Column: The Path to Paradise Begins in Hell


Everyone has an album that they fondly remember as their first foray into metal, one that makes us feel nostalgic from time to time. Years later, after the countless albums and concerts one has gone to and listened to, we still remember our first, and we tend to defend it when someone talks shit about it. This led to the idea of exploring gateway albums, who or what introduced us to it, and how we came to love metal as our genre of choice.

After all, metal is one of those genres you get introduced to when you are old enough to make your own choices and you start rebelling against your parents. Thus we begin a new journey with our friend Hera so dive in and stay tuned for more chapters in this story.


When metal was first introduced to me, I was a casual music listener. If I did listen to music, it was the “emo” rock music that was starting to fade out in the late 2000s or classical music, which consisted of recorded concertos, orchestral pieces, and opera. I also grew up listening to the radio, which was always in Spanish (English radio didn’t come into play until I was in middle school, when I was 12). However, as I got older I began to realize that the music I was being exposed wasn’t what I wanted. Rock music was a good start, but something was missing. At some point during ninth grade, I had an epiphany that led me to the path down the metal rabbit hole: I needed to find the heaviest listening matter in the universe.

Cue my friend, Schmidty, and his love for metal music.

I met him through mutual friends when I did theater in high school. He was a grade older than me and was cast in the show I was in. We spent a lot of time hanging out together backstage, and he would show me the music he was into. Having no knowledge of the genre, I got thrown into the sharks before knowing what was going on. I was horrified yet intrigued, as the music was just different from everything else I had heard at that point. However, I wasn’t ready for the heavier stuff just yet, the extreme metal that I kept hearing about. Thus, he suggested that I make a Pandora account and listen to one of his favorite symphonic metal bands, Xandria.

“Give them a try. I think symphonic metal might be right up your alley.”

When I got home that day, I made the aforementioned account using my dad’s e-mail address, created a Xandria station, and the rest was history.


Personal Gateway Albums

Because I used Pandora a lot between 2009 and 2012 and didn’t learn to torrent until I was a sophomore in college, I had to get creative in order to explore and find music. I asked friends for copies of the digital files. I learned to convert YouTube videos into mp3 files that I could put them on my iPod. I installed LimeWire into my computer and learned to look for music there. It also helped that I had access to the Internet since I was a kid and I knew my way around a search engine. This eventually led to my discovery of Spotify in 2013, which led me to consume music exponentially. Now, without further ado, here are the gateway albums that led me to favor metal as my genre of choice.

kamelot - ghost opera

Kamelot – Ghost Opera (2007):  Power metal tends to be cheesy in nature, but, when I first discovered this band, I didn’t think so. Kamelot was one of the first bands I was introduced to, with Ghost Opera being one of the first albums I got the digital files for in late 2008 / early 2009. I remember listening to the album on repeat on the way to school and feeling comforted by Roy Khan’s voice. At the time, Roy’s voice was my favorite male voice in metal, because of the emotion behind it and how it was different from every other voice I was familiar with. It added color and dynamics to the band’s music, which was one of the main highlights I kept coming back to as I kept listening to them. The music was also majestic and bombastic, enveloping me into fully listening to each part of the structure and then picking it apart. This was music that deserved to be played loud, which led to funny situations where I couldn’t hear what anyone was saying. I also remember wanting to be him; in the theater, I would sing out loud to the vocals, imitating the timbre and the tone to the best of my ability. Ghost Opera opened my eyes to another world that existed outside of my sphere of knowledge, and I wanted to fully be part of it. I decided to go deep into Kamelot’s back catalogue before the release of Poetry For The Poisoned, which led to a chance encounter with…


Epica – Design Your Universe (2009):  By late 2009 / early 2010, I had mastered LimeWire and exploited Wikipedia to its full potential by reading band histories, album release dates, and using the albums listed to edit the recently downloaded files after making sure I hadn’t downloaded a virus. Despite Xandria being the first symphonic metal band I became familiar with, Design Your Universe was the first symphonic metal album I listened to. Prior to this, Pandora had showed me two songs from Epica’s previous album, “Never Enough” and “Chasing The Dragon”. I wasn’t impressed by either, but that didn’t stop me from looking into them. Something about the artwork struck me as interesting, so I went looking. When I found out that Epica had released an album in 2009, I decided to take a listen. I remember being blown away by the sheer power behind it; the combination of operatic vocals, growls, and orchestration was perfect and it made sense. Something in my brain had clicked about metal and classical music going hand in hand, which made symphonic metal my subgenre of choice until 2014. Simone’s vocals also became a huge part of my vocal repertoire; I fully became committed to teach myself how to sing so I could sing “Unleashed” on my own. This led me to look for some singers in the genre, which led me to Anneke van Giersbergen and her part in…

devin townsend project - addicted

Devin Townsend Project – Addicted (2009):  My love for Devin Townsend and his music is such a big part of my life that I actually spent a week writing about the Devin Townsend Project and its music. Anneke’s impressive musical collaborations led me there via Moonspell’s “Scorpion Flower” in 2010. I wanted to know who she was, and her association with Devin Townsend kept showing up as something that needed to be listened to. Throwing full caution to the wind, I went headfirst into the Project, never looking back into the choices I made. Reflecting on Addicted back in December, I had this to say on the album when I first discussed it:

“Addicted is everything that I always imagined metal to be: accessible, melodic, and approachable. It’s a bad idea when the music you create is so bloody pretentious that you can’t listen to it. In Addicted’s case, what I always felt that was so accessible about this album were the lead vocals of Anneke can Giersbergen, one of Devin’s most frequent collaborators. Her voice is essentially the perfect counterpart to Devin’s, allowing for the music to fully come alive. When I first heard her voice all those years ago, I knew that I wanted to find out who she was and why her voice was so melodic. I think if Devin hadn’t included Anneke on the album, I think the point of the album would have been lost. She makes the album come alive in a way that not even the progressive nature of the album could have done it. Given the success of the album then, I [am] also happy he brought her back for more albums in the project.”


That ends this trip down memory lane. It was interesting to go back and revisit these albums, especially both Ghost Opera and Design Your Universe. I have not listened to either of them in years.

Now, this will not be limited to just personal gateway albums; where’s the fun in that? Thus, I decided to extend gateways into our favorite subgenres, and these three are a good place to start. This will be a monthly column, as we take the month to explore albums that could be considered gateways into their respective subgenres. However, nadie nace sabiendo (“no one is born knowing”), so if you have a gateway album into a subgenre that you love and would like me to explore, feel free to send it to me. I am always interested into exploring just how far into the metal rabbit hole we can go.

Until next time!

– Hera


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