That’s the way I like it, baby; I don’t wanna live forever.

There’s a joke that almost every metalhead knows – “Who’d win in a fight? Lemmy or God?” and of course we all know its a trick question because Lemmy *is* God, right? Its stands the test of time though, always gets a laugh or a nod, and as we learned in the beloved Airheads, can always serve to draw out the posers and narcs. In so many ways though it is not really so far from the mark. I’m not taking on religion here – I’m not going down that road – but just actually thinking about what gods are, what they represent, what they mean for us, culturally and spiritually, and damn, if there doesn’t really seem to be something there.

Everyone has their own experience of Motorhead, and of Lemmy, the icon, warrior, superhero…. the man that we’ve just lost.

For me, lots of things stand out. A Motorhead and Alice Cooper show that was my first ever live show, which is pretty huge, and pretty damn cool – at all of 8 years old, which tells you pretty much all you need to know about me. The first time I ever read something the Lemmy had written – which is when you realize what an intelligent, thoughtful, knowledgeable man he really was. Underneath all that persona and bravado there was indeed a great mind – something that is true of so many metalheads, whatever the prevailing opinion of us might be. It was a one page article in a magazine (I remember because I ripped out the page and kept it. It is undoubtedly still around here somewhere, but I can’t actually remember which magazine it was. Something rather unexpected as I recall…..). He wrote about the way in which he was judged for who he was and what he did and what he looked like, and the irony of it all, considering he looked an awful lot like a certain long-haired carpenter’s son, whom all the same people who disparaged him seemed to like so much. Philosophically this was a pretty significant and formative read for me. Then there were the couple of times I’d been fortunate enough to see them in more recent years – all fucking phenomenal shows. My love of High on fire, who I’ve often described as a heavier, stoner rock Motorhead. My rekindled love for the band and love of the final line-up, beginning with the album Motorizer, inspired by the cutest, most passionate little Motorhead-loving metal kid. He called my store multiple times a day for the week or so leading up to the release of that album, asking if we’d have it, if it would be there for the release day. I kept telling him ‘yes, most likely; if not before, on the day of and I promise I will call you and let you know when we get it.’ And the day came and it was not there when he phoned at 10:01am, and he was *not* okay, and then later that morning it did arrive, and true to my word I grabbed the phone as soon as I opened the box. He answered and I told him “I’ve got it” and he was gone. I received it (which took 2 minutes, tops), grabbed the box and brought it out front for my coworkers to put out, then decided I was going to go grab a cup of coffee. As I’m walking out of the store, he runs past me (literally runs), totally out of breath, hair soaking wet, and not a word of a lie, wearing jeans and a denim vest, with no shirt (this became legendary at my store, by the way). Rarely has anyone ever been as excited for an album as this kid was. So when I got back to the store with my coffee, I decided I’d throw it on, in honor of that excitement. Which I tell you sincerely there was something of religion in  – or perhaps what people have always looked for religion to be. The love and veneration, the comfort and peace, the purpose – music can provide are what people have sought from gods and religions throughout human history. And he had it. From Motorhead. At any rate, at that point, I’ll be honest it had been a long time since I’d really paid attention to new Motorhead albums; the last one I’d bought had been Snakebite Love (soooo, you might understand why). But I completely fell in love with Motorizer- I could not believe how fucking amazing they sounded (and how good the couple of previous albums I’d missed out on were) To this day, it still remains my favorite Motorhead album, and the… current (can I say that one last time? I’m not ready to switch over just yet) lineup with Phil Campbell and Mickey D my absolute favorite version of this band.

The world changed yesterday. It is something I have been fortunate enough to have to face only a few times in my life so far – the realization that something – someONE – you counted on being there, a part of your landscape, was taken away from you and would not be there anymore, ever again. Its huge and it is overwhelming. And in this different world, I will quote Dave Grohl (a thing that anyone who knows me, will know would not normally happen. But these are not normal times). I will quote Dave Grohl quoting Lemmy, recounting a conversation they had in which Lemmy said to him that he remembered before there was rock n’ roll. Stop there and think on that for a minute. That is a huge concept to wrap your head around for a music lover of my generation. Rock n’ roll is something we’ve always had. Metal is even younger again, but it too, is something I have always had. As much as I love it, in a way I take it for granted. But Lemmy remembered a time before this. To me its like remembering before electricity, or running water, or forging iron – almost impossible. But this man bridged that.

He remembered before rock n roll. But the thing is I *don’t* remember before Lemmy. I’ve never known a world without him. Now I will know a time after him. Eventually people will no longer know a time *with* him. And I already feel bad for those generations. He will pass into pure myth and legend. But he shaped my world – and so many others – and that is truly not an overstatement.

So as I come to it, Lemmy  has to be a god; he just does. In a way he is a god the way Christians might see it – like that carpenters’ son he looked like, a simple, unpretentious man who held to equality and acceptance and peace. And Lemmy did bring a peace and understanding to the musical world – the love of Motorhead crossed so many lines that were and still are rarely breached. They played Rock n’ roll, but metalheads claim them as their own. Punks embraced Motorhead in the days when they went after most longhairs. The people who love Motorhead and Lemmy come from all corners. One of the best parts of the Lemmy documentary was Henry Rollins ‘I WORSHIP Hawkwind’ comment. It was amazing. Honestly, who would have figured that? Similarly, I was on a subway in another city a few weeks ago, wearing the denim vest I’m rarely without, with a Motorizer patch, of course, and as the doors opened at my stop, and I moved to get off, a very dapper, well-dressed and clean cut middle-aged Black man that had been sitting in front of me with a brief case, quickly spoke, threw up the horns and said ‘fucking Motorhead! yeah! Rest in peace Philthy.’ That made me smile, and it really stuck with me. He didn’t even remotely strike me as the type to love Motorhead, or as someone who would have anything in common with me, but he certainly did, didn’t he? That’s the power of Lemmy for all to see. Isn’t that religion?

But mostly I think Lemmy is a god in the way the Greeks and Romans, or the Vikings, for example, had gods. The way that many others besides Christians do. Gods of things, aspects, phenomenons. Gods of war and thunder and love and harvest. Gods that aren’t perfect, but a perfect manifestation of something, or a way to explain. In that way, Lemmy is our God – a god of Metal and of Rock n’ roll. He was – and is now eternally, as is fitting of a god – the essence of everything we are. And for the record, they are the same thing, rock and metal. Its an argument or an opinion piece for another day, but as the man himself said countless times they are Motorhead and they play Rock n’ roll’ and there is literally not a more metal metal band out there. Because true, real rock n’ roll is the heart and soul and spirit of metal. Not the rock that we stuff in that section in every goddamn record store, but the real honest-to-goodness fucking rock n’ roll bands. Like fucking Motorhead. That is the legacy we have left to us, and the torch we have left to bear. All of us. And I just hope we do you proud – that our offerings and actions and tributes are pleasing to you and that we have your favor and make you smile. As the God. And let us learn from the man that you were, as well, as you pass into legend – the honestly integrity, and directness, the individuality, and the willingness to say and do whatever the fuck you wanted and stand by it. That too is the heart of rock n’ roll.

We are the road crew, Lemmy, forever.
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HIgh on Fire Luminiferous Review

So I haven’t written a blog post in a while and I have actually never posted a pure and simple album review here, so I thought that might be the way to go next. The timing is… appropriate, as the new High on Fire album Luminiferous was released this week. I love High on Fire. A lot. And so the challenge here in writing a review of a HOF album, is for me to put my money where my mouth is, as it were. Maybe its just me, but I imagine other people face the same sort of perception when in regards to their favorite bands, that they are completely and utterly unable to be rationale, reasonable, and realistic when it comes to them. ‘No, you love them too much – I can’t trust what you say.’ That always really gets my back up…. For obvious and understandable reasons I would think. I mean, I don’t really want everyone thinking I’m delusional, but more so because my love of these bands (HOF and Maiden are really what we’re talking about here, folks) I think makes me especially qualified to offer an opinion on them. In fact, the reason I love them so, is because they keep putting out fucking brilliant, relevant, amazing music. If they didn’t I wouldn’t be in it the way I am. My love and devotion has been hard won, and is well deserved. And so I have set myself the task of proving that and objectively and thoughtfully reviewing an album I am very, very into, by a band I am very, very, very into. Y’know without just saying ‘eeeeEEEEeeeee’……

I imagine no one bothering to read this needs an introduction to High On Fire – seven studio albums in, over about twice as many years, bastard disciples of Sabbath and Motorhead, these guys have been innovators themselves, blending speed and aggression with doom and stoner riffs as it had never been done before, and has never been done since… well, at least certainly not as well. Ultimately High on Fire sound like no one but themselves.

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First thought that strikes after I tear Luminiferous open and get it going then – ‘fuck, this thing is *aggressive.* It really is. And they’ve certainly been going that way; Snakes for the Divine was much meaner than Death is this Communion and what came before, and Der Vermis Mysteriis even more so again – though tempered somewhat. I have suspected for a while, considering this progression, along with the 7inch released for the insanely heavy Slave the hive last year, Matt Pike’s newfound sobriety, and the return of Kurt Ballou producing (something HOF have not done since their first albums, instead choosing to bounce from high-profile producer to producer for very unique sounding records) that this was now the direction for HOF, that they had really found what they wanted to be and how they wanted to sound. I’m pleasantly surprised to discover that that is not entirely the case though. This album opens with thunder and violence, a storm engulfing a ship in open sea. Matt Pike screams, and his guitar squeals and the one blends into the other, and its hard to discern what is making what noise. But after that first track, the Black Plot, which is as aggressive and brutal as this band has ever been, the album and our little ship begins to right itself and find its balance. And in this balance they have produced an album that over time may stand as one of their best. It is meticulously constructed, by a band that have never been more focused or playing better, and I think is most certainly their strongest complete album since Death is this Communion.

The second track Carcosa is one of the slow heavy grooves in which High on Fire are at their best. This is where this band truly shines and is most itself. The have mastered the heavy rolling riffs that you could lose yourself in endlessly if they let you. But this ain’t Sleep; High on Fire songs have no more than they require. A good, solid, slow head-banger; simple riff and ringing chords, reminiscent of 10,000 years for me. And inspired by True Detective, as I understand it – hmmm, looks like I finally have something good to say about that show. The Sunless years begins aggressively enough but unfolds into another of these slow heavy refrains (for anyone who’s been around for a while, think Face of Oblivion from Blessed Black Wings or Dii from Death is this Communion). Slave the Hive, which is already familiar from the single and its inclusion on the last few tours is perhaps the most urgent and frantic I have heard them. There is no reprieve in this song; it is just attacking from start to finish, but somehow sits better with me in the context of this album, in the middle of two quieter, more thoughtful affairs. And in it you can still uncover the same manner of riffs and melodies just roughly 100 times the speed. One thing High on Fire will not ever do is abandon musicality and songs for the sake of brutality.

And then the Falconist, which – I don’t care I’m calling it – is a fucking beautiful song. There is a fantastic melancholy and melody throughout the thing, and Matt Pike is once again trying out proper singing as he has from time to time over the past few albums, and on the one Kalas album many years ago (when he was only singing and not playing guitar), if anyone has heard that. In fact this song reminds me a great deal of the overwhelming gloom and sadness of that record. If you haven’t heard it, I strongly suggest investigating. He may not ever be considered a traditionally good singer, but there is an honesty and sincerity in that gravel that I love dearly. And its not actually *that* far from his general singing voice, but it is nice to actually hear him carrying the tune and not just screaming over the melody on occasion, and especially to really clearly be able to discern his lyrics. Every time a High on Fire album comes out, an awful lot of reviews and features will focus on the content and play up the Lovecraftian, apocalypse-y, alien reptile people context. He loves that shit. And come on! We’re metalheads – We love it too. That shit is metal. Rahhrr! But what he doesn’t always get credit for is his skill in crafting a mood and images with his words. He tends to write in ideas, images, and sentence fragments; he’s not particularly literal, and, like most great songs, without the alien conspiracy context you’ve been told about, which the album itself doesn’t provide for you, his lyrics play off the listener and what they may bring to it. ‘The great awakening and I don’t feel better. Some of us take the pain. And the monsters are real…’ And, I gotta say I never thought I would ever hear the phrase ‘like a lighthouse keeper’ in a High on Fire tune. But there it is, and somehow is one of my favorite touches on the Falconist. Jeff Matz shines on this tune as well – he’s the one really carrying the music along with the vocals rather than the guitar. There is something almost Maiden-y about it too, in that way that Snakes for the Divine was, but the slower more thoughtful Maiden epics from the most recent era, rather than the classic singles. And there are these great little breakdowns and buildups, with some different drum work from Des Kensel.

The Dark Compass is the most classic sounding HOF tune on the album. Musically, with its patient galloping riff and Des pounding away in the back there, this very easily might have shown up mid-career on Death is this Communion or somewhere around there. But like everything on the album, Matt Pike’s guitar playing, and soloing in particular, give it away. A completely unexpected side effect of his sobriety has been discovering that he is in fact a much better player than we ever suspected. Considering how damn good he fucking was, and that’s now he’s playing circles around his former self…..well, yeah.

The Cave is truly the showpiece of this album and one of the single most interesting songs High on Fire have ever released. It is moody and thoughtful, opening with a beautiful little refrain Jeff Matz plays on a baglama, and so there is an almost eastern sort of feel to it (aww, classic rock thank you for that. George Harrison, Jimmy Page, I’m looking at you…) Matt Pike’s vocals are properly sung once again, with an echo used sparingly but to great effect. And once again there is a shadow of something Maiden-y to my ear. There’s a maturity and tastefulness to it, and these slow and subtle little runs towards the end of the song that have that an inherent Maiden feel to me.

Matt Pike has of course done some PR stuff for Luminiferous and recently did an interview with Rolling Stone (which seems weird as hell to me, but that’s neither here nor there. They ‘re also responsible for the ridiculous blurb stuck to the front of the cd “High on Fire are gods to a generation of bikers, barbarians, and beardos and Luminiferous is one of their finest hours’ Seriously, guys? Do you even *believe* that that actually means anything? Sigh. I mean cool though – you figured out alliteration and stuff) where he talks about the song being inspired by his recent split from the woman he had meant to marry, and loves still. The interview and the song both make my heart hurt. He’s a man who has been troubled and damaged, but there is good heart and a very kind soul there. It makes me sad that you’re hurting out there, Hessian. But you have made something beautiful out of it that will stand. Whatever consolation that may be. And I love that this still sincerely sounds and feels like High on Fire. Something I have truly loved about this band is that they do *not* write songs about Love, sex, women, whatever. I don’t love that kind of thing (probably cause its usually done so poorly and cheesily) and I gravitate to music, stories and art that doesn’t rely on that. But isn’t some trite typical love song. It is true to who he is and how he expresses himself – striking images and soundscapes, feelings and emotions expressed how he knows how to do it, and that is what makes it one of the most beautiful, touching, and emotional songs I have ever heard. It resonated with me and I imagine would with other High on Fire and metal fans who might express themselves in much the same way in such times.

