It had been rumored and speculated about ever since the band first announced that they were reuniting several years ago, but early last month it became 100% official: for the second time in less than a year, one of my favorite bands ever will be releasing a new album for the first time since I was in high school. Of course this is exciting news (that, until about five or six years ago, I would never have guessed would ever be happening again), and — with some amount of trepidation — I’m really trying to be optimistic about it. But that’s not what I’m here to tell you about.
By this point, I’m assuming any of you who would care at all about this band’s upcoming seventh album have already seen most of the information currently available — and probably even listened to one of the two pre-released singles that have come out so far. So I’m not really intending (or expecting) to inform anybody here. Instead, I’d like to take this opportunity to share an anecdotal description of my own discovery of the band, dating back multiple decades; perhaps to offer a little bit of insight into myself as a writer and a fan. I don’t know whether anyone will actually care about any of this, but considering how influential this was in my formative music-listening years, I felt like I ought to take the time to write it.
Our story begins nearly twenty-five years ago, early in the summer of 1990. This writer was on the brink of turning eleven years old, and — just after finishing fifth grade — was attending a week-long academic camp at California University (in nearby California, PA). This program included living on-campus in a dormitory for the week, and there was a bit of downtime between classes and meals, where I sometimes would find myself hanging out in student lounges and other common areas of campus buildings. Invariably, these rooms would have a tv on, and it seems that they were always set to MTV.
For the younger readers out there, I feel like a quick sidebar is necessary here. When the TV channel MTV was originally created in the early 1980s, the initials stood for “Music Television.” In keeping with this theme, the station typically would broadcast music videos – much like those seen on YouTube today. There were also news segments (which often centered on music and entertainment news, but also sometimes touched on world events), as well as music-related game shows. But most of the programming that was broadcast consisted of videos – either grouped into categories on shows like “Alternative Nation,” “Yo! MTV Raps,” or “Headbangers Ball”, or simply in blocks of whatever songs/artists were new and/or popular at the time. This was prior to the introduction of “MTV’s The Real World” which ushered in an era of what is now known as “reality television” — ultimately leading to the station completely abandoning its original “Music Television” format (basically the same thing that has happened to TLC, which – believe it or not – was once known as “The Learning Channel”).
Anyway, during this particular week (I do not recall the precise dates, but this was either the end of June or beginning of July), there were two specific videos I remember seeing over and over. One was R.E.M.‘s brooding and visually stunning “Losing My Religion” and the other was Faith No More‘s huge breakout single “Epic“. The former band had already been experiencing a fair amount of radio play for earlier albums, and I was aware of their existence (although “Religion” was, and still is, one of that band’s best works); however, the latter video was a completely new revelation to me, one that would forever alter me as a person.
I couldn’t honestly say exactly what it was that drew me to this song so compellingly. The pseudo-rap-kinda-crossover-thrash-style shouted verses (and the gang vocal pre-choruses) were intriguing as they were unlike anything I’d heard before. For that matter, the overly distorted guitar riffs in the intro and verse parts, as well as the powerful punch of the rhythm section, were also thoroughly foreign to my ears. You need to understand, I didn’t have an older brother to introduce me to Master of Puppets, and the bigger kid down the street who occasionally let me help him deliver newspapers was no help either: he never talked about Slayer or even Ozzy Osbourne. So basically, outside of what I heard on the classic rock radio station my dad always was listening to, probably the heaviest music I’d ever been exposed to was either “Welcome To The Jungle” or “Fight For Your Right (to Party)” — both of which were immensely popular among my elementary school peers.
And then, along comes “Epic” — the video itself was utterly captivating with its oversaturated, washed-out colors, and the intense, in-your-face visuals. But musically, between the enormous layers of power chords and huge synth strings (a combination which truly could only be described as fitting the song’s title perfectly), and that ending where all the various parts build and combine into chaos – until it all dies away only to be replaced by a grandiose piano outro (just like “Layla” minus the Duane Allman slide parts) … well. Let’s just say I was completely hooked.
