photo & text by nacrowe
KISS is a bit of a joke.
or at least that is what i grew up hearing and reading from people around me and national music publications. they are unapologetically from the "more is more" school of entertainment and are universally derided for supposedly being all style and no substance. in fact they are regarded by many tastemakers as the epitome of INAUTHENTICITY.
which is all pretty much missing the point because in essence all musicians are in the KISS business of entertaining audiences, whether they be BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, NEIL YOUNG, PATTI SMITH, DAVID BOWIE or BOB DYLAN. they all carry an image that is sold to the masses, some more consciously than others. when i consider the actual legacy of KISS, i think of what bands they influenced, which conveniently enough include members of DINOSAUR JR, RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE, TOOL, ANTHRAX, FAITH NO MORE (and even STEVIE WONDER) found on the KISS MY ASS: CLASSIC KISS REGROOVED (MERCURY, 1994) tribute compilation. other vocal KISS proponents not featured on this MERCURY RECORDS-initiated compilation famously include the likes of THE MELVINS, PANTERA, THE REPLACEMENTS, ALICE IN CHAINS, HUSKER DU, SOUNDGARDEN, PEARL JAM and THE MINUTEMEN.
my sense is that for kids in the 1970s, KISS represented an escapist fantasy where a fan could transcend their daily existence. this feels very much like the very credo of ROCK N ROLL itself. and it goes beyond that since the band was an economic entity unto itself, foreshadowing the DIY HARDCORE / INDIE ROCK ethic that followed in the 1980s. economic independence goes hand in hand with freedom of speech. it should come as no surprise then that these bands are are consciously challenging the political, economic, cultural and gender normative culture of what a ROCK N ROLL is and can be.
critical respect is nice, but clearing the way for such a disparate set of quality bands is a legacy i'd argue better worth having. the KISS MY ASS tribute compilation is evidence of that.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
based on the excellent book of the same name, MURDER IN THE FRONT ROW (BONDED BY BLOOD, 2019) is a documentary that tackles what made the BAY AREA THRASH METAL scene of the early 1980s such a potent breeding ground for some of the most enduring bands in METAL including EXODUS, DEATH ANGEL, TESTAMENT, POSSESSED, VIOLENCE and FORBIDDEN and a scene of influence and import for those not from the region like ANTHRAX, SLAYER, MEGADETH and METALLICA.
its an interesting conceit to base a film on since most of the conversation historically regarding THRASH METAL is centered THE BIG FOUR, i.e. the aforementioned ANTHRAX, SLAYER, MEGADETH and METALLICA. by providing a community of promoters (WES ROBINSON), venues (RUTHIE'S INN and THE STONE), meeting places/record stores (THE RECORD VAULT) managers (DEBBIE ABONO) and rabid fans (SLAY TEAM), SAN FRANCISCO basically provided the supportive environment that allowed the scene to thrive and punch much beyond its weight culturally over time and serve as the focus of this documentary.
the TAPE TRADING scene also served as a vehicle for the underground decimation of music both nationally and globally, which served the scene well as a cheap and efficient means of promotion to the most hardcore of audiences. gaining notoriety with this audience allowed foreign promoters the opportunity to gain familiarity with their sound far in advance of their arrival. this of course was in the days of snail mail and letter writing, decades before e-mail or internet searches were a thing. luckily these bands had a work ethic to engage with this community.
i found the most interesting part of this documentary was the idea of the SLAY TEAM, who were scene enforcers at shows who confronted charlatans and "posers" that would show up at shows wearing shirts of HAIR METAL bands or wearing the wrong attire. on one hand they served as gatekeepers and a check on the intentions of the audience. on the other hand the idea of being accosted at a show by a team of vigilante fanatics sounds terrifying and an extreme form of bullying and thuggish behavior. its indicative of the extreme insularity of a scene that at once nurtured the artists but eventually stifled them creatively, as THRASH METAL became rather confined to a sound that few attempted to move beyond. and when one did (i.e. METALLICA), they paid for it dearly with their core audience. but that downside is never explored. this documentary mearly provides information and withholds judgement.
one downside to this documentary is that it minimizes the influence of bands outside he scene like SLAYER (LOS ANGELES) and ANTHRAX (NEW YORK CITY). METALLICA and its cousin MEGADETH are both presented as hybrid LOS ANGELES / SAN FRANCISCO bands since they either moved to the bay area and/or poached musicians from the scene. i think minimizing SLAYER's influence on THRASH METAL is almost discrediting in hindsight, since the film only presents one side of this cultural dialogue by exploring the scene's influence on the band's look. i imagine the mark of SLAYER on the scene far surpasses the scene in SAN FRANCISCO's imprint on the band. but that is just my opinion.
