Milo on Bill Maher and The Cult of Trolling

(Credit: Getty/Drew Angerer/HBO/Salon)

Sometimes you have a confluence of thoughts coalesce in way that begs immediate attention, and now is one of those times. After watching Friday’s episode of Real Time with Bill Maher and the interaction with controversial guest, Milo Yiannopoulos, I couldn’t sleep. The provocateur provoked.

Everything post the election of Donald J. Trump feels like uncharted territory, and what I thought I knew contained vast holes of ignorance. In my world, the Milos, Ann Coulters, and Alex Jones’ were sordid, fringe figures, and yet what I failed to see was that they were signaling of a change in the culture. That’s the thing about getting older; the culture changes while you’re distracted in self-satisfied comfort of predictable outcomes. It never feels good to be out of touch.

Continue reading “Milo on Bill Maher and The Cult of Trolling”

The End of Reality – My Quest for Truth in the Post-Truth Era

img_6859

Part I – The Diagnosis

For a man of my age (36), perhaps no piece of pop culture spoke to my still-forming personal identity than the 1999 film The Matrix. There are several cultural memes that my generation draws from this film’s enlightening philosophy to this day. First, the metaphor of “waking up” from a sedated conformity could be applied to almost any rudimentary societal norm from a working a boring job to the banality of tradition like church or marriage. Second, the image of Morpheus holding the blue and red pills I think speaks to us all when contemplating ideas of free will, fate, or encountering our most consequential crossroad moments. Third, and most relevant to this essay, is the concept that nothing about your reality is real. This line from Morpheus explaining The Matrix to Neo is something I think about constantly.

“What is real? How do you define ‘real’? If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste, and see, then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.”

Continue reading “The End of Reality – My Quest for Truth in the Post-Truth Era”

Transmissions From The Bubble – How Did All The ‘Smart’ People Get It Wrong?

img_6790

That sinking feeling in your gut. Acid swirls. That sick feeling of unease. Your mouth is dry. You can’t eat. Your heart pounds through your chest with anxiety as you try to sleep. I wasn’t alone feeling like this in the days surrounding Donald Trump’s Presidential election. Others cried, fumed, took to the streets.

This wasn’t supposed to happen.

I can only relate the feeling to an intense heartbreak or a period of mourning, and in truth what amplified this feeling for many of us is how caught off guard we were. During the election, people like me perused 538.com analytics after debates and significant events to test the pulse of the country, and quell our fears. The experts were wrong. The intelligentsia was wrong. I WAS WRONG.

After the fact, I am grateful for this feeling, because it has made me wonder, is this how half the country felt when Barack Obama was elected? I can have a greater empathy for how someone’s victory is another’s suffering. In this case, I do feel the country lost, and not me personally, even if I’m sure many won’t believe that. I didn’t love Hilary Clinton, but I thought it was a duty to have anyone else but this man in office. Clearly, many disagreed with that sentiment.

What has erupted is a circular firing squad of blame and negativity that I haven’t experienced in my lifetime. The tears of liberals bring joy to those who support Trump or those who just despise liberals. Bernie supporters blame the corruption of the DNC. Pretty much everyone blames Hilary Clinton for being corrupt, establishment, or just a bad candidate. Those who didn’t vote for Trump, but happen to hate Hilary blame liberals for being smug elitists that ignored the white working class. Liberals blame Trump voters for being racists and misogynists.

We’re probably all to blame somewhat, including myself. On a recent election themed Ex Man podcast with Phil Labonte from All That Remains, I talked about how I had to put politics in a box of entertainment, so that it wouldn’t affect me so much. I was wrong. This shit isn’t entertainment. It’s real. And I was lying to myself about not taking it that seriously. I did take it seriously, but I just didn’t admit it to myself.

