Top 6 Albums That Changed How I Play Guitar – The Smitchens Version

King Diamond - Abigail Album Cover

Read Time 6 Minutes

It’s the last day of September, it’s Friday, the weekend’s just about to start, and I just plain feel like doing something a bit different today, so here goes.  Jameson (see his list here) planted the seed in my head about writing about albums that changed the way I looked at music and I’ve kinda run with the idea a bit.

It wasn’t actually that easy for me to put this together because most of the music I listen to is classical, and ol’ Jameson thought I should at least keep it guitar related so I’ve kindly narrowed it down to guitar albums that have had sway in the way I think of music.  The list that follows is in no particular order because… hell, they’re all tied for first place.

(Click album covers to see larger artwork)

Opeth - Still Life Album CoverOpeth – Still Life

Most people consider Blackwater Park to be Opeth’s crowning achievement.

Me, personally my favorite album of theirs is Ghost Reveries.

So why in Sam Hill am I writing about Still Life?  When I had first started listening to Opeth Deliverence and Damnation were brand new, so I was exposed to ­Still Life long before.

I always thought April Ethereal was the first sign of that Opeth sound we know today, but Still Life was the one that perfected it.

To put things a bit more into perspective Orchid and Morningrise were very stylistically similar.  What really defined those albums was the twin guitar harmonies.  That technique was completely abolished in future incarnations of Opeth and when April Ethereal came out it showcased more distorted barre chords and the songs had a lot more structure to them.   When Still Life came out those concepts had been implimented seamlessly.  Plus they started using the EBow there and that prompted me to buy mine.


Crytopsy - None So Vile Album CoverCryptopsy – None So Vile

Yeah, I have a huge history of listening to death metal and in my humbling opinion Crytopsy’s None So Vile was the best.  I don’t think None So Vile was groundbreaking in terms of innovation, but more so because it was just so good at what it tried to do which was just be a good, honest death metal album.  The production was very gritty, but still clear enough that you could hear all the instruments.  It wasn’t over produced, there weren’t a bunch of dubs, punch ins, or multi-tracking.  What you hear is what you get.  Excellent musicianship coupled with excellent execution.  Take it or leave it.

What really got me about None So Vile’s guitars was no matter how intense they got they never sacrificed listenability and memorability.  Plus Jon Levasseur was the only guitarist in the band at the time, so it was his style all the way through.  From the chugging riffs, to the shredding solos, to the sweeping.


King Diamond - Abigail Album CoverKing Diamond – Abigail

Fact:  King Diamond rocks.    You put a duo like King Diamond and Andy LaRocque together and miracles are bound to happen as was the case when Abigail was released way back in 1987 when I was a wee little tyke.  King Diamond is a unique band on this list because every other band from one album to the next has featured more and more dramatic changes in their style.  The saving grace in that regard is there aren’t many bands out there that sound quite like King, so it’s not like there market’s over saturated.

Plus I’m into horror movies and a band that writes horror stories and puts it to awesome 80s guitar riffs while a dude with poofy 80s hair shreds away.  That’s awesome.

In hindsight I don’t know that I took much from this and applied it to the guitar.  Not in the sense that LaRocque did this on the guitar so I did too.  More so the personality of the music, I think got to me.  I mean.  King Diamond is kind of a cheesy band, but that’s what makes them who they are.  There aren’t really any other bands that sound like them.  I think that in and of itself is a valuable lesson. How to bring yourself out on an instrument no matter how goofy it may be, and Abigail was a pivotal part in all of that.


Therion - Secret Of The Runes Album CoverTherion – Secret of the Runes

Ok.  While I can’t sneak a paragraph about Beethoven in this list I can do the next best thing.  Classically influenced guitar bands.  In this case I’m singling out Therion.  Once they dropped the whole death metal thing and went on to make symphonic music I think they really discovered who they were.  Most symphonic bands rely heavily on a keyboardist, and that’s fine.  We can’t all have the resources of orchestra at our finger tips, but I think Therion did the best job at showing just how much potential there is for orchestra and metal what with the vocal harmonies, writing for so many instruments, and the proficient guitar work.

I really don’t have a favorite album of theirs because I love all of them for different reasons, but Secret of the Runes was the first album of theirs I’d heard so it gets points for seniority alone.

This inclusion is a bit unfair, actually.  My interest in Therion is actually more about writing and arranging for many instruments.  The art of actually writing for several instruments that you cannot play yourself is an art that probably doesn’t get enough attention.  More so Therion is an excellent example of how to write for so many instruments and to build and arrange them around the guitars.


Joe Satriani - Crystal Planet Album CoverJoe Satriani – Crystal Planet

Crystal Planet is kind of like Secret of the Runes.

It’s not so much that I really favor it over anything else Satch has done, but rather it was the gateway for me to the rest of his music.  The first I’d heard before anything else.  First impressions often have the strongest impact, sure, but I don’t think I could pinpoint any particular album where he did exceptionally better or worse than any other time.

Crystal Planet just beat all of his other albums to the punch, it was great all the way through, and there’s always something new to find in it.

If anyone could take anything away from Satriani’s music it would have to be the melody.  Sure there’s the whole tone tweaking this and the technique that, but at the end of the day what speaks the loudest is the melody.  In the case of Satriani his melodies are all deep, well performed, say something, and really take his music somewhere and I think Crystal Planet is my preferred demonstration of just that.


Steve Vai - Fire Garden Album CoverSteve Vai – Fire Garden

And who wouldn’t have seen this one coming?  Of course there’s a Steve Vai album on this goofy little list.

Most Vai fans I know tend to favor Passion and Warfare, but I favor Fire Garden myself.  I started listening to Vai after discovering Satriani.  When you look into one the others’  name is sure to follow, so I bought Passion and Warfare on impulse and it was impressive, for sure.  Though as enjoyable as it was with its raw feel, I’ve always found myself drawn towards the refinement and maturity of Fire Garden.  And I use the word “maturity” a bit loosely when speaking of Vai.  It was a deep and powerful album and there just isn’t enough music of this quality in terms of performance and emotion out there.

While I want to single Fire Garden out, I think my thoughts can easily be spread out across his entire discography.  Vai’s been a musical mad scientist if anything constantly experimenting and trying new things.  The only drawback to experimentation is just because you may think it’s genius doesn’t guarantee everyone else will get it or even want to.  Vai’s been so successful at constantly pushing boundaries and trying new things that he’s more so a symbol of what a human being is capable of and how far one person can go if they have the will to do so.  Of course now I’m getting into deeper, philosophical crap.

Check out G.M. Jameson’s list of Albums here.

Similar Posts:

Kyle Smitchens

Kyle Smitchens is the Guitar-Muse Managing Editor, super hero extraordinaire, and all around great guy. He has been playing guitar since his late teens and writing personal biographies almost as long. An appreciator of all music, his biggest influences include Tchaikovsky, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Steve Vai, Therion, and Jon Levasseur of Cryptopsy.

Notify of
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
11 years ago

Wow, no Dio? Dude!

The Smitchens
Reply to  Oscar
11 years ago

Yeah. I didn’t really start getting into Dio’s stuff until substantially later than all of these entries. They all kinda won by seniority.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x