The lights go down. Anticipation descends upon the sweaty, beer-soaked crowd like a massive virus. Infected, they begin to push together, clamoring to get closer and closer to the event like ants awaiting their royal arrival. In normal circumstances, an elbow continuously prodding into one’s rib cage would be a sign of malicious intent. Here, though, it is to be expected. As the community breath grows as foul as any combination of bodily fluids that can be imagined, the crowd’s claustrophobic effect provides a choking, painful relief. As the first chord is struck, mayhem ensues. What was building up merely moments ago has now been released, a catapulting, shotgun-like reaction, spreading shards of pure metallic energy throughout the crowd. This is it. This is Metal.
An experience as such can be related to by all fans of Heavy music, and is the main inspiration for this recurring article. When presented with the idea of such an article from the powers-that-be, this writer’s mind went blank. If the title, Far Beyond Metal, sounds familiar in the reader’s Metal subconscious, it is because after hearing the song of the same name, a live track contained on Strapping Young Lad’sNo Sleep ‘Till Bedtime: Live in Australia album, the fog of writer’s block began to lift and with it ideas began to breed. In the song, SYL mastermind, Devin Townsend provides an introduction with a brief summation of his formative years as a Metal fan, “When I was 16, I had a W.A.S.P. silk wall-hanging. I had a Judas Priest patch. I made a pair of fingerless gloves out of my Mother’s fuzzy purple mittens!” Injecting humor into nostalgia, the track provided a welcome escape from the sometimes all-too serious world of Metal. It is in utter rebellion to the scenesters, elitists, close-minded, and trend-followers that Far Beyond Metal is written. Music is meant to be enjoyed. Shows are meant to be experienced rather than a meeting ground for baggy pants, cell-phones, book bags, and folded elbows. Metal is more than the band of the moment enjoying its heavy rotation at Tower Records or even the band of yester-year capitalizing on an all-too brief wave of nostalgia for mid-life crisis infected suits, it is a way of life and a never-ending journey of discovery. Hopefully, Far Beyond Metal will help to open people’s eyes to and provide an impetus for that discovery, not just for fringe elements but for essential listening and fun. That being said, in the great words of the Grandfather of Metal, Ozzy Osbourne, “Let the Madness Begin.”
Earache Records’ blessing to the Metal world comes in the form of The Haunted. For those less familiar with their style, the band rose from the ashes of the now-defunct leaders of Swedish Death Metal, At the Gates. While this scribe and others throughout the world were sad to see the demise of the band that spear-headed an entire genre (without At the Gates, In Flames, Soilwork, and Dark Tranquility would all cease to exist), The Haunted combined the brutal yet melodic Death Metal approach of the aforementioned with an even more aggressive Thrash feel. Their third and latest release, One Kill Wonder sees the band with a more succinct Thrash approach. To put it bluntly, The Haunted have matured, honed in on their skills both as musicians and songwriters, and released an album full of 11 songs that can stand on their own yet individually add to the collective Swedish beat-down! In fact One Kill Wonder could stand confident and tall alongside Vulgar Display of Power or Burn My Eyes any day. It truly is that good. Recently, guitarist Anders Bjorler was kind enough to shed some light on the new album:
Anders:As a band you always evolve and the result always goes in different directions over a certain period of time. That’s the good thing about playing music or producing / performing art
in general. Who wants to do the same thing over and over again? I am not talking about major steps in sound- or songwriting changes, but rather small steps along the way. A major reason for the difference between our albums is not just a change of the recording environments, but rather
frequent member changes. From the self-titled debut we have gone thru quite a few member changes which produced new ideas and fresh fuel in the songwriting process. One Kill Wonder is the result from 4 hot summer months trapped inside our rehearsal room. No one in the band even saw the sun last summer (2002). We are all very pleased with the result and the positive comments have been overwhelming.One Kill Wonder is indeed a brutal kick-to-the-teeth, aimed at inciting riots yet provoking thought as well. One cannot help but wonder what inspired the Trash Titans to unleash such a devastating onslaught with these latest 11 songs:
Anders:"Everything in the world affects you to some extent. Of course the 9-11 incident had an effect on me, and it most definitely had one on most of the people throughout the planet. One Kill Wonder is a collective statement put together mainly from viewing today’s media tactics. We all live in societies controlled by media to a certain extent. Take in consideration, the Iraqi war, the 9-11, the recent Washington Sniper: all these events are exploited to sell newspapers and commercial space (television networks). I mean; how likely is it really to become the Washington Sniper’s next victim? I would say - Less than being struck by a car anywhere in Washington most likely. One Kill Wonder is a cynical statement towards the exploitation of danger & people’s fear of things that actually don’t produce a threat at all. One Kill Wonder could be a newspaper headline anywhere. That’s why we choose the artwork accordingly. Will the killer do it again? Are we safe?"
