Groundbreakers: Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction is the perfect hard rock album

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Before your metal blog-induced hypertension causes a blood clot to travel to your brain, I want you to take a minute, breathe in deeply, and relax. More importantly, though, I want you to pretend with me. Pretend that you haven’t heard “Sweet Child O’ Mine” at literally every single sporting event ever. Pretend that your weird uncle Ross doesn’t think that Slash is literally the best guitarist ever. Pretend that your mom didn’t conceive you while listening to “Rocket Queen.” Pretend that Rock of Ages never happened. Hell, pretend that Chinese Democracy never happened, and definitely pretend that Axl Rose isn’t perhaps the biggest asshole in rock music. Let’s just wipe the last three decades and innumerable lineup changes off the slate and travel back to the heady days of late ’80s glam, when sleaze ruled the Sunset Strip and two young bands called L.A. Guns and Hollywood Rose were about to about join forces. It’s 1987, and Guns N’ Roses is poised to earn the title of “Most Dangerous Band in the World.”

Yes, forgetting all that is a tall order, as is asking you to imagine that you haven’t heard the singles, such as the adrenaline-pumping “Paradise City” and the depraved “Welcome to the Jungle,” a million times. But beneath the endless hype, years of accrued bad taste, and embarrassing live performances is a timeless, perfect hard rock album that earns every single bit of praise it has been given. As Christa Titus of Billboard Magazine put it, “Appetite for Destruction appealed to rock music’s various listeners because the band incorporated metal’s forceful playing, punk rock’s rebellious themes, glam metal’s aesthetic, and bluesy guitar riffs that appealed to purists.” The riffs deliver, the drumming is nuanced, and Rose’s variegated, lusty vocal work is the ultimate complement for each of these tracks.

Dropping like an atom bomb in ’87, Appetite for Destruction opened with the instantly recognizable, hair-raising guitar work of Slash and Izzy Stradlin on “Welcome to the Jungle,” warning listeners that this was a rabid, snarling beast of a rock album. The next eleven tracks delivered gourmet cut after cut, chock-full of high-flying guitar melodies invoking the best of Thin Lizzy and NWOBHM, sweltering bass work from Duff McKagan going to to toe with the warmth and force of anything in metal at the time, and an understated percussive complexity (seriously, listen to that snare-heavy drive in “Out Ta Get Me”) from Steven Adler, all jacked up with piss and vinegar from the volatile Axl Rose. To this day, the slide guitar, talkbox, weird pitch changes in the vocals, and derisive lyrics all sound too unfocused, too chaotic on paper, yet there isn’t a single missed beat on the record. Pick any of the twelve tracks and you’ll find a massive hook and a tasty melody to get your head moving.

A young GNR full of glamour and malevolence

Take the aforementioned “Out Ta Get Me” for example. If you’ve only ever heard GNR’s greatest hits, you owe it to yourself to listen to this song to find out just what makes the album so wonderful. Driven by a punk-rock riff that gets punctuated by some left-field triplets from Adler during the pre-choruses, the song is a villainous anthem for Axl Rose to lay out the virtues of his sordid lifestyle with particular flair. Yes, Axl’s vocals are a divisive factor, but his cat-scratch soaring wails and throaty barks capture a wide range of hues and tones. As the Scorpions-inspired guitar licks kick in after the tasteful solo, Axl caroms dangerously between good cop and bad cop in a far more convincing manner than any of the metalcore bands that would follow in the decades after. The song ends on a massive, catchy guitar interplay accented by a double-time rhythm that drives the whole thing to a fist-pumping, bottle-smashing climax. It’s heavy, catchy, and endlessly singable; it’s quintessential GNR.

Part of that appeal is undoubtedly due to the meticulous recording process behind the record. Legend has it that Slash spent every day in the studio for a month straight overdubbing, re-writing, and paring down his solos to the bare essence of rock; his work ethic was matched by Axl Rose’s perfectionism, with Rose allegedly recording every single vocal line on the album one by one, refusing to move on if the sneer and grit weren’t delivered with just the right mix of sensuality and venom. Mike Clink’s 18-hour recording days paid off, though. Appetite for Destruction sounds pristine, thick, clear, and undeniably heavy. This is a rock album with both balls and depth, one in which you can get lost in the myriad forking guitar lines or simply bang your head to Duff’s hammering bass lines.

Surprisingly, it took the listening public some time to grapple with what they were hearing. Initial reviews panned the record as too sleazy, too derivative, too controversial; Dave Ling of Metal Hammer famously thought it merely a synthesis of the very best elements of Hanoi Rocks and Aerosmith. But the towering riffs on “Rocket Queen,” shimmering leads on “Think About You,” and compelling melodies on “You’re Crazy,” not to mention a  grueling 16-month tour cycle, inevitably convinced listeners that Appetite was something special. Today the album remains the best-selling debut record of any band in the US, with an impressive 18 million copies hocked, and tops any number of greatest rock or metal album lists. Its hard rock legacy is undeniable.

Its impact on metal, however, may be a bit more difficult to decipher. Sure, the band’s DNA is evident in endless hard rock bands, from Five Finger Death Punch to Airbourne, but why does Appetite for Destruction earn its place here in our Hallowed Hall of Groundbreakers? For one, it’s difficult to not see Metallica‘s Black Album, the biggest metal record of all time, as a torchbearer of the GNR legacy: huge riffs, massive sound, and commercial production all wrapped up in a metal package. Hell, the two bands would pair their undeniable appeal for a massive 1992 tour that saw Axl Rose utterly drive Metallica crazy and teach them a thing or two about touring. To that end, the band’s live legacy of inciting riots and driving crowds nuts make them the clear progenitors of punk-inflected acts as diverse as Every Time I Die and Dillinger Escape Plan, the latter inheritors of the most dangerous band mantle. Even beyond the live domain, where for almost a decade GNR reigned as kings, the band’s influence persists, largely through that unorthodox marrying of punk vitriol and NWOBHM melody. While thrash is often cited as the progeny of the classic melodic riff and punk aggression, Appetite for Destruction is a far more convincing synthesis of the two styles than just about anything else released in the 80s. Or afterward, for that matter, and it’s impossible not to hear a little bit of Slash and Axl in metal’s new school of trad and mathcore bands. Though the individual members who performed on Appetite have gone on to collaborate with metal luminaries far and wide, injecting their own signature sounds into acts like Velvet Revolver and Nine Inch Nails, the amalgamation they performed of rock’s greatest attributes continues to be widely duplicated but never matched in scope or grandeur.

In 2017, it’s impossible to hear a big, meaty riff with booze-soaked lyrics and not think of Axl, Slash, Duff, Steven, and Izzy smiling down. So next time you find yourself rocking out to Mutoid Man or Audrey Horne, just remember who taught them how to swing.


Groundbreakers is the Toilet ov Hell’s Hall ov Fame where we induct some of the most important and influential metal albums of all time. Catch up on previous entries into this hallowed bowl.

Neurosis – Souls at Zero
Death – Symbolic
Fear Factory – Demanufacture
Voivod – Killing Technology
Today is the Day – Temple of the Morning Star
Avenged Sevenfold – City of Evil
The Moody Blues – Days of Future Passed
Acid Bath – When the Kite String Pops
Ministry – The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste
Vulcano – Bloody Vengeance
Sleep – Holy Mountain
Kreator – Pleasure to Kill
Kayo Dot – Choirs of the eye
Thin Lizzy – Thunder and Lightning
Type O Negative – Bloody Kisses
Bathory – Hammerheart
Blind Guardian – Imaginations from the Other Side
Black Flag – My War
Brujería – Matando Güeros

  • Lacertilian

    Pretending I can’t hear Axl’s voice has always been a tough ask for me 🙁 https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/0741980474510b2e114498e86337311797edd953b25aad1c627d1b551bd870ea.jpg

    • Howard Dean
    • Eliza

      The first two or so minutes of Don’t Cry are my favorite use of his vocals, because it’s more subdued.

      • tigeraid

        That fuckin tune gives me goosebumps every time.

        • Eliza

          It’s a powerful song.

    • Óðinn

      Yeah, his vocals are terrible.

  • RJA

    “The greatest rock n roll record ever made. Got somethin better motherfucker”
    Ha! That’s awesome, not sure I’ve seen that before. It was pretty life changing to a 10 year old RJA!

  • Eliza

    Ultimately unimportant fact: This album is the first one I ever got on iTunes a few years ago when I was sorta obsessed with GnR. I used to listen to it almost everyday and even though I haven’t heard almost any of it for some time, I still remember it clearly. By the way, Appetite is miles better than the bloated mess that were the Use Your Illusion albums.

    • Dubby Fresh

      Appetite is the only worthwhile GNR album, imo

      • Eliza

        It holds up. Which is something I can’t say about the rest of their albums with the same confidence.

        • Ted Nü-Djent ™

          I actually like UYI 1 more now than I did back when i was first released.

          • Eliza

            UYI 1 has some of my favorite GnR songs, but UYI 2 flows better as an album.

      • Seconded.

      • more beer

        While Appetite is a masterpiece, for straight up rock n roll, The Supersuckers have been a much more more consistent band. Doing it right since 88.

    • Use Your Illusion should have been ONE super tight album with all the shit removed. It would rank almost as high as Appetite.

      • The Arm(KJM)

        35% of the material should’ve been cut.

      • Zeke

        there are lot of great songs on those two albums.

      • tigeraid

        It’s the “Hardwired… To Self-Destruct Syndrome.”

        (Actually, I guess the new Metallica album suffers from the Use Your Illusion Syndrome.”

  • When I discovered GnR at age 10 or so (Use Your Illusion era), they were a goldmine for hearing lots of f-words. On this album, “You’re Crazy” got top marks but the “why don’t you just…FUCK OFF!!” in “Its So Easy” got a lot of play and rewind time too.

  • Howard Dean

    “…definitely pretend that Axl Rose isn’t perhaps the biggest asshole in rock music.”

    “NOT TRUE, MOTHERFUCKERS!”

    https://area6canyoureadme.files.wordpress.com/2017/04/agnr.gif?w=1008

    For real, though. This album is fucking awesome. It’s hard not to view it from the jaded lens of the guy who’s heard every fucking single six million times between high school football games and terrestrial radio playlists, but this is really a special album. These guys did good.

    • Dubby Fresh

      There is so much baggage you have to clear to see this record for what it is, but it’s worth it.

  • Elegant Gazing Globe

    This is one of the purest true rock n roll records ever.

    Never been anything like it, never will be again.

  • The Arm(KJM)
    • The Arm(KJM)

      In fact, you can even hear my voice on this! If you listen right after the dedication to Todd Crew on Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door you can hear me say “Todd something or other”.

  • Señor Jefe El Rossover
  • Megan Alexandra

    Backed hard. I spent countless hours as a teenager with this one, blasting my ears (one of the first records to make me realize the greatness of MAX VOLUME and the beginning of me frying cheap headphones) and burning through my beloved discman’s batteries. 10/10

    • Eliza

      “frying cheap headphones” I can relate.

  • FrankWhiteKingOfNY

    Great fucking album!
    I’m repeating myself, but this gets some extra nostalgia points from me just for this:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yOzcbtsw_pQ

    • Howard Dean

      Oh shit, I remember that trailer! I’ve never been a huge video game fanatic, but when I was in college we spent many a night getting hammered and taking turns having turf wars and robbing casinos in San Andreas. Good times. Everything in that game was funnier under the influence.

      • FrankWhiteKingOfNY

        San Andreas for me is like the greatest game ever. Purely out of nostalgic reasons.

        • The Arm(KJM)

          Grove St 4 life!!!

        • ME GORAK™✓ᶜᵃᵛᵉᵐᵃⁿ

          UPVOTE FOR MIDLIFE CRISIS!!!
          https://youtu.be/AwF58DtTQ5g

          • FrankWhiteKingOfNY

            My fave FNM record by far. Pure metallic-tinged wacko stuff.

            Radio X in general ruled hard.