That’s what that sick feeling in my gut was. It’s that feeling that in an instant, you do not know what’s going to happen next. Uncertainty. All you know is that world has changed. The course of history has altered. I experienced real fear, and I dismissed others who held fear about their issues be it terrorism, crime, immigration. Even if I didn’t agree with them, I got to taste what fear actually was. I can’t lie, I’ve had it pretty good lately, and I got comfortable. Maybe all of us in progressive enclaves like Seattle, and Austin, and Brooklyn who have “cool people” jobs got really comfortable. We thought the tide had turned.

I too am stuck in that bubble of the professional and artist class in urban utopias with our dope coffee shops, food trucks, and weed dispensaries. I like the bubble. It’s the one I chose, but the other bubble has different news, different facts, and different fears.

You can call Trump voters racists and idiots, and some of them are, but it doesn’t help anything. It just pushes them further into their own bubble, because they’re feelings about how awful the left is are validated.

Liberal America has to reform it’s views on political correctness. I think this is the real reason Trump won, not the economy, or even Clinton. The balance between sensitivity and free speech is apparently a tricky one, but this again is where our bubbles shield us from understanding that we are living in different worlds.

I tell myself to be as objective as possible, but I have my biases, and I have to do better to get out of my bubble.

My main job right now is to listen and try to understand people, regardless of whether I agree with them. The other thing about that sick feeling of uncertainty is it is a signal that you have to do some soul-searching. I have to soul search, and engage in a personal reckoning, because things are going to get tough.

Fight or flight kicks in and I have to decide 1 of 3 options – 1.Get off the sidelines, and become a true activist. 2. Forget politics altogether, and just live in blissful ignorance. 3. Develop a serious drinking habit.

Truth be told, I haven’t made a choice on how to be, hence the soul searching that has to be done. And to those who think it’s funny that people are crying, and are “butt-hurt”, you have to do your own soul searching. Women, people of color, Muslims feel like the entire country rejected them, and thinks they are 2nd class citizens. This is a massive deal for people. If others misery brings you joy, then I understand the content of your character, and perhaps Trump’s rhetoric has affected the country more than I would have hoped. Empathy is a 2-way street.

Also, singling out the worst offenders of the opposition and stereotyping all liberals or conservatives as that is dishonest and immoral. This tactic has only been emboldened by social media. It’s viral propaganda. There are racist Trump supporters but not all or most I believe. There are radical, destructive protesters, but most anti-Trump people don’t take to the streets. We have become bigoted towards those we disagree with. If you find yourself denigrating the “other” side consistently on social media, check yourself. Ask if this is productive or self-satisfactory mud slinging. All sides of the political spectrum are capable of hypocrisy and betraying core values.


And how do I feel about a Trump Presidency? I am worried, but I and all the other “smart” people were wrong about this. So let’s hope my fears are overblown, and all in my head. I have to be fair and judge the reality on the ground, not my paranoia. Those who are staying optimistic are counting on that either Trump was not serious about what he said he will do, or that he is incompetent to achieve his aims. I don’t have as much faith. With control of the Presidency, House, Senate, and soon Supreme Court, there won’t be much to stop his goals. I really hope he does help the working class (I am one of the them), but I remain skeptical.

If his agenda go down as planned, expect a very turbulent, divided 4 years – Affordable Care Act – Gone (20 million without health insurance including my father), Muslim Ban, Roe V. Wade – Gone, Climate Change work – Gone, Reinstatement of Torture, Nationwide Stop & Frisk, Southern Border Wall, 12 Million Undocumented rounded up by force.

I’m sure if he got your vote, you support all of these measures, but it will be devastating for those who disagree. It will be ugly. If you voted for Trump, I don’t judge you. I want to communicate with you. I hope you want to communicate with me.

Are Metal Musicians Doomed to a Life of Poverty?

Street Musician

This is a subject I meant to address a few months back when Thy Art Is Murder vocalist, CJ McMahon, quit the band due to claims of horrific financial living conditions that he could no longer accept. He claimed to only have made “$16k-$18k each over 6-7 years”. It was not made clear if that is in US dollars or Australian dollars, or if he meant $16,000-$18,000 per year or the total amount earned over a 6-7 year period. It’s worded in a way to insinuate that he was only making $2,200-$2,500 per year, which seems a bit far-fetched, but I’ll push forward with the notion that whether he made $18,000 per year or $2,200, either amount was insufficient for leading an independent adult lifestyle.