While The Haunted are formulating their own unique blend of Thrash and Death Metal, it is evident that the guys are definitely avid fans of ‘80s Thrash (Testament, Slayer, Dark Angel, etc.) Lately, many of these bands have been resurfacing and showcasing their talent on the road for the first time since the early ‘90s. What are Anders’s views on the resurrection of many of yesterday’s giants, and the on the scene in general?
Anders:"The scene is and has always been in progression. I guess the whole internet community has changed a lot for metal. Not only for up-and-coming demo bands to distribute their music, but also communication and information. I remember the time back in the late ‘80s when I was writing all my mail by hand (and trust me, it was a lot). I’m not that into the "internet scene" (communities, websites, forums, newsgroups, or newsletters). There’s no time. I am way too busy. The music scene nowadays is pretty healthy as well. A lot of the upcoming bands are actually pretty good, mixing old school styles with new fresh ideas for the 21st century. I am not an eccentric follower of new bands though, but I if I hear something good on radio, mp3 or Live, I usually pick it up for further examination. I guess the old school Thrash bands that are reforming is an additional spark to the scene. The new kids growing up seem to have missed out on the old "greats,” and I am very happy that bands like Exodus, Testament etc. are still going strong.
They have been around forever, but they still kick serious ass!!!!"
Essential Old School
In an age where Hardcore, Metal-core, and Emo-core (or whatever the trendy tag of the moment may deem these bands) seem to be gaining more and more followers, one must trace back the roots of such a scene. Twenty-some years ago (1982, actually), the almighty D.R.I. was born out of Houston, Texas. Within months, they began to rule the burgeoning Hardcore scene of the early ‘80s and gain the title of the “fastest band in the world.” Who would have known that four kids from Texas could have such an impact as to unite Punks, Metalheads, and Skinheads amongst others?
Recently, Beer City Records re-released the Dirty Rotten Imbeciles’ immortal classic, Dealing With It. Within this re-release are not only the original album, but also rare demo tracks, rough mixes, and a video interview (43 tracks in all counting the video). The focus, however, should remain on the original 25 tracks of speed-fueled Hardcore insanity. From the opening riff of “Snap,” to the infamous ranting of Kurt and Eric Brecht’s (vocals and drums respectively) father to stop practicing in the house on “Madman” (labeling them dirty rotten imbeciles is perhaps the “coolest” thing he ever did!), these are real songs, songs that have served as a pissed-off soundtrack for frustrated youth for twenty years.
D.R.I., in true Hardcore form, were never afraid of standing up to the opposition, be it politics, religion, or society in general. In “Stupid, Stupid War,” Kurt attacks the insanity of politically-charged war: “I won’t fight your stupid war. Believe me, I’m not your slave. I won’t fight in your war games. The C.I.A. can’t make me play.” Hypocrisy in organized religion also began to rear its ugly head during that time yet could not escape D.R.I.’s backlash in “God Is Broke”: “Is that what you fear most? God in green, a numbered face, a scamming holy ghost?” The ‘80s were a time of plastic materialism, the yuppie crowd seemingly ruled, but even they could not escape the wrath of D.R.I. “Give My Taxes Back” is the Hardcore reaction to a transparent, bourgeoisie lifestyle: “I’m not into the material scene…polyester, polyethylene…At least give me a chance to say what I want. The more you waste, the more you want.”
D.R.I. had a lot to say, words that not only fit the time twenty years earlier, but are still more than valid. Had the band not slaved away in Kurt and Eric’s parents’ home, injecting Punk and Hardcore with a Metal edge, bands such as Slayer, Nuclear Assault, Corrosion of Conformity, Biohazard, and Hatebreed would perhaps still exist but probably would not have evolved into their current form. The scene of today echoes that of D.R.I.’s hey-day for the tensions that were quite strong a few years back have loosened and the lines have blurred between Hardcore, Punk, and Metal. What is different is the current lack of a new band with the capabilities D.R.I. had to single-handedly unite entire scenes! Dealing With It is essential listening for all!
