The operative question with Voivod here, as ever: whatthefuck. But, the endurance of that question speaks to the band’s staying power, and makes it impossible to dismiss them as simply zany. There’s something fuuuuucked about Voivod. Can’t understand why they made the musical decisions they did, can’t even understand how they arrived at said set of choices.
Pay close attention to the wonkiest parts and they start to make sense; put some pressure on the ostensibly straightforward riffs and you realize that they’re actually sort of odd.
Denis Belanger, aka Snake, is one of the coolest lyricists, nay, storytellers in the genre. He narrates the exploits of Voivod’s Sienkiewicz-esque mascot cyborg Korgull, as beamed directly into the brain from beyond the cosmos– high noise-to-signal ratio. In this episode, Korgull materializes in a totalitarian hell-dimension…observes flying god-leader and cowering populace…contemplates resistance, conflict, war…”Who is the god? Who is the dog?”
2. DEVIL’S ISLAND – MEGADETH
Here’s one from the much mocked and maligned Mustaine at the height of his powers. MegaDave is an easy target these days, but before you little whipper-snappers go harping on “Hello me, it’s the new me,” subject yourself to Killing through Rust and tell me if that run doesn’t constitute a lifetime pass.
Mustaine is, to my mind, the archetypal figure of American Metal in the Reagan/Bush era…the origin myth of MEGADETH is almost too good to be true. Judased by his brothers-in-arms… 4 days on a bus from NYC to LA, raging at a fever pitch, plotting vengeance. From ’85-’91, cuts a swath of destruction through planet Earth, in killing trim while arch-rivals rake in the pesos, growing fat and slovenly on their wooden throne. Dave M. as amplified Ogami Itto, with Junior Ellefson as cub-in-cart.
A ‘megadeth’ is a unit standing for a million lives snuffed in nuclear explosion. “Devil’s Island” (from Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying?) typifies prime MEGADETH– bloodthirsty, rabid, munera sine missione. Before six-string virtuoso Marty Friedman was offsetting Mustaine’s circular saw guitar attack with graceful sweeps and immaculately composed solos, guitar virtuoso Chris Poland was countering him with additional circular saw attack. Total violence. This cut is vicious, but every song on the album is this nasty. And by the way, congrats to Mustaine for staying a shithead!
3. RITUAL KNIFE – UNCLE ACID & THE DEADBEATS
I like this fucking band , silly name withstanding, and I’m glad the rest of Planet Earth seems to be starting to catch on. At the time of this writing, I haven’t listened to their new LP yet, but here’s to hoping they keep up the excellent work.
Sleazy is all well and good, but how often do you come across metal that’s actually sexy? With the old noise-canceling circumaural noise delivery earmuffs strapped to the symmetric temporal plate vectors of my skull, zoning out to Uncle Acid, I picture some kind of eldritch rite going on, in a Black Forest, sacred grove type context while listening to this music. I know the band is all weirdbeards, but I don’t let that ruin the fantasy…
4. IRON DOGS – EXCITER
Well, you know where they got the name. Before EXCITER dropped Heavy Metal Maniac, the last PRIEST record was Screaming for Vengeance, which finds Half in full-on leather commander mode, but the band showing all the polish and professionalism that was/is the calling card of JUDAS PRIEST. Consider EXCITER, then, PRIEST’s benzo’d-out younger cousin who comes over and spends a week sleeping on the couch, eating mayonnaise from the jar, and picking through all the ashtrays in search of a roach. How many gallons of suds went into the making of “Iron Dogs?” If you’re wondering what the song would sound like played as a boogie, hang on until the middle of the track and you’ll find out. And do listen to HMM– it sounds exactly like an album of that title should sound.