The first thing that baffled me by the online reaction to this story was the surprise from non-musicians that extreme metal bands might not make a lot of money. When I started with God Forbid in the late ‘90s, I didn’t know you could even make a living doing extreme music. In that time, an assumption has grown that metal musicians should or deserve to make a living solely from making albums and touring. I don’t know exactly where that assumption came from, but it just strikes me as an odd, if not overly idealistic stance.

Continue reading “Are Metal Musicians Doomed to a Life of Poverty?”

Time For A Reckoning: Examining The Phil Anselmo Controversy & Backlash

Phil-Anselmo-610x307

By the time I even viewed the damning video of Philip H. Anselmo, the legendary vocalist of Pantera, Down, and Superjoint Ritual, performing a forceful “sieg heil” Nazi salute followed directly by adamantly shouting “white power” to the crowd at the end of a star-studded Dimebash fundraiser concert at Lucky Strike in Hollywood, CA, the internet had already exploded with outrage, responses, defenses, theories, and excuses.

In just the few days after the event, it appeared that Phil Anselmo outrage fatigue had already set in. People were already sick of talking about it, hearing how offended people were, or even acknowledging that the heavy music world might have a race problem. Despite this fatigue and the fickleness of the social media news cycle, more than a few people reached out to me asking if I would write some type of response considering my track record of dissecting heavy metal culture and openness to discussing race and politics. I consider it my responsibility to weigh in, so here it is:

Continue reading “Time For A Reckoning: Examining The Phil Anselmo Controversy & Backlash”

Anti-Flag

confed

I wasn’t sure if I was going to write about the controversy involving the Confederate Flag. Every news or media outlet that had someone with an opinion threw their hat in the ring. I had some discussions with a couple of my best friends whose viewpoints were both vague indifference: that they had too many other problems in their real life to really care. I took that as a slight frustration by being inundated with yet another controversy for people to be outraged by. The PC police had run amok…again. I can empathize with some of their frustration considering how many “false flag” (pun intended), “boy who cried wolf” outrages over Don Imus, Alec Baldwin, or Tracy Morgan saying inappropriate things. In my gut though, this was different. I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

The truth is I never thought anything would ever change about a certain sector of this country’s infatuation with the stars and bars. I knew the real history. Or most of it at least. If I saw someone displaying it out and loud, it made me a bit uncomfortable. But that was rare; I lived in New Jersey for Christ’s sake. I remember seeing  the flag in a well-to-do kid I went to high school with’s room in semi-rural New Jersey. To me, it always seemed daft to see a northerner with the flag of the south. I mean, you could just move down south if you wanted to. What exactly are you pining for?

Over time, it just faded into the brush of Americana. I didn’t take it personally. I guess it was maybe a racist thing to some people. But I just took it as a redneck thing. I don’t love using that word, but I’d imagine if someone was proudly sporting a big ol’ Confederate flag, they probably don’t shy away from self identifying as a redneck. That might be presumptuous, so sorry if I’m wrong. But I just took it as one of those things that southerners, self-identifying rednecks, and maybe a some white supremacists would just have forever. Like guns or perpetual war. They aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. I’ve just gotten used to it.

I was extremely surprised when there was a public and political push to remove the flag from state grounds across the south after the massacre in Charleston. I’m cool with it, but I can understand how southerners and republicans would be freaked out.  There’s a black President, gay marriage just got legalized, and now your favorite flag is being marked for obsolescence. Like I said, it’s kinda like guns for me. In a perfect world, I’d love people to maybe not have so many guns, but with that whole “from my cold, dead hand” bit, I understand how attached to them you are. I’m just gonna concede that one. I mean, you gotta gun. Hang on to it. Don’t mind my idealistic ass.

I have to let people vent, but I saw this on my Facebook timeline.

