Recollections by MetalMike
For most young metal fans today, there has never been a time when you couldn't just go on to the Internet and stream a new song, download an album or check out a band's live show on YouTube. Everyone has instant access to everything and the "next new thing" is a tweet or Facebook post or board post away. Even for someone like me, who has been around the scene for over 30 years, it is hard to remember what life was like before the Internet. Recently, I posted something about this very subject on one of the boards here at The Metal Crypt and "threatened" to write about what I remembered. Surprisingly, some folks actually expressed interest so I thought "why not? I'll probably forget it all in the not too distant future." So here it is; my memories of what it was like to be a Heavy Metal fan back in the days before the Internet, before the instant access and before genres were starting to be defined and it was all just "Heavy Metal." Read on...
Besides playing cool music for a bunch of people for four hours every week, there were other benefits of being the Heavy Metal DJ, even if it was just a lowly college radio station. Labels continued to send new music, often before it was released, with strict instructions on when we could play things, which we patently ignored. How the hell would they know? We were 1200 watts (major market stations were 50,000 watts). And, since we were on Friday night and the big, commercial stations had their shows on Saturdays, we often "scooped" them with the new releases. Reps from the labels would call on the phone every week (remember, no email in those days) to ask how albums were doing and tell me about new stuff and the station received industry journals like CMJ (College Music Journal) where I could see what other college stations were playing. And they invited us to shows. For free. I got very used to calling a label rep and saying so-and-so is in town, can I get on the guest list? Yup, how many tickets do you want to give away, they'd ask. Then they'd send a couple copies of the album/CD so for the four plus years I did the show, I paid for not one concert or one new album. I wasn't getting paid or anything, but these things more than made up for it. I also got to meet/interview some cool musicians. I spoke with Cronos from Venom on the phone (just a regular guy and quite enthusiastic), played Nintendo on the tour bus with Paul Bostaph when he was the drummer for Forbidden, watched Death Angel do their pre-show warm up with about a dozen other people, drank Heineken with Michael Coons and the rest of Laaz Rockit out of a garbage can full of ice and joked with Paul Hackman and Greg "Friz" Hinz from Helix. I know Helix wasn't (and isn't) necessarily Heavy Metal but they were a gateway band from my early days and the opportunity to interview heroes, even if you've moved beyond them, is still a draw. Paul and Greg were a lot of fun and didn't let me ask many questions, but told hilarious stories from the road. I mention this because Hackman would tragically be killed in a car accident while on tour the following year and I was happy to have had the chance to meet him. I saw a few people play live back in those days that are no longer with us, though I didn't meet them, including Armored Saint's Dave Pritchard and Savatage's Criss Oliva. Speaking of heroes no longer with us, maybe the coolest thing I experienced while DJ'ing The Blitzkrieg happened on Dio's Lock Up the Wolves tour. The tour was set to kick off in New Haven, CT., about two hours from where I was living, and the rep from Metal Blade, who had just signed a distribution with Warner Bros., Dio's label, invited me to the pre-tour warm up show. There were about 300 people in this arena designed for 10,000 so we were all up against the stage and Dio put on a 45 minute warm up that, while not a full set, included all the lights and pyrotechnics. The sound boomed around the nearly empty arena because there weren't any bodies to absorb it. It was a great show (even though I didn't care much for Lock Up the Wolves as an album). After the show, most of the people, who were contest winners, lined up for an autograph from the man himself and his band. It was a weeknight and the line was long so I was getting ready to head out when the label rep came up and said she had someone she wanted me to meet. I thought it was going to be another DJ or label rep. Instead, she brought me to the head of the line and said to Ronnie "I have someone I'd like you to meet." She wanted Ronnie to meet ME. He immediately got up, leaving everyone in line waiting, shook my hand and thanked me for the support I had given him and for coming out to the show. He then signed my pass and a poster, while the people in line stood there and watched. Suck it, contest winners! Now, I'm sure he didn't know me, or my show, from a hole in the wall, but he was the nicest guy and made me feel like the most important person in the room. I will never forget that experience as long as I live. I still have that signed pass hanging on my wall.
It was now the early 90s and commercial Metal was getting progressively more commercial and pandering to trends. Most of the "independent" labels now had distribution deals that allowed them to have their product in mainstream stores, most on CD, and almost all of the bands worthy of being signed, and a host of those that weren't, could easily be found with minimal effort. You really didn't need the Internet at this point because Heavy Metal was reaching a saturation point. Even without Google or sites like The Metal Crypt, "the search" didn't take much of an effort and almost never paid off anymore. There was still plenty of cool music, like the Clash of the Titans tour in 1990 with Slayer, Anthrax and Megadeth (and this unknown band called Alice in Chains, an opening act I duly skipped). What was starting to show up in the packages from Metal Blade and a new label, Century Media, was a shit-ton of something different; Death Metal. We'd all heard Metal with questionable vocals before from the likes of Motorhead, Venom, Sodom, etc. but this was different and I fucking HATED it. Now, I have always been a fan of speed but this stuff was so fast there was little room for melody and the vocals were awful, not to mention unintelligible, which was just as well as the lyrics were hideous. I'm not a prude (OK, I am) but I couldn't bring myself to play this shit. I remember being horrified by the artwork on Cannibal Corpse's Eaten Back to Life, Obituary's Slowly We Rot and Carcass' Symphonies of Sickness. I told the rep from Metal Blade that I would never be able to get away with playing Cannibal Corpse because their lyrics had too many words banned by the FCC (a convenient excuse on my part, I'd played plenty of curse words from bands I liked) and he replied "if one of your listeners can tell what these guys are saying just from listening to the song on the radio, I'll eat the disc." Touché. In February of 1993, I realized that like any art form, Heavy Metal was changing and evolving, but I was not. I decided I didn't want to spend four hours every Friday night playing requests for music I couldn't stand, so I turned the show over to a couple of younger interns (I was 26 at the time) and signed off.
In 1993, Death and Grunge were the dominant forms of heavy music and I was still listening to Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, who also seemed to be struggling with the new sound of Heavy Metal. But their old albums were my haven. I struggled to find new heavy music I liked but the Stabbing Westwards, Stainds and Puddles of Mudd, that I initially thought were kind of cool, all ended up sucking. There was still no Internet and, even if there were, nothing was happening with the music I loved so, like Rip Van Winkle, MetalMike closed his eyes to Heavy Metal and went to sleep. It would be about 10 years before the notion of a "Google search" would open my eyes and ears to the fact that Heavy Metal never went away and was actually coming back, stronger than ever. In 2008 I found The Metal Crypt, where I've found a home with many other like-minded Metalheads. I've never met any of them in person but, based on our shared love of Metal, I consider them friends. So, there you have it folks; one headbanger's experiences in the heady golden age of Heavy Metal before the Internet brought it effortlessly into our homes. I hope you enjoyed reading about it as much as I enjoyed remembering it all. Stay Metal!
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