I listen a lot of different types of music these days, but it wasn’t a smooth journey here. I don’t come from a musical family, and it wasn’t even a primary interest of mine for a while. I had weird classic rock and 90s pop radio, and that was about the extent of it. And even as I started to find music on my own, it took a couple bands to open me to more diverse genres. Here are a few of those bands, in chronological order. Most of these aren’t even my favorite bands in their subsequent genres, but I’m indebted to them for opening me to plenty of their compatriots.
At this point, Hawthorne Heights have definitely had plenty of exposure. And even during the peak of their career, they managed to spill over to mainstream radio. “Saying Sorry”, perhaps some odd radio edit version to be specific, was the first track I heard from the group. It wasn’t until I heard the song off the radio that I realized there was screaming in it. That was the first time I ever heard screaming in a song, and it certainly was a bit startling at that time. But it was what got me first accustomed to emo-type music. I naturally got into their heavier songs as well and eventually got acquainted with From Autumn to Ashes, Dead Poetic, Emery, and a host of likeminded bands of that era.
My foray into metal, metalcore, and eventually even mathcore all began with this thrash-tinged metal act. They had enough ballads and clean vocals to keep things from being too crazy, but they all knew how to hit hard. “Pull Harder on the Strings of Your Martyr” and “Dying In Your Arms” were off the same album, after all – and both show very different sides of the band. This might feel like a natural progression from some of the post-hardcore and emo acts of the time, but I’d argue there’s decidedly a much stronger harmonic focus that helped me ease into metalcore eventually.
In retrospect, I only listened to metal-type genres for a few years. Hands was definitely on the cusp of me shedding the genre, and they were also a big catalyst for me. Undeniably, they weren’t the first band to do post-metal. But it was the first time I heard that sort of ambience and aggression meet. Give Me Rest is one of the best releases off Facedown Records, even if it’s not one of my favorite post-metal album by any stretch (that award arguably goes to former label maters A Hope for Home and their Realis LP). After this, I discovered the short-lived stretch of ambient hardcore acts like Echoes, Rinoa, Devil Sold His Soul, The Elijah, and so on. And while most of these bands would be closer to post-hardcore than truly fall under the post-metal banner, there’s something about this dynamic blend that still excites me.
If you know me, you know I love Moving Mountains. Waves is one of my favorite albums of all time and is the staple of their catalog. But arguably, it’s not the album that changed things for me. Moving Mountains was a natural progression after the ambient post-hardcore spurt of the bands listed above, but it’s their self-titled album that subtly opened me up to one of my biggest taste-changes ever. Somewhere in the finger-picking of “Eastern Leaves”, I found myself enchanted. I found bands that balanced this gentleness with a similar airiness that I piled into a playlist I named “Feels fo’ Realz” (which still exists). And while some of the bands on the list were on the emo/punk side of the spectrum, other bands progressively got closer to indie-folk. It wasn’t a hard or immediate transition, but I feel that this album laid the framework and provided me with a long enough chain of recommended artists to eventually appreciate more folk-type, singer-songwriter acts. Surprisingly, their more overtly-folk split that followed was a pretty big miss for me. Even now, I’m still divided on it.
I first inadvertently discovered Anathallo by searching for “saddest Christian songs” and a subsequent blog post that mentioned them. I can’t say I discovered any other bands specifically through Anathallo, but they certainly led me to appreciate math-rock type bands with huge arrangements. I’m a big fan of chamber and technically-complex bands and Anathallo was certainly one of my first times seeing wind instruments and auxiliary percussion incorporated into rock songs.
Maybe I lived under a rock, but banjo was always seen as a hillbilly instrument used in bluegrass and finger-picked at breakneck speed. Frontier Ruckus was the first band I saw that incorporated banjo in a more typical melodic manner, much in the same manner bands tend to handle guitar. And it blew my mind. Within weeks, my infatuation saw me cycling through their songs enough to drive them up to one of my most-played artists of all time. I’ve even been tempted to buy a banjo at times – and somehow still haven’t.
Daniel Anderson’s Glowbug solo project is one of the rarest and most unique things out there in the world of experimental rock. I’ve joked about making chillwave screamo for years, but Anderson has me beat… sort of. Classifying Glowbug is a task in itself, but tropical punk with elements of motown, jazz, and even rap and metal is a start. I never thought I’d hear saxophone and steel drum in a Weezer cover or screaming over chillwave, but here we are. And as far as I know, no one else is doing something similar of this caliber. Even the related artists on Spotify feel completely inappropriate, save for perhaps some of the experimental post-hardcore acts. Anderson proves summery vibes mesh with everything in a way that feels truly incomparable, and he continues to earn his way into my year-end lists as a result.
What about you? What were some gateway bands for you? When did you experience an appreciation for a genre you couldn’t stand earlier? We’d love to hear your stories.