Are you ready for a change? The bands here today are. It's a Friday morning, early, and we're talking metal. Past, present, future. With five of the country's finest and most exciting rock bands, this first in a new series of Metal Hammer debates looks at some of the burning issues in British rock.
Blaze, the righteous bard of metal, is on the red-eye, having just touched down from Munich, where Wolfsbane are in the middle of a European support slot with Vaivod. He's been up all night and it shows. The adrenalin kick of the liquid breakfast he's enjoying is making his eyes spin. He's buzzing. Minutes into the debate and he's off, ranting like an evangelical pulpit basher. And if he can't out-argue the others around the table, he'll out-shout them. Andy looks shattered. 10am in the morning is a less than rock 'n' roll time for bands to be up and about, and Andy more than anyone is showing the strain. Recently arrived from Europe, he decides against the Blue Label vodka that Ginger and Tony Wright are putting away like water, and sensibly opts for the coffee. Terrorvision bassist, Leigh Marklew, is on hand to sub for Tony; good thing too. After two hours of solid alcohol abuse he has to be laid down beside the table, unconsious.
Richey James is today's outside, and it's his outspoken opinions on metal that spark most of today's colourful verbal exchanges. Unseen but unheard from the Hammer team are MC Krusher Joule, Chris Marlowe and Anthony Noguera, plus various Terrorvisions. You join us twenty minutes in, the introductions are over, the alcohol is being laid waste to as we speak and, oh yeah, Blaze is in the chair...
The Thing Called Heavy Metal
MH: Does the term mean anything in 1993?
Blaze: To me it's a distorted, over-used term, and is something that we all shouldn't use. There really was a time when you had to say that you were a heavy metal band because so many people said that they were hard rock, pretenders that didn't believe in their music. It used to describe a certain kind of guitar-based music, riffs, and 4/4 time maybe. I think heavy metal is a means to label bands as something that they might not particularly be. But I do think that every band here today is trying to do something new and vital.
Andy: I think that the term, pretty much, is redundant. I remember hearing it in the first year of high school to describe things like UFO and Judas Priest, and I didn't really understand it. Now it's just another redundant genre tag, like grunge. Nobody now will admit to having been in a grunge band. It's just a loose journalistic term. Whitesnake are written about as heavy metal, and so are Napalm Death to some people on the outside. So, yeah, it is redundant.
Richey: I just remember heavy metal at school discos where they'd have a 'metal half hour' and all the girls would be pushed to the side and all the boys would have their fingers in their waistbands with their heads down. It was just like watching animals erupting all across the school halls!
Tony: I think there's still such a thing as heavy metal. There is still stuff that can be called real heavy metal, like Judas Priest. What is wrong is when people talk about funk metal. There's no such thing, it's either funk or it's metal.
Leigh: There are definetely bands like Priest that you could describe as real heavy metal. But it is a media term. The media use it for such a wide brand of bands that it doesn't have any relevance for the people who are into it anymore.
Ginger: Heavy metal means old men! It's outmoded. There's brilliant space for huge amounts of new music, like heavier versions of the middle to the late seventies, where things were a bit confused. But 'metal' is dead, in that respect.
Andy: There'll always be a place for stuff like Priest and Sabbath though, it's classic stuff. I don't think it's band like that that give metal a bad name. Some people will always be into it. And that's fucking cool. I made a compilation tape for our drummer of classic Priest and stuff, and he thought he hated metal. But you can't argue with the melodies and the power. It's great stuff. And the image is so funny, you just can't take it seriously, like Ian Gillan throwing shapes on Deep Purple's old videos! We've got a copy of Priest's 'Breaking The Law' video on our tour bus. It's brilliant!
MH: I think everyone agrees, don't they, that dodgy image problems aside, bands like Judas Priest and Black Sabbath are definitely worthy of respect? Wolfsbane are the only band here, though, who aren't afraid to call themselves heavy metal, so should the metal press just be covering straightforward metal (Priest, Maiden, et al)? Or should we cover 'indie' bands like the Manics?
Blaze: (laughing) Why not? They've got two guitars!
Leigh: Rock'n'roll is an American term anyway, to describe people like Elvis and Eddie Cochran. If we're going to get rid of the term 'heavy metal', then we should just say 'rock music'.
Richey: I think they have to because, if they kept to pure metal, they'd have nothing to write about. They have to write about bands like Rage Against The Machine. But, at the same time, when they do write about bands like that, they seem to complain because they're miserable, that they're dour, and that they don't party on the road. They shouldn't expect the bands to conform to an outdated concept of what a band is.
Ginger: Big bands should refuse to do interviews with the N.M.E., Melody Maker and Kerrang!. Then at least they'd be forced to re-appraise their way of treating bands. Big bands should go back to fanzines.
Tony: The press is funded by massive corporations. And what about when bands get criticised for signing to major labels? Where was the press when we didn't have a record deal, when we were doing demos and playing the local pubs? That's what the press should be doing! Not criticising us bands like us for signing to a major label.
MH: Does the average rock fan in this country really care about finding out about new bands though?
Blaze: Totally! People hunt out those unsigned, raw, brutal bands that are out there. They really do. Not everybody, but there are enough who do.
Fashion And The Big City Cool
MH: Is rock/metal looked on differently outside London?
