When Guns n Roses released "Appetite for Destruction" back in 1987, it changed the course of rock music. Following the more dramatic shakeup that occurred when Nirvana put out "Nevermind" in '91, a lot of people tend to forget how jarring "Appetite" seemed when it first came out. Until about the mid-1980's, hard rock and heavy metal were pretty much a united front. If you loved Aerosmith and KISS, you probably loved AC / DC, Black Sabbath and Van Halen. That started to change in the '80's when thrash bands like Metallica and Slayer went one direction and hair bands like Bon Jovi and Poison went another.
Speed metal bands played up the aggression and anger that had always been at the core of heavy metal, and downplayed the glamor, sex appeal and rock star mentality so important to arena rock. Glam bands did the exact opposite, playing the rock star image to the hilt and stripping away the brutal edge. Roughly half a decade passed without a hard rock band that could do it all, as past titans like Led Zeppelin did so well. Guns n Roses fit the bill perfectly, combining a dangerous sense of anger and frustration with sexuality, rock star swagger and a surprising vulnerability. In short, the Gunners were capable of expressing the full range of their emotions, something that too few bands were able to do at that time.
I know for me, personally, "Appetite" was a life-changing album. As a young fan, no band captured my attention the way Guns did at that moment in time. More than just my musical tastes, they influenced my entire way of life (not always for the better, I must admit; at least not from my parents' point of view). Unlike the majority of rock music presented in the mainstream, Guns were angry and raw, but unlike the diehard thrash crowd, they weren't afraid of expressing other feelings as well (and they had no shame about courting the widest possible audience). Early G'n'R concerts were noted for bringing metal heads, punks, rocker chicks and even the occasional skinhead (?!) Together in one place, strange as that may seem now. The rock press at the time generally cited the band and "Appetite" as the nail in the coffin for the likes of Bon Jovi, Poison, and Ratt.
It's funny that five years later, the same magazines were hailing Nirvana as the band that would kill off bands like Bon Jovi, Poison, Ratt and ….. Guns n Roses. The truth is, while Guns were not a musical influence on Nirvana (Kurt Cobain was certainly not a fan), in terms of commercial acceptance, if "Appetite for Destruction" had never come out, "Nevermind" might never have taken off. Nirvana might have played to the same niche audiences as the Melvins, the Meat Puppets and similar acts. "Appetite for Destruction" could well have been the gateway drug for people addicted to "Slippery When Wet" to move on to "Smells Like Teen Spirit".