GSA Writer Contest, Entry #3: Five Bands You Have To See Live By Rafael Gallaher

Guest Column

Today, we continue our second annual writer’s contest, with the last of the three entries we’ve dubbed worthy enough for publication and consideration by you, our readers.

We launched the contest last year because we are getting resumes all the time from people seeking employ with GunShyAssassin. Well, no one gets paid here, so we figured we’d just host another contest for aspiring writers who wanted exposure. Guys like Sean Harris, last year’s winner. The response to the contest — while not nearly as impressive as last year — was decent.

We’ve narrowed the field down quite a bit, and will be running one entry a day. Then, on Friday, we’ll ask readers to vote on the best entry in this year’s contest, which will weigh heavily in our final decision. Last but not least, here’s Rafael Gallaher’s entry.

One of the best parts of the metal genre is the stage show. There is nothing like waiting in line for a while, hyping all the bands on the bill with the other fans. You get into the venue, head to the bar, add a few more brews to the collection that’s most likely present in your belly already, and you wrestle your way as close to the front as you can. You sweat profusely because of all the body heat being released by the crowd. It’s okay-sweat is decent lube for your earplugs: a must-have at any metal show. The lights go out. Amplifiers begin to swell with feedback. Preliminary kick hits and some rolling cymbals begin to fill the atmosphere. The band is on stage.

If the band is Lamb of God, you’re probably going to have to do a lot of bobbing and weaving because the pits get big. I don’t really like to mosh, but I understand the appeal. I have been bitten, scraped, and pummeled enough to know that a skinny fella like me probably doesn’t belong in them.

Lamb of God needs no introduction, you know who they are and you know where they’re motherfuckin’ from. Besides being musicians that create quality metal and can accurately reproduce their signature beefy sound in a live show, they have an intense lightshow that is timed perfectly with Adler’s drums. When I saw them, they had just released Wrath, and the opening song was a particularly abrasive number called “In Your Words.” When that first riff cranked out from the Mesa amps, the strobes went nuts. I don’t know what it is about them, they just give you such a visual ride. When synchronized with songs like “Ruin,” “Now You’ve Got Something to Die for,” and “Pariah,” the lights provide an unmistakably unique Lamb of God experience.

When the lights finally come on and the band plays thrash that is as blackened as the darkness that just filled the room, you’re probably standing in front of the almighty Skeletonwitch.

Skeletonwitch’s live show is a must see for any metalhead because they bring in elements of both oldschool and modern metal without sounding like a god-awful Dio tribute band that incorporates cliché riffs way too heavy for clean vocals. The occult lyrics give a retro feel, as do the unfiltered Gibson guitars (seriously, for all you guitar guys out there, Skeletonwitch gets that sound with just guitar and amp-no noisegate, distortion pedals, or anything. Quite a feat, if you ask me).

What really impresses me about Skeletonwitch is that they are really swell guys. I mean, their stage show is intense and the way they play their instruments is technically spectacular for thrash, a subgenre dominated by consequential sloppiness in exchange for speed. Before and after they play, though, they’re in the crowd hanging out, even inquiring about local acts they need to look up. They make the entire evening enjoyable, not just the half hour they’re on stage.

Another band that should be required viewing is Down. Down are a truly American phenomenon, mixing Chicago-style bluesiness with hardcore punk chunkiness, fuzzy, fuzzy psychedelic ambiance, and a whopping portion of the elemental destructiveness that all good metal bands harness. Their album Nola is a classic, and when those chubby shredders-turned-bluesmen play tunes like “Lifer” and “Stone the Crow,” it’s hard not to get pumped. Anselmo’s in the band, and although he’s a crazy Cajun bastard who wants you to respect his back, he’s earned his bones in the metal world; you have to pay him respect.

Seeing Down is a lot like seeing Metallica, for that matter. When you go watch either band, you’re filled with awe at the giants of the genre before you. The difference is that Anselmo never sold out or whatever. Sure, Walk Through Exits Only could be better…I’ve only heard the two songs he released early on, and they were kind of messy and sounded like an absent minded grandpa wrote the lyrics…but Anselmo is still one of the realest dudes in metal. He doesn’t do things because he wants a bigger paycheck or wants fame or power. He does it because it’s his artwork. And his work in Down is damn good.

Another hero in the rock ‘n’ roll and metal world that puts on a show like no other is Alice Cooper. Alice Cooper’s been around for a minute or two, and his music isn’t necessarily metal, but his stage presence set the tone for shock rock and helped instill the visually rebellious nature of metal (i.e. your momma wouldn’t want to go watch a Cooper performance). Say what you will about Marilyn Manson (sucks), Rob Zombie (fun for strippers, stoned children, and chicks who think they are metal), and GWAR (pretty bad ass, actually), you wouldn’t have any of these expensive, flashing, squirting, gross-you-out sets, props, and acts if it wasn’t for Alice Cooper.

What I like most in the Alice Cooper shows, though, is not the grand podiums, or the giant guillotine, or the massive spider webs. I like the more subtle, creepy aspects of the show, the ones where Alice silently croons about dead babies while hunched over a stroller or is bound in a straight jacket and mumbling about how he’s “got…to get…out…of…here….” Scenes like these are existentially frightening, because they are subconsciously relatable to every human who has experienced fear, doubt, or regret. He structures these very intimate displays of pain in a tongue-in-cheek Vaudevillian rock act. It’s very avant garde and artsy-fartsy, when you think about it, but it’s just too cool to dismiss.

The most important band you should probably check out, though, is any local metal band in your area.

Support your scene. It’s normally drastically less expensive than supporting the bloated endeavors of a band whose drive lapsed several albums ago. Find a group that is hungry for the stage, champing at the bit for success by practicing often and seriously. Find a band that has a fire in their belly and help them out by letting them know you fucking dig their tunes. Encourage them to stay true to themselves, not the shitty royalties paycheck they probably won’t be offered by companies, and the metal scene will grow in the most awesomely gruesome way.

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About Chris Harris

Chris Harris is an internationally-published music journalist and writer whose work has appeared on the pages of Rolling Stone, IFC, Revolver, Alternative Press, and Radar. The former news editor for Noisecreep, Harris also served as co-host for the site’s weekly podcast, “Creep Show." Before that, he spent four years writing for MTV News.

  • asianinvasion87

    Only four bands mentioned here. I thought it was a top 5?

    • christhescribe

      Any local band in your area is fifth

      • asianinvasion87

        Hooray!

  • Raf Eduardo

    Made it two years in a row. I am a typing FOOL.