During that week, if I found myself with a spare ten or fifteen minutes before I had to be somewhere, chances are I was in one of those student lounges, hoping to catch that video again. And it seemed like they were playing it at least once an hour, so my persistence was often rewarded. (I know how crazy all of this sounds to those of you who grew up with Google and YouTube. You will never understand what it was like. This was right around the time that we hooked up our very first modem (which was 1200bps, by the way – Google THAT and compare it with your speed over whatever Wi-Fi or 4G connection you’re using right now) to our home computer. It was — no joke — amazing to see text from other people in other parts of the country, and occasionally even some rudimentary graphics, coming onto our screen through our phone line. In those earliest days, the text would appear just a few characters at a time, but the whole experience was so novel that nobody minded the wait. It has been an incredible leap from there to now having the ability to instantly watch a video of a cat playing a keyboard (or more to the point, to instantly watch Roddy Bottum (pictured above) and his bandmates in the video linked below.
One more history lesson, kids: this was still several years before the invention of the MP3, and downloading one would’ve surely taken weeks (unless you happened to get an incoming phone call, which would disrupt your connection altogether), but disregarding all of that, a single MP3 file would not have fit on that computer my family had. Let that sink in for a minute: there was no hard drive, so whatever program you wanted to use had to be read from a floppy disk — each of which had approximately .009% as much storage space as the smallest SD card you can buy today.
The point of all this is, the only way to listen to music (besides on the tv or radio) was to buy it on physical recorded media. Records and tapes, mostly — both of which are making a huge comeback nowadays, possibly for sentimental reasons — but CDs were really starting to gain popularity at the time. In one’s early teen years (we’ve skipped ahead slightly), it isn’t always easy to talk one’s parents into driving to the mall to visit the local record store. But in this period of American history, every single magazine (which was sort of like a blog or webzine, except it was printed on paper and only updated once a month) had an advertisement for these companies called Columbia House and BMG Music Service – which would offer CDs or tapes at some ridiculous introductory price (like 12 for the price of 1), although you then had to pay a shipping charge for each one (like $2 or 3 apiece, even though they were all delivered in the same tiny box), plus then they’d automatically send you one that you didn’t want, every month until forever (unless you remembered to mail back their order form each time, telling them not to send the “featured selection” and, they hoped, ordering something else instead).
I got hooked on both of these companies’ schemes at one time or another. And when I did, one of my very first purchases was The Real Thing, the album that includes “Epic.” Although in later years Faith No More would primarily be remembered for the almost-rap-metal style of this song (which was so common on the band’s previous albums with former vocalist Chuck Mosley), and they would shoulder much blame for influencing the regrettable nü-metal movement later that decade, The Real Thing (and, to an even greater extent, its successors Angel Dust and King for a Day, Fool for a Lifetime) featured a dizzyingly wide array of sounds — a veritable smörgåsbord to satiate the hunger of a budding young metalhead. In particular, two songs from this album really caught my attention: the speed-metal-esque “Surprise! You’re Dead!” (from which point it was totally natural that my horizons would soon expand to include such thrash legends as Overkill, Heathen, and Anthrax), and the violin-dominated instrumental “Woodpecker from Mars” (which most likely sparked my lifelong obsession with metal music juxtaposed with decidedly non-metal instruments, opening the door to the symphonic — Emperor a few years down the road, for example — or folk-music-based — such as Korpiklaani a few more years after that).
To this day, both of those songs would rank among my all-time favorites; and while I personally prefer the two albums that followed, when considered as a whole, I definitely still have a soft spot for The Real Thing, and — even as sickeningly overplayed as it eventually became — I don’t believe I’ll ever grow tired of hearing that one hit single, the song that immersed itself into my young brain, wrapped its tendrils around my entire essence, and has never let go since.
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