Racist Meme

First, I was confused. Then, I was angry. Then, I just got sad. Maybe that’s what being offended feels like. Just being really hurt in your heart by something. I’m never really offended, so I didn’t really know.

It should also be said that I guess no one ever thought for a second that these black people could physically excrete American flags from their butts, which would basically make them the most patriotic people in the country. National treasures, really. In all seriousness though, this meme is like Rorschach test for the deeply racist and dimwitted. It’s misdirection is simultaneously ingenious and paradoxically stupid. This is a powerful piece of propaganda. Let me break it down:

1. Misdirection: The oldest trick of propaganda. To get you to stop thinking about one issue, they present a completely different issue with the lie that they are connected. If you already have a distrust of black people and hate lefty flag burners and anti-patriots, then alarm bells are going off. It’s red meat for the hungry.

2. False choice: No where on the meme does it say you can dislike both. Like most things involving this kind of thinking, it lacks grey area or nuance. “If you’re not with us, you’re against us!”

3. Breakdown of Logic: You can’t say the above symbol is not racist, or at least that the way you use it and what it means to you is not racist, and then CLEARLY choose a picture of 2 idiotic black people as your example of villains. Meme maker, why did you choose these examples? I’m sure you could have found white people desecrating the American flag. I hate to say it, but at least racist people back in the day had the balls to be honest about it. (By the way, I get that black people can be racist. We all have the capability)

4. Breakdown of Logic #2: You can’t insinuate people wiping their ass with the flags  are “traitors”, and not label the entire Confederacy trying to leave that country “traitors”. How is that not the most obvious thing in the world? I mean, is this thing on? You can’t call yourself a patriot for the USA when you are more loyal to the part of the country that didn’t want to be part of the country. Thinking about the lack of reasoning that goes into that thought process is literally making me dizzy. It’s cognitive dissonance, and complex mental compartmentalization in it’s purest form.

5. False equivalency: If you think going to war to maintain keeping black people as property and decades of Jim Crow oppression is an equal sin to a couple jackasses wiping their ass with the flag, then I’m…speechless.

The person who I saw post this, I’m not gonna name. I’m not gonna unfriend you. But I hope you read this. I hope you know that this made me sad and confused. I’d rather have people with whom I disagree in my personal sphere. I know we don’t disagree about everything. You are angry, so you want to lash out. If hurting people is what you wanted, then it worked. Vengeance works sometimes, but know these public forms are supposed to be amongst “friends”. That’s not how friendly people behave.

I’m gonna wrap up my opinion on the Confederate flag in one anecdote:

One time in 2010, I was having lunch with my friends Tommy Vext and Jenn City to talk about some band stuff. I casually used the word “gay” to describe something. Jenn called me out. Jenn is a lesbian. She called me to task. “What did I mean by ‘gay’?”  I didn’t have a good answer. That’s just the way we talked. My brother and I, guys in the band. “Damn. Taco Bell is closed. That shit is gay.” “I am broke is fuck. This is gay.” Never once had I thought about actual gay people when I said it. I grew up as liberal as can be, and still even I had a blind spot. At first, I was a little annoyed because I meant no harm. But, my friend was hurt by this.

Over time, I broke the habit. For me, not to use the word, is a small thing. But for my friend, not to hear the word used in that way, is a really big thing. There’s nothing politically correct about being courteous and respectful to my friend; it’s just correct. It’s the right thing to do, because I give a shit.

And, it’s the same way with the flag. I’m sure most the people who flaunt it aren’t racist. It probably does mean heritage and southern pride and good ol’ boys and all that stuff. But compartmentalizing what it means to you, and ignoring it’s origins, and ignoring how it makes other people feel…is just a purely selfish act. You don’t want to change. I get it. It’s part of your identity. Being told virtually over night that it’s not kosher is jarring and disruptive. I’m not saying people shouldn’t sport the Confederate flag. This is America. Americans are free to express themselves however they want. Just understand that others who don’t see eye to eye with you on the flag will now look at you with that much more discomfort when it is in sight. It will make certain people sad, confused, scared, and angry. I hope you can live with that. I hope you are ok with the fact that freedom of speech does not grant you freedom from criticism of that speech.  These events have polarized us even more, and that saddens me even more.

