Sep 29, 2012

What a Girl!  Luna, 1998-Sep.11, 2012

All dogs are special, but sometimes one comes along that you bond with in a way that makes you feel less like a pet owner, and more like a brother or sister.  A partner. Our German shepherd Luna was one of those dogs.  Monica took Luna in as a rescue dog around the beginning of 1999 after falling head over heels for her at a shelter in Georgia when she still lived there.  She and her boyfriend at the time had to rush back to their house to get enough money to adopt her and get back before the hour long hold the shelter put on the adoption process expired.  They got back in the nick of time, just as another couple was getting ready to start the paperwork on her.  The four of them knew that Luna was a special girl.

Who knows what Luna endured at the hands of her original owners?  Monica said that she was terrified of men, and that if you called her with any amount of sternness in your voice she would cower and you would have to clean up an "accident".  Poor girl!  Before long, once Luna saw that there was absolutely nothing she would ever have to worry about again, she began her transformation into the proud, noble creature that I came to know later.

Monica and I bought our house together exactly nine year ago.  We started off with three cats and three dogs, all hers, all rescues, all with very distinct personalities.  Luna was the protector.  The patroller.  I never felt like I had anything to lose before Monica and I moved in together, but a protective instinct kicked in in me that I didn't know existed.  Luna's total devotion to Monica, and her own protective drive to stay in sight at all times made me feel completely secure that nothing would happen to Monica, or our home when I wasn't there.  I have loved every pet I've ever had.  Every dog, cat, fish, frog, tarantula and scorpion has made my life better and more meaningful, but Luna was the only one that made me feel like I was the one being taken care of instead of the other way around.  Luna slept in the hallway so that she could see everything that was going on in the house, and when she was younger she would wake up to make her rounds.  She patrolled the house and it was clear that she was protecting Monica and everyone else she loved.  We all slept well under her watchful eye.  

The relationship that Luna and Monica had was inspiring, and I will truly miss watching their caring and affection for one another.  If I called Luna or asked her to do something, she would look at Monica first to see that it was okay before coming over to me.  I'll never be as sweet, or as cute as Luna was throwing her toys up in the air and catching them, and I'll never look right wagging my tail upon seeing Monica when I get home every afternoon from work, even though my inner tail wags harder than she'll ever know.  Yes, I'll miss seeing them together but I will always take comfort in knowing that they were a perfect match.  They were meant to be together.  Luna will always be loved appreciated, and sorely, sorely missed.  Luna, if you have internet access in animal heaven, know that your mother and I cherish every moment we had with you, and that you made us better people.  We love you, we miss you, and please tell Ginger and Jake that the next time we see each other it will be forever.

Sep 21, 2012

Shipwrecked with a Stereo that Works

Okay, you know the drill...  You are stuck on an island for the rest of your life with a stereo that somehow works, a tree that produces bricks of extra sharp cheddar and whatever other bare essentials a person might need to make a life of sun poisoning and picking sand out of your nethers tolerable.  What are the ten albums you would want to have for the rest of your secluded life?  The same logic that allows for a decent stereo limits your library to ten, that's just how it goes.  We don't question these things, we just appreciate that there is a stereo at all.  Oh yes, and cheese... glorious cheese!

No compilations, no box sets, no cutting out irritating songs, no K-Tel nonstop dance parties.  Just a musical statement as intended by the artist.  I will accept full live albums, because I understand that there are people who fell in love with the band Kiss after hearing "Alive" when they were too young to know any better.  Even people I know and respect liked Kiss.  That's why you get your island and I get mine!  Even if our islands were within earshot of each other I don't think I'd ask you to turn Kiss down at night.  It would probably make me appreciate my own precious record collection even more!  I might have to swim over and kick your ass if you played Kiss loud before say, 11:00 am but after that would be fine.  I used to wake up to a neighbor who blasted eighties era Phil Collins at 7:00 in the morning.  I've put in my time as an overly patient neighbor! 

You may be shocked to see my own list.  I only had to think about a couple of these, but I think I could do it if I ever were to be shipwrecked.  The cheese tree is equally important, and since no one else would be around, the pungent and flatulent smell of extra sharp cheddar would offend only myself, and who cares what I think?

Sep 18, 2012

Sabbath vs Sabbath Live: The Flip

This is a necessary follow up to Sunday night's post about the musical alchemists who somehow took a tuned down bluesy approach to protest music, and through their own dark magic were able to invent "Metal".  I made my case, and am comfortable with my position, but I have to compare the two different line ups' live performances.  One line up was surprisingly great and the other, which I let myself get really excited about, was well... considerably less than great.  In fact, I could have put one of the performances on my list of "The Most Moving Shows I've Seen" though it would have been for the wrong reasons.  

I never saw Black Sabbath when they were still active rock gods.  When I saw them, they had descended from atop their mountain to remind us all of how our favorite kind of music had begun.  Ozzfest was not the kind of thing I would normally get excited about, but I knew it could be the only chance I'd ever have to see Black Sabbath.  Though It would not be the line up I really wanted to see, Monica and I felt like we should go.  We were both very glad that we did...

Sep 16, 2012

Sabbath vs Sabbath

Where would any type of music that ends with the word "metal" be without Black Sabbath? Almost every metal band points to them as an influence.  Their aesthetic spoke to millions of people who appreciated dark as much as light.  Some had even more reverence for all things morbid, morose and macabre.  I was one of those people...  probably still am!  Black Sabbath weren't the first band to step into the world of occultism, but they were the first to play such dark and eerie music while taking jabs at various establishment icons.  They picked at society's scabs and freaked a lot of people out.

Musically speaking Black Sabbath were very primitive, but they were able to spark something in people.  Ozzy Osbourne's vocals were rough and often clumsy, but he was as sincerely soulful as a man could be.  No one could sound like him and in forty years of trying, no one ever has.  He laid it all out there for you, and when you juxtaposed that with their tuned down riffs you had a band that turned everyone's head, either in joyful celebration or unnerved anxiety.  They really tapped into some new energy.  Enough energy to ignite an entirely new subculture.  Every black t-shirt you have ever seen with a band's ineligible logo came as a result of the Sabbath spark.  They should be on every thank you list of every metal band from now until the Hand of Doom touches us all.

Sep 11, 2012

The Case for Instrumental Music

When someone is a fan of metal, particularly truly "heavy" metal there is one sticking point that can make or break an otherwise inspirational band.  Typically speaking, the "singers" suck.  I mean, they really suck. The ones that actually have something to add to the music are fine, and sometimes even great, but the other ninety percent detract from what bands are trying to accomplish. Pop music doesn't exist without vocalists. The entire message of pop music and every bit of its appeal relies on oral communication. It's rare that the music itself matters much beyond providing a bed for the vocals to lay on, but metal can be aggressive, mean and heavy as hell without a singer at all.  I find that the music is often meaner than the vocalist, so for me the impact is lost when the singer can't match the intensity of the band. Bless their little hearts, a singer's over inflated sense of self worth ( made obvious by the fact that they think the stage is meant for them in the first place ) and the notion that their message of crippling insecurities or feelings of inadequacy is unique enough that everyone simply must hear what they have to say mean that they are driven to a spotlight. Metal is for "outsiders" and I am no exception to that rule, whereas the microphone is for narcissists.  I get to hide my own insecurities behind my over sized drum set.  Whenever I have something to "say" I use riffs or beats.  There is a lot of room for interpretation, and people can attach whatever train of thought they might want to what I do.  That free association is one of the things I love most about music, but lyrics often take that liberty away from a listener.

In Confessor, I always found that no matter how much attention to detail we put into the music it became a real chore to hear it in its full context once Scott put his vocals down. That isn't a knock on Scott at all, it's just illustrative of how language is the way that we are accustomed to receiving information.  Everything else takes a back seat, even if it's at a subconscious level. The singer takes the role of defining what we are supposed to be thinking about, and I would rather have the freedom to ascribe whatever random thoughts I may have to the music I listen to.  Ambient singers can absolutely enhance a band's aesthetic but they are few and far between, especially in a type of music that thrives on deliberate aggression.  I have been able to embrace the reflexive "need" for nearly all bands to have a vocal identity.  A singer really does humanize music and make it relatable for most, but not everyone needs that connection to identify with music.  With very few exceptions I prefer the dreamy, whimsical nature of music without the restrictive blinders that come with a singer's presence.  However, in the heavier forms of music that I tend to like most, a good instrumental band is a very rare thing indeed.  

