Through A Note Darkly: The Beatles, Sleater-Kinney, Slayer

Through A Note Darkly is a weekly feature on thegreatalbums.com in which contributor Chris Vill ranks and reflects on three albums he's heard a lot about, but has never heard in full before.

3. Slayer: Reign In Blood (1986)

Personal Favorite: “Angel of Death”

Summarizing Lyric: “Trapped in purgatory” off of “Raining Blood"

Between the ages of thirteen and fifteen metal was my solace. Imagery of abacination and a guy screaming Satan through my earbuds were lullabies and I have no idea how I was able to listen to such dark music without getting angrily depressed in some way. Oh wait, I did get depressed, and I was angry at the world for reasons I can’t remember (probably because they were pretty much nonexistent), but those extreme emotions are just side-effects of being a teenager for some people. Yes, listening to Slayer for the first time in four years at 2 AM gave me the creeps (I kept thinking a hand was going to erupt from the ground Evil Dead style and drag me down to hell), but I think it was a healthy enough outlet for thirteen-year-old me to let all those emotions out. For example, on my first day of middle school I wore a Slayer shirt with a pentagram on it and Slayer shoes with the same design because I needed an identity and Slayer gave me the temporary identity of Quiet Metal Kid that I needed when I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere and they did it with pretty good music. I never listened to the album all the way through as a kid, but now that I have I see that it is unwavering in its intensity, brutal in its lyrical imagery, and successful in its goal to disturb the audience and get them moving (you can’t help but headbang to “Angel of Death”). Would I listen to it again? Probably not in its entirety. I’ve moved on, my music preferences have changed, and I replaced Slayer with a gym membership to sweat out the angst, but I’ll always look back fondly on metal for being a bodiless third parent that I could relate to for a couple years.

2. The Beatles: Rubber Soul (1965)

Personal Favorite: “I’m Looking Through You”

Summarizing Lyric: “All these places had their moments … in my life I’ve loved them all” off of “In My Life”

Love is one of the best experiences life has to offer, but sometimes it hurts. The Beatles created a sound for this violent relationship between love and pain by having the songs on Rubber Soul at each other’s throats. “Drive My Car” is an attention grabber full of bluesy, distorted riffs from George Harrison and made larger than life by John Lennon’s 60’s screamo vocal delivery, but the song is immediately countered by something mystical, less emotional and more contemplative, the sitar-driven “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown).” Love goes up and down in the way the orchestration of Rubber Soul does, but the constant that holds the album together is the lyrical exploration of the Nowhere Man wandering through his love life. In “Norwegian Wood” we see the Nowhere Man get rejected by a woman (his violent reaction of burning her house of Norwegian Wood down is explored again in “Run For Your Life” with lyrics like “I’d rather see you dead, little girl, than to be with another man”), in “Michelle” we see him unable to say “Je t’aime,” in “Girl” we see him in a toxic relationship (“She’s the kind of girl who puts you down”), throughout the album we see the Nowhere Man struggle with love, but then we hear him reflect and say “in my life I’ve loved them all” and we realize that it’s the struggle to find someone to fall in love with, the struggle to maintain it, and the struggle to fall out of it that makes love grand. With tunes and emotions ranging from hushed to fiery, Rubber Soul shows that if it weren’t for us Nowhere People falling in love like fools, expecting it not to hurt as Nowhere People do, love wouldn’t be one of the most craved human experiences.

1. Sleater-Kinney: Sleater-Kinney (1995)

Personal Favorite: “The Last Song”

Summarizing Lyric: “I don’t owe you anything” off of “The Last Song”

Twenty-two minutes of bewitchingly amplified sludge crashing into some of the most definitive Riot Grrrl lyrics ever put on tape (“I won’t suck your big ego and swallow my pride” off of “How To Play Dead”) took this week’s trophy. The rawness of the record made it feel like the band used my speakers as a portal into my head where they played live, just for me, and eventually took control of my entire body, making me mosh in a crowd of one and sing along to songs I had never heard before. Along with turning me into a puppet, Sleater-Kinney’s debut album twisted my fairly privileged ears until I started feeling a bit of the pain and frustration that’s been frothing up under the skin of all those who have been labeled as lesser under a patriarchal society for centuries (a pain I sometimes become oblivious to). In a year where a Ghostbusters reboot received an onslaught of hate (partly because women were leading the film) this album reminded me of how important it is to take in as many perspectives as possible because, as much as I love the album, if the humans in charge throughout history had taken the time to hear the voices of the humans around them (looking beyond skin color, sexual orientation, gender, etc.), then something as angry as Sleater-Kinney might not have ever been possible or necessary. 

Sleater-Kinney got under my skin, just like the other two albums I listened to for the first time this week, but this album elevated itself to a whole other level by bursting its way out from underneath my skin with Carrie Brownstein’s vexed screeching of “I don’t owe you anything!” leaving me shaking in my socks, ready for another musical slap fueled by 90s Riot Grrrl frustration.

P.S. If you'd like to listen to some of my favorite songs off of these albums before going out to support music and purchase some, follow my "Through A Note Darkly Favorites" playlist on Spotify! https://open.spotify.com/user/1235684137