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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:

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The Cookie Crumbles

A Blue Ice Cream Cone Accident On Ezra Street
As a write this, I am doing my best to arise from a creative malaise. It’s no revelation to most of us “artists” that creativity is a muscle that weakens without consistent use. The blank canvas, empty page, or barren Pro Tools session can seem like a tall mountain climb when you haven’t produced in a significant period of time.

I’ve had several ideas floating around my head, but I haven’t written an in-depth blog piece in almost 2 months. Despite my intro, I wasn’t creatively blocked. I just didn’t have any damn time. As many of you know, I took a touring gig filling in on bass guitar for metalcore heavyweight champs, Unearth. The month before the tour was a whirlwind of busy activity. In addition to tying up loose ends with my new rock band (Vagus Nerve), cover band (Rebel Noise Group), picking up extra shifts bartending, teaching guitar at School of Rock and privately, and curating an educational performance for Tomato’s House of Rock in NYC, I still had to learn 14 Unearth songs in whatever free time I had. Thankfully, all of the tasks were completed, but I was left little time to be creative….in any arena.

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A Band Called Death

Death

Last night I had the fortune to watch the highly anticipated documentary film, A Band Called Death. I don’t want to spoil it too much, but in short, it is the story of three black blood brothers from Detroit, MI who formed an energetic rock band in the mid 70’s called Death, that in hindsight is viewed as a predecessor to the punk rock movement.

This story really hit home with me because of the parallels to my own life and musical development. I know what it’s like to start a band in my seminal years with my brother, have an uncanny musical connection, and to later be estranged from that brother. I can identify with being in a predominantly black band trying to make a mark in a white world. It is the tale of truly being an outsider, and Death had it far worse than God Forbid in that they received tremendous blowback from the black community. They were trying to make their way in the capitol of traditional black music and the home of Motown Records. The story pinpoints how their morbid band name strangled the band’s progress like an albatross around their neck.

The element of Death’s story that struck the biggest chord with me was their dedication to the purity of rock n roll. They studied the greats, and put the hard work and time into becoming a first rate band with a high standard of excellence. They wanted to be a great rock band. Not just great for black guys. There was no handicap in being good in spite of their blackness as if it was a gimmick. They also didn’t feel the need to “black” up their music. Their standard was The Who, The Beatles, Alice Cooper, Queen, Jimi Hendrix. God Forbid was the same way. Our standard bearers were At The Gates, Morbid Angel, Candiria, Suffocation, For The Love Of, Pantera, Sepultura, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Machine Head, etc. We weren’t going to be legit until we were at their level from a technical standpoint. And that led to countless hours in the jam room, meticulous studying of our favorite bands, trying to decode the art of being the in the big leagues. Just being a nerd about your craft. Obsession. It never feels like work at the time. You just love it so much that you devour as much content as possible, and it becomes part of your DNA. It’s beyond culture. It’s purity.

A Band Called Death serves as a great contrasting companion piece to the previously lauded rockumentary Anvil: The Story of Anvil about 80’s Canadian glam-thrash, could-have-beens. For me, Anvil served as a cautionary tale as what not to become as an aging musician. They were desperate for stardom probably because of the colossal success of their peers. The 80’s set a standard that allowed for a swath of unreasonable expectations, as documented by The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years. This was a generation of people who were not living in reality, and everything that goes up must come down.

A Band called Death is about family. It’s about dedication to music. It’s about holding on to artistic virtue. It’s about doing it for the right reasons. They called the band Death, because death is real. I can back that.

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SAD BUT TRUE (Posted Mar. 18th 2011 on Metalsucks.net)

The Dude

I was inspired to put some thoughts down after reading Sergeant D.’s post about what a terrible decision it is to commit yourself to the band life at a young age, because eventually the wheels will fall off and you’ll end up just like some morose version of the Anvil story: Sad, old, broke, and disillusioned by shattered dreams of rock stardom.  I know his blog was supposed to be funny and sarcastic, and was even sprinkled with a hint of sour grapes: Not getting to be that “cool band guy,” but justice being served down the line by seeing how those guys ended up. But I have to say that post hit home for me, because in many ways it was about me. I mean generally, not specifically. I’m pretty sure Sergeant D. didn’t follow me around and base his post on me autobiographically.

I graduated high school mentally unprepared for the real world; I never really grasped the idea that I would have to get up everyday and work a job I didn’t feel connected to for the rest of my life. Being a “grown up” was something I didn’t want any part of and couldn’t relate to.  Music was the only thing I really loved, and I seemed to be good at it, or, at least, it seemed to come easier to me than most of my peers in the local scene I was involved in. I didn’t picture myself being a musician for a living, either. My heroes, like Pantera and Megadeth, were mythical to me. The idea that you could actually do that with your life just didn’t seem real at the time, so I just went with the flow and didn’t really set any long term life goals or follow any solid decrees. I only lasted one semester in college, and left to work to focus on God Forbid because it felt like we were on to something. Within a year of leaving school, the band was signed to Century Media, and within two years, we all quit our jobs and transitioned to being a full-time touring band.  That was ten years ago.

