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As I Lay Dying

Angry Summer

Metal takes over the summer touring season. What else will follow?

By David King

I’m pretty sure summer has begun. And no, the record heat, scantily clad women and baseball games didn’t tell me that. How did I figure it out? Well, there are a number of half-naked men dressed in monster suits on stage at the Mid-Hudson Civic Center in Poughkeepsie. They are, well, whipping and spraying and writhing and pumping their fists and generally being very metal. This is Gwar, and they happen to be singing “School’s Out.” So it’s official.

I’ve just arrived from work, and I’ve missed nearly three hours of the bill. I feel out of place. An angry metal chick walks by me, her white shirt turned green with slime, her lips smeared with fake blood. She looks at me and my just-got-out-of-work clothes and flings some of the smelly green substance my way before flipping me the bird. Somewhere behind me, the biggest dude with the longest hair you’ve ever seen is singing a song called “Fucked With a Knife.” This is my welcome to the angry summer.

I had been concerned that I might have to go elsewhere to kick-start a proper summer metal celebration. I even started frequenting Metaltravelguide.com in case I would have to get my metal fix in other states, or even other countries. But as it turned out, I didn’t need to use the site’s catalogue of the thousands of underground metal fests taking place around the world this year (from the Fuck the Commerce metal fest in Japan to the United Metal Maniacs meeting in Germany). I didn’t need it because metal fests have started hitting our area hard and fast.

In fact, metal festivals seem to be the only large touring packages taking place this summer. Gone are the Lollapaloozas and Lilith Fairs of old.

Tim Alesis, lead singer of As I Lay Dying, says metal fests are succeeding as a natural extension of what it is to be a metal band. “I think the entire fan base behind metal and hardcore was built by constant touring,” he says, “because the first metal bands and the ones out now never had tremendous radio support. The only form of promotion they could control was how often they toured. That has been the lifestyle of the heavier bands since day one; page one of the handbook is you will spend nine months of your year on tour. Those bands are used to it and their fan base is used to it as well, and they are more supportive as a fan base than a lot of other forms of music.”

If you want to get technical, summer started in late June when some band called Slayer, with what I guess you could call a devoted fan base, tore through the Armory. I couldn’t make it out that night, but I couldn’t forget I had missed it, either, as I returned home from work late that evening to find a fat, hairy-chested hooligan vomiting in my intended parking space. He managed to scream “MOTHERFUCKING SLAYYYYER!” through the chunks of vomit clogging his mouth before stumbling into Central Avenue. That’s when I thought to myself: There’s something going on here. Things have changed.

It was only a year or two ago that that puking metal dude and the slime-flinging chick probably were dressed in Slipknot shirts and Limp Bizkit caps, and sporting black Jnkos and spiked Hot Topic arm bands.

But over the past couple of years, underground metal acts have cultivated their fan bases through tools such as MySpace and frequent touring to get themselves into spots on large tours—spots bands like Crazy Town, POD and Papa Roach used to occupy. And as Justin Longshore from Through the Eyes of the Dead (an up-and-coming national metal band currently on the Sounds of the Underground Tour) puts it, “Things just keep getting more brutal every year.”

Through the Eyes of the Dead are part of the next generation of metal bands being launched by MySpace, and summer tours like Sounds of the Underground and Ozzfest. In 2004, Through the Eyes of the Dead released an EP titled Scars of Ages that featured machine-gun drumming, death-metal guitar runs and snake-spit vocals on the small, independent Love Lost Records label.

As Longshore explains, while the band were off touring in support of their EP, they began blowing up online. “We were on the road and we didn’t realize what was going on. We got back, and we had tons of MySpace messages,” relates Longshore. Thanks to a track distributed on a few different metal Web sites, a buzz began to grow up around the young band, and soon they were being offered record deals and slots on tours. The band who seemed poised to be an underground gem are now the opening act on a national metal package tour.

Alesis and As I Lay Dying have also reaped the benefits of the shift from nu-metal to underground, metal and metal-core. In the space of two years and through the span of three large metal package tours, his band has skyrocketed in sales and bill placement.

In 2005, As I Lay Dying headlined the second stage on Ozzfest; later that year they headlined the Taste of Chaos tour (a metal/emo package tour), and now, this summer, they are the top-billed band on Sounds of the Underground. The 5-year-old band now find themselves headlining over groups they grew up idolizing. “It’s a huge honor,” says Alesis. “We’re a young band. We recognize how young we are in the scheme of this overall genre. A band like Cannibal Corpse has been playing for over 15 years, and it makes our success seem relatively recent.”

Through the Eyes of the Dead

As I Lay Dying are among the first of the new (not nu) metal scene who have succeeded in creating a sizeable amount of mainstream appeal with their dramatic, sing-along choruses mixed with their Gothenburg-influenced metal sound. Bands like Shadows Fall and Killswitch Engage have seen similar success in radio, and both have major-label record deals. However, Alesis says he doubts metal bands will fully cross over onto radio despite what their record labels may hope. He notes that the metal songs that do succeed on radio are edited to remove most of the screaming, leaving catchy, clean, sung choruses. But some of the newer, more intense metal acts like Through the Eyes of the Dead would have their entire songs edited out, if edited for screaming.

Longshore says he is inspired by the fact that metal bands are getting as far as Killswitch Engage and As I Lay Dying in the industry, but he is not sure his band have the same appeal. “Part of me says we will be as big as that. But people like simplicity, and we are a little bit more complicated then those bands, and we don’t have singing parts. I don’t see us being as big as Killswitch, but bands like Cannibal Corpse have been doing it for 15 years and they haven’t changed. They are doing their own thing. We look up to Cannibal Corpse, and we will make music for ourselves and make ourselves happy. And, hopefully,” Longshore concludes, “other people will like it and they will be happy.”

But there are other indicators that suggest the mainstream may be headed for a permanent metal vacation—indicators other than the puke left in my parking space or the slime stain on my work shirt. Bands such as Mastodon and Lamb of God, bands who are similarly brutality-oriented, who do not bother to sing and who play complicated metal, have signed major label deals.

The end of this year and the beginning of the next should determine how well real metal does in the mainstream, with new major-label albums expected from Shadows Fall, Mastodon, Killswitch Engage and Lamb of God. Longshore says, “It’s exciting to see major labels can pick up bands like us. It gives us something to look forward to.”


ROUGH MIX

 

Got Rough Mix items? Contact Kathryn Lurie at klurie@metroland.net or 463-2500 ext. 143.



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