5. REVELATION – SIRATH
The dossier on SIRATH is pretty slim. These guys put out a single tape in Fall River, MA (birthplace of my grandmother, Barbara) back in ’88. A shame they didn’t stick around. “Revelation” isn’t too flashy, but it’s a jolly good workingman’s fist-pumper. I admire the tastefulness and restraint of this track (taste and restraint being two words you don’t often associate with power metal). The guitar solo, for example, is perfect– it’s got a beginning, a middle and an end…pressure and release…similarly, whoever is doing the lead vocals has pipes, but issues only one all-out shriek during the song. Very sincere, which is charming and ingratiating. The cover illustration depicts the band members (Ray, Chris and Tom, aka Wisdom, Strength and Honor) appearing before a crowd of rapturous followers in some dawn-lit mesa. Who needs razzle-dazzle when you’ve attained ultimate knowledge?
6. INSURRECTION OF THE LIVING DAMNED – BULLDOZER
Is “Insurrection of the Living Damned” the best song title of all time, or what? Here is Italy’s BULLDOZER, firmly entrenched in the splendor/sleaze dichotomy that has been a tradition on the peninsula since the dissolution of the second Triumvirate, though these lads lean more towards one camp, than the other. It seems like BULLDOZER is always discussed in terms of being a bridge between first-wave and second-wave black metal. That’s got traction (slippery high-treble chord phrasings, Pazuzu vocals and so forth), but can we talk about the swagger factor for a second? BULLDOZER is a group of cool dudes, and this is a cool song to cruise to. Wrath of the Tyrant-era BULLDOZER is just about the worst thing you could put on to introduce a novice to metal– to the unfucked ear, it sounds like pure noise. Dig in a little more and you find a very strong melodic armature and, yes, groove. I’m really taken with the riff that repeats for the last minute and a half of the song. Kind of a shitass “push it to the limit” moment. Bump this one while riding your chopper through the bombed out necropolis, en route to vomit in the papal crypt.
7. TASTE DEFEAT – SIGH
“Taste Defeat” on an album titled Scorn Defeat. First assertion, “my dying will…” echoes eponymous narrator in Beckett’s Malloy: “All grows dim. A little more and you’ll go blind. It’s in the head. It doesn’t work anymore, it says, I don’t work anymore. You go dumb as well and sounds fade.” Everything is drying up, emptying out, the self not the least of all. Could it be that all experience of the world is really an experience of selfhood? Could it be that torment is an experience of the limitations of the self? Could it be that those terrifying encounters with alterity, the unthinkable, are the closest one comes to escaping the ennui of the self? Well, that’s one myth of causality to put to black metal’s fixation with depravity, abjection and horror. SIGH, hold out the possibility of some sphere of transcendence, then dismiss the prospect. “Castle in the air which used to be real/Now you can’t tell just what was real/All the faiths you had are falling down/Taste of defeat, defeat of yourself.” It’s a disturbing formula, and a bold one.
8. METAL CHURCH – METAL CHURCH
For me, American Metal, particularly American Metal coming from the West Coast in the 80s, has an urban connotation. There’s a thematic basis to it– Reagan-age nuclear scenarios, environmental devastation, neo-totalitarianism as cultural-historical context. but it’s in the sonics, as well. A brilliant age for guitar tone, the 80s. Sounded so, well, metallic…alludes to scenes of heavy industry…Chiba City skies, “color of television tuned to a dead channel”…day-from-night, an item of nostalgia. In this midst of this vision, David Wayne (one of the great vocalists of metal, period) wails about “many, many years ago,” and “the hand of Oberon,” (not to mention the Eastern-tinged guitar solo)…then parlays the whole equation into an anthem of inner fortitude and actualization, through artistic communion? “Metal church begins anew, saving souls that are lost,” dare I call this a “personal” metal church song? I mean not only is this a kind of manifesto, but one which we can sense within it a human consciousness and sensibility…the synthesis of daydream imagery (drawn from the ancillary mediums of myth and fantasy) with an expression of the historical moment, and an assertion of the self in relation to those two poles. All of this is delivered with unimpeachable command and authority; bow the fuck down.
