Wednesday, February 28, 2007

... so I was reminiscing wasn't I, about that strange little phase when the MM crew--or our gang within it--was besotted with metal. In 1988, the same year we had Loop, Spacemen 3, My Bloody Valentine, Front 242, on the front cover, we also put Megadeth on the cover. I can still picture Dave Mustaine's ginger tresses exploding across the front page. David Stubbs did the piece. The idea of him hanging out with Mustaine in New York...

The Stud Bros, who originally looked like metal kids, both long-haired in the early days, were the driving force. They thought Megadeth and Metallica were the bee knees but sniffed a bit at Anthrax as light-weight, right-on fodder (whereas Megadeth and Metallica were rather more conservative in their views). I interviewed Anthrax twice, once at a Dutch metal festival, in Arnhem I think it was. The scenes of baseness and oafish lowliness I witnessed! Not the band, I'm talking about the fans: a Hieronymous Bosch horrorscape of drooling and mooning. It was always somewhat wrenching and cognitively dissonant to have pontificated purply about this music and its assaultive and avant-garde properties based on listening to the records in the decorous confines of your living room and then be confronted with its actual subcultural use. That really was an assault on the sensibilities.

I said before that unlike the current hipster metal thing we were bigging up the least esoteric stuff around, what you might call the mainstream of the metal underground, the ones that would soon crossover but would continue to win metal mag readers polls. But there was one band that was a kind of pet or mascot metal unit for the Arsequake League in a way that was analogous to the "hipster metal syndrome", and that was Gore. No, not Gone; Gore. You've never heard of them, right? Exactly. This Dutch band appear to have left virtually no mark on official metal history*. The Studs discovered them, did the interview, but in the working-as-a-team thing we often favored then, I came on board for the lead review. Maybe I'll dig it up. It was pretty over the top. When I was checking out the modern drone/doom units, as well as being frequently reminded of Saint Vitus, I did also think of Gore now and then. Because they were an instrumental outfit, no vocals at all, and they'd done this distilling-the-form thing that created something not unlike a 45 rpm version of Swans circa Cop. Incredibly austere and punitive, a real killing machine sound. I think the one I reviewed was Hart Gore. Or maybe Mean Man's Dream. As I recall the follow-up, Wrede (A Cruel Peace) was disappointingly turgid.

* supposedly they were the toast of the NYC pigfuck hipoisie though at the same time as we were raving about them... apparently there's a Rollins Band/Gore Live split LP from '87.... Which reminds me: Prong.

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This MMmetalhead phase (and similar things were going on in America critland, Chuck Eddy used to be in stuff like Mark Stewart then all of a sudden he's writing about metal), that wasn't the first hipster metal moment though. I think there had been an earlier phase at NME of tentatively bigging up the harder and noisier end of the music; Barney Hoskyns I seem to recall frothing quite enthusiastically about some thrash bands, and there was that whole point where the line between hardcore (cool) and metal (uncool) got so blurred, with bands like Negative Approach of the great "Tied Down (on a fucking leash')", the distinction became untenable.

And everybody loved ZZ Top, although they're not really true metal I suppose.

I remember hearing "Cheap Sunglasses", some years before the Eliminator breakthrough, by chance on the Tommy Vance show, and being struck, despite my postpunk bigotries, by how damn funky it was. It was like, "hhhmmm, Delta 5, Gang of Four, they aren't the only white folk funking it up".

