If you regularly read heavy music reviews then the name José Carlos Santos shouldn’t be unfamiliar to you. He’s been writing with passion about heavy music and extreme metal for many, many years now, including various magazines and outlets, but mainly for Terrorizer. José is also one of the Creative Consultants at Roadburn Festival, where he writes band announcements on the Roadburn website, writes blurbs in the Roadburn programme, contributes to the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch zine, and also recommends bands and artists to the Roadburn organisers. So all the more reason to ask José about the 3 records that have influenced his musical journey the most, which as you can read below wasn’t an easy task!
As a full-time music writer, it is natural that I often think about my relationship with music, what it means to me, how it has changed me and the course of my life from the very young age in which I became forever infatuated with it. It’s not even only about my personal case – part of what actually drives me to do what I do is to know everybody else’s stories of their own infatuation, their story, their records, their bands, their shows, what made them get into music and what keeps them ticking. From musicians, to fellow writers, to the regular fan that might have no activity related to music but for whom the passion is there for life as well, everyone’s path is unique and, more often than not, a fascinating journey for itself.
When I received this wonderful invitation (thank you!), however, I had to dig a little deep. The initial “only three records? You’re crazy.” impulse had to be suppressed, and so, that list of roughly 437 records that changed my life had to be cut down to its bare essentials. So, these are not only essential for who I am today, as a writer, as a lover of music and even as a person, but they also became important at a time when everything was rawer, a lot was waiting to be shaped, when a lot of what was happening was poised to be pivotal. Conclusion – if I’m being too verbose right now, it’s not strictly my fault. These three records have a lot to answer for as well.
Manowar – Kings Of Metal
My dear friend JJ Koczan, on this very same feature, started his text on Alice In Chains’ Dirt by mentioning he owned it before he owned a CD player. Funnily enough, a more or less similar situation happened with me and this, the very first metal record I listened to, and eventually the first one I purchased as well. My dad had just bought a brand new stereo, but I didn’t have any CDs to listen to, and I had no idea what to get. I knew I didn’t like any of the things that were popular on TV and among my colleagues, at least. I suppose the first seeds for the things I like today were already planted before the actual music barged in – by the time I was ten years old, I loved to draw monsters, aliens, blood and guts scenes and medieval fantasy figures, was very much into comic books, and had actually stared curiously at Iron Maiden album covers wondering what that music must sound like while super scared at the same time. One day, I must have been almost eleven, a couple of older guys at school were exchanging CDs they had just gotten to record to tape, and one of them had Kings Of Metal. One glance at the cover was all I needed to work up the courage to ask him if he’d lend me the CD for just one day so I could make a copy at home. He did (I often think how I’d be today if he’d said no), and so I spent that summer obsessively listening to that tape on my old walkman that had never seen much use. I didn’t really have access to many music magazines, I had no idea about the amazing underground network of fanzines or tape-trading or anything, really, and so I didn’t investigate about Manowar, if they had any other records, or if there were any other similar bands I could listen to. That summer in my parents’ little summer place in the Algarve I was about playing Kings Of Metal, over and over, writing down the lyrics in a notebook as I heard them, making notes of the references, designing the band logo on all my school notebooks just right. Curiosity did emerge in the end, and a few weeks later I decided to risk my allowance on one of the bands whose name I already knew – I splurged for Iron Maiden’s Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son, and shortly after begged my grandma who was on a walk with me to buy me the other name that was familiar, which turned out to be Metallica’s Ride The Lightning. I guess you could say that from then on I was well on my way.
So that’s the story, but Kings Of Metal is not just a contextual kickstart. Even today it’s a hell of a heavy metal record. It does border on the silly very often, for recent generations especially, with the over the top ballad (‘Heart Of Steel’), the bass-only cover of ‘Flight Of The Bumblebee’ (‘Sting Of The Bumblebee’), the CD-only bonus (how times have changed!) song that I couldn’t hear out loud when my parents were around (‘Pleasure Slave’), the narrated story (‘The Warrior’s Prayer’), and the self-referencing last song (‘Blood Of The Kings’), but looking at it like that is missing the point entirely. The whole thing is heavy metal escapism at its very best, and underneath its bigger-than-life exterior lie truly great songs that have stood the test of time, and in fact this applies to Manowar’s entire discography up to, and including, The Triumph Of Steel. I actually recently got the ultimate proof of that – just last month I was at a Ross The Boss show on which the legendary guitarist played a set of Manowar songs. Despite looking much weaker and more disoriented than I expected, the man totally nailed them, but the same can’t be said for the rest of his band. Drummer Rhino, who was in Manowar for a little while, was the least worst of the bunch, but vocalist Marc Lopes and particularly bassist Mike LePond were atrociously, painfully off the mark. Did I care? Did anyone? Well, just a tiny bit, but whatever. We all sang our hearts out, every single word of every single song, because the songs survived. They are that strong, still.