What surprised me most is what Phil Anselmo from Pantera, Down, and Superjoint Ritual whose bands sported the Confederate flag on more than one occasion, said, “These days, I wouldn’t want anything to fucking do with it, because, truthfully…I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t want much to fucking do with it all, and personally, you know I never…The way I feel, and the group of people I’ve had to work with my whole life, you…You see a Confederate flag out there that says ‘Heritage, not hate.’ I’m not so sure I’m buying into that, you know?”

If this man, a man who has a somewhat checkered past when it comes to racial politics, can evolve to a dramatically self aware place on this topic, than what does it say about us all? When the dust settles, think on it, allow your soul to search. These symbols shouldn’t matter. Like my friends, I should have better things to do, but I can can’t stop thinking or soul searching. Now if only this fucking dust would settle.

Sour Grapes

Dawson-Crying-dawsons-creek-1445426-640-480

Sometimes, you reach a point when you realize you’re just….done. And now, I’m just plain done listening to musicians complain. Amateurs complain about how people don’t support the “scene”, or woefully contemplate why they aren’t breaking through when the truth is that they aren’t contributing anything special or innovative. I am done hearing mid-level bands bitch about how band “X” is inexplicably selling tons of records and selling out shows, but they can’t even land a decent support slot. “That band sucks! We crush them! I don’t get it.” Damn right, you don’t get it. I am really done listening to rich rock stars of yesteryear’s glory days whine about downloading and how kids today have ruined the music industry.

Whether you are in a local band trying to build any kind of audience, or in a signed, touring, established act trying to stay afloat in constantly changing times, or a millionaire dejected that music alone will not afford you that 2nd vacation home or 3rd Bentley, I’ve noticed that musicians do lots of fucking complaining. Maybe it’s a rock and metal thing. You guys love complaining so much, that people complain for me. After I wrote my piece about the demise of NWOAHM, several people scoffed at the idea that I postulated that maybe God Forbid wasn’t good enough. I didn’t say we weren’t, but just entertained the possibility that we weren’t. They have to assert a lack of fairness is built into the system so that the truly “great” bands will be periodically overlooked. That sounds like Conspiracy Theory 101 to me.

Continue reading “Sour Grapes”

Doc’s Top 10 Records of 2014

For some reason or another, no metal website asked me for my top albums list this year, so I figured I would release the list on my own. I should probably include a few disclaimers beforehand: First, I listed my favorite albums that I have listened to in the last year, not necessarily the albums that were released within the calendar year of 2014. Secondly, this was a really great year for music and heavy music in particular, and frankly I just didn’t have time to check out everything. I know Machine Head and Slipknot and many other bands put out killer records, but it would be disingenuous to put them on my list when I haven’t really dug in and spent time with the albums like I would like to. Thirdly, I am listing my favorite albums regardless of genre. There are two kinds of music: good and bad.

10. Killer Be Killed – Killer Be Killed
killer be killed
Supergroups rarely pan out how we hope they will. Killer Be Killed is one of the few exceptions where the end product is the perfect meeting point of what you envision the individual artists will bring to the table based on their original band’s influence. The meat and potatoes of the music is more Sepultura than anything, but I suspect Greg Pusciato on 2nd guitar had a hand in reinforcing the modernized thrash direction. In an era of musicians striving for brainy, cold instrumental and computational perfection, it was refreshing to hear something that just crushed inside your gut. Visceral and joyous.

 

9. Nothing More – Nothing More
nothing-more-cover
I first heard of this band when Metalsucks.net posted a blog attempting to shit on the band. I checked it out and was blown away. It sounded a bit like some of the more radio-oriented “Active Rock” that is so common these days, but there was something next level about this band. When people ask me what Nothing More sound like, I say Mars Volta meets Sevendust. I am patting myself on the back for such an accurate description as I type this. This album is pretty good, but they have one GREAT song, “This Is The Time (Ballast)”. Sometimes, that’s all it takes.