He intimates in that RS interview that she inspired the title of the album as well. Which makes a lot more sense. I’ve just gotta throw this out there, because no one else seems to be commenting on it. Maybe no one dug out their dictionaries. Do you have *any* idea how pretty this album title is? Luminiferous. It essentially means ‘light-bearing’ or something that light comes from. That’s ah…. kind of lovely for a metal album, especially against that artwork and all the reptile people trotting around. Now the title track itself isn’t quite as lovely as all that, but even so. This tune is another raging thunderstorm, with some of the fiercest playing on the album. Not to mention the fucking unending… warcry he lets loose at the end. That is some Bruce Dickinson-Rob Halford quality lung capacity right there. Did you quit smoking as well, man? Damn.

And finally the last track, The Lethal Chamber, is the perfect album closer – slow and solid, with a deliberate thoughtful, reflective pace and overall feel, eventually just fading out. This is good for me. If a new High on Fire album is about to end, I really need it to be gentle, and ease me out.

So in the end…. Yeah, this thing is fucking brilliant. What can I say? I really really love it. Did I succeed in the task I set for myself here….. ah, fuck it. EeeeeEEEEEeeee!

The Thrill is gone….

There are events that are life-changing, moments in history when everyone realizes right at the time that everything that comes afterwards will be different- the death of kings, the fall of an empire, the end of a war. And there are moments that are more subtle, when everything changes but you don’t even know it at the time – the first time you meet the person you fall in love with, or perhaps the first time you play a riff that will one day be iconic, or write the first line in a novel that ends up on the best seller list. Last week something happened that fell somewhere in between the two – B.B. King left us. For music-lovers – for all the blues fans, rock n’ rollers, metalheads…. everyone and anyone who lives for the music (if you’ll allow me a little Bad Company shout-out)– this really is the death of a king. It’s the death of the King of the Blues, and truly now we can see the end of the empire upon us.

In the history and development of popular music, Blues has been fundamental in almost every way you can look at it. Rock n’ Roll, and every offshoot thereof, simply would not exist without this music. The style and sounds are some of the most iconic and recognizable in all of music, and have been adapted, referenced and repurposed throughout any number of styles and genres. The subject matter: the rebelliousness, honesty , darkness and blue-collar perspective of the blues were game-changing. There is a sociopolitical significance to the music itself as well as the circumstances in which it developed, was played, and was heard, and I don’t pretend to do it any kind of justice here, but simply acknowledge. At any rate, with the first formative generation of bluesmen long gone, and so many of the later generation of the electric-era Blues players having already followed them, B. B. King was among the last of the greats left among us. How lucky were we to have him this long, playing and recording regularly very nearly til the end of his life? 89 years of it. A living breathing man, who was a part of the very foundation of it all. The Blues will continue no doubt. You can’t stop that. It lived on past the death of Robert Johnson, and of Muddy and the Wolf…. But it seems like now it will live on a little differently. A little more in history than in life without this man carrying the torch. Soon enough it will pass entirely on to another generation to guard. And that is huge.

That day when I woke up, it didn’t feel much different than most days, until I had the news gently broken to me, and then realized that it was very different indeed. This was a world that didn’t have B.B. King in it any longer. This is an experience I’ve had a few times now – the loss of a musician, a famous person or public figure that touches you. Its not the same as losing a loved one, because you don’t really *know* the person, but because of the nature and transcendence of music, the way it touches us and exists in the lives of those who love music, there *is* a part of that person you do know and connect to, and a place they live in your world and something they offer to your life. And you realize you will no longer have that, and there is a true emptiness there. And what they have already done will live on forever and you will always have, but it’s the moment when you realize there will be no more from here on out, that the music itself is no longer *living*…. that is where the void is. There is something paradoxically personal about music. What you love and listen to is your own, as much as it is for every other person who loves it. And its in that space that this makes perfect sense – *If* you love music; if you don’t feel and understand that, I can’t explain it, and well, you probably think I’m bat-shit crazy, but if you *do* get it, you get it.

I can imagine how it must have been when Elvis died, or John Lennon, or John Bonham, or Hendrix, or Jim Morrison…. the list is endless of course, but they were all before my time, or before I was old enough to be a part of it. For me, personally though, there have been a few in my time that have really resonated with me.

Freddie Mercury was probably the first that I remember. And because of the secrecy surrounding his illness leading up to his death, it was all the more shocking and tragic. One of the most important voices and characters of the Classic era of Rock n’ Roll was gone, and it ushered in a much needed public awareness in the early years of the hiv epidemic. I remember watching a weekend’s worth of footage of the Freddie Mercury tribute show on tv shortly after his passing, and thinking it ought always to be like that when these sorts of figures leave us. Musicians and artists from all genres and backgrounds came together in the most unlikely of combinations to celebrate everything he had accomplished and embodied, and also to try and do something against what had killed him. It was beautiful and fitting.

There have been many others over the years – John Lord, Athon, Stevie Ray, Waylon Jennings…. Dimebag Darrell stood out for all metalheads of course, because of the violence and brutality of his murder. It was shocking, and heartbreaking, and as my parents’ generation remember where they were when JFK was shot (even as Canadians), we remember learning of Dimebag’s passing. For my part, I stood in a used bookstore that sold metal shirts and posters and other accessories, and mourned and talked with 3 or 4 other metalheads, only one of whom I knew even in passing.

The one that really hit me hardest was Jeff Hanneman just a few years ago now…. and honestly, I’m not even a particularly die-hard Slayer fan. I like ‘em as much as the next metal head, but they were never really a favorite. But I don’t know that you could write a more tragic story for one man if you tried. Known as a quiet, private, loner type, the founding member and creative force behind one of the most important, influential and genre-defining metal bands in history, died alone, an alcoholic, left behind, estranged from band, friends and loved ones…. It is brutal, and heart-wrenching. I said it at the time, and I still stand by it and am personally ashamed of it, because metal as a whole –our family – let this man down. We failed him. Everyone and anyone who might have been able to make a difference left him to succumb to his own demons, while Slayer continued on, touring and playing, and we all just took it for granted that he was home, getting better, and would be back eventually….. right? I was fucking *shocked* when I heard he had died. It had never dawned on me that he wouldn’t return and that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to see him play again. And I had noticed that we didn’t hear much from the Slayer camp regarding him…. But did I ask? Why didn’t I? Why didn’t we?…. perhaps we could have reached this man if he hadn’t thought he was so utterly alone and left behind. His death was harder because it seemed so very, very unnecessary and preventable….

There were also the close calls, and reality checks. The first of these for me, was with Matt Pike from High on Fire. It has been well established, but I dearly LOVE this band, and my affections naturally extend to the three individuals who compromise the band and give me the music I love so fucking much. A few years ago I went to see Matt play with Sleep in Florida. It was the night before his 40th birthday, and the day after he was hospitalized with stroke-like symptoms in Barcelona. Somehow he made it to the show I was there for, and somehow played. But I had never seen him like that. Had probably never seen anybody like that. He was visibly hurting and broken and fucked up – the lifetime of drugs and liquor and life on the road had finally caught up – and when I left him in Florida, I sincerely worried I might never have the opportunity to see him again. I didn’t know if he would make it and I didn’t know if there was anything that I, or anyone else could do…. And I remember going back to my hotel room, and crying til I had nothing left. The good news though is that the next day Matt Pike flew home to Oakland, and went into rehab, and started taking care of himself, and is now healthier, and in better shape, and even playing better than he ever had (who fucking knew that was even possible?!) and despite my fears I’ve gotten to see him again many times since. Which is brilliant, because I don’t want to live in a world without HOF, but even more so, I don’t want to live in a world without the amazing man who gave me this music that has meant everything to me.