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I AGAINST I (Posted Nov. 2nd 2010 on Metalsucks.net)

Dolph Lundgren is really from Sweden
Dolph Lundgren is really from Sweden

For my opening salvo, I suppose I should mention that it has been a long break between blogs. I’ve been meaning to get back to it, but this summer has been a very busy one filled with the musical composition of the new God Forbid album as well as a new project I’ve been working on, in addition to the daily pursuit of living life and getting by. I hope to contribute more frequently in the near future.

If you’ve followed my articles in the past, you may notice that I often address music history, and pertaining to this site, heavy music specifically. I have a great respect for artistic pioneers and the roots of where the most admirable and brilliant music stems from. I was the type of kid who would read liner notes and interviews by my favorite bands to find out who influenced them. I would always want to climb that musical family tree to see where it lead.

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COUNTDOWN TO EXTINCTION (Posted May 13th 2010 on Metalsucks.net)

OldPeople

In the last few years, something seemed to happen and I barely noticed. Suddenly, I’m no longer the young kid at the show. I’m one of the guys hiding out by the bar. I’m not crowd surfing, not covered in sweat with my shirt off, and I’m certainly not moshing. I’m also not randomly yelling “Slayer!”, but that seems to span all demographics. I became… (gulp)… an adult. I don’t know what the range is in the ages of the followers of MetalSucks, but I’ll assume that it’s a mix of younger and older metal fans. I am 29 years old, but I still feel relatively young and energetic considering my opening salvo. I’m the youngest member of my band, and younger than a good majority of my friends in bands and the industry.

With that said, I think there comes a time for all metal heads, and probably all adults for that matter, when you look at what is popular amongst the true youth culture (16-24), and you feel as if not only do you not relate to it, but it feels alien, as if it’s creation was not meant for your consumption (which it wasn’t) – and it also seems inferior to music that you grew up with. I’m only 29, and I’m already having “back in my day” moments. It kind of scared me, and I began to wonder if I was being obtuse and a little too set in my ways, or if my analysis was accurate.

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THE LOOKS THAT KILL (Posted Mar. 17th 2010 on Metalsucks.net)

color me

I am going to assume that a decent portion of the followers of this site are themselves musicians with bands of their own. That is generally how it goes with metal. There are seamless lines blurred between the “fans” and the “bands” because, like myself, many metal patrons represent both categories. Without this large sector of musician fans, technically proficient bands that cater directly to this base (like Dream Theater, Meshuggah, and Necrophagiast) would be much less successful. So to those musicians, I would like to use this blog to shine a light on one of the harsh truths in all music and entertainment that many musicians choose to ignore –

Image matters a lot in this industry. In fact, it’s probably just as important as the music.

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TEAR IT DOWN NOW (Posted Jan. 21st 2010 on Metalsucks.net)

hardcore_dancing

We’ve all been there. Tensions are high in some packed, sweaty venue, sparked by feverish excitement and the potential for violence. These people paid good money to enjoy some type of cathartic release. The frontman for whatever hard-nu-death-crab-metal-core outfit is brazen and demanding. Can you believe this shit? You PAID to be entertained, and this guy is telling YOU what to do! The speech goes something like this: “I want everybody in this room moving! Front to back, side to side, NO ONE STANDS STILL! When this part kicks in, I want total [Insert destructive word here like “chaos,” “mayhem,” or “bedlam” if you’re witty]. If the person next to you isn’t moving, MAKE THEM MOVE!” Than, if the action is not adequate, this screamer/pep rally organizer calls YOU some variation of “pussy” or “faggot” or really anything to make you feel like a soft, womanly bitch of a man in order to get in that pit and kick another grown man in the face, all in the spirit of making this band look like they are awesome. But then something happens, as if the air is sucked out of the room at the moment of impact – when those glorious staccato chugs kick in, the crowd is almost always powerless to its charms regardless of the obvious lack of substance. Like junk food and reality TV, we have a love affair with breakdowns.

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The Adequate Response to Criticism; An Artist’s Perspective (Posted Mar. 3rd 2009 on MetalSucks.net)

The Critic

Criticism. Criticism is something all artists who release their work on a broad scale must encounter. Many of us who do so approach these reflections in our own ways. On Metalsucks, my blogger brother, Dallas, has had the monopoly on providing that perspective in regards to God Forbid, which I think is unfortunate because I think it provides an inaccurate picture of the band’s collective or individual views. My motivations in writing this are not only to respond to the detractors of my band, but also to give an alternative view on the mindset of the motivations and mentality behind what we (who aren’t Dallas in God Forbid) do and what we hope to accomplish.

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