Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Tapes That Changed Everything

A friend of mine reminded me the other day about an old cassette that circulated among the long haired and beardless youth in the small town where I grew up in the late 80s and early 90s. On the a-side you could hear The Misfits classic album “Walk Among Us” and when you flipped it over you could hear The Accüseds “The Return Of…Martha Splatterhead”. I think it was a third or fourth generation copy of the original tape so the sound was wobbly and slightly distorted. But this tape changed so much for me. This was the age of hair metal and in Sweden heavy metal was defined as Europe post “The Final Countdown”. Yes there was an underground scene with a newly born death metal baby but nothing had quite happened just yet. And there was no Internet to go to for further exploration. The only way to find out about this kind of stuff if you didn’t live in a bigger city were through imported issues of Metal Hammer and the radio show Rockbox that the national public service radio presented every Saturday for 45 minutes. And through the tapes that people copied and shared.

I still love that album by The Misfits. I love everything with the old The Misfits actually. And I love the whole cross-over thing which The Accused was part of. That tape changed my life in many ways. As did another one with the album “Under The Sign Of The Black Mark” by Swedish black/death metal pioneers Bathory. Now Bathory was without a doubt one of the most evil things you could listen to. Bands like W.A.S.P or Venom had nothing on Bathory when it came to the sense that it was very dangerous music to listen to.

Pure. Fucking. Evil.

On that same tape another groundbreaking album was to be found: Napalm Deaths “Scum”. This groundbreaking grindcore classic was the antithesis of all the glam and glitter that was ruling the metal scene at that time. It was raw and unpolished and sounded even worse on that fifth generation copy. But that didn't matter because this tape changed my view of how fast and heavy metal could sound.

Total. Sonic. Death.

I mentioned Rockbox earlier. This radio show has more importance than many can imagine for Swedish metal even today. The generation who grew up listening to this show went out and started bands like Entombed, Opeth, In Flames, Graveyard and lots of other bands that today are part of Sweden's good reputation as a metal nation. The shows were 45 minutes every week of the latest metal albums and interviews with Swedish and international acts. Here you can hear talks with Tom Araya about “South Of Heaven”, Lars Ulrich about “…And Justice For All” and Scott Ian about “Among The Living”. There were also demos played almost every week with totally unknown Swedish bands. And there is that rare interview with Bathory's mastermind Quorthon that should be hard to find anywhere today if it wasn’t for the fact that people sat in their rooms taping the show and then traded them between each other. I was one of them. I have about twenty of them on C90 cassettes. You could fit in two of them on one cassette and they were the sole source of real knowledge about what was happening in the wonderful world of heavy metal. The show ended in December 1989 but the trading of tapes is going on to this very day online.

But the one tape that most definitely changed my life forever was that one that a friend of mine made for me in late 1986 with Iron Maiden's “Piece Of Mind” on side a and Metallica's “Creeping Death” EP on the b-side. Now, before that particular tape was handed to me I had never heard Metallica. I was into stuff like Twisted Sister and Mötley Crüe. I got the tape and shortly thereafter got sick with the flu. I didn't care much for Iron Maiden but for one week in bed I constantly listened to “Creeping Death”, “Am I Evil” and “Blitzkreig” over and over again. By the end of the week I had turned into a disciple of Metallica for life and soldier of the metal militia. That tape with those three songs on it not only made me a Metallica fan but in the long run made me discover the whole thrash metal thing, Faith No More and really opened the doors to the NWOBHM for me. Life changed forever. 

Exposing myself as a grumpy old fart I must admit that I miss those tapes with their lousy sound quality. And I curse myself for not taking better care of them. Most of them have been destroyed or just lost in the fog of time. They were a way of discovering new music in a way that I have not experienced since then despite all the Bandcamps, Soundclouds and streams of audio that are exploding with millions of bands today. I still love how the rumors were spread throughout school about tapes with certain albums that were not to be found anywhere else, who got them, and what you had to do to find out how to get a copy. We just wanted to be the coolest kids in school having the coolest albums blasting on our stereos and Sony Walkmans. That feeling will never fade.

- The Void

All you need to know about Rockbox
Bathory – Under the sign of the black mark
The Accüsed – The return of... Martha Splatterhead
Napalm Death – Scum
The Misfits – Walk among us
Metallica – Creeping death

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