this is an interesting documentary about a place and time and the birth of modern stateside METAL. definitely required viewing for the uninitiated. worth checking out.
photo & text by nacrowe
to access our review of SCOTT IAN's other 2017 memoir ACCESS ALL AREAS click HERE
much like his other release ACCESS ALL AREAS: STORIES FROM A HARD ROCK LIFE (DA CAPO PRESS, 2017), which i covered in a previous review, legendary THRASH METAL guitarist SCOTT IAN of ANTHRAX is a more than capable narrator of his own life story in his debut book I'M THE MAN: THE STORY OF THAT GUY FROM ANTHRAX (DA CAPO PRESS, 2014), which sees him overcome a troubled childhood with a neurotic mother, two failed marriages and surviving the music industry over 30 years with his mind and band intact.
it may be due to his long-term sobriety (minus a few PANTERA and OZZY tours) that the detail of his recollections seem to be precise and noteworthy. i made the point before in the other review that his writing style is very utilitarian, much like his guitar playing and this is holds true with this book as well. he tends not to embellish and hold himself to account for past misjudgments and moral lapses, which only further gains his voice credence in the reader's mind.
of interest to me with this book, which is very much a traditional chronological affair (unlike ACCESS ALL AREAS which is more a series of interesting stories), is the beginnings of THRASH METAL and MEGAFORCE RECORDS. specifically the stories IAN chooses to tell about his friend and legendary bassist/composer CLIFF BURTON (R.I.P.) and the formative years of METALLICA and ANTHRAX. sharing the same indie label and manager provided him a front row seat to their early development which is compelling in historical terms. you really get a sense of the brotherhood of that early scene that carried on throughout their entire career, most famously in the BIG 4 concerts that happened this past decade.
i have to say that i also enjoyed his humor. too many times METAL bands take themselves and their image way too seriously (i'm looking right at you SLAYER) and even though ANTHRAX come off juvenile and goofy from time to time, in the end they come across as themselves: a bunch of METAL dudes from NYC.
and i can't fault them for that.
if you're interested in THRASH METAL, this book is worth your time and is a painless read, which is not always the case (cough, cough COREY TAYLOR).
cover by nacrowe
today's episode of DEER GOD RADIO at 4PM on MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC is all about THRASH METAL, arguably the most influential permutation of the genre that bridges NWOBHM influences to modern day DEATH, GRIND and BLACK METAL among a myriad other sub-genres. gonna be awesome!
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO as well as other MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC shows like MAKE HER SPACE, NOWHERE FAST, THE SYNTHESIZER SHOW and CLASSICAL-ISH WITH NUTMEG are available here at the DEER GOD website.
and if you haven't done so already get the FREE PHONE APP for IOS/ANDROID and enjoy listening to MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC 24/7 at your convenience!
somewhere along the way, legendary guitar player SCOTT IAN of THRASH METAL icons ANTHRAX learned he had a real gift for storytelling. his obvious mentor in this regard was HARDCORE frontman HENRY ROLLINS of BLACK FLAG/ROLLINS BAND fame who has maintained a longstanding second career as an in-demand spoken-word artist.
given his stature, IAN has seen things over his 30+ year career and his second memoir ACCESS ALL AREAS: STORIES FROM A HARD ROCK LIFE (DA CAPO PRESS 2017), which he penned himself, maintains his acerbic wit, cadence and voice. reading through this it is not hard to imagine him standing beside you performing each narrative as a spoken-word routine, which is definitely a compliment. there is a reason why most musicians don't write their own memoirs, and IAN proves himself a highly capable narrator. his style is very much utilitarian in that he doesn't get too wordy or overly clever with descriptions, which in a way describes his iconic no-sense rhythm guitar work and that of his musical idol, MALCOLM YOUNG of AC/DC.
obviously i don't want to give away any of the stories, but i will say that they deal with his outside pursuits regarding professional poker, moonlighting in tv shows like THE WALKING DEAD and GAME OF THRONES, relationships and of course touring. highlights include stories that include the pranks of legendary PANTERA guitarist DIMEBAG DARRELL (R.I.P.), hanging out with MADONNA and the wardrobe choices of the immortal LEMMY KILMISTER (R.I.P.) of the almighty MOTÖRHEAD.
IAN comes off as a hardworking musician more than aware of how fortunate he is to have his career and the respect of his peers and this book, along with the previous I AM THE MAN: THE STORY OF THAT GUY FROM ANTHRAX (DA CAPO PRESS 2014), seem to be a celebration of that community of musicians. a celebration of how they touched his life, so in that regard i hope he keeps writing.
also keep a look out for the dude in concert. just learned he's touring with MR. BUNGLE in 2020. MIKE PATTON and SCOTT IAN sharing a stage. man, life certainly does not suck.