And the second (strangely enough seeing a conclusion of sorts the very same day that BB passed away) would be the recent Cancer experience of my beloved Air Raid Siren. It was announced just after Christmas this year that Bruce Dickinson was undergoing treatment for a cancerous tumor on the back of his tongue. This was frankly fucking terrifying. Where Matt Pike may be a wonderful man, Bruce Dickinson is a fucking superhero, magical creature, who barely seems like a real person, no matter how many times I have seen this force of nature just twenty feet in front of me. Ideologically, realizing that laws of nature and reality applied to this man was jarring enough, and for that also to mean that his health and potentially his life might be in danger was beyond upsetting. Even though it was a concept I’d already tried to face a couple of times in my life. First when Bruce left Iron Maiden in the 90s and I came to terms with the fact that Maiden were now a favorite band along the lines of Zeppelin, who I could not and would not, ever see. But then my babies came back to me, better than ever, and I have been privileged enough to see them many, many times. And then once again, when poor Clive Burr was diagnosed with MS and eventually died from related complications, I had to consider that I would likely outlive this band that I loved so much, and would have to exist in a world without them – one that I had never known. I’ve never been sure how I’ll do that, and I don’t want to do it anytime soon, and I am so extravagantly happy to have heard the news that Bruce is cancer-free and will soon be back to form and on the road, so I simply choose to live happily under this King and in this Empire, and think not about the end of this civilization, or tectonic plates shifting, or ice caps melting, or the end of a universe….

Metalhead Wanderlust (the Electric Wizard and At the Gates edition)

I was relating a story recently – about this tattoo I have on my wrist that says “metal.” A little on the nose, right? Seems kinda silly, I know, but in truth it’s one of the really important ones – it actually means a lot to me. I got it a few years back, upon returning home from a trip to BC. The thing is, I pretty much *only* travel when and if I can go see a show – they’re not always metal shows, but by and large that’s generally what it is, and if I can fit in more than one…. well! So the story – about the tattoo and the trip to BC – I had a lot of extended family out there, a full metal band’s worth of friends who had moved up there a few years previous, and hadn’t been out there since I was a kid, so I was kind of looking for an excuse, and along came a High on Fire tour that included Converge, Mastodon, and Dethklok (yes, yes – fucking made up joke band…. Sigh) and a Motorhead show with Nashville Pussy opening just a few days before, and another bill with Children of Bodom, Skeletonwitch… and a few others that again escape my memory right now. Sounded good, and off I went.

So I get there, and the evening of my arrival, a member of the other side of my extended family’s family passes away. Brutal. So they head out to deal with that, of course. And there I am with no transportation, in the unfamiliar suburbs, and no key to their home. So I really ain’t going anywhere. So, they of course spend most of my time there grieving and making funeral arrangements, while I just fucking feel awful for intruding on these private moments. The second day there, I go to the Motorhead show (which is fucking fantastic actually. Everyone ought to see Lemmy at some point; trust me) and though the details now somehow elude me, I end up halfways stranded with a friend of a friend and no real idea of how I’m getting the fuck back to the suburbs. Ultimately this involves many hours, some go-trains, a Tim Hortons wait, and a ride home from some random girl this dude possibly had something on the go with. I think. Then as my visit carries on, I kind of get a cold. Bummer, but not exactly dire, right? Then, I end up with strep throat, or some other awful thing that results in me *totally* losing my voice and just generally feeling like a bag of shit. Super convenient for visiting and catching up of course. And finally to top off all of the wonderfulness, I go to the High on Fire show (keeping in mind that HOF are basically my favorite thing ever) and apparently this was the first show to ever happen ever in Vancouver, and when the doors opened promptly at 7pm, and the solitary security person started going through the most thorough entry searches I have ever experienced, HOF also began. And so, they played to a room that went from empty to…. partways full, and I got to enjoy perhaps 2 songs by my favoritest band ever. One for the memory book, no question.

So, to bring this back to my original (and relevant, I swear) point, I get home from that trip and I’m basically thinking ‘what the fuck am I doing? I travel and spend all this money to see bands and stuff, and that fucking *sucked* in so many ways…. Should I just fucking fuck off and not bother any more?’ And then I thought about the Motorhead show, and how fucking *amazing* it was, and that feeling you have in the middle of a killer show, and I realized that was why I did it, and why it was worth it. For all the times I got that. And that I would actually go through all that again, for that. And so I tattooed “metal” on my wrist where I could see it all the time, because that was the thing that drove me.

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Now I was telling this story because it was once again, sadly, relevant. I’ve had a few unfortunate mishaps, in amongst countless amazing, wonderful, unforgettable experiences (my ill-fated attempt to see Monster Magnet last December is always the first to come to mind…..) and with another trip planned to see a couple of shows featuring Electric Wizard, Satan’s Satyrs, Blood Ceremony, At the Gates, and Pallbearer (and again Converge, whom I come to like less every time I see them) disaster struck again. My health had been a little wonky of late – I’d been under the weather, gotten an infection, completed a course of antibiotics, dealt with all the lovely side effects like *another* infection (I take medications so infrequently that I usually get alllllll of the side effects when I do, cause my poor body just isn’t prepared for it), was feeling pretty good and less than 48 hours before my flights, woke up vomiting, which lasted for about a day. I felt so, *so* awful, that for the first time in my life, I considered calling it, and just cancelling the whole thing, setting fire to all the money spent. Even the day of, packing my bag, I wasn’t sure it was going to happen. But I’d eaten some toast and all seemed….. painful, weak, worn out….. but, okay. Ish. And so I went. Because a few of these were bucket list bands. One of which was a sold out show that myself and my friend had begrudgingly purchased highly-inflated scheming scalper tickets for. And I would probably always regret missing them if I didn’t. I felt terrible for pretty much the entire trip – much more so than I even let on, or probably admitted to myself at the time. My body hurt, I was tired and achy, no drinking, no coffee or tea for the first few days, super-mild (read: boring) food, and then on top of things I got a brutal head cold, and was concerned that the original infection had returned. It wasn’t until I was back home a week later that I really started feeling alright and kind of like myself again. That having been said, the shows….. THE SHOWS. Were they worth it? Oh fuck yeah. And so you see, thus the ‘metal’ tattoo…..

The night after I arrived was Electric Wizard at Lee’s Palace – a prolific and much loved small venue in Toronto. It’s little but has a great layout, and somehow the sound always seems to be really, really good (which, if you take in many live shows, you know sadly tends to be the exception rather than the norm, so this is high praise indeed). What can I even say about getting to see Electric Wizard? Finally. This is *huge* of course. They were one of the pioneers and pillars of, lets say, the second generation of Doom, in the 90s when things get all tied up with Stoner and Desert Rock. And, though they have changed and evolved *massively* since then they, unquestionably, they still are. When I started discovering all that fuzzed out, Sabbath-worshipping stuff that is so dear to my heart, Electric Wizard were pretty much in on the ground floor, along with Kyuss, Acrimony, Fu Manchu, Orange Goblin (before they were even called that). So they were important and formative for me, but honestly? Not actually one of my favorites. Now, I kept buying their albums cause they were good and stuff and I did like them. Dopethrone came out and people couldn’t get enough, and I didn’t really get it and still think they have better albums, but there you go. It’s the new Liz Buckingham era of Electric Wizard that changed it all for me. With these last few albums, I think they really have become what they were meant to be – this sludgy, lumbering, very, very high, beast of a band performing the soundtracks of classic shlockly horror and exploitation movies that may exist, or may just exist in their collective vision. Prior to that I always found them to be a bit all over the place and unfocused. But now they truly are the pioneers I would have called them – because the recent crop of ‘occult metal’ bands that we have seen emerge and flourish owe everything from their riffs to style to artwork, to Electric Wizard. They have more or less created a genre. And this was their first tour in North America in 13 years, and since Liz had joined the band. How fucking cool is that? Obviously I was going to be there.