            YOUR
            CON
            TRI
            BU
            TION
            LEFT
            UNNO
            TICED
            SOME

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jBfygUiS50g

          • ME GORAK™✓ᶜᵃᵛᵉᵐᵃⁿ

            IF GORAK WUZ LITTERIT ME COUD RITTEN A “GROUND BRAKER” FOR ANGEL DUST!!!!!!

          • FrankWhiteKingOfNY

            A “Ground Breaker” for Angel Dust would be a good idea actually. I mean, it IS by far one of the greatest “alt metal” records that has ever been and ever will be written.

            DOES LIFE SEEEEEEMMM WORTHWHILE TO YOU

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9n3TrvhsrYs

          • OLE’ GORAK™✓ᶜᵃᵛᵉᵐᵃⁿ

            ANGEL DUST NOW GOIN IN GORAK 6 DISC CHANGER!!!!!!!

          • FrankWhiteKingOfNY

            I don’t know if you ever tried it, but the album actually has an extremely strange effect when you’ve taken some “psychoactive enhancers”.
            In a weird way, it can actually scare the shit outta you.

          • OLE’ GORAK™✓ᶜᵃᵛᵉᵐᵃⁿ

            100% !!!!!!!!! PATTON ALWAYS SEEMED TO KEEP THAT IN MIND FROM FNM AS WELL MR. BUNGLE & FANTOMAS!!!!!!!!! COULD LISTEN TO CAROUSEL FROM BUNGLE DEBUT OVER & OVER AGAIN!!!!!!!!

          • FrankWhiteKingOfNY

            I was never actually a huge Bungle fan. Angel Dust for instance is wacked out stuff, but it still has at least one foot firmly planted in heavy rock/metal. Mr. Bungle on the other hand is all over the place.
            Not bad tho.

          • OLE’ GORAK™✓ᶜᵃᵛᵉᵐᵃⁿ

            FOR BEST RESULTS GIVE BUNGLE A LISTEN WHEN BROWNIE TAKES FULL EFFECT!!!!!!!
            https://youtu.be/AY1sBXjl0s8

  • The Arm(KJM)

    BREAKING OT: It would appear that Chester Bennington (Linkin Park) is dead, an apparent suicide.

    • Howard Dean

      Fuck, apparently he wasn’t lying when he said he was one step closer to edge and about to break.

      • The Arm(KJM)

        Wasn’t a fan to say the least, but I did see Linkin Park at Ozzfest 2001.

      • The Arm(KJM)

        I was reminded that it was Chris Cornell’s birthday today. Perhaps it hit Chester a bit too hard? Apparently they were very good friends.

      • Joaquin Stick

        I can’t tell if I want to upvote or downvote this. Brutal.

        • Howard Dean

          That’s pretty much how I felt when the joke came to me. To share or not share?

          I flipped a coin.

          • Ted Nü-Djent ™

            This is the struggle I had when I read it on Facebook. I opted out (for now at least).

          • Howard Dean

            I actually haven’t seen anyone else say it yet, though I imagine it’s already making the rounds in meme form in other corners of the internet.

          • Ted Nü-Djent ™

            I guess in the end, it doesn’t even matter.

    • FrankWhiteKingOfNY

      Goes without saying that LP’s music wasn’t ever my cup of tea, but this is extremely sad news regardless.

      • Eliza

        Same here.

    • Maik Beninton™

      The hasn’t confirmed yet so I hope is just a terrible lie.

  • Tim Wilsön

    Despite being born after the band broke up, Guns N Roses were my first exposure to rock music as whole and the begining of this weird and awesome journey.
    It’s awesome that this band are ending on a (moderately) high note even if it is purely motivated by cash money.

  • great article, Dubs!

  • ME GORAK™✓ᶜᵃᵛᵉᵐᵃⁿ

    APPETITE FOR SMAAAAAASH!!!!! WUZ COOL FOR LISTEN EVEN IF NEVER REALLY LIKE ANYTHING ELSE BAND DID!!!!!

  • Brutalist_Receptacle

    HERE I AM YOUR ROCKET QUEEN

  • It is hard getting into music that other people appreciate. But, on the flip side, if you didn’t try to get others into your music, then it would be tough to find new music. What a conundrum!