9. BURNED AT THE STAKE – MORBID SAINT
I don’t have much to say about MORBID SAINT other than “listen to ‘em.” This wrecking crew from Sheboygan, Wisconsin put out a single LP (the uber-gruesome Spectrum of Death) in ’88, then called it quits, however, they’re back together now. This one is a bone-crusher. Like listening to Hell Awaits-era SLAYER vomiting through the bathroom door. Master practitioners of the guitar-as-percussion-instrument technique. Great timing too. They know just when to let a shadow of a melody out of the meat grinder, and when to cram your face back into it, then pile on the beef.
10. VICTIM OF THE INSANE – TROUBLE
Let’s say first about Trouble what has already been said but what must be said. Yes, they are a Christian bad, but holy shit are they heavy. “Evil is real. God is good, but wrathful. We live in a state of damnation.” Etc. etc. I’m interested in the religious angle with regard to aural expression of power. Heavy metal is mostly concerned with extremity – big feelings, tremendous forces. A lot of metal bands evoke scope, might, and corresponding menace by flirting with the breakdown of order, utilizing chaos as part of their sonic effect, just riding the crest of it, barely holding it in abeyance. The extraordinary skill and discipline of the musicians devoted to this genus of Rock ‘N’ Roll acts a check against the fug of inarticulate 1960’s mysticism against which early pioneers in the genre acted as a reactionary force. And so the goal is not to be swept up by the great power surging through the nervous system of the performers and the PA’s they’re hooked up to, but to harmonize with it, becoming its medium. The guitars sound electrical, as charged and dangerous as a live wire spitting sparks (dig those slides– zoooom– and the rhythm guitar accents during the solo). Trouble marshal that charge; possessed by it. It imbues them with frightening conviction and poise. Dark stuff, but ultimately feels triumphant, coming up out of the dirge with one basher of a coda.
11. GENERAL URKO (I DRINK YOUR BLOOD) – BLOOD FARMERS
Insert 20 weed jokes here. This cut comes off the self-titled LP from ’95, the band’s only full-length. How did this band not get huge? Track down the record if you can; an absolute must-hear for doom fans and all other varieties of humans. As strong or stronger than anything ELECTRIC WIZARD ever put down. Top-shelf execution of all sludge trappings, plus an atmosphere of vivid grime and sleaze. Gross. We like.
12. EYES OF THE UNDEAD – WITCHGRAVE
Which grave? Reference points here being MAIDEN and VENOM. No shit. WITCHGRAVE are too sloppy to play like MAIDEN and too self-aware to play like VENOM, but they compensate for the former by cranking the fuzz and the reverb and the latter by force of booze, from the sound of it. The yield is a right fine loaf of power-slop. During the guitar solo, the rhythm guitar is way louder than the lead, a production decision which is surprising, baffling and wholly agreeable. As fun as the first 12 times you got drunk.
13. HOLE IN THE SKY (LIVE ’75) – BLACK SABBATH
Riffs of the highest order are so elemental and direct that you can’t imagine a time when they didn’t exist, the process that preceded them being so inconceivable that it might as well be the work of a god. A very good band is lucky to write one or two of these during the course of an entire career, but Iommi was fucking flush with ‘em. Anyway, it’s all been said before about SABBATH, but the power never abates. Ozzy’s voice! Here’s a live recording of a classic track from Sabotage; shame on you if you don’t already know it.
Jacob Mazer is the lead provocateur, artist & author of the underground comic anthology Animal Kingdom. Read his annotatations to the Heavy Metal Mixtape appearing below by clicking here.
Tony was a fixture in the D.C.-Baltimore punk & metal scene. Picture him thus: blond, ruddy, buzz-cutt, affable demeanor, Viking berserker stature. Ballpark his age (at the time of this story) in the early thirties.
This seemed like downright ancient old-head years to a teenaged yours truly, & thus my coevals & I referred to Tony for much knowledge:
- He worked at a musical equipment store out in the suburban badlands & was the go-to guy if you needed a guitar or an amp.