We showed up early, to try and scope out decent places – which I of course did (I’m a fucking wizard for this shit). I’m usually a right up front kind of person, but considering my physical state at the time, I wanted a calmer spot – right in front on the second level directly in front of the stage with no one blocking my view. Though there was the weird guy, standing a little to my right on the stairs, in everyone’s way for the entire night, pointed half away from the band, not so casually, casually leaning, trying exceptionally way too hard to look tough, and the woman sitting down to my left with drinks, purse, poster, shirt, and other odds and ends she couldn’t possibly need, spread out on the railing in front of her, who got incredibly but very quietly miffed with me, when I decided to take my coat off and lay in on the ledge in front of *me* about halfway through the show when the possibility of heat stroke and bad trips was becoming a concern or reality for most of those in attendance. All of this, of course, occurred after we walked in and I immediately zoned in on the merch table…. which was hilariously but depressingly ravaged and pitiful and had literally nothing but scraps of tape left on the wall. And some stray satanic tumbleweeds blowing by, y’know. No big deal. This, combined with the fact that this show sold out blindingly fast when it went on sale a few months back, have me suspecting that Electric Wizard and their camp truly may not have realized what an enormous pilgrimage they were making across the pond, and the legion of disciples they would find still here.

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By and large the crowd was exactly what you would expect. Metal. Very, very metal. Very doom metal. My vest was just one more fish in the sea – in fact, there may have been a bit of a dress code. But, of course, there were a few others, the dabblers, the narcs, the hipsters, the hardcore guys that I have come to learn love doom like they love hip hop. All of which is somewhat beyond my experience and understanding, and so I just listen to my doom metal with my people, and I am at peace.

At any rate, when they took the stage, all that was forgotten and it was….. electric? Too much? But truly, it was. It was a moment of chills, and trances, and something that the whole room was perfectly in tune with. The vibe and energy in the air (yes, energy damnit, it wasn’t just the over-the-top, almost joke-level, but oh-so-fitting, amount of pot smoke floating in air in a very visible haze) was all- encompassing, and hypnotic. Between the riffs, and the set-long kaleidoscopic video projection of bits and pieces of cinematic sacrifices and séances and satan, and boobs and bikes and blood, we all lived inside of their world for a time immeasurable, it seemed. The projection was really interesting in that it took some of the limelight away from the band itself and the people you want to watch, but it was a little like watching a movie with subtitles – after a while you kind of stop noticing that you’re even reading and you’re just in it and taking it all in.

In truth, it wasn’t exactly what I expected it to be. Actually that isn’t quite true – I very specifically went in with no particular expectations, but in hindsight they were not quite what I think I might have expected. For a band that have so extravagantly crafted occult soundscapes this past decade or so, I might have expected far more theatricality, but it was incredibly stripped down, and with the exception of the screen behind the band, pretty mundane. Now, don’t get me wrong – not at all in a bad way; I was actually quite pleased. I’ve always wondered if they might take themselves just a little too seriously, but they seemed much the same as all the other longhairs with their vests and patches in attendance. And that was refreshing and reassuring. Jus Oborn has a surprising charisma…. He was *in* it and felt what he was playing in a way you don’t often see these days. Silly, as it might sound, there was something visceral and almost sexual about the way he moved and the grimaces on his face and the sweat pouring off of him – just the way in which he was utterly engaged in his music. There was no way he had *anything* left at the end of the night. I will admit that I was surprised to see him doing pretty much all the lead guitar work. They’re both always credited with simply ‘guitars’ but for some reason, I had always assumed Liz Buckingham was the lead. Perhaps because of the palpable turn in the band’s music after she had joined, but regardless…. she’s a killer player; I fucking loved her, and she just seemed like an insanely cool lady, cut from the same cloth as myself I thought (if I might be so bold as to put myself in that company) but with way fucking more rad bell-bottomed jeans.

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Ultimately it was all over far too soon – I understand they played for about 90 minutes, but it didn’t feel like half that time had passed – and we were dismissed and released back to our own mundane worlds where drugs and murder will never be legalized.

A few days, some limited lp shopping successes (more shops visited than albums bought, but that probably tells one something about the extent of their habit….) and some terrible weather later, soaked to the skin and freezing fucking cold, we were off to a very different show, but of the same emotional magnitude. At the Gates, the founding fathers of Swedish/Melodic Death metal. They’ve been back on the road a few years now, and put out a fucking fantastic album a few months back, but this was the first time I had managed to catch them. Considering they broke up right around the time they put out their genre-defining masterpiece and I was discovering them, this was a pretty big deal. Most of the time I’d known who At the Gates were, I also knew I would never see them. Having that change is quite the feeling. Its unreal. Its laws of physics changing on you. I had it with Iron Maiden, I had it with Kyuss, now At the Gates…. It’s a feeling that never gets old though.

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This show was a bit of a surprise as well, and in this case, I *had* seen lots of live ATG footage beforehand. I thought I did know what I was in for. But I hadn’t expected the good happy vibes I got at this show. Part of it began and ended with myself and my friend Ryan, who had also never seen them before. We were like little fucking kids; there was no metal attitude or toughness – we were so fucking stoked, we were hugging and our faces were hurting from smiling. What was a surprise was how much of the same vibe I got from the band themselves. They just seemed like they were having the most fun and just enjoying the hell out of themselves, and that was really, really nice to see. Tomas Lindberg was smiling and talkative and jovial, and I loved how casual the guys were – he was wearing a baseball hat and Anders Bjorler was wearing a Blue Oyster Cult shirt. I loved how casual they were for a death metal band. But at the same time, I loved how well crafted a show they put off for a death metal band – the band came to the stage in darkness to the opening of the new album; there were a number of instrumentals throughout the set; intros like the classic lead up to Blinded by Fear were all present; the show ended with the Night Eternal, with each band member fading out and leaving the stage til only one guitarist remained in a spotlight, and then that too went out leaving the stage in darkness. So fucking well done. And of course I heard about 80% of Slaughter of the Soul, and got that amazing moment when 1000 people or so shouted “GO!” in unison… You realize standing in the room that these guys are not so very different from the rest of us – baseball hats, band shirts, metalheads – but on that stage they show you what it is in them that virtually created a genre once upon a time; you can feel it, and there is an emotional core in that….

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Oh, and also, just for the record, I got the fucking *coolest* At the Gates shirt. Buying girls metal shirts is fucking brutal – if they even fucking have them, they’re probably going to be ugly, or a stupid colour or fit weird. So please envision my happiness when Ryan runs up to me and tells me that not only do they have girl’s shirts, but that they’re also the coolest shirts there! Boo Yah! And he was not wrong. Simple black shirt with a red print in the shape of the old-school ATG logo. Doesn’t even *say* At the Gates – so you gotta know what it is to know what it is…. Well, what metalhead doesn’t love that kind of exclusivity at least just a little bit deep down, am I right? This alllllmost even made up for the totally lack of Electric Wizard merchandise…. *almost.*

Denim and Leather. and Patches, mostly…

So like lots of purebred, leather-clad, card-carrying metalheads, I have a denim vest covered in patches. Vests fall somewhere between uniform (adorned in medals awarded for service of course) and armour, and something well past that. Your colours, your cut…. you get the idea. In many ways they are that important and vital.