Imagine the scene: a bright Spring day, birds sing the song of newfound love, flowers bloom, the last vestiges of a pale, long winter are gradually dying to be reborn a myriad of color and imagination, yet the feeling of being trapped in a schoolhouse prison of four walls seems unbearable. What is left to do except to escape in Bond-like stealth fashion to the parking lot, the take-off point of possibilities, and also the war-zone patrolled by the Gestapo? After minutes that seem like hours pass by, crawling on all fours to avoid the Brown-shirts, the anxious youth finds his steed, climbs in with his comrades and speeds off into infinity. Upon entering the car, empty bottles, cigarette packs, and papers upon papers are brushed by to find the soundtrack to this adventure, an old, faded cassette bearing the title, Manowar still, in bold letters on the cover. This is the story of this writer’s youth, surely of countless youth the globe over, and hopefully it served as an adequate introduction to a review of the Kings of Metal’s latest 2-DVD set titled, Fire and Blood.
While some may pass off Manowar as the living, breathing real-life version of Spinal Tap, they are entirely missing the point. The Kings of Metal truly practice their war-lord, Conan the Barbarian-type lifestyle that they have chronicled in song since the late ‘70s. Disc one, “Hell On Earth Part II” is a testament to that. Is it over the top that Manowar like certain European countries because the chicks are hot? Yes! Is it a bit much that every stop on the tour from France to the Czech Republic, Portugal to Guyana, seems to find the band’s collective epic-hero ego swelling as they defy the command to “turn it down”? Yes! This is truly all part of the fun, though. Disc two contains a performance by the band at the Monsters of Rock Festival in Sao Paolo Brazil from 1998. Characteristically while playing to over 30,000 fans with 20,000 watts of True Metal blaring from the stage, the band blows 18 speakers, “with Rock ‘N Roll”!!! All the classics are present including, “Sign of the Hammer,” “Kings of Metal,” “Black Wind, Fire and Steel,” and others. Watching the DVD makes one realize that it is one thing to simply listen to the band, but an entirely different and more rewarding experience visually. Not even the most rigid musical snob could thwart a smile watching the four guys while they are living the dream! Whether the reader is a true Power Metal fan, or a fan of any form of Heavy music, Manowar is essential in any catalog, be it for musical, nostalgic, or comedic value. That final judgment should be left up for personal review. Let the Kings of Metal’s own words fittingly conclude by saying, “If you aren’t into Metal, then you are not my friend!!!”
It does not seem like it’s been a full three years since Dying Fetus released Destroy the Opposition. Perhaps the reason for this time lapse is due to said album’s infectious nature and status as mainstay in any area, be it home or car, where this scribe resides. The band’s new Death Metal opus, aptly titled Stop at Nothing contains eight tracks, an onslaught to the senses. The band should perhaps put a label on the cover as on any controlled substance, warning listeners to refrain from being in the presence of breakables, heavy machinery, or people that suck for the reactions from this album could be truly unpredictable! Dying Fetus continues on in their past tradition of rebelling against conformity and the corporate mind-state. Put simply, Dying Fetus is a thinking-man’s Death Metal band. They urge the masses to formulate their own free, original thought instead of merely accepting what has been rhetorically passed down by both the government and organized religion. For those that may not want to dig as deep, the music that has been committed to this disc is absolutely the BEST Death Metal out there! While that may seem a lofty statement, it comes with full justification. As of late, many of the great Death Metal bands have either entered a state of musical stagnation becoming a parody of themselves (we aren’t naming names here), or have taken drastic left turns, some good, some bad, but definitely not Death Metal. Dying Fetus has remained true to themselves since their inception in ’91, not compromising for trends or anyone. While some Death Metal may seem too much to swallow, leaving the listener wondering where the “point” truly is, Dying Fetus have perfected the art of combining that tenacity with top-notch musicianship to create songs that not only dazzle the musicians but also turn the heads of any fans of Heavy and angry music. Blast beats pound the senses like heavy artillery only to run into the breakdowns by which dreams are made of, breaking noses, bludgeoning eyes, etc. Just as the listener begins to comprehend the layers of intricate passages, slow mosh-inducing rhythms take control, becoming a musical call-to-arms. The end result is an album to be listened to repeatedly that never grows stale.