- He could tell you how to jerry-rig your band’s decrepit van into touring condition.
- He could also tip you to some vital, but yet-unheard listening material. (Film-clip from the memory-feed: Standing over by the merch at a Hidden Hand show, Baltimore circa 2002, Tony leans across the table with a giddy grin, & yelled at low-volume, a shout that sounded conspiratorial against the wall of fuzzed-out noise. “Wait…you mean you haven’t heard Dopesmoker?”)
The story, though. It starts like this:
It’s very late at night. Tony’s driving his pickup back to his house, way out in the burbs. He’s sober, for what it’s worth.  There’s a deer lying in the road. Tony pulls over onto the shoulder, gets out to investigate the scene. Hit & run, apparently. The deer ain’t mauled, but it ain’t living either.
Tony’s alone. No other cars on the road. A thought occurs to him. Might be a cool fucking thing to have a deerskin. He hauls the deer out of the traffic lane & throws it in the flatbed of his truck. Remember, he’s a big guy.
Back at his spot, Tony begins work, never mind the hour.
Let me note here that at this point in human history, procedures for efficient animal skinning are pretty well developed. In this department, Tony is completely ignorant. He brings the carcass into the clearing behind his house & sets upon it with a large pocketknife.
Problems arise. First off, the deer is unwieldy. He can’t get a good enough handle on it to make any consistent cuts. He tries straddling the animal, steadying the body with his knees, then using his free hand to stretch the target area taut, but it’s not much help. He needs another set of hands, or a new approach. Second, all the fumbling around with the blade is getting to be, shall we say, messy.
After a bit of brainstorming, Tony comes upon this solution: retrieving the necessary implements from inside the house, he drags the animal over to a tree & drives a few long nails through its head, & some more though select points of the extremities, more or less anchoring the deer against the trunk.
The gore issue is easier to resolve. Tony strips off his blue jeans & shirt & recommences work in only his boxers & sneakers. The splatter itself may not be mitigated, but at least he’s keeping the entrails off his Bolt Thrower shirt.
Indeed, these modifications aid the process, although Tony’s procedural inexpertise is still a major factor. Progress is being made, just taking much longer than expected. Tony is inexorable. He will have his skin. The deer by now is no longer distinguishable as of its species, & is beginning to look more like some Francis Bacon-esque protean meat tangle.
Tony works. Time passes. The new day breaks. The sun is coming up & cars are appearing on the road that runs by his yard. People on their way to work. The intrusion of other folks back into the world prompts a spark of self-consciousness in Tony, which has, to this point, not been a factor.
He turns away from the tree to assess his visibility from the road. Yes, he is right out in the open, & concurrent to this realization, a school bus rolls up along the stretch in question. Through the windows of the bus– Tony observes this as if in slow motion– one child, his forehead pressed to the glass sleepily, jolts to attention. The kid’s eyes bulge, his jaw drops, he straightens, his face contorts to a scream. Now the whole horde of children are gaping out of the bus back at Tony, knife in hand, near-naked, drenched in gore, standing beside an unrecognizable bloody lump pinned to a tree. Perhaps the endeavor has gotten a bit out of hand, Tony thinks. Time to call it a night. He pulls the deer off the tree, drags it to the side of the road, and goes to bed .
A good one. It was a good story to have in your stable of yarns, if you were interested in accumulating one, which I was. My own relationship with Tony was not much more than an acquaintance, but my friends and I spent a lot of time telling Tony stories. There were a lot of good Tony stories to be told, & it was a time when telling stories held a major position in the social economy.
