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Wolfgang Van Halen: the 11 albums that changed my life

Wolfgang Van Halen
(Image credit: Bryan Beasley)

For someone whose father was one the greatest guitarists the world has ever seen, Wolfgang Van Halen sure loves the drums. “I started out playing drums,” says the Mammoth WVH linchpin, who sang and played all the instruments on his band’s stellar self-titled debut album. “So I’m laser-focussed on the drums when I listen to music.” 

He’s also put some serious thought into the list of 10 albums that changed his life, which skews towards the prog-metal part of the musical spectrum though still manages to find room for a few stone cold hard rock classics – plus a couple of unexpected Van Halen LPs. 

“These aren’t in any particular order,” he says, peering at the list he’s got in front of him.

Alt

AC/DC - Highway To Hell (1979)

The band that I was probably first obsessed with was AC/DC. My father introduced me to them with Powerage, and I was thinking of picking that one because it was his favourite album. But a little bit more than that, Highway To Hell is probably my favourite album of theirs. 

To me, it's perfect. Every single song on it is quintessential AC/DC. And also, because it was Bon Scott’s last album, the very last song on it, Night Prowler, feels like such a good send off. Obviously, they didn't make it that way, but it just feels like someone going out on an incredible vibe.


Tool – Ænima (1996)

Another huge band who has been hugely influential and raised my musical talent by what they're trying to do. It’s tough to pick because they're all just so great, but I'd have to go with Ænima as being that album that really challenged me. 

When I heard the song Third Eye for the first time, it blew my mind, cos it was one of the first songs I'd ever heard that was over four minutes and it just showed me creatively what you can do in that space and how you can create those feelings. That whole album made me a better drummer and a better bass player, and it really introduced me to the idea of progressive timings.


Karnivool - Sound Awake (2009)

Karnivool are an amazing band from Australia, and this is one of my favourite albums of all time. They’re very much the children of Tool in a way, in that that they mirror that progressive rock/metal sound, but they have a sense of melody that’s very much their own, and their musicianship is off the charts. 

The whole album sounds phenomenal sonically, and the last two tracks, Deadman and Change (Part 2), are incredible songs. 


Porcupine Tree - Deadwing (2005)

You can tell where my musical tastes lie, in that progressive direction. I think I came across Porcupine Tree through the song Shallow from Deadwing early on on iTunes. I heard it and I thought it was really cool – I love how the pre-chorus is very down and melodic, and then the chorus is heavy and riffy. It’s a really dark album, but even though it’s so dark they explore some happy melodies on it. 

I delved into the early stuff, but it's not really my style - it's on [Porcupine Tree’s 2002 album] In Absentia, when Gavin Harrison, who is one of my favourite drummers of all time,  that I went in hard for it. In Absentia, Deadwing and [2007’s] Fear Of A Blank Planet, those three albums are the core of what I love about Porcupine Tree. And they're reforming - I never saw that coming. The new song, Harridan, is kick-ass.


Nine Inch Nails - The Fragile (1999)

Most people tend to go with The Downward Spiral, but for me, The Fragile is my favourite album of theirs. It's very, very proggy. There's a lot of different motifs that show up repeatedly throughout that, which takes a lot of skill - skill that's beyond what I could do. And it's a very angry album at times. 

The opening track [Somewhat Damaged) is one of the most evil-sounding, angry songs Trent Reznor ever written. But then there's so much beautiful stuff on there too - even radio singles. It's got everything on it. It was a big album for me.


Jimmy Eat World - Futures (2004)

This is delving into my earlier musical tastes. All of Jimmy Eat World’s albums are great, but I like Futures because it has a grit and a darkness to it compared to their other material - maybe I just like dark stuff. It reminds me of a time in my life when I was young and didn't know what was going on and what I wanted to do, and that whole album really resonated to me. Listening to it now, it hasn't skipped a beat – it's still just as good as when I was younger.