So my current vest was ‘started’ – y’know, when you start wearing it and patching it (is that a verb? Pfft. It is now) – probably 5 or 6 years ago, and ‘finished’ – meaning I completely ran out of free space, after jenga-ing the thing around to fit more on, about half a dozen times – maybe about 2 years ago. It’s a process. Since then, I’ve actually accumulated quite a number of new patches that were really, definitely, not going to fit on there, and so it became readily apparent that a second vest was in order. Which is a bittersweet endeavor. I often proclaim my jealously towards big burly metal dudes, who have lots and lots of space for patches, and similarly tonnes of bodily real estate for tattooing (which is another area in which I simply do not have enough room to work with). The vest I have has been my second skin for an awfully long time; I actually own a LOT of coats, and yet I am always a little hesitant to put it aside and throw one of the others on, and, like many metalheads, when the weather is too warm, I’ve been known to pull it off my leather and wear it all on its own. So it remains to be seen what the fate of the new one will be…. I’m hoping I’ll mix them up a bit, but we’ll see. I may be a little too sentimental. Which leads me to consider these vests of mine, the years of service from the one, and their significance for me and my world…

Denim and Leather – it’s the stuff of metal, no? (ps. If you aren’t hearing Saxon in your head right now, you’re either a baby metalhead, or not a metalhead, and either way your musical experience is sorely lacking, so go check that one out. You can leave me angry comments when its still in your head a week from now; its cool.) And black band t-shirts of course. It makes getting ready in the mornings pretty easy, I gotta say – mono- or duo- chromatic at best, we can get dressed in the dark and everything matches. Suckers! But, of course, its more than that. Denim and band logos especially. That’s been something that’s been prevalent since the 70s – you could literally wear your loves and allegiances on your sleeve, *all* of the time, unlike those pesky shirts which you’d have to wash and could only feature one band at a time. Pfft!

My first jean jacket would have been in high school I guess (well, the first one I decorated at least). This was on a small, relatively conservative island, in a pre-internet era with no online shopping…. So putting a vest together was quite the task. Honestly that coat was never truly finished and featured more pins than patches by the time it was put aside. And it never really stood up to the jackets of the three other metalheads in my high school, but I don’t ever recall those ever been full either… There was a classic leather motorcycle jacket with a misfits logo painted on with a liquid paper pen; denim with an assortment of the classics – Maiden, Priest, and a back patch that I can’t recall for some reason, maybe Slayer… but I do recall that a hardcore guy who used to sit behind the owner of that coat in class, wrote “Earth Crisis” across the patch in sharpie; and finally a jean jacket with simply an Anthrax back patch, which prompted me to refer to the wearer simply *as* Anthrax for most of high school. I never did have a batchpatch on that one; I did look but I remember all I could find in this town by the 90s was a much passed over Def Lepard High n Dry patch. Mmmhmm, no, I think I’m good; thanks though. Nevertheless, I had a Kiss army patch, an Iron Maiden Patch of course (which made its way to the current vest for a time, but more on that shortly), a Guns N’ Roses appetite cross, a peace sign with some psychedelic fractal-looking shit happening inside of it (I was a little bit of a hippie-metal head, though I’ve oftentimes looked a little more goth-metal. I really like black but I also really like bell bottoms….). Oh and there were John Bonham and John Paul Jones symbol patches on there as well. Its funny- these two men of course *rule* but they were the only two I could ever get, because anyone who wanted Zeppelin patches, wanted Jimmy Page or Robert Plant *obviously* so I have literally never managed to find the others and complete the set….

I wore trench coats for a whole lotta years after that (which I still love dearly, make no mistake), and the idea to patch up another coat didn’t arise for some time. The real catalyst was High on Fire. Anyone who knows me knows I have an unholy, unwholesome, unending love for this band, who for many, many years have hurt and toyed with me by never having any fucking girls shirts (and do not tell me to wear a small men’s shirt. It fucking sucks, and they never fit right and they look weird and baggy, and it just fucking sucks, okay? Many people have suffered through my rant on this topic. And a number of bands have garnered my eternal love and gratitude by making them. Oooo, and in black, not in stupid ‘girly’ colours – I’m looking at you, Saint Vitus, with your damn pink and lavender logo shirts… but that’s another rant for another day). At any rate, I bought a man’s small HOF headhunter shirt at a show, which I knew full well was too big and was well on its way to being a total waste of money and condemned to the closet for good. When I looked at it and thought ‘this would make a *sweet* backpatch….’ and that was that. I went out looking for a used jean jacket to cut up and struck a nice, snug, medium blue one that clearly the one.

So the custom backpatch was the start, and its been the heart and the showpiece of the thing ever since. No one’s ever seen one before, because there isn’t another, so I get compliments on it all the time. And of course the backpatch is integral, right? It’s pretty much gotta be the band you stand by the most, and then everyone who sees that knows that. It’s a big deal, and an even bigger deal when you’re looking at a mid-level band. People are more stoked over that thing than they might be over a Maiden patch, cause you can’t take for granted that another metal head even *knows* HOF. Hilariously enough, I was once sitting on a bench across the street from a venue that Sleep had just played at, when this drunk dude came up behind me, half hugged me, and was like ‘BLARGHHHH! HIGH ON FIRE BACK PATCH! FUCKING AWESOME’ and went on his merry way. Matt Pike (of Sleep and High on Fire fame, of course) was sitting right next to me the whole time. Excellent awareness of your surroundings, drunk dude. We salute you.

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That having been settled , I pulled out a Jager deer logo patch I’d acquired some time previously (cause Jager is up there with PBR in metal – they get about as much respect as the bands. Actually, probably more in some cases), a Skeletonwitch patch I’d bought when they were touring with HOF (but not actually the same time I bought the afore mentioned HOF shirt) an old-school Maiden Killers strip patch that I had been holding onto since my childhood, and that was transplanted from the earlier coat, and a piece of material saved from a shirt that I had worn into the ground as a teenager, that said ‘Listen to Black Sabbath.’ Those were the humble beginnings. I started wearing it then, and added to it as I went along.

I ordered myself an Amon Amarth patch online (yep, the future was upon us by now), in a pitiful attempt to make myself feel better for all the times I’d managed to fail at seeing them (still going strong!), a Fu Manchu patch, and a Motorhead one; I bought Danzig and Down patches on a trip to Toronto soon after. I acquired a Saint Vitus patch while seeing them at the Scion Festival in Tampa Florida (life-changing, by the way. Wino stands alone as the only person I have ever met who left me dumbstruck and speechless – ‘Nadine, this is Wino.’ Wino: ‘hey!’ Me: ‘___________’), a Sword patch picked up while seeing them at the Sled Island festival in Calgary, a Bison bc patch at a show at Lee’s Palace (also featuring Saviours and Weedeater – what a lineup, right?).

