If you’ve been paying attention to the hard and alt-rock scenes of late, you probably have caught wind that Halestorm is on fire. Dating back to 2009, the Pennsylvania-based rockers have dropped five nastier-than-nasty records, the latest being 2022’s Back from the Dead. In the group’s early days, several members came and went, but since 2004, Halestorm’s lineup has featured Lzzy Hale (vocals/rhythm guitar), Arejay Hale (drums), Joe Hottinger (lead guitar), and Josh Smith (bass). It’s a tight group, which, over 20 years, has formed one of the fiercer foursomes in all of rock.
As for Arejay Hale, he’s a skin thrasher of the highest order whose across-the-board influences range from heavy metal to pop to classic rock to electric and trance music. And it shows in Halestorm’s music, which, despite being uber-heavy, is as eclectic as it comes.
Halestorm is taking a break after two years of hard-fought touring in support of Back from the Dead, so the timing couldn’t have been better for Hale to dial in with ClassicRockHistory.com for a deep dive into the records that have shaped his life. “Obviously, this list is just a drop in the bucket as far as albums that have either changed my life or, at the very least, inspired me to pursue my own music and songwriting goals,” Hale says.
“As life continues, so does inspiration as an endless challenge to keep pushing forward and getting better,” he continues. “Not only has music and writing kept me sane and focused for the entirety of my career, but it also has the power to heal. Such a strange human invention but so beneficial to us all.”
Thankfully, Hale was up for the challenge, though it wasn’t easy. “Wow, what a tall order,” he exclaims. “After racking my brain like crazy and thinking back on my music journey, it’s tough to narrow it down to only eleven albums, but I did my best to make an unranked list representing several milestones which helped to shape my music making, singing, and songwriting career. Okay, let’s see now…”
The Fragile – Nine Inch Nails (1999)
I must include Nine Inch Nails’ The Fragile as an album I happened to discover while discovering myself as a songwriter. I bought my first MacBook Pro, downloaded Logic, and was starting to get into how to make songs, sounds, and musical moments.
The Fragile is chock-full of insane soundscapes, using weird instruments in weird ways, but at its center, the songs are catchy, the choruses are strong, and the lyrics are brilliant. I feel like The Fragile was Trent [Reznor] ‘s pivotal moment going from an angsty industrial rocker to a sound-smith master. It still has heavy tones but more depth and complexity.
Dirt – Alice in Chains (1992)
How could I exclude Dirt by Alice in Chains from this list?! Layne Staley will always remain among my top three favorite singers. His voice is so recognizable, inspiring a whole generation of singers and continuing to do so now more than two decades after his death. What a legacy, along with Jerry [Cantrell] ‘s writing and playing style, which has become even more apparent since the release of their more current albums.
I should add Black Gives Way to Blue to this list as an honorable mention because the songs and tonalities on it are mind-blowing, and William [DuVall] ‘s voice is incredible! I’ll admit, I was skeptical when I heard Alice in Chains was reuniting with a new singer; Layne left some big shoes to fill, but William has the chops, and I’m so glad he brought his voice to their sound.
William has quickly become one of my all-time favorites as well. But when you consider the albums that planted them as a household name, Dirt will forever be held in such high regard by the masses and me.
Lateralus – Tool (2001)
It took a while for Lateralus by Tool to really hook me in. At first, I didn’t understand it because it’s so different than any traditional style of musicianship, but one night, I fell asleep with the record playing, had the weirdest dreams, and woke up in a state of panic once it got to the last track, “Faaip De Oaid!” After that unusual experience, I became intrigued.
There’s a mood to the album, which is kind of eerie and unhinged, yet a beautiful work of art. Everything from the music, lyrics, Maynard [James Keenan] ‘s voice, and the way Adam [Jones], Justin [Chancellor], and Danny [Carey] lock together like gears in the groove to the album and visual artwork. There’s something to admire when a band fulfills their artistic wants rather than going for short and sweet radio songs.
Then again, I greatly love and appreciate hit-maker songwriters in the same regard. I feel that Lateralus is a more modern equivalent to something like [Pink Floyd’s] Dark Side of the Moon. The whole album is one complete thought and stays on theme. All your neurons start firing, and colors begin painting themselves inside your mind while listening.
Moon Safari – Air (1998)
A friend of mine turned me onto Air’s Moon Safari, and I just love the overall sounds from the French producer duo. I was listening to a lot of newer “trancey” electronic and hip-hop music at the time of discovering them, and this 1998 album, with its modern feel, has held up against the test of time, in my opinion. It has great musical moments; the songs are cool, and it aligned with a lot of the things I was writing at that moment.