Instrumental music does not require your full attention.  It makes for a wonderful background static to keep at bay the deafening roar of silence that makes me so restless at times.  You can drift in and out of instrumental music, especially if it is the dreamier variety that adds color to your day, slowly seeping into your thoughts without demanding that you scrutinize every note. Classical, jazz, dream pop, electronica... so many different vibes work wonderfully without vocals, but heavy music has not spent so much energy tapping into the endless possibilities of instrumental music.  Loincloth knew from the beginning that we could do whatever we wanted without having to use the vocally driven, heavy music template.  That template is the limiting factor that having a singer foists upon creative efforts.  Verse, chorus, some screaming... everyone uses the same framework.  When it's really bad a band will have interesting parts that go away when the vocals come in so that the singer doesn't have to compete with the band for space.  Weak.  Very, very weak.  There is also the fact that most heavy bands use aggressive singers, so the vibe is much more uniform from one band to the next, and it's hard to sing about things other than conflict if you're trying to show the world how tough you are. Life has a lot of things to celebrate, and I don't need to be yelled at all the time.

There is another thing about heavy music that limits what most bands go for whenever you find one that opts for an instrumental approach.  As a genre made up of self described social misfits, there seems to be a need to prove that their life's pursuit has made them just as talented as anyone in more widely accepted types of music.  Metal wants people to see that it has virtuosos around every corner.  It as a way of puffing its chest and proclaiming that our overlooked, picked on nerds can stand with your precious, pampered nobility on any stage and give them a run for their money.  It's bravado, and it comes out in the form of overly schooled scales and more disciplined than visionary riffs that are impressive feats of technological achievement, but are often flat and not very compelling.  I wouldn't blame anyone for leveling that same criticism at Loincloth, but we really aren't interested in showing what we are capable of as musicians as much as what metal is capable of as an art form. We wanted to celebrate heaviness and rhythmic confusion, not shine the spotlight on our individual progress as musicians.  It was music that inspired us, not a mirror.

I find instrumental music to be far more emotive than most vocal oriented music.  The ability to attach whatever train of thought I have at the moment to the music means that it is a more personal journey for me.  A singer is defining his or her own personal journey, and that can be a wonderful thing as well, particularly if they happen to nail some thought you may have had before or if they expand upon one of the questions about life that we all have. For the most part, there simply aren't many singers I want to listen to for forty five minutes. Their bag of tricks is usually limited to the two or three things their egos tell them are all they need to be the greatest front man the world has ever seen.  Think about this; we tend to lip sync vocal parts, but we head bang to everything else.  We reflexively repeat the language, but we are physically moved by the music.  Without vocals dripping off of every sheet of music you can feel what that inspiring music is all about.  You can hear the interplay between drum and bass, or the overlapping notes that guitarists use and the music begins to tell its own story. That vague story, and the flexibility of an association that suits your own state of mind instead of funneling you into a narrow path defined by a vocal narrative that may be miles away from where your head is, makes it possible for me to see metal's limitless creative horizon.

Sep 7, 2012

Five Albums that Make Extreme Metal Better

Good heavy music is a wonderful thing.  There is something about it that satisfies at a primal level.  I have spent my entire adult life playing heavy music and I can tell you that as a drummer I have a physical connection with it.  A tight rhythm section that knows how to emphasize heaviness creates a physical sensation for the listener, but to actually play the parts, to actively determine how the transitions are played out is something that resonates within me every time we get it right.  If it were any more physical than it is I would probably have an addiction problem!

It is very hard to believe how commercialized heavy music has become.  I understand its appeal to fans, but that it has become a lucrative sub genre of hard rock is something almost no one could have imagined when we started playing as a band.  Underground metal and punk rock were so counter-culture that mass acceptance was an anathema to everyone involved in the two movements.  It was a badge of honor to be immersed in something that seemed so extreme on the outside, so avant-garde.  Metallica blew the doors right off of their hinges and a curious world full of more comfortable music fans rightly poked its head into the dark underbelly it only spoke of in hushed whispers to see what it had been missing. Nothing has been the same in extreme metal since then, and I would argue that the term "underground" has lost almost all of its original meaning.

Quickly, bands by the dozens tried to glom onto what had been fresh and exciting only a few months earlier and as is true in all movements, the genre became watered down.  It became harder to find bands that had unique visions in a sea of lowest common denominator head banging.  I have no issue with "bangers".  What a person loves in his or her music is just as inspiring to them as what I love is to me.  But as is the case with all art forms, when so many people are satisfied with "less", it becomes harder to find artist who mean to create "more".  I got tired of being disappointed with ninety plus percent of what was coming out and I stopped trying to find new bands that were doing heavy music justice.  A few bands have kept pushing the envelope in creative ways and have stayed true to the sense of adventure that underground metal was born with.

Here is a list of five albums that I feel are shining examples of the kinds of worlds "heaviness" can create.
  • Godflesh, "Songs of Love and Hate":  Godflesh is the last "favorite band" I couldn't get enough of.  If machines have dreams, Godflesh would be the soundtrack to all of their nightmares.  I suppose they are ultimately an industrial band, but they are just as much a rock band of the darkest variety.  Godflesh utilizes more discordant notes, or "cluster tones" than you can shake a stick at.  The payoff is a catalogue full of lush, but incredibly dark and ominous guitar landscapes. The band uses repetition to drive home just how heavy the music is, and this is one of those records I can listen to several times in a row.  The vocals are brutal and it's easy to imagine blood flying out of Justin Broadrick's mouth by the end of most songs.  He sounds like he is either possessed by rage or gripped with terror most of the time, which makes the music more primal than it already is.  They do "ugly" in such a way that it becomes beautiful and elegant if you can get lost in it. That is the wonderful thing about so many minor notes and cluster tones... their world is just as limitless and colorful as that of major chord progressions, but the palette is completely different!  Equally melodic, but emotive in a very different way.  I have always been drawn toward the darker versions of things.  Well maybe not toast as much as music and art, but I love a sense of ominousness in creative pursuits and in nature.
  • Decapitated, "Organic Hallucinosis":  I never gave "blast bands" a chance.  Speed was the antithesis of heavy in my mind, but for awhile speed became the new heavy for many people.  It became a philosophical sticking point for me. Bands that were focused on playing faster and faster were really just watching each other masturbate.  It seemed to me an extension of the lead guitar mentality and while there is a dedication and athleticism I can appreciate, the music lacks so many of the things that I love most about metal.  It took Necrophagist, and the Decapitated to finally create something in the sub-genre I could sink my teeth into. "Organic Hallucinosis" is a fully realized, utterly bleak vision executed with surgical precision by clearly passionate metal devotees.  While Necrophagist has a flashier aesthetic,  Decapitated are the band that will just mow you down.  The drummer, who is tragically no longer with us, has the most awe inspiring way of bleeding fast, single stroke tom fills into double bass patterns with enough hi-hat and cymbal work to cover the transitions so that you feel overwhelmed by an undulating wave  of post apocalyptic beat downs.  The vocalist on this record is quite possibly my favorite of all singers in death/grindcore.  He doesn't sing as much as threaten, and it is very effective.  Also, the guitarists use surprisingly major chords at times to create powerful, bleak spaces.  This album takes no prisoners!
  • Celtic Frost, "Monotheist":  Celtic Frost was one of the bands I started to get into way back in the early 80's when underground metal began to do more for me than punk rock.  In a way, Frost was as punk as they were metal in that they had a similar flare for chording and picking.  They were primitive, but darker and edgier. By the time their third release was out they had lost me.  They tried to be more artful than heavy and it just didn't work for me anymore.  I had started following bands that used more schooled precision in their music and Celtic Frost dragged their knuckles too much for me.  Their final album, "Monotheist" finally shows what I believe Tom G. Warrior had been striving for all along.  Thirty years of knuckle dragging has made them the aped hands down best at primate brutality with more than a splash of anti-christian preaching.  They definitely adhere to the "less is more" doctrine when creating their caveman masterpieces, but they spice things up with truly dark, inspired electronic sound beds and sporadic, cryptic recitations from what seems to be a witch with emphysema.  Artful head banging for all of your agitated polytheist, Uruk Hai look-alike warrior friends.
  • Opeth, "Blackwater Park":  Opeth and Necrophagist were the two bands that restored my faith in extreme metal.  They are miles apart aesthetically, but together they create a very rounded picture of what kinds of things are possibly in the truest, rule-less world of metal.  Opeth tread dangerously close to renaissance fair music at times, but I can still appreciate that they are trying to create an entire world for their fans, instead of just a room or two. "Blackwater Park" stands out from their other releases to me because of its subtle departure from the traditional framework of underground metal.  Enough of a departure that it becomes a different kind of experience.  There is something about this record, as with Celtic Frost's "Monotheist", that almost feels like a concept record.  I like it when bands successfully weave in some kind of theme to tie different parts of an album together.  It makes it feel less like twelve snapshots and more like a movie, if you know what I mean.  A lot of people use Pink Floyd references when they speak of Opeth and the overall flow of this record is the strongest connection I can think of between the two bands.  Mikael Akerfeldt happens to be another guy whose cookie monster voice actually sounds really damned good, and on this record he hadn't become enamored of his own traditional singing voice yet, so there is a better balance of heavy and light than some of their later recordings.
  • Meshuggah, "Koloss":  People tried to turn me onto Meshuggah several years ago but I just couldn't do it.  I have never heard their oldest releases, but what I did hear I found to be too stiff and cold.  There were a couple of things that always wore me down pretty quickly, so when it was suggested that I may enjoy "Obzen" by someone who was never crazy about them either I thought I'd give it a shot.  I do really like most of that album but their latest release, "Koloss" shows that the band are willing to branch out more than before.  The rhythmic contortions are here and gone in a handful of seconds where they would have gone off on a micro-tweak exercise for an eternity before.  Meshuggah are punishingly precise band that raise the bar in such a way that anyone who wants to try to keep up is going to have to think of music in non-traditional ways.  I love seeing or hearing a different take on things!  They have a way of muting their guitar chunks that makes it sound like something just slammed into whatever building you happen to be in. They make the bass a prominent star in their mixes which makes them far heavier than most. The songs on "Koloss" are shorter and more varied than previous releases which breathes a new life into some of their signature guitar counterpoints.  Things that were repetitive before really benefit from the new, slower pace of many of the songs.  They have become more ambient than seems possible given the kind of metal they play.  I am very happy to see them expand their horizons, and I am even more excited about where they may go from here. 

Sep 4, 2012

Cymbal-ism:  Take Advantage of What Is Within Your Reach

As Loincloth's debut album, "Iron Balls of Steel" was about to be released Tannon and I were deluged with interviews and essay style pieces that we had to write about ourselves and about the band.  I have never been as up to speed with underground metal as any of the writers I have interviewed with, and unless they happened to mention one of the five or six drummers who played in one of the few bands that I really enjoyed I never had any idea who they were referencing when the obligatory "Well, you must love so and so from this band or that band" comments came up. My problem with drummers is the same problem I have with metal in general... there are hundreds of great drummers and dozens of well schooled bands, but only a small handful that are interesting.

In a brief effort to introduce myself to some of the drummers whose names I have heard for years but whose music was still unknown to me I looked online for videos of their performances.  What I found was exactly what I thought I would find.  Very "well educated" drummers in the sense that they were smooth, adept players but there were none that I found compelling.  Predictable double bass playing and zero vision ruled the day.  I gladly accept the title of "music snob".  I have no problem with that at all.  I love some very basic things, and some very complex things.  I just want a band to have its own unique identity.  I don't expect to be blown away by every drummer I hear, and there will always be a place in music for the drummer who can play in an understated way and drive the bands' music at the same time.  After all, there is no one other than Phil Rudd who should ever play for AC/DC.  I ask nothing of any specific musician, but ask instead of all musicians that they seek their own voice.

One thing that stood out in all of the videos of drummers was the lack of interest in cymbal work.  When I started playing drums the only guys who stood out as visionary were in prog rock bands.    Most metal drummers kept things pretty basic, but the underground scene was still figuring out what it was capable of and it was exciting enough to be a part of a genuinely new form of music.  Within a few years there was a kick ass drummer on every corner.  Metal, at least in its more extreme form lends itself to unbridled creativity.  That's the thing I appreciate most about the genre.  There is a pioneering spirit that keeps bands pushing themselves in ways that is rare in other forms of music.  Still, with the limitless areas of exploration in metal I just don't see that there are many drummers taking advantage of their cymbals in creative ways.  Cymbals seem to be an afterthought, but they can have real impact with some careful planning if you are willing to play around with them.