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I found a Kyuss (before Kyuss Lives was even a concept) patch on ebay that was surely a bootleg but fucking phenomenal, so I needed it, and it came in a lot with a Sleep Vol 4 patch that also ended up on the vest, so how could I not? The Kyuss patch is probably the single most commented-on feature of my vest. I can honestly say – for whatever reason – that one gets singled out more than all of the others put together. People just exclaim ‘Kyuss!’ maybe a ‘yeah!’ and/or they attempt to read it. It simply says Kyuss in big letters and then a run-on, no space ‘fuzzedoutbig guitardistortion heavybasslong hairedmofosmoking trippedoutinyourface sonicdestruction.’ Trying to sound this out was a favorite past time of delivery drivers and other visitors to the back room of the music shop I worked in for years, where my coat hung defiantly on a hanger off of an electrical panel box next to my desk every day. This one is also extremely popular and handy when I’m traveling for some reason. Everywhere I go I tend to hear *something* about it. And I have had so many wicked conversations and literally made friends, after someone spoke to me about that patch. And that is one of the hallmarks, and the secrets of the vest – it says a great deal about me if you care to, or are able to, read the language. It’s removes any need for breaking the ice, and it suggests any number of things about me – what I listen to, obviously, but also a lot of world-view, principle stuff beneath that – at a glance, and attracts like-minded people. It’s a bit of an invitation, but one only certain people can see. In fact, the vest was the catalyst of my bonding with Black Pussy that I related in my first blog posted. I walked up to the venue and the guys were outside, and it was all “vest, vest, vest, this band, that band. I will buy it from you right now. $500. No? Okay, we’re gonna beat you up and take it…. Okay no, not really. But sweet vest.’ I had a guy stop me walking down the street in my hometown a few years ago who was visiting from New Brunswick, cause he spotted the Danzig patch, whom he fucking loves. We chatted for like an hour, he mentioned his own heavy band to me, by the time I got home he’d added me on facebook, and within 24 hours we were out drinking together. Just a few weeks ago I had a couple of girls also stop me in the street and tell me I should make vests for other people cause mine was so awesome. Oh, and there was the time a guy ran out into traffic to catch me as I was getting into my car, knocked on my window and completely out of breath told me he just had to tell me how much he loved my vest. And that’s just off the top of my head. That’s what wearing your heart on your sleeve can do…..

But to carry on, there’s an Obsessed patch that was ordered after Wino shared a link that the person responsible for official Vitus and Obsessed patches had a bundle up for sale. I ordered a Hellacopters patch one day when I accidentally came upon it while searching for lps. There are Witchcraft and Graveyard patches that arrived alongside a pretty huge haul of records from Nuclear Blast, and a little banner patch that says ‘metal warrior’ that was a present in that same order (which is pretty much the funnest thing ever when you buy stuff). And in fact there are little pewter and gold coloured molded metal pins for each of these bands as well. Oooo, and a vintage led Zeppelin pin. And last but certainly not least, the final patch was an Orange Goblin one, given to me by a friend with his very own vest who had multiples of that design. Its silver and orange, and strangely difficult to read, and I have no idea if its official or not. I had to move things around a bit to get that last one on there, which wasn’t the first time. Sometimes I could just see how a patch could fit brilliantly, so things had to come off and then go right back on 3/8ths of an inch to the left, and up a little, aaaand there you go. The only other major change over time was the Iron maiden patch. You see I had it down along one side by the waist, and I realized after a while that it had started to fray…. And as it was an original patch, I just couldn’t bear to see the wear and tear on it. So off it came, to be preserved, and I ordered a very simple Matter of Life and Death to replace it.

Now pretty much immediately upon filling that one up, I started to get asked if I was going to, or told that I should, start another one. Which I was in no hurry to do really, but once again, the impetus was the discovery of a new potential backpatch. Last December I went to Toronto to see Monster Magnet. I was working as a shipper-receiver in music retail at the time, and I demanded time off 3 weeks before Christmas (when vacations are blacked out for the entirety of November, December, and half of January) for this. I said I would quit in order to do it in fact (which I’d pulled a couple of times before to see Iron Maiden. Not that it was a bluff or anything. I actually would have). So I got my time, bought concert tickets, booked flights, and was insanely stoked to be getting to see a band I’d loved for nearly 2 decades, who virtually never played in North America. This was huge. It was a Satanic drug thing you wouldn’t understand. And then the day of the show, the second last of the tour, Dave Wyndorf, the singer, got a cold, and canceled the remainder of the tour.

I still really haven’t gotten over this. I think I might. But it hasn’t quite happened yet. My love for Monster Magnet is kind of on hold. Nevertheless, my friend Terry gave me an XL men’s Monster magnet shirt a few months back – he’d gotten two as part of a preorder bundle fuck up, and knows that I’m partial to sleeping in over-sized metal shirts. And once again the thought struck me – ‘this would make a sweet backbatch.’ And there’s already a Witch patch and a Dopethrone patch and Mothership, and Sleep, and High and Fire and At the Gates sitting there in a pile, and I’ve got a black denim jacket that really looks like it could stand to lose its arms, so here we go again….
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And of course, the first thing I’m going to talk about is BLACK PUSSY…..

So last week I started thinking I might want to start a metal blog – I wasn’t (and am still not) entirely or exactly sure what this will entail…. There are a tonne of metal blogs that I love and follow. JJ at the Obelsik of course immediately comes to mind. I love the Obelisk for any number of reasons, but primarily because JJ writes about music like I talk about it – with passion, and conversationally, without a lot of the conventions and tone of ‘real’ music journalism, which tends to bug the shit out of me, and which I feel is fast becoming obsolete in our connected, informed world. (I do not fucking need anyone to tell me what to think, but I am very interested in a potential or at least figurative dialogue about what they might think). So I am inspired by sites like this, because the opinion and personality is as important and interesting as the news and content. And where I may not have any exclusives or breaking news (well, yet anyway – I mean, lets not get ahead of ourselves, right?) perhaps I can offer something in that way. I talk about music a lot, and I can get pretty passionate about it, and sometimes it even seems like people might be paying attention and taking it in…..In some ways this might just be a symptom of working in music retail for a decade. You become accustomed to the questions and the conversations, and I’ve made no secret of the fact that I have missed *that* aspect of it all dearly since I abandoned my post this past fall.

I also just started tackling some reviews for my friend Mark, who spearheads Extreme Metal Television out of Calgary. That’s been pretty cool so far – getting to hear some things I was interested in and really dig in and think about them. Mark and I had a conversation quite some time ago about this, and took differing sides on whether or not you should review things you’re not into. Not as in ‘man, I love Metallica so fucking much, but fuck fucking load’ but more like ‘I fucking hate black metal; oh, what do I think of the new Burzum?….’ I’m more of the mind that, while I *could* write a reasonably informed review about any old metal album (and lots of other stuff too, of course ), I am going to have something better to offer a reader if I’m approaching something I actually give a shit about. I don’t have to like the particular album, but if I can offer a contextual response to it, isn’t that going to be way more interesting? So its fair to say since this blog is my baby, I’m really only going to talk about the things I care about, and these days that is overwhelmingly doomy, fuzzed-out, stoner, retro, boogie, heavy blues rock n roll, Sabbath-worshiping, born too late heavy fucking metal. All those genres that we *totally* understand *totally* go together but for some insane reason we do not actually have a blanket all-inclusive genre name for. Now, seriously, though what the piss is up with that?

So, aaaaanyway, I decided I wanted to keep a metal blog, but I mean, you need a good start, right? So I was kind of wondering what my first post could be…. when it really just kind of presented itself. Nearly everyone in my world is commenting on, responding to, and following one thing that is happening right now – a campaign recently mounted against Black Pussy over their purportedly sexist and racist name. And this is big. Much bigger I think than it seems at first glance. This is mission statement, world-view, fundamental principles big. And so, like everyone. I address it. Apologies in advance, cause much like the issue itself, this may get huge. To begin, Black Pussy are a group of the sweetest, most endearing retro rockers I have ever encountered (if you’re not familiar with them, go check them out now please. I’ll wait.) And I would stand with them totally and completely based simply on my own experiences with them as people, but I’ll support and defend them well past that for the sake of my fundamentals and my politics and my world-view and the fucking soul of rock n’ roll.