Solace – Rufus De Sol (2018)
Another album I devoured while writing alternative pop/electronic songs was Rufus Du Sol’s Solace, featuring the haunting track “Underwater.” I love the distinctive sound this Australian trio has developed with hints of mainstream pop elements, but it is done differently. It’s got grooves, sounds, and melodies that are super catchy and hooky but also a little melancholy.
Queen of the Clouds – Tove Lo (2014)
It’s the same principle with Tove Lo’s Queen of the Clouds, an insanely talented pop artist unlike several of the usual top-40 mainstream pop stars. I love all her albums, but her first was the one which made me a huge fan. I just love her melody choices, singing unique note runs to keep the listener engaged and the songs interesting while remaining simple, hooky, and easy to digest. I love her clever lyrics and how her records are produced, taking creative liberties and offering something beautifully unconventional to the pop world.
Delicate Sound of Thunder – Pink Floyd (1988)
Ok, let’s get back to the classics. I don’t think I could make this list without including Pink Floyd… the problem is, there are too many records to choose from! Hit after hit, album after album, I decided to go with their live concert recording, Delicate Sound of Thunder. I’m so grateful for this album’s existence because I’ve, unfortunately, never been able to see them live.
So, not only do you get that energy and execution of recreating the songs in a concert setting, but it’s also kind of a greatest hits album at the same time. I will always be a David Gilmour worshipper with his signature playing style and how he makes his guitar sing, which no one else could ever replicate. Also, it was mixed at Abbey Road Studios, so it’s a sonic experience, not unlike the entire Pink Floyd catalog.
The White Album – The Beatles (1968)
Speaking of Abbey Road, I would be hard-pressed not to include a Beatles record! Which record? Now, that’s a nearly impossible choice! Any album would be a perfect fit for me, but if it were life or death, if I had to pick only one in a “desert island” type scenario, I would have no choice but to reach for The White Album.
I would have more songs to listen to, and some of my all-time favorites are on it. One is George Harrison’s emotional masterpiece, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” with his melodic playing literally brings a tear to the listener’s eye. The White Album speaks for itself; it’s inspired and continues to inspire endless generations of music lovers and will continue to do so until the end of time. Not including The Beatles in this list would be blasphemous!
Take Me Back to Eden – Sleep Token (2023)
The best thing about having a continuous career in music is I never cease to be inspired. Several newer artists have recently shown up on my radar, recharging my love for heavier music. The biggest one, as of late, is Sleep Token and their latest album, Take Me Back to Eden—a modern-day groundbreaker to the rock genre. Not only are their masks, outfits, and overall theme brilliant from a marketing standpoint, but that’s just the icing on the cake.
What really drew me in was the music, lyrics, and Vessel’s insane voice! If you’re a lyric nerd, this album is like the lyric Olympics! They have such an amazing way of constructing uncommonly used word phrasing so poetically to the point where it paints vivid images but not to the point where the listener doesn’t understand what they’re trying to say.
Most of the songs are about common human experiences like love, relationships, and heartbreak, which we can all relate to. One of the best wordsmiths of our time, with one of the best vocal ranges in rock music. Of course, I must shout out their drummer, II. The energy, style, and vocabulary he brings to the songs from his drum kit are signature staples of their exclusive sound.
Iowa – Slipknot (2001)
If you want to get your heavy rocks off, nobody does it quite like Slipknot! I must choose Iowa for this list because of its impact on the metal world upon its release. I love Slipknot’s entire discography and Iowa may not be their most “melody forward” record, and they’ve obviously grown as songwriters over the years, but there’s something so special about the raw energy and alluring chaos the nine Iowan’s brought into the studio to make that record.
When you listen to it, after a while, you just go into some sort of mental trance, and you can feel whatever they were all going through internally at the time. Corey Taylor is one of the greatest and most consistent metal singers of all time; one might call him a total freak of nature!! I must also honor Joey Jordison for his influential style; it’s no surprise he became such an icon and will always live in our hearts as a legend.
Mezzanine – Massive Attack (1998)
That leaves room for only one more. I’ve always hailed Massive Attack as being ahead of their time, and their 1998 album, Mezzanine, has and will continue to transcend generations. Whatever they tapped into while making that record really struck a chord with me, especially with bangers like “Angel,” “Teardrop,” and “Inertia Creeps.”
I love to put this record on late at night when I’m ready to unwind from the day and let the hypnotic sound put me in a meditative state. As a group with such an original sound, I can’t categorize this record as “massively” (pun intended) inspirational when it comes to songwriting, but I have used it as a palate cleanser while working on a song. If I hit a rut or feel frustrated, this album can help calm my mind so I can approach whatever I’m working on with a fresh mindset.