When I first heard Metallica's "Fight Fire with Fire" I just about lost it.  The accents at the beginning of that song were so mean!  It really helped solidify the notion that a well placed cymbal choke can make an accent many times more impactful.  I started practicing them all the time.  Eventually I began to insert accents like that at different points within a riff instead of saving them for intros and the ends of parts.  I had to learn how to choke a cymbal with one hand (sorry, no dirty jokes today) so that I could keep the ride or hi-hat going without interrupting the beat.  My fingers paid mightily for that and I will quote a popular, though ultimately mediocre horror movie brand as a warning to all who care to practice the move... "Oh yes, there will be blood!".  You will have sticks flying all over the place until you get your grip down as well, but hopefully you will find it all worthwhile. Choke a cymbal at the same time as a bass drum hit, or with a snare hit (no choice but to do it one handed that way) or as an exclamation point all its own without hitting anything else.  It sounds like an effect that way, and most people hear it very clearly.

Some of the things that I have kept as set moves within a song came about as a result of me trying to get anyone in the band to laugh at practice.  You never know when you might stumble onto something that sounds cool, so don't be afraid to play around with your cymbals.  The first song on Loincloth's demo has two quick, tight cymbal chokes on a china type that are floating all on their own without a bass drum or snare to make them true accents.  I remember doing that while making a stupid metal face at Pen during practice one day.  While the face was meant to enhance the absurdity of the choke, we all thought that it sounded pretty damned cool and I have played it every time since!  Sometimes I still think it sounds silly, but it really jumps out.  I call that, and other china chokes "spanks" because they sounds like someone getting slapped with an open hand.  It still makes me laugh, but I love it.  It looks ridiculous but it creates something that you can't get any other way.  That same song has a constant cymbal pattern (every third note) over a repeated seven note guitar pattern that I played on an effect cymbal to make the guys laugh that has stayed in the song ever since. The part is really thick and the cymbal is so tiny that I thought I'd get a chuckle out of them.  I did, but I got an ironclad pattern out of it, too.  It pays to play around.

I have a lot of different cymbals.  I use them all, and for me they keep things interesting. Some people may not like effects cymbals, but I think that there are ways to use them that help create different aesthetics.  I applaud any drummer who makes his or her kit sing, and that does not require an elaborate set up, just a musical personality.  I'll take a person who rocks a four piece over the guy with an enormous kit and cymbals all around him who does nothing with them any day.  I have a china type on either side of me, a small splash, a large splash, and two small china splashes that I set on top of each other like opposing hamburger buns.  They all have their uses, and while it's true that I could survive without them, I like having so much variation right at my fingertips.  Be silly, be adventurous.  Try to throw in something that you think will look ridiculous! I guarantee you will play something you never would have otherwise, and you may discover a thing to add to your bag of tricks!

Sep 1, 2012

The Most Moving Shows I've Seen

It is rare that I go out and see bands anymore.  There are several reasons for that, not the least of which is that my ears ring for several days after a show, and I need to be more selective about which bands contribute to my hearing loss.  There have been many good shows in my past, but a few in particular have made lasting impressions on me.  I would love for people to write me about their own experiences with live music which may have struck them as more profound than most.

These descriptions are in order of impact:

1) Mr. Bungle: Cat's Cradle, Carboro, N.C. 1999? - I had seen Mr. Bungle once before at The Brewery here in Raleigh and was one of the best shows I had seen at that time.  Even knowing how good they could be didn't come close to preparing me for this show in support of their next record "California".  The Cradle was sold out, and it was as packed as I have ever seen it.  It's hard to put into words what makes an event like a show something more than just a performance.  Mike Patton, love him or hate him, was like a mad scientist on PCP!  Sometimes you could see his head pop up with his mouth wide open, belting out vocals as only he can.  Sometimes you'd see an arm over the stage or even feet, which was confusing but amazing at the same time.  The entire band were an unstoppable force, and I've never seen so many people on a stage play even close to that tight before or since!  It was without a doubt the most indescribable show I've seen.  You can't describe certain drugs to people who have never tried them, and you simply cannot explain what was so mind altering about Mr. Bungle live.  I honestly can't imagine I'll ever see anything like that show again.
2) King Diamond: The Pier, Raleigh, N.C. 1997 - This was too good to pass up.  My favorite band, Trouble was opening this show and I had never seen them before.  There was no stop scheduled for this tour in Raleigh but some friends of mine and I called their booking agent so many times that I think they decided to go ahead and set something up here.  I thought I would flip my lid over Trouble live... loud... oh man!  I could not wait!  I thought that King Diamond would either be really good or so ridiculous that it would be hilarious.  Either way, I knew I would enjoy myself.  Trouble put on a good show, but they didn't blow me away. Basically, all of their decent parts sounded fantastic, but whenever they came around to the kinds of riffs I got wet thinking about their sound didn't do them justice.  It was frustrating, but it was the same way when I saw them a couple of years later opening for Danzig.

