see you Steve! 🤣). This album is somehow powerful without being heavy. It is a solid work that I enjoy every time I listen to it.
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Skinny Puppy - Too Dark Park
Loudness - Thunder in the East
Iron Maiden - Somewhere in Time
Front 242 - Official Version
David Bowie - The Man Who Sold the World
Kitchens of Distinction - Strange Free World
Future Sound of London - Lifeforms
Nitzer Ebb - That Total Age
Stryper - Soldiers Under Command
Aphex Twin - Selected Ambient Works Vol. 2
Metallica - Master of Puppets
8Ball & MGJ - Comin' Out Hard
Depeche Mode - Violator
Machines of Loving Grace - Concentration
Willie Nelson - Greatest Hits and Some That Will Be
Nine Inch Nails - Downward Spiral
Def Leppard - Pyromania
Slim Whitman - Greatest Hits
System of a Down - Toxicity
DJ Screw - 3 in the Mornin'
Winger - In the Heart of the Young
Dokken - Back for the Attack
And countless others...
Brian Eno - Plateaux of Mirrors
Y&T - Contagious
Winger - Winger
Machines of Loving Grace - Gilt (Explicit)
Testament - The New Order
Nine Inch Nails - Broken (Explicit)
5th Ward Boys - Ghetto Dope (Explicit)
Anthrax - Among the Living (Explicit)
Iron Maiden - Number of the Beast
Judas Priest - Screaming for Vengeance
Def Leppard - Hysteria
Beastie Boys - Check Your Head (Explicit)
Daft Punk - Homework
Ministry - Twitch
Yngwie Malmsteen - Marching Out, Eclipse