photo & text by nacrowe
about that voice.
historically critics have been quick to judge GEDDY LEE (RUSH) and BILLY CORGAN (SMASHING PUMPKINS) of having an irritating or unique, depending on your perspective, singing voices. either way they own them and made such an integral part of their band's sound, of which id argue made them stand out. in a good way.
unfortunately i dont share that opinion of DAVE MUSTAINE of MEGADETH. while LEE and CORGAN both have naturally nasally vocal ranges which isnt their fault, MUSTAINE has this batshit off-putting shtick he appropriated from somewhere of doing these awkward voices that make him sound constipated. it comes off forced and just weird. and it doesnt sound cool at all, not even in an acquired taste sort-of-way like with LEE and CORGAN.
while i do hate his singing and politics, which are generally regressive and staunchly conservative, what i do respect about MUSTAINE is his guitar playing and RUST IN PEACE (CAPITOL, 1990) is arguably one of the most cohesive and technically adept THRASH METAL records ever made. id put riffs off this record against anything off of REIGN IN BLOOD or MASTER OF PUPPETS. standout tracks include multi-part epics like "TORNADO OF SOULS," "HANGER 18" and "HOLY WARS...THE PUNISHMENT DUE." at its best, these particular songs showcase a musician with a preternatural dexterity and truly mesmerizing dynamic range on his instrument. not to mention that this is record has the classic lineup of MARTY FRIEDMAN, NICK MENZA and DAVID ELLEFSON. MUSTAINE himself makes great use of his "spider chord" technique that acts as a shortcut to multiple power-chord variations by utilizing all four non-thumb fingers in quick precision, almost mechanical-like succession.
i remember first hearing this record on a compound in NIGERIA i spent my middle school years living in. this was the mid 1990s and in those pre-internet days. the music you discovered is largely whatever CDs were brought back from stateside return visits or trips other families took to EUROPE. i remember other students brought back early CYPRESS HILL, SEPULTURA, PEARL JAM, METALLICA, THE OFFSPRING, PORNO FOR PYROS and GREEN DAY records. amongst that mix someone brought back MEGADETH as well, which was how i came across RUST IN PEACE. in my naive opinion at the time, i thought "HOLY WARS...THE PUNISHMENT DUE" was insane and matched or outdid anything i heard off RIDE THE LIGHTNING and MASTER OF PUPPETS in terms of guitar playing. i didnt know anything about MUSTAINE's history with METALLICA at that point which is interesting. when i left NIGERIA and moved back stateside to attend high school in MASSACHUSETTS, i soon discovered SLAYER and that was kind of it for MEGADETH or METALLICA.
ultimately that singing voice was too annoying. years later when i saw SLAYER play with MEGADETH and ANTHRAX in LONG ISLAND i remember thinking that MUSTAINE's voice sounded even worse live, cementing my opinion of the band. but those riffs man. can't knock his guitar-playing. its impenetrable and beyond reproach.
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 by nacrowe
with the impending second bankruptcy of GUITAR CENTER likely to be finalized at the close of this month, it seemed as good a time as ever to look back at the live performance series GUITAR CENTER SESSIONS that they co-produced with DIRECT TV that took advantage of their iconic flagship HOLLYWOOD location.
it feels like the end of an era with their impending doom, but sadly they never took advantage of the internet and basically ceded that ground to competitors like SWEETWATER. it is mind-bogging that COVID knocked them out give that this lockdown period we've been living through has sold more guitars and instruments then any other period in history. just think about that.
oh well, at least we have these performances until they inevitably get taken down.
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.
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