Most of these storytelling exchanges occurred during in-between times, prior to & post-shows, impromptu gatherings, sprawled around untidy living rooms with curb-picked furniture. Late nights at “Food For Thought” or “Amsterdam Falafel,” or sitting indian-style on the sidewalk of 7th St, or at the crest of the big hill on Mass Ave, in Tenleytown. These were pre-21 days, before bars, not before drugs or alcohol, but before the tedium of drugs & alcohol. The whole world seemed to burn at a higher temperature at a certain age. It’s tempting to look back on this time– both the ecstasy & the pathos– with a kind of romance, a halcyon age before The-Great-Grinding-Down had really begun. Days of What-Future?-attitude, zero fucks given, so much the lore of fledgeling thrasherdom.
But, truth told, this was just about the antithesis of my interiority back then. I was certain that one false turn was all it would take to plummet off the tracks & into a lifetime of pointlessness & mundanity, & I was afraid that I wouldn’t see the bend coming. I felt that not much of consequence had ever happened to me & I was eager to fill my life with adventures, even if they weren’t my own.
Thus, there was, for me, a sense of excitement when Tony turned up at a show or a potluck, the sense that something wild might happen, that I might be on hand for the creation of a new mythic episode . In pursuit of such excitement, my friends & I dutifully attended shows played by Tony’s grind band . These shows were notorious for the wanton scenes that ensued in the audience, inevitably culminating in a Wall of Death, a mosh-pit maneuver as destructive as its name suggests . Tony was pleased to abet the mayhem, or at least be a prop to it . His size compelled the kids to utilize him as a human pinball bumper. The rowdiest would try to climb onto his back as he played bass, & would invariably be sent hurtling back into the audience with a flick of his shoulder. Wild, wild, wild. Grand opportunities for Tony to exercise his sense of humor & steel-balls audacity.
One episode stands out in particular…I can still see it clearly…Charm City Art Space, Baltimore…Tony, drenched in sweat & panting like a dog, swings bass to the side, drops to hands & knees, & crawls through the audience to the coffin-sized bathroom. Laps water from filthy toilet bowl. Reveals later that he himself took a shit in said shitter prior to the show.
Gnarly? Yes, indeed. Metal? Oh yes. Tony being the first person I knew whose affiliation with metal was more than a matter of taste; he’d been a metalhead long enough for it to have lost its performative element & become an ontologically ingrained aspect of his being.
“Metal” as a existential condition: the notion that—in addition to the rugged, cool image—there was something valuable to be gained by making space for an inner savage. I liked the idea of cultivating this part (perhaps “the metal church inside you” cited by Metal Church in “Metal Church” from Metal Church) whose entire raison d’être is just être & this done with a damn-the-torpedoes attitude toward the opinion of the scene & the phantom threats of an unfriendly future. Born doomed…proceed from there. The idea, for me, when I could let it in, could mollify my inner-totalitarian’s injunctions: “Make The Right Choices” & “Be Right With The Bunch.”  For all its morbid fixations, metal grants permission to live.
As I said, I didn’t know Tony very well on a personal level. I had a sense of him, but it was all bound up with my own projections & desires, & my recollections today are subject to the distortions of nostalgia. Whether the figure I remember is a likeness or an icon, he remains a powerful figure for me. I saw (imagined, projected) in Tony an equilibrium that I admired & coveted. He was wildly alive & accumulated the material of legend without a second thought, but he was also kind & generous with his wisdom & friendly to much-younger kids whom he must have recognized were in awe of him. Quite a guy.
I haven’t told you yet about the pig incident. Another good one. Here goes:
Tony gets a call from his butcher friend. Said friend happens to have a spare severed pig’s head; does Tony want it? Tony wants it.
Tony gets it. Tony hasn’t decided what to do with it, but he determines that the first step, in any case, is to get its skull. The best way to go about doing this, he reasons, is to boil the fucker. He puts the skull in a big pot, fills it with water & places it on the stove.
As it turns out, boiling a pig’s head down to the skull is a rather time-consuming process. After some time in the boiling water, the head is looking considerably more grotesque, but a long way from finished. Tony decides to let it cook and take a nap in the meantime.