Andy: Yes. Definitely. I mean, we're rehearsing in this little town at the moment called Ranalstown, which is out in the middle of nowhere in Northern Ireland. And you can't get the NME and the Melody Maker and stuff out there, but you can get the metal press. If you go into a bar, and the places are absolutely tiny, on a Friday night there will always be people there in rock t-shirts. I think in a town like that, and in regional towns like it, to have long hair you are a freak, the village idiot. So that sets you apart, and you make that decision when you're fourteen or fifteen to be apart and to get a kicking outside the youth club on a Friday night.That's your decision and it sets you apart. And I think that, once that decision has been made, nine out of ten people will stick to it. And that's why it means that much more than to, perhaps, someone from London who does it because it's trendy to have long hair one minute and short the next.
Ginger: That's the best thing about having long hair, you do come into fashion every three or four years. I think I'm coming into fashion for about the fourth time now!
MH: You lot seem to be playing musical chairs with press favour at the moment. The Manics are being slagged by the indie press (who used to love them) and lauded by the metal mags (who used to ignore them); Wolfsbane recently got a fantastic review off the NME, and Therapy? are loved by the metal press (who, apart from this magazine, ignored the band up until six months ago) and are now hated by the indies for 'going metal'!
Richey: The indie press patronise you more, if you're a rock band. They're brought up to be more elitist and be into that band that only did one gig and then split up the week after.
Andy: I couldn't believe it when the indie press got ahold of Pearl Jam and Nirvana... I'm sorry, but to me Nirvana are Cheap Trick and Pearl Jam are Journey! Nirvana did 'Smells Like Teen Spirits', a great song, but it is 'More Than A Feeling'. He didn't sing about waking up this morning and someone had gone, he sung about fuck all, which made him 'enigmatic'. It became really hip to be into them and that's because they write fucking great tunes. But Pearl Jam? I can't believe that so-called alternative culture has listened to that shit again! I'm sorry, it's just Journey all over again and it's fucking lame bollocks! Pearl Jam? Give me a fucking break! I can't believe that people sit and listen to it. All these people on the so-called cutting edge of new music... next thing prog rock'll be back. And, when it does, I'm outta here! I'm gone!
Ginger: The bands I used to listen to, like The Jam and The Clash, used to make me want to put me boots on and go out and enjoy myself. Pearl Jam just makes me depressed.
Blaze: Break out the suicide pills.
Richey: But there is a whole generation who don't want to have a good time anymore, who like being miserable, and who can't find much worth in themselves. They don't want to go out and enjoy themselves. To some people life is constantly boring.
MH: Isn't rock about enjoying yourselves?
Richey: I don't necessarily think it should all be about having a good time. Some of my favourite records, you just can't have a good time to them.
Tony: I bet you go home when you're depressed and put on a black coat and get a black pen and write on black paper!
Blaze: I could never never get sick of rock, I could never get sick of the blatant sexuality and screaming electric guitars, and primal rhythms and great tunes, ahhh, I could never get tired of it!
MH: So is the term 'heavy metal' yesterday's news then?
Back To The Future
MH: Is there a new generation of metal fans out there who don't know or care about the past, people weened on Pantera and Soundgarden for instance?
Richey: Yes, I think there's a whole generation who don't know anything about Black Sabbath, but who can appreciate Soundgarden. And maybe a whole generation who know nothing of what Zeppelin did on the road but can get off on Pearl Jam. And both bands have obviously been influenced by those British bands. I don't think that's a crime, I think it's good.
MH: When Nirvana went huge, they said they were upset that rock fans were into them, specifically Guns N'Roses fans.
Richey: I think that the metal press has to accept responsibility, because there was a question in Kerrang!, I remember, that asked 'should we cover Nirvana in this magazine?'. That's morally wrong! If they made a fantastic record that rock fans would like then they should cover them. They shoudn't keep putting WASP on the cover. I mean, what relevance has that got to anything or anybody? Blackie Lawless with a chainsaw in his fucking hand? What the fuck does that mean? That's the kind of stuff that gives metal a bad reputation.
MH: When you play gigs, do you get angry if you see straight-ahead metal fans in your audience?
Leigh: (To much jocular activity) We don't have an audience!
MH: Nirvana said it makes them sick to think of Guns N'Roses fans being into them. Does it make you feel the same way?
Richey: Not at all. I haven't got a problem with it because I don't judge people in those sorts of terms. If I see Pantera t-shirts in the crowd I don't think anything of it at all. They just get off on the music. Anyway, James (Dean Bradfield) writes rock songs, not metal songs.
MH: Are rock fans more faithful in their support than fans of other kinds of music?
Richey: Yeah, definitely. Completely.
Tony: Rock fans don't have to make up their minds every two seconds about what's trendy or not.
Ginger: Just because there's a rock-solid sound thing that's always been there since rock began, and all these times people have said it's dead, rock fans have always been there and got off on a certain something. It's not particularly the sexist angle, it's just the sound of loud guitars and big drums and the whole thing. Indie fans get into whatever the indie press tell them is the next big thing!
Richey: I find it quite exciting that, as soon as you get a record deal in this country, you lose half your fans! It doesn't happen in any other country! It's quite good. It means you've just got to work harder.
Metal Is Murder
MH: Why are metal fans generalised as being stupid?
Ginger: It's only people not into the scene who think that. You can't generalise like that.
Richey: I think the public's perception of a rock fan is that they are neandethal, macho shitheads; and there's probably a massive proportion that are. Especