Monday, October 12, 2009

The way it used to be; Heavy Metal edition

Essential reading for the week is this interview from Metal Inquisition with an inner member of the Century Black team. I could probably write a book on this topic. Instead, we'll use the interview as a guidepost down memory lane.

"You'd have bands that would sell 10,000 copies solely by word-of-mouth, and when I say "word-of-mouth", I mean literally, one person talking to another, face-to-face or on the phone with someone. Chain stores didn't carry metal back then, period."

I remember, during summers, biking to the one good record store in town. It was probably a good twenty minute haul each way, and while this sounds like grandpa telling you about walking to school uphill each way, it was dangerous. I lived in the suburbs, mind you, so in many places the sidewalk ended and you had to bike on the soft shoulder. Drivers were often hostile towards teenagers on bicycles for reasons I will never understand. An old parishioner in the family church was hit while biking and cannot walk. That always stayed with me while biking in the suburbs. But I digress. I believe it was Sam Goody, and they actually had a section labeled "Heavy Metal", and I would go with a discount coupon from the Entertainment Book and buy an album. In those days buying albums was a complete gamble because there was no internet, radio only played garbage, and Mtv was mostly a joke (though briefly there was Headbangers Ball through which I discovered some good bands like Slayer, Testament, Carcass, Sepultura, and Morbid Angel). You had to pay your money and take your chances. Sometimes you bought an album based on the cover art and the band photos on the back. I bought the Iced Earth album The Dark Saga based solely on the Spawn cover art. I'd never heard of the band before, nor had I any clue what the album would be like.

"When you saw someone with a cool shirt, or holding a cool album in a shop, you'd talk to them -- I made a lot of my best friends through common interests in music."

Right. In those days it was difficult to get the good stuff. I remember, after seeing Vader play live, trying in vain to get a copy of De Profundis. Back in those days, if you could find a Century Media album at Sam Goody's, they had a short mail order form stuffed in the jewel case. If you found something on the list you liked you ordered the CD and then when your order came it was packaged with a full size brochure.

Naturally, my metal friends and I pooled our resources for an endeavor like this. First, you had an order form that had a few CDs each of us wanted. Then you had to find the one guy with cool parents who would write a check. After all, back then no teenager had credit cards, and my parents certainly wouldn't write me a check for anything. You could send a money order, but back then I had no idea what a money order was. And since there was no Google or Wikipedia, I had no way to find out. My parents certainly wouldn't tell me. They'd probably berate me for asking. "What the hell do you want with a money order? You're grounded". Assholes. Finally, pooling your order saved you precious money on shipping.

So for me, buying a copy of De Profundis involved going to a concert and seeing Vader as the opening act. Then making an order though a mail order and getting the full catalogue, and then placing another order. Also saving up money, because in those days allowance was 2.50 a week, and being friends with people who had the same weird musical tastes and having a cool parent that would write a check for you. This sounds like some economics lesson in pooling resources.

Worth the hassle!

"I remember going to Gothenberg in '93, opening up a phonebook at the train station, and asking people walking by what the word for "records" was in Swedish so I could look up all the stores, mark them on a map, and go hunting all day long. And later that day, I had Eucharist "A Velvet Creation" and At The Gates "Gardens Of Grief" in my hands... and when I bought the At The Gates, it was Tompa who sold it to me, working behind the counter at Dolores Records... holy shit!"

It seems like back then you worked your way through music in sort of a linear fashion. The gateway artists were different for every generation. For my generation, being at the tail end of the Thrash movement, it was Metallica and Megadeth. Then, as you worked your way though classics like Black Sabbath, you started to dig deeper and find more obscure artists. Those crusty old guys were the one with the knowledge. They knew about band like Mayhem and Venom. For a long time, Venom CDs were out of print, and there was no Ebay to find used copies. So getting a hold of Venom required both insider knowledge that they existed and were important, and a serendipitous occurance where you chanced upon their album. Maybe a copy would show up at a used shop or flea market. Maybe not.

"probably the next example after that would be the Swedish death metal scene and how that wound up crossing over to US metalcore where you had pudgy short-haired dudes from Nebraska forcing pit-friendly breakdowns into the middle of At The Gates riffs. Americans are always reluctant to admit that someone else thought of something first that's better, but hey, sometimes you can't deny what's good. I mean, fried chicken and cheeseburgers are fine, but I'll take good Mexican food over that any day, you know?"

So true! I remember when the Identity CDs were available in the rock specialty store in Garbage City, and how they mislabeled the Emperor song. They also mislabeled the Gathering as well. Though I did find a copy of Death is Just the Beginning Vol 2 and Ten Years of Nuclear Blast at the mall. Sometimes you could find real jems in random places. I found Venom in a bargain bin. I also pulled a cassette copy of The Ultimate Incantation from a bargain bin. That's where my lifelong loveaffair with bargain bins originated, maybe. Anyways, I remember being surprised at how most of the good bands were from Europe, and mostly Scandinavian Europe, or else Florida. Florida? God's waiting room? Yes, Florida. Sort of a contrast with Scandinavia, but hey, they're both peninsulas.

Today anyone in any Godforesaken Middle-Western town can hear most any band's music online. And if they are really generous, even buy a CD online. I remember discovering At The Gates in the late 90s, after they'd broken up. Five or six years later, when the internet blossomed, kids in the hinterland started tuning in and then this happened...

I'm not saying its good or bad. But I'm not really a fan, and seeing it makes me feel really old. I find it to be a weak, watered down, American version of the original. Ok, I guess I am saying it is bad.

The original. It like like comparing a good Czech beer to Bud light.

We went went from this

To this?


Anyways, maybe this will explain why, after leaving my homeland in the diaspora, I didn't make any new heavy metal friends. Also, you get bonus points for naming the band that inspired the post title.

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