Thursday, November 7, 2002
Calgary's News & Entertainment Weekly
FFWD Weekly
MUSIC
by Christine Leonard
It seems that everywhere you look these days, the heavy metal bands of yore are returning to the light of day, clawing their way back from the subterranean depths of the North American subconscious. But where did the monsters of metal go during the ’90s? Was theirs a self-imposed exile, or was there some deeper power at work?

Metal guru Josh Wood, creator of the trivia game Metal Mental Meltdown and co-host of Megawatt Mayhem on CJSW radio, argues that for those who truly embraced the genre, it never really left at all.

"Poison used to sell millions of records – now they sell tens of thousands," says Wood. "Commercial interests like Rolling Stone magazine, and MTV follow the trends, create one-hit wonders, and move on to the next thing. Those bands that did pop their heads up got decapitated, while those that stayed low have managed to survive."

It remains a popular belief that metal died in the early ’90s with the onset of grunge and alternative rock. Wood maintains that nothing could be further from the truth. Web sites, magazines, books, fanzines, TV shows, specialty record labels, music festivals and collectibles such as dolls – ahem, I mean "action figures" – continue to attract attention globally. Internationally, metal sales continue to grow every year, with the emergence of a steady stream of new metal bands, and an average of 1,200 new metal CDs released annually.

While Wood may chide American audiences for their out-of-sight out-of-mind mentality, he is encouraged by the touring successes of numerous ’80s bands like Bon Jovi, Quiet Riot, Slaughter, Skid Row, Warrant, Winger, Ratt, Helix, Whitesnake, (have we named your favourite yet?), Krokus, Scorpions, Cinderella, Dokken and dozens more. Many of these well-seasoned veterans record and tour yearly, dragging newer metal acts along in their powerful wake.

"Metal is generally considered to have started in 1970 with Black Sabbath," says Wood. "After that, came a global surge of popularity with the new wave of British heavy metal in the late ’70s and early ’80s, with giants like Saxon, Def Leppard, Motörhead, Iron Maiden and so on."

Wood goes on to note that the period from 1983 to 1991 is considered to be the "golden age" of commercial metal in North America. It peaked in 1987 when metal bands accounted for 40 per cent of all record sales in the U.S. That's part of the reason it's easier to market older metal acts, even today.

"It holds a lot of nostalgia for people in their 30s, who have established themselves with money, careers and kids. Now they can go out and buy the new Bon Jovi album just because they can afford it."

It’s a phenomenon that repeats itself over and over on record store shelves as consumers, intimidated by the never-ending onslaughts of new music being released, huddle in the shelter of The Rolling Stones, and The Eagles. The fickleness of public opinion knows no musical borders, and Wood illuminates some amusing allegories between genres. For example: who would be considered the heavy metal equivalent of The Beatles? The answer, of course, is Black Sabbath. The Rolling Stones? Iron Maiden. And Elvis? Alice Cooper.

A disturbing trend, indeed, but trends are exactly what Wood blames for destroying the credibility of heavy metal on this continent. In the age of the headbanger’s renaissance, metal music been demoted to the status of horror movie soundtracks, wrestling events and, worst of all, the so-called "Mall Core" groups like Pantera, SlipKnot and Korn. Interestingly, though, metal is taken more seriously in other parts of the world.

"Europe has a greater general acceptance for the metal genre," Wood explains. "Bands can have a long and prolific career. They don’t have the schisms that you find with North American audiences, but the condition is not mutually exclusive. (Europeans) readily embrace Canadian exports like Annihilator, Harem Scarem and Von Groove. They consistently fill stadiums in places like Spain and Greece. Over here, back home, no one knows who they are and no one cares."

The question is, how do you get people to care about metal without stooping to self-mockery? Movies like FUBAR and other forms of mullet-mania have certainly put metal back in the public eye, but not in the most flattering way. Negative stereotypes of the drug-using banger who wears high-top sneakers and tight acid-wash jeans do little to improve metal’s reputation.

In the interest of elevating their particular brand of metal to a higher plain, metal idols KISS are preparing to perform a live concert of their material with the Sydney Philharmonic Orchestra in Australia. The catch? The entire orchestra will be performing in full KISS makeup. The entire spectacle, featuring the band's original lineup, is to be broadcast on pay-per-view, and will be made available for purchase on a special DVD. Ooooh, a touch of class!

Wood warily acknowledges that the true devotee’s path to metaldom is perilous and fraught with poseurs. What lies ahead can only be a bloody, uphill battle of monstrous proportions.

"Calgary’s metal scene is still surviving. We had 5,000 people come out to see Slayer, and 1,800 to see GWAR. But nobody wants to come out to hear an unknown local band. Will metal come into its own? I’m not holding my breath." He laughs. "Some music was meant to stay underground."

SIDEBAR

Metal fans in Calgary now have a new means of accessing everything from the classics to the latest releases in the dark realm of heavy metal. CORE Productions is breaking down musical barriers by hosting Metal Underground every Wednesday at The Underground. Calgary’s only weekly event focusing exclusively on metal, the event features a wide array of entertainment and metal styles. Metal Underground was conceived of by local metal fans turned promoters, who hope to consolidate Calgary’s metal community. To this end, they have created an orgiastic musical event, enhanced by drink specials, live performances, book signings and exciting prize giveaways.

In addition to catering to audience requests, this specialty attraction regularly provides sneak previews of hot new metal albums. Come out and test your mental mettle with heavy metal trivia, karaoke and "name that metal tune" contests. Hosted by J.P. (a.k.a. Josh Wood) of CJSW’s Megawatt Mayhem and his motley crew of associates.

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