One of the first bands I discovered on my own was Blink-182. I’m a late 90s pop-punk baby! They obviously took off with [1997’s] Dude Ranch, but this was the first album with Travis Barker, and when he joined it really tightened them up and honed them to an incredible level – he upped their game hard. It basically taught me how to play drums, but as I’ve grown up, it instilled a love of melodic harmonies in me. 

The way that Tom [DeLonge, vocalist/guitarist] and Mark [Hoppus, bassist/vocalist] harmonise, it trained my ear to want to hear harmonies all the time. The whole album so ingrained in me that I almost don't ever need to listen to it, and when I do listen to it it's really nostalgic.


Peter Gabriel - So (1986)

This is one of my favourite albums, because it was one of my father’s favourite albums of all time. I’ll never forget him coming up to me one night with these huge headphones and going, “Wolf, put these one.” And he put the headphones on my head and cranked the first song Red Rain. The soundscape of it is incredible – everybody should do that at least once in their life, put an amazing pair of headphones on and crank Red Rain

It’s very hard to listen to now my father is gone, but that album front to back is Peter Gabriel at his finest. He’s such a fantastic songwriter. Nobody has that voice and nobody ever will. You just marvel at it: ‘Fuck, that’s awesome.’


The Beatles - Abbey Road (1969)

Everybody usually talks about the White Album or Revolver. I know it’s not everyone’s favourite Beatles album, but I really connected with Abbey Road. For me, The Beatles were always there – no one was, like, “Hey, you’ve got to listen to this.” I appreciated them for what they were, but they were never really my cup of tea. But then I was, like, “OK, I’m gonna dive in”, and it was Abbey Road that caught my ear.

I guess I can see a through-line of progressiveness with a lot of this, cos the whole of the second side was just one ginormous song. Also, She’s So Heavy is just a great song – it was heavy before heavy. It was almost like a metal song as certain point - John was just screaming and not caring.  And technically it was the last album they ever did, cos Let It Be was recorded before and shelved, and it was such a strong note to go out on, same as with Bon Scott and Highway To Hell.


Van Halen - Fair Warning (1981)/Balance (1995)

I wanted to pick a Van Halen album, because obviously that can't be ignored in my upbringing and influence. I've lived and breathed it my whole life. But I've kind of fudged, because I don't think you can fully represent what Van Halen is without looking at both the Roth era and the Hagar era. 

Fair Warning, the Roth era album, is a very special album to me. It was an album where my dad just said, “Fuck it” and did what he wanted. I think that’s why it’s a cult classic - it was never really a huge album compared to the others. But I think it's a really important because it's where dad just went hard. Again, it's another dark album, but then there's classics like Unchained. And it’s so quick - it goes by in 36 minutes or something, but it just makes you want to start it again. It's such a great, dark, fun album that I think it gets overlooked.

For the Hagar era, Balance was the album that meant a lot to me. Technically I was alive for [1991’s] For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, but Balance was the one that I kind of remember being around when it was happening. You could argue that For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge was a better album, but Balance, for me, means more. It's more of a nostalgic thing. Sonically, it's phenomenal-sounding album - it sounds incredible. 

It might be the best-sounding Hagar album, maybe the best sounding Van Halen. The Hagar era shows another side of my father's playing as well. I like how he leaned more into the melodic stuff - some of the most beautiful melodies he's ever written have been in the Hagar era with things like Dreams or the song Not Enough from Balance. But then I love all of the Van Halen albums.

Dave Everley has been writing about and occasionally humming along to music since the early 90s. During that time, he has been Deputy Editor on Kerrang! and Classic Rock, Associate Editor on Q magazine and staff writer/tea boy on Raw, not necessarily in that order. He has written for Metal Hammer, Louder, Prog, the Observer, Select, Mojo, the Evening Standard and the totally legendary Ultrakill. He is still waiting for Billy Gibbons to send him a bottle of hot sauce he was promised several years ago.