    GL

  • Pagliacci is Kvlt
    • lol “Classic Rock”

    • Howard Dean
      • tigeraid

        You gonna sing it, Bubs?!

    • tigeraid

      GnR over Zeppelin? Eat a dick.

      • The Arm(KJM)

        Eat several, total bullshit.

      • Dubby Fresh

        More like Zeppelol, amirite?

    • Kyle Reese

      These guys don’t understand “classic” or “seeding.”

  • Zeke

    I feel like a lot of times people think that the heavier a band gets, the more dangerous they are. when I was 8 or 9 my dad took me to see gnr (I wound up seeing them 3 times within about a year), and that was definitely the scariest concert I’ve ever been to. it was at a football field and the crowd was trying to break down the barricade in the general admission area and rush the stage. there was a line of security guards that spent the entire show pushing back on the barricade so that it wouldn’t collapse. I spent the entire concert thinking I was going to get trampled by a mob of drunken bikers

    • The Arm(KJM)

      I saw GNR at the real Boston Garden on St Patrick’s Day 1993. After 2 songs some moe-ron hummed a bottle at Axl’s head, he stormed offstage, and the lights went up. I was convinced that I was gonna have to fight my way out through 14,000 drunk Bostonians. Fortunately, 10 minutes later, after a stern lecture from Axl(well deserved), the show continued.

      • Zeke

        yeah, those shows really were very out of control. I think that people that weren’t around back then can’t necessarily wrap their heads around it because there’s nothing like that nowadays. later that year I saw them at Madison square garden (I think it was gilby’s 2nd or 3rd show with them) and they went on stage about 2 hours late. I thought there was about to be a riot that time too. while I can’t confirm this, I remember hearing that axl was hanging out in atlantic city and they had to fly him in on a helicopter

  • Having been around when this album dropped, I remember it being widely popular due to MTV playing their vids nonstop. I was also one of the 18 million who owned it on cassette, but then And Justice For All came a year later and this album was quickly out of the rotation.

    • Elegant Gazing Globe

      same

  • RIP Chesty

  • The Arm(KJM)

    This is actually my fave GNR song
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5yAzij7livk

    • Dubby Fresh

      My dog’s favorite is Nightrain.

  • Elegant Gazing Globe
  • Hans

    To a wee Hans of about 6 or 7, GnR were the coolest muhfuggers who ever walked this earth, though I must admit I was all about the Illusions then. I can still conjure the feeling and I still miss the shirt I had :'(

  • Ted Nü-Djent ™

    One of the first albums I ever got and 30 years later, still one of my favourites.

  • Really great article, Dubs. Within the confines of hard rock, totally agree that Appetite is without peer.

  • Max

    Well, fair enough, I suppose.

    But I’ve always been indifferent to GnR. Yes, I’ve only heard the singles you mentioned but they never did it for me; so I figured it wasn’t my scene – even though I’m just about old enough to have been in the target audience. Before I got into metal I was more of a U2 guy. Then, once I got into metal I was a grunge guy (which was a reaction against the likes of GnR); so there was never point of identification.

    • Dubby Fresh

      See, I never got into grunge. shrug emoji

      • Max

        Well, in retrospect, neither style of music is necessarily more vital or better than the other. Although, as your article kind of alludes to, it could be argued that GnR-style sleaze rock (or even glam metal) has proven to have more longevity than grunge. I mean, I reckon I see more GnR t-shirts today than I do Nirvana shirts.

  • KJM, Anla’Shok

    I also attended that crazy 1992 tour spoken of. There was a freakin’ 90 minute break between Metallica and GNR in which a massive stadium wide food fight broke out.

    • Óðinn

      Saw GNR open for Maiden once. They sucked.

  • Guppusmaximus

    Pretend that your mom didn’t conceive you while listening to “Rocket Queen.”

    Fuck, I feel fucking old. Thanks a fucking lot 🙂

  • OldMetalHead

    This is a great retrospective. A truly groundbreaking album.

  • Óðinn
  • Great review, my brother!