King Diamond was quite another story.  We were able to get in the club after he had his soundcheck obligations taken care of, but he was still out in the main room.  He had this weird, evil vibe about him.  Evil probably isn't the right word, maybe he put off a vibe like he was a conduit for things beyond most people's comprehension.  He looked like the kid from The Bad News Bears movie who smoked and rode a moped, only KD kinda creeped me out instead of just looking silly.  Once the band took stage, we were all held absolutely captive by their performance.  He was unbelievably energetic and he let us see a little more into that erie connection he had with his dark side.  A good friend of mine was at least as big a fan as we were and had been excited about the show as well.  Eventually she had to remove herself from the stage area because she was so freaked out by the sense that eye contact might not be the wisest thing with this guy. I saw her later in the set leaning up against a column towards the back of the club and she didn't want to be any closer than that. Most of the people I knew who saw that show felt whatever his aura was, and we all agreed he was not someone to mess with.

3) Slayer: The Warner Theater, Washington DC 1986 - I loved Slayer's first releases.  "Show No Mercy" showed me that there was a form of music that could get your blood pumping more than punk rock, and the "Haunting the Chapel" ep elevated the art form such that underground metal had the potential to be taken seriously, and other bands who wanted to keep up were going to have to put their big boy pants on and peel some skin back if they wanted to stay in the same league.  "Reign in Blood" made Slayer kings among the ranks of underground metal.  That record came out when Metallica was headed to the grammy awards, which was a double edged sword for the genre.  While Anthrax and Metallica were looking for a way to get invited "in", Slayer said "Okay you can do that, but why don't you just stay the hell OUT!  We'll rule the underground while you guys hobnob!"  This Reign in Blood show was going to be fierce!

Huge stacks of cabinets with huge upside down crosses, and a twenty foot drum riser... they were not joking around.  The lights went down and the first three tom flams at the beginning of "Raining Blood" exploded into the club with synchronized strobe lights.  It was on, man! Everyone rushed to the area of the historic theater between the stage and the first row of seats. It was so tight that if your arm ended up over your head it could be two or three minutes before you could pull it back down.  People were using my hair and anyone else's to pull themselves up so they could walk on our heads to the stage, just to come crashing back down on top of us all.  It was brutal!  No doubt there were panic attacks.  The crowd took on an energy all its own even as Tom Araya admonished them for taking what could have been one of the most amazing shows ever, and causing it to devolve it into a flurry of fists and spit while stage hands laid waste to anyone they could, just to try and get a handle on things. Security was covered in spit, and it seemed as though the audience was on the verge of becoming dangerous throughout most of the set.  Slayer were precise and lethal that night. People were stage diving off of the balcony at the back of the theater, and the first four or five rows of seats were flattened.  Down to the ground flattened!  A wrecking crew could not have been more thorough.  I remember wondering if the barely contained violence would turn into something horrible once the crowd spilled out onto the street.  What a crazy night!  

Steve's closet

I really learned how to play drums after I joined Confessor.  By that I mean that I began to develop a style once the band were writing music together instead of me sitting in my room, learning how to imitate other drummers.  We were all expanding our own musical vocabularies together and there was a sense of adventure every time we came up with a new riff.  I was given carte blanch to play around with beats and timings because we all loved how changes "felt" in the middle of a part.  By switching emphasis from one minor nuance to another a guitar part can sound completely different, and we were drawn to the idea of jarring the listener every now and then.  Musicianship had picked up a bit from underground metal's infancy and there were some bands that were becoming very creative in their own unique ways whose inspiration made it into our own music.  

Were one to dig through to the back of my closet, past the black tennis shoes and acid wash jeans, and even beyond the pompoms and lipstick one would find the last of my cassettes.  They would be in a shoe box beside the tube of old blacklight and Iron Maiden posters.  These albums had a lot to do with setting the stage for our own musical exploration.  They provided a rough set of parameters within which we knew we could do anything we wanted.  Commercial success hadn't dampened the pioneering spirit that made underground metal such a wide open landscape for people to roam. I still really enjoy each of these albums whenever I dust them off, and twenty plus years later... that is saying a lot!

