Many of us can link a certain album to pivotal moments in our lives. Whether it’s the first record you bought with your own money, the chord you first learnt to play on guitar, the song that soundtracked your first kiss, the album that got you those awkward and painful pubescent years or the one that set off light bulbs in your brain and inspired you to take a big leap of faith into the unknown – music is often the catalyst for change in our lives and can even help shape who we become.
In this Love Letter To A Record series, Music Feeds asks artists to reflect on their relationship with music and share with us stories about the effect music has had on their lives.
Paul Stewart, Dark Divinity – At the Gates – ‘Slaughter of the Soul’(1995)
Before I heard Slaughter of the Soul I had always been unsure about darker music that featured ‘inhuman’ screaming vocals. I was growing to appreciate more on the heavy music spectrum, but I started playing guitar because I enjoyed writing songs on acoustic guitar, and aggression in music wasn’t something I sought out. The pull of louder guitar music made me want to see everything the instrument was capable of, which led me in the direction of guys like Randy Rhoads and Zakk Wylde. I was a big Ozzy Osbourne, Metallica and Black Sabbath fan to start with. Metal to me was always more of the classic variety for those first couple of years.
There were some aspects of metal that weren’t really my thing. Lyrically, the bands that drew on fantasy elements never did anything for me. It felt superficial at times, but I hadn’t yet heard Tomas Lindberg scream “I feel my soul is cold”. That was the first At the Gates song I ever heard, listening to music once with my brother after school. He was much more diverse with his music taste and introduced me to a lot of metal that was harder hitting and more intense than I had experienced up until that point.
I ended up listening to Slaughter of the Soul a lot. It provided an introduction to the whole Gothenburg melodic death metal sound, and any misgivings I had about screaming were put to the side. This felt stripped of artifice and pretension, and everything about the songs was unrelenting. The guitars were pummelling and their tone nastier than anything I had heard before, the band functioned as a unit and virtuosity wasn’t always the focus. It didn’t feel as refined as a lot of modern metal I was hearing in the early 2000s, there were rough edges to the sound, but the songs were tightly constructed. And the vocalist sounded so real, uninhibited. He demanded to be listened to and actually sounded angry, convincing, as opposed to just filling a role – like he had become another creature altogether.
Being 15, and by turns both an introverted and angry person, the idea of affecting some transformation in myself while playing music was appealing. I could see how creating something dark and aggressive was a good place to direct all those feelings, and I’ve continued in my life to make music that is at times much more sinister than how I come across as a person. And while I liked the rawness and anger of the Slaughter of the Soul sound, there was beauty in it too – beneath the abrasiveness of the guitars there was melody in the riffs, and the album had moments of delicacy to offset the aural assault elsewhere. It was a sound I had been looking for, but up until then, I hadn’t known existed. And I’m very glad it does.
Paul Stewart, guitar – Dark Divinity