 

8. Animals as Leaders – The Joy of Motion
The_Joy_Of_Motion2014
Although I had listened to this record a bit earlier in the summer, I didn’t fully appreciate this album until my friend Luke began playing it on repeat, and I became hooked. I feel like genre titles can often be used as weapons to discredit bands. Animals as Leaders is so much above a limiting genre name like “Djent”. The musicianship is obviously in an elite stratosphere, but the playing rarely feels self indulgent. These are compositions that take us on an emotional journey. For me, it hearkens back to Steve Vai’s Alien Love Secrets, which was my gold standard for virtuosic instrumental guitar albums.

 

7. Opeth – Pale Communion
Opeth_Pale_Communion_album_artwork
Opeth are one of a few bands that, for the vast majority of their career, every creative move made was unimpeachable. They could do no wrong. None of us could argue with Mikael’s genius. Admittedly though, I didn’t really like Heritage. It wasn’t bad music per se. It just seemed noodly, aloof, and lacked the hooks and somber quality of what we think of as Opeth. Pale Communion isn’t any heavier or metallic than Heritage, but it just feels more like Opeth. Which is just that…a feeling. The atmosphere they create is so distinct, to be in it is intoxicating if you are a true fan. They are masters of creating that feeling.

 

6. In Search of Sun – The World is Yours
in search of sun
I get sent lots of music from bands via social media; Links to Bandcamps, Reverbnation sites, Soundcloud, and Youtube clips of up and comers. I try to listen to everything. Surprisingly, most stuff is good, but rarely great. In Search of Sun’s manager sent me one of these links to the title track “The World Is Yours”, and I was blown away. It’s a heavy metal hit. If you aren’t listening to this band, you are fucking up. To me, they are 2014’s Twelve Foot Ninja. Not that they sound like 12FN, but they are on a similar trajectory of doing something dynamic, fresh, with tremendous command of their craft, and still remembered to write an actual song. It’s an antidepressant in a world of downer metal.

 

5. Wovenwar – Wovenwar
wovenwar
I almost feel like this pick is skewed, because like many of you guys, I was rooting for this band to succeed from the jump. I still wore this damn album out because it’s so fucking good. Musically, it’s not dissimilar from As I Lay Dying, but clearly this band felt limited by the tropes of Metalcore, i.e., incessant screams and breakdowns. Because the arduous circumstances ending As I Lay Dying, these guys had a long time to work on the material. That time paid off because you can hear the work that went into sculpting and molding every detail of the instrumentation, arrangement, and production of these songs. I am really proud of how this band persevered, and turned something negative into something positive.

 

4. Gary Clark Jr. – Blak and Blu
gary-clark-jr-album-e1346335365100 
I really discovered Gary Clark Jr. when I was working for the NBA  at the beginning of 2014. Christina Aguilera was supposed to perform at halftime at the All Star Game. She canceled, and GCJ was one of the artists chosen to perform in addition to doing the National Anthem with a slide guitar. He was incredible, and I fell in love with Blak and Blu. The album is pretty much half Blues and half slickly produced Pop infused R&B. Needless to say, I gravitated to the Blues tunes. This album and the song in particular, “When My Train Pulls In”, was the soundtrack to my journey driving cross-country when I moved from New Jersey to Los Angeles. Gary Clark Jr’s Blues helped get me through the challenging journey.

 

3. Bad Rabbits – American Love
Bad-Rabbits-American-Love
I have one person to thank for my fandom of Bad Rabbits, Mike “Scuzz” Scuilara, whom I was playing with in Unearth and also plays drums in Extinction A.D. Bad Rabbits reminds me of some of my favorite R&B from the 80’s and early 90’s. Morris Day and the Time, Bobby Brown, Rick James, Tony! Toni! Tone!, etc. These are party jams. If you know me, you know I like to party with the best of ’em. The thing that sets Bad Rabbits apart from modern “Urban” music is that they are a real band. No drum loops or samples. Just great players with a great singer. Check out “Can’t Fool Me” if you want to smile, and go watch the band live. Spectacular show!