  • Nasty Savage - "Indulgence":  What an abstract metal band!  At times they were mean like an underground Van Halen, but as bizzare as any horrifying geometric creature Lovecraft ever attempted to describe.  Their guitarists had such an interesting vocabulary of harmonies and a weird application of flourishes that they were an all-you-could-eat, ass kick buffet for me.  Powerfully mean, but without adhering to metal doctrine, "Indulgence" helped showed me how to be forceful and creative behind a drum kit.  It also gave the band the confidence to follow any train of thought to its end for the sake of creating unique spaces.
  • Fates Warning - "Awaken the Guardian":  I am not usually drawn to the kind of metal that descends from the school of riffery and of vocal exercises that Iron maiden dominates.  I loved them in high school but I just can't get myself back into that place.  While I readily acknowledge that Fates Warning would not have written what they did were it not for Iron Maiden, I liked this record far more than anything Maiden ever did.  This record was much darker, more emotive and meaner than Iron Maiden would ever conceive of, and where Bruce Dickinson drives me absolutely nuts with his mastery of soulless wailing, Jon Arch sounds like he is pouring his heart out in every song.  This is one of those albums that I can't put down for about a week whenever I get the itch for it.
  • Trouble - "Psalm 9":  I heard Slayer's "Show No Mercy" and Trouble's first record at roughly the same time in eleventh grade.  I was hooked on metal again, but this was far more compelling to me than the kind of high school smoking court style of party metal.  Those two records pulled me right out of the hardcore world I had been immersed in for a little over a year.  Slayer was the meaner band, and provided an even more physical release than did punk rock, but Trouble was the band that created the music that actually 'touched' me.  Their version of heavy was the most satisfying sonic experience I had ever had at that point.  Trouble's two guitarists sounded as though they were extensions of my own soul, and they were my favorite band for several years. The vocals haven't aged so well, sadly.  They were one of those bands where the vocalist got stronger with every album, but the musical spark that they had so much of on their first two records flickered away to almost nothing within a few years.  This record more than any other inspired Confessor to be heavy. Our heavy became very different, but there were more than a couple of Trouble inspired moments for us early on.
  • Destruction - "Release from Agony":  Graham and I were the two guys in the band who flipped hardest for this record.  Destruction had been one of those bands that had a touch of punk in them but were better musicians than most hardcore bands ever produced.  Still, they had a sloppy enough drummer that they sounded as though they were barely hanging on to the song.  That is, until this record came out.  "Release from Agony" was the most disciplined, face-peeling metal record I had ever heard back then.  There have been countless bands since who were much more schooled, but Destruction had a unique vision that had more to do with heartfelt, sonic evisceration than showing off.  They were, and are the guitar gallop masters and this record is a treasure of meanness. The vocals are something to get accustomed to, but that was the norm back then.  Nu-Metal hadn't defined the only "acceptable" vocal style as barking out plays from scrimmage, and there was a lot more music being released that was just about creating a distinct sound instead of a money flow.  This record had the first transition I ever heard that left me bewildered.
  • King Diamond - "Them":  I never liked King Diamond's legendary band, Mercyful Fate.  They weren't heavy enough or mean enough to get me past his vocals and the thin guitar sound.  I was very surprised when I really liked King Diamond's first record on his own but sure enough, I had found in KD one of my new favorite bands.  A concept album in the same manner as Queensryche's "Operation: Mindcrime", King Daimond's third offering, "Them" gave underground metallions a "Bat Out of Hell" stylized possession story with enough of an occultist theme to stay on the mantle next to the skull candelabra for a long, cold eternity.  Mickey Dee shined as the flawless metal drummer he was, and satan knows there are thousands of Andy LaRocque fans because of the King D records he  shredded his fretboard while recording.  You cannot play King Diamond without watching people's faces morph from all party and smiles to tortured souls trying to pull themselves out of a fire pit.  Those who understand the sublime beauty of his occult inferno line the pit with devil horn fingers turned up toward the sky, mimicking the flames with their own flickering tongues taunting the suffering masses below, but that's what being in the KD Club is all about!