Tony takes his nap. It’s a long one. He awakens some significant time later to a number of unusual stimuli. Smoke is billowing through the house & all three smoke detectors on the ground floor are shrieking. On top of that, a human is bellowing at the top of her lungs. It’s coming from the kitchen.
Cue conveniently withheld exposition: one of Tony’s roommates is a vegan, & strict enough about it that she has her own set of pots & pans in which no meat is ever cooked. Earlier, when Tony selected a pot to boil the pig’s head, he had simply used the biggest one on hand without a second thought to the parameters of its use. One has to feel sorry for this poor woman, coming home from work to discover black smoke & meat-stench pluming out of her soup pot, & finding within it a half-melted swine’s head & a crust of scalded fat on the bottom.
That was where the story ended, as I heard it. I’m not sure how he got out of that one. That was how many Tony stories ended. Still he persevered.
 Tony was a habitual teetotaler, a rarity in the metal world, although perhaps less so around D.C., where Minor Threat started whole unfortunate Straight Edge thing. it wasn’t a matter of ideology for him, he just didn’t drink much. I heard him mention booze only once…related a story about drinking whiskey from a leather shoe with a wild Tennessean named Whiskey Bob. A When-In-Rome situation, I got the impression. Carpe noctum.
 Whether this should be considered good thinking or a metal-fail is subject to debate.
 In my imagining, he doesn’t bother to bathe or even remove the bloody boxers before he hits the hay.
 This, the primary overture of the writerly inner-schism, the development of a self that stands outside the self, that absents from the moment & plots the recounting of the present at a future date.
 I’ve revisited their recordings, & they hold up. Throat-ripper material. However, I’m withholding the name of the band. “Tony Bridges” too is a pseudonym, if you hadn’t guessed. Reasoning: I haven’t notified Tony that I’m writing this, which would have been the courteous thing to do. However, enough time has passed that I can’t separate the actual events from the mythical version that exists in my memory, & furthermore, I don’t want to blight that memory with any unwelcome incursions of the truth. So let me keep my memories & tell the story my way. If you’re terribly eager to match the character to the corporeal man, do the detective work yourself. Those who attended shows in the D.C.-B-more area in the mid-2000s will no doubt have recognized Tony already.
 If you don’t know, the Wall of Death generally occurs during a lengthy build up section in a song, & usually transpires toward the end of a band’s set, as the participants will feel somewhat spent after it occurs, not to mention the symbolic finality. The constituents of the pit (yes, mostly male) divide into two factions & line up on opposite sides of the room, facing one another. Each side forms a human wall, linked by arms slung over shoulders, & collectively lurches back & forth to the music, eyeing the other faction across the now evacuated floor. Those wishing to add a bit of flourish to the proceedings might swipe the ground with their shoes like a bull preparing to charge, or execute a clumsy Can-Can, or bicycle both legs in the air, using the adjacent shoulders as an anchor. When the band reaches the crescendo, both sides charge toward one another across the floor. The result as you would expect. As I am in my late 20’s, this now sounds like the worst thing, but it was good fun at the time.
 This held any time Tony was present at a show, whether he was playing or not. Around 2004, Baroness came through Baltimore & was received with great enthusiasm. The show was something of a Road to Damascus moment, with a load of screamo-steeped kids as Saul of Tarsus & Heavy Metal as the apparition of Jesus Christ. (Believe it or not, there was a time when Baroness was a credibly hesh & rather powerful act, as evidenced by their first two EPs. Their potential was instantly apparent & everybody knew that they were going places–apparently to the more lucrative realms of salad metal. The rest is history…oh well…) A kind of stampede ensued. Kids charged through the pit toward the band in a mad kamikaze bullrush. Tony, in the front lines, would grab them & toss them back into the center of the pit. This being the closest I’ve seen to a real world Catcher in the Rye.
 The latter, an unspoken, but vital edict of the punk community, sternly prosecuted by the thought-police that enough years of egg-shell walking in P.C.-D.C. will instill.