But at that time, metal was a no-no. The UK music press would do these ritual castigations of it, especially as, in the resurgent form of the NWOBHM, it had become a real threat in terms of capturing the hearts-and-minds of the youth. The genre was critiqued for its blues-bastardising (yet lack of any relation to contemporary black music), for its sexism and misogyny, for its militaristic imagery. One review's last line is burned into my memory: "its inertia is its success is its intertia". Or maybe it was "stasis". Something like that anyway. Poor luckless hacks would be sent off to Knebworth or Donnington and write saddened reports. (I actually got sent to Donnington myself in '87--it was the rockpaper equivalent of being on latrine duty, really a short-straw assignement--and had a similarly traumatic experience). But it was really MM and above all NME who were dismissive of metal during postpunk days, because Sounds totally backed the NWBOHM (they coined the term didn't they?) as well as championing Oi!, both of which were considered loutish anathema by your postpunkers. It was the sexism that was the main problem for us progressive types. And one key development in the rehabilitation of metal was that the sex dropped out of the music. It became sexless and as a side effect sexism-less--in terms of the music, not necessarily the culture or how the bands behaved. The sexlessness was made up for by death-fulness--another key Freudian drive! Metal became totally Thanotic. Or manic-depressive, frenzied hacking one minute, lush suicide balladry a la "Fade to Black" the next. I think it would be hard to find anything equivalent in modern metal imagery that equals the cock-rockin' hyper-phallic misogyny of metal album covers and ads that you'd see in the 70s, which were full of rape imagery and cheesecake. I mean, check this UFO album, the title (Force It, OK pun on 'faucet' except not really... they chose the title before the sleeve was photographed I'm sure ) and the cover image. (Fascinating fact, someone told me that this is actually Genesis P-Orridge and Cosey in the shower; Sleazy did the sleeve as part of his Hipgnosis day-job!).

Hitting the scene circa Metallica and Anthrax, Guns N'Roses were a throwback to metal's phallic days (the name itself, but also the famous--withdrawn--cover on Appetite for Destruction of the woman's who been raped by a robot). Metal was becoming raunch-less, about punishing the body.

Which reminds me: Slayer. That was where I drew the line. Could never get into them.

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And then after the MMetalheads moment, the next phase in terms of UK hipsterdom flirting with metal came with the magazine Lime Lizard. Which used to run, alongside pieces on Belly and Papa Sprain and Lush and Slint and Ultramarine, massive features on Brutal Truth and Neurosis and the like, interviews in which their love of non-metal like MBV and Cocteaus would be prominently mentioned. It was a really good magazine, in some ways what I would have liked MM to have evolved into, a magazine dedicated to a coalition of underground sounds, from techno to metal, industrial to all flavours of alt-rock, from hip hop to experimental Wire-y stuff. The writing could be variable, but, well, the mag most definitely had "vibe". Then Lime Lizard folded, but the editor and some of his core writers founded their own magazine, much tighter in terms of writing quality and design, but similarly omnivorous in terms of content and coverage (metal, again, prominent in the menu). For reasons best known to themselves they elected to call it The Lizard (wanting to build on the earlier reputation/vibe/energy perhaps; I'd have gone for a clean break myself). But despite the mystifying name, this was an excellent music mag--maybe the best of its time. Kind of a bridge between the late Eighties Melody Maker and The Wire.

Lizard lasted about six issues, then folded. After that, the editor/co-founder Nick Terry went to become.... the editor of Terrorizer, where he enjoyed a long and productive reign. When he quit to become a postgraduate student of military history (specialising in Nazi Germany) (metal to the core, that Nick Terry!), his replacement at the tiller of Terrorizer was Jon Selzer (another core member of the Lizard team, but also a contributor to Melody Maker, where he was a sort of one-man Junior Arsequake League). I think Jon is still the editor in fact.

2 comments:

  1. Lizard gave me my first 'interviews' of bands (Cop Shoot Cop & Come), let me write a think-piece about hip-hop, Lucy Cage & Chris Razor (now both writing for Everett's Collapseboard - Lucy in particular spectacularly so) & Nick Terry & Jon & Taylor were a great team to work with/for. Memories of hanging out in their kitchen round about 94ish bashing ideas about - lovely people. Re: Gore, one of the things that came up in recent interviews I've done with Bitch Magnet (for A New Nineties: US Version which I'm starting to roll out on the Quietus in a few weeks) was that in-between drummers they tried DESPERATELY to get hold of Gore and ask if they could borrow their drummer. Then, as now, they were simply invisible/impossible to actually find. Oh and btw Jon's no longer the editor of Terrorizer (where he got me to do some fun things) but is now working for Metal Hammer.

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  2. Whoops only just realised this post was 5 years ago! when Jon was working for Terrorizer. My bad.

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