 

2. At The Gates – At War With Reality
AtTheGatesAtWarWithReality
It’s difficult to talk about the new At The Gates album without mentioning last year’s Carcass reunion album, Surgical Steel. There are too many parallels not to draw a comparison. Both bands were probably equally the most influential Melodic Death Metal bands off all time, broke up relatively at the same time, both became more popular and legendary after they split, and now they’ve both managed to put out classic quality albums nearly 20 years apart, which seems like an impossible task. There have been countless imitators, clones, wannabes, including the guy writing this, but something about these 5 guys playing together that just sounds caustic and medieval in a way that is supremely unique and filled with character. Color me lucky because I NEVER thought there would be new records by either of these bands; let alone great records.

 

1. Bring Me The Horizon – Sempiternal
BMTH-Sempiternal
This album came out in 2013, but I supposed in my mature age, some things tend to find their way to me after the fact. Now, I’m going to do something the makes me look really stupid. I’m going to compare Bring Me The Horizon to the Beatles. Aside from being British, both bands started as more style than substance and evolved into true artists and innovators. BMTH hasn’t made their Abbey Road yet, but they have made their Revolver. In my humblest of opinions, Sempiternal is the first true classic of the Scenester, Warped Tour, Altpress, “Boy bands with guitars” genre. I can’t even tell most of those bands apart, but this record moved me. I felt that thing I felt when a truly powerful heavy record makes you punch your steering wheel when you are listening in your car, and head nodding hard as fuck on the subway with your earbuds in. I felt like a kid again. There is real passion in these songs, and I am glad that someone is moving the needle and thinking big, even if I’m late to the party.

Unlocking the truth about Unlocking the Truth

31-unlocking-the-truth-595-1377534463

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or are just oblivious to who has been making noise in heavy music for last year, than you probably have some familiarity with teenage, upstart metal band from Brooklyn, NY, Unlocking the Truth. Starting as an instrumental two-piece rocking out in Times Square as street performers, the duo’s (later trio) video went viral, and the world took notice.

Seemingly overnight, Unlocking The Truth became the band du jour to serve as opening acts for the biggest names in rock and metal including Guns N Roses, Queens of the Stone Age, in addition to playing mammoth festivals like Coachella and Heavy MTL. More recently, their ascent to fame has been capped off by securing a highly publicized and possibly lucrative record deal with Sony as well as a performance on The Colbert Report, which is unheard of for metal acts.

The public at large appears to be fully embracing this band. Overall, I think that is a great thing. I can’t help feeling somewhat connected to the band. For a time, God Forbid was considered by some to be the torchbearer for black metal musicians. Despite our bass player, John, being white, and my brother and I being bi-racial, race was a big part of our narrative. Especially in the early years. It made me proud to be an ethnic metal band, knowing that it lifted the stigma for many young black people who were hesitant to get involved in music because of the resistance between black, urban culture and rock music. Even if it’s not true, I would love to believe that God Forbid helped pave the way for a band like Unlocking the Truth, and make their journey easier.

Although I feel that Unlocking the Truth’s presence is a net positive (lord knows metal needs some exciting stories), something about the meteoric nature of their transition from obscurity to notoriety is troubling. I couldn’t shake the feeling, so I kept ruminating. The pure talent and ability, for such young people, is obvious. These kids can play. They also aren’t scared of the spotlight. That shows confidence, which usually takes a lot of time to cultivate.

The question has to be asked: Is this band as good as the hype machine is telling us or are we all just wrapped up in the subterfuge of a charming, appealing underdog?

After a good deal of thought, my diagnosis is that the momentous adulation is slightly premature. We are crowning the king before he is ready to rule. Out of some politically correct instinct, the media has been tip-toeing in pointing out the band’s inherent novelty: They are teenagers and they black. Right now, people are enthralled with the novelty and the raw talent.

But, we are yet to hear a song that exemplifies what this band has to say as musicians, artists, lyrically, and sonically. We haven’t heard that song because the band has not released any material yet. How excited can you be for a band that you don’t even really know what their music is? Maybe we’re in a time where the music is supplementary to the spectacle and the story. There are plenty of great bands out there who are personally boring as hell. No story. No image. No brand. No charisma. Style and substance have been glorious partners in rock n roll history. Expert tacticians with no personality bug me just as much as glamorous storefronts with empty shelves masquerading as bands.

I am mainly troubled because I am worried about these kids. From what I hear, their parents and handlers are doing a great job taking care of them. Which is wonderful to hear after the nightmare stories circulated about child stars like Lindsay Lohan and Macaulay Culkin’s parents. I am worried because there is a strong chance that this moment in time is as good as it gets. They won’t always be teenagers. Novelties wear off. Especially if you don’t have the music to back it up. Will Guns N Roses or Colbert want them when they are 25 years old instead of 15, grinding on their 3rd record, and the shine has faded?

Three examples of bands that come to mind who were previously heralded for their advanced skill level at a young age are Silver Chair, Kittie, and Trivium. In all cases, their first album was their biggest album in terms of record sales (US & UK for Trivium’s Ascendancy). Out of the three, Trivium is currently the only active band and has had a robust and consistent career. They were slightly older than Kittie and Silver Chair, and you could make a case that their music was good enough that their youth only enhanced success that would have already been there. At least Kittie and Silver Chair had a handful of definable hit songs that were played on the radio and MTV. The fan impact and connection was measurable. UTT has not even hit this benchmark.

Having your highest point of success as a teenager must really do a number on your psyche. You can see why so many child stars end up with drug problems and mental and emotional issues.

I am also a bit bothered by the populous being a little too enamored with their blackness and youngness. “They are so cute. They are black kids playing heavy metal.” How cute it is indeed. But therein lies the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” As if their youth and race are impediments. It feels like people rooting for someone with a disability completing a rudimentary physical task becoming somehow heroic. It’s unknowingly and passively insulting. We should like them for being good…period. Not good for being young, black men. We have to judge them against great music as a whole. This isn’t boxing. There aren’t weight classes.

With all of that said, I am rooting for these teenagers. For all of our sakes, I hope that signing Unlocking the Truth is analogous to drafting Lebron James out of high school, and they will become the Hall of Famers so many are predicting. As a realist, I refuse to see the Emperor’s clothes. That dude is currently naked. When these young men arrive, I will be the first to greet them with open arms. We need the next headliners and gateway bands. Until that happens, let’s be supportive but reserved until there is tangible substance.

This Is The End

Headbangers ball

“This is the end!” This is the emphatic, anthemic line in the God Forbid opening track from the album IV: Constitution of Treason, which was released during the peak of our powers in 2005. In fact, it wasn’t the end. The end came much later. At the time, it felt like we were invincible, destined for heavy metal immortality. And we were in the lower tier of the NWOAHM (or Metalcore or whatever you want to call it) in all metrics for determining the success or popularity of bands. If you look at album, ticket, and merchandise sales, Myspace friends, Youtube views, Facebook “likes”, or the ever mystical buzz on the street, God Forbid was probably never half as big as any of the rest of the Big 4 of Quitters (I should trade mark this) including Bleeding Through, Shadows Fall, and now Chimaira. Knowing that, even we felt invincible. That’s how intoxicating achieving any discernible success with your art can be. Shadows Fall and Chimaira hanging it up in the last couple weeks have brought an outpouring of sadness, shock and disappointment from fans. It seems like the end of an era, and maybe it is.

Hearing that these great bands are moving on makes me sad and disappointed, but not shocked. The truth is that amongst peers a good majority of our conversations have to do with figuring out how to stay relevant by finding new audiences, getting great tours, signing with the right label, writing the next game changing album, and more. Teetering on the edge of existence has been much of our collective realities for half of our careers. As the O.G. quitter, I’m here to explain why this is happening and why you shouldn’t be surprised.

Continue reading “This Is The End”