Winter – Into Darkness
Fast forward a couple of years, and by 1991 I had become a big lad – literally, too, as I had a growth spurt around that time when I became basically as tall as I am today. All the high hopes I had of keeping it up, growing past two meters and going on to be a basketball player and/or a high jumper never came true, but at least my taste in metal was growing steadily and would continue to do so to this very day I’m writing these words, with no sign of letting up so far. I suppose that’s fair. Anyway, by this time I had bought quite a few more CDs, I was starting to get fascinated by the more extreme genres – I was already into Napalm Death, Slayer and had recently acquired Deicide’s debut album, but the big mind-blowing was about to happen. It was actually a one-two punch, as I got both these records in the same day, which is kind of amazing thinking about today – Autopsy’s Mental Funeral (still the best death metal record of all time if you ask me) and Winter‘s Into Darkness. Not to minimise Autopsy’s impact in the slightest, if I had been invited to write about ten records instead of three, they’d be in the list, but despite the filthy, twisted, unreal approach to death metal, it was still death metal. Winter, on the other hand, I had no idea what it was. I could call it doom, although I hadn’t had much experience with the genre, I was aware of several bands and their characteristics by then, but that didn’t help grasp this piece of horror in any comfortable way. Nothing was comfortable about Into Darkness, I felt confused and uneasy the first times I listened to it. I felt like an awkward kid (well, I was one, but even more so) being told to dance and not knowing what to do with his hands, except I didn’t know what to do with my ears and with my brain. None of these feelings pushed me away, however – the more the raw horror of ‘Servants Of The Warsmen’ or ‘Goden’ made my skin crawl, the more I wanted to listen to it again. Eventually the songs clicked, as songs, but the feeling that something is off still remained – still remains, today – and once I realised I actually liked that, that I wanted music to do that to me, to challenge me, to tease me, to hurt me even, to make me feel all kinds of different things, as soon as I was aware that I didn’t want music to be just ear-candy enjoyment, I damn nearly felt my mind blowing its doors wide open.
Into Darkness isn’t a particularly complicated record, alright? I know that. It’s not like I got a John Zorn album and spent nights awake trying to make sense of it. But at the age of thirteen/fourteen, these songs forced me to change the way I perceived music as a whole, to redefine everything I expected and wanted out of music. If you’ve read my stuff in any of the mags or sites I work for, you know how much I like unpleasant, opaque, ugly music. I might have even suggested a band with those characteristics that I found under a rock somewhere that you like. Well, we owe all of it to Winter. Since the band split up after this record, I spent my life thinking I’d never see them live. You can imagine how it felt to me when they reunited to play Roadburn in 2011. If you spotted some bearded dude in the audience weeping to fucking Winter, of all bands, and thought it was weird, well, now you know why.
Leonard Cohen – Cohen Live
I have previously written in copious amounts about the importance of Leonard Cohen for my development in several areas, I’ve called him “the man who inspired me the most to fully understand the power of words, the even greater power of words in a song” on a recent feature, I have two of his drawings tattooed on my left wrist (a guitar and a broken pen), and alongside Terry Pratchett perhaps, he is one of the main original reasons why I’m even here right now, writing to other people in a language that is not my native one, a language I became obsessed about because of the way other people have used it before. Leonard is also the tip of the iceberg in regards to my appreciation of the singer/songwriter, the quieter ones, the lonelier ones, the ones who don’t get the benefit of hiding behind a wall of noise or a dehumanising scream. It is, however, unusual for a teenager who’s largely into extreme metal, to suddenly veer into Leonard Cohen, as you’ll surely agree. A fifteen year old just exposed to the world of Norwegian black metal, who also listened to the Barnes-led Cannibal Corpse on an almost daily basis and whose favourite band was quickly becoming My Dying Bride, as I was, isn’t the hottest tip to start humming a waltz called ‘Dance Me To The End Of Love’ all of a sudden. And yet, that is exactly what happened. Cohen Live is a bit of a flimsy compilation of live songs, only thirteen of them on a single CD, taken from the I’m Your Man (1988) and The Future World (1993) tours. At the time it was Leonard’s first live album since Live Songs, but in the grand scheme of things, and for a Leonard connoisseur especially, it’s not really the most exciting thing ever, despite the quirky way he sang some of the songs, changing the lyrics here and there, more often than he already used to do in his shows. For some reason, however, the thing was advertised on TV here in Portugal before it was released, and a big part of the commercial featured a clip of Leonard singing ‘Dance Me To The End Of Love’. I never really had any kind of tough-guy posturing, nor do I wanted to be the most metallic of metalheads, but come on, this isn’t the thing you’re supposed to like as a teenage metalhead, and as open-minded as you want to be, these imaginary boundaries do tend to stick to your head when you’re that young, particularly being that young in the still pre-internet mid-90s. Yet, I found myself infuriatingly humming that bit of song all day long, and being drawn to that long-faced man in a suit and the way he said those words, the eyes closed, the pronunciation, the depth and gravel of the voice.
So I went and bought the damn thing when it came out. And naturally, all lingering half-prejudices were instantly thrown out the window. Contrary to many Leonard fans, ‘Suzanne’ wasn’t the first brick to hit me – in this album, it’s actually the closing song –, after the obvious opener ‘Dance Me To The End Of Love’ there is ‘Bird On The Wire’, ‘Everybody Knows’, ‘Joan Of Arc’ as an unsurpassed triptych, and there’s also ‘Hallelujah’, ‘Sisters Of Mercy’, ‘I’m Your Man’ (a much darker version that the tongue-in-cheek original studio version) and a bunch of other classics that seemed to be injected straight to my heart from the very first listen. From guilty pleasure to lifelong obsession, it was a matter of 71:50 minutes. I quickly acquired the entire past discography and followed the man until the end of his life, always learning something from each record, each song, each word. My musical palette is unimaginably richer because of this starting point, not to mention the absence of any metal elitism that I might have developed. Leonard quickly led to Nick Cave, Tom Waits, Johnny Cash, Tim Buckley, Townes Van Zandt and even Scott Walker, among many, many others, and an ad on TV for a so-so live compilation was all it took. “I was 15 when I first became deeply touched by the rhythm and structure of words,” Leonard once said. Well, so was I. So was I.