Is Black Pussy a problematic name? Oh, hell yes. It really is – potentially inflammatory, offensive, racist, sexist. It is one of the least politically correct band names I’ve every heard.  I love this band, but I don’t have a Black Pussy shirt, or patch on my vest. And I probably never will – they’re a band I will talk about and recommend to people, but i won’t wear that name out of context. And there really is a *little* bit of a context. Whatever that counts for. Metal and Rock n’ Roll?  Really, really not politically correct. That’s simply a fact. Sometimes its just crass and offensive. Once upon a time, that was just the norm – Blind Faith’s shirtless teenage girl holding a toy airplane? Robert Plant’s ‘squeeze my lemon til the juice runs down my leg’ (and of course it’s worth noting the Blues history of that lyric, going back through Howlin’ \Wolf and Robert Johnson and possibly beyond)? We’re a little used to that, and Black Pussy are still living in that era. So am I honestly. Then there is the convention of band naming in stoner rock-y retro stuff – Black Pussy…. Black Sabbath, Black Tusk, Black Pyramid, Orange Goblin, Electric Wizard, Royal Thunder, Christian Mistress, Blue Cheer, Dopethrone the name of my brand new metal blog….. I could really go on for quite some time. I assume you see the patterns. And we actually really love naming shit ‘Black’ something. There are more goddamn bands in the ‘b’s of the metal section…. Mostly we’re not reinventing the wheel; mostly we’re just flinging together words that sound half cool together and don’t really mean much of anything (and no one else has taken yet!) Honestly. I remember seeing the name Black Pussy on a bill with Vista Chino for the first time. I remember thinking “really guys? was that a good idea? how much shit do you take over that?” It didn’t strike me as inherently or intentionally racist or sexist, and I didn’t envision….. black pussy, as it were, any more than I envision a little orange-coloured goblin thing-y when I hear that name. That may come off trite, but that’s really not my intention. I just hear the words. But, make no mistake, that is certainly there to be read into those words, isn’t it?

So where do you go from there? You know what, I’m not even going to touch the sanctity of art and freedom of expression. That fight will go on forever. And we’ve been fighting it in heavy music since the PMRC days, and we’re still fighting, but our case has been well laid out by so many others (Dee Snider, anyone?) so many times, that I don”t think I need to touch it again here. So lets get the particulars out of the way – the guys aren’t racist or sexist. Full stop. In fact, just recently I read an interview with Ryan over at InvisibleOranges, in which he stated that they were pro-feminist, pro-human rights, but upon reflection this isn’t something I needed anyone to tell me. Having met these guys, you get that sense very, very quickly. I met them as a woman, alone, walking up to a bar they were playing an off night in– and they were welcoming and out-going and we talked music and travel and life in general, and every man there was wearing prettier clothes than me, and in a way that I hope I can properly communicate, we were all just there as equals. There was absolutely no vibe, no commentary, on my being a woman, and that is a very rare thing – even for a woman in a man’s world, who takes absolutely no shit. Also, more recently, a woman who went to one of their shows thanked Dustin, the frontman, and the rest of the guys on social media, for leaving the stage in the middle of playing to get involved when a guy in the crowd was harassing her. And this isn’t some misplaced alpha-male savior thing either. Dustin is smaller than I am – this was just a *person* doing the right thing, same as *I* would have done if I’d been there that night. I repeat. NOT a sexist band. Just good men. Good *people.*

And I am pissed to see accusations of sexism and racism leveled against my people, because the truth couldn’t be further from the truth. Not that its new or anything; we’ve been hearing that as long as there’s *been* metal, but to suggest this means that the 1100 or so people who’ve signed this petition so don’t know a fucking thing about us and don’t care to. We are living with a (potential) level of awareness and information available to us right now that is absolutely staggering. and the fight for awareness, rights, and acceptance for minorities, oppressed groups and any kind of ‘other’ who have not always been visible seems to be at an all-time high. And conceptually what a wonderful and amazing thing. But I’m disheartened because whats happening with Black Pussy is just another example of how we often seem to be separating ourselves more, and moving backwards in trying to accomplish this. A group protesting the band’s perceived hateful and exploitative name has threatened violence, and harassed them, affected their livelihood – something this band has not, and I’m confident would not, do – and done all of that again to the venue owners and staff connected with the tour, and reduced all of these people to nothing more than their perceived privilege. Let’s lay this out though. It’s so easy to say white and male -which are assumptions to begin with but we’ll let that stand. Is that all they are? And seriously are *these* people really that privileged? If you take one moment to look at the individuals beyond that, does that stand up?

These guys are a blue collar, working class, touring (not a particularly privileged life to start with) Psychedelic Rock n’ Roll band – which in this day and age, kind of falls under the umbrella of metal. Which is a sub-culture. Which inherently has a bit of  ‘if you don’t get it, you don’t get it’ exclusivity to it – the good parts and the bad parts. And there are bad parts. You can be discriminated against for how you identify in this way, the same as any other. Discrimination isn’t any different if its not connected to your race or gender or sexuality (although issues of gender and sexuality certainly tie in here). And there is, *brilliantly* a movement in the UK that agrees with that. Subcultures like metalheads and punks and goths are legally recognized in terms of hate crimes, after a number of youths, the most well-known being Sophie Lancaster, were assaulted and beaten to death because of the way they looked and identified. Do not try to tell me that a group of American men with long-hair and bell-bottoms driving across the Americas have never faced anything like that. I don’t know many metalheads who *haven’t.* There are still many places where long-hairs are going to hear murmurs of ‘faggot’ … or worse. I assure you there is a special understanding that metalheads have for that kind of experience, regardless of what their sexuality may or may not be.

Another angle of this is that despite the fact that metalheads are so often perceived as testosterone-driven cavemen types, well frankly that’s bullshit. Metal has been fucking around with gender stereotypes and conventions for as long as its been around, whether it even realizes or not. The long hair was one of the earliest, but makeup for example is so damn prevalent in metal, and in some of the most extreme genres, but still we live in a world where men cannot casually wear makeup in life. In fact i just started seeing a guy recently, who’s about as metal as they come – big, long hair, tattooed, pierced, and spent the best part of a decade wearing a kilt onstage with his band. To reiterate, that’s basically a skirt, guys. Tell me we are actually sexist. Really, please, try it. And then tell me we don’t understand being the outsider, being the others. Tell me we can’t empathize.

Everyone is so protective and exclusive in their experiences right now. Black Pussy obviously cannot speak for the Black women who have the right to be upset about this; as a white woman, I can’t either of course. That’s become essentially the norm in our culture and society, and I think its so incredibly counterproductive. There is such a tendency to not want to include people who do not understand your specific experiences. Does that mean I’m only allowed to be a feminist, cause that’s the only box I can check? The thing is an outsider understands what being an outsider is, and can empathize. Can I understand every single experience? Of course not. And you can’t understand mine either, but there is enough common ground that we should be able to support each other. When I was a kid, I had the strangest group of friends. That’s in hindsight of course, cause I never thought much of it at the time. We had a girl metalhead, some boy ones too, a punk, a gay boy, a few lesbians, goths, d&d playing nerds, skaters, grunge kids, even a church-y kid. Turns out we were a pretty rad support group for each other – I mean we were all into different shit, but we understood having that thing that made you different and we were all pretty cool with it. That is frankly *fundamental* to who I am as a metalhead. I have a hard time understanding why now that I’m an adult it doesn’t still get to work that way….

Much like what I described in my meeting with Black Pussy, equality has always been the ideal and the end goal, hasn’t it? That gets really fucking hard when no one else gets to stand with you and you push them away. With the six of us there that night, I wouldn’t have gotten too far if I was the only one who felt I was equal there – if I was the only one allowed to stand up for it. And the big irony in all of this is that when you take a look at Black Pussy’s mission statement, that is *exactly* what they fucking subscribe to. Black Pussy were not the enemy here. They still aren’t actually. And I have no doubt that they still maintain their stance that they ‘do not condone or endorse any sexism, racism, ageism, violence, or any other douchebaggery that has been spoiling the party since the party started’ and would welcome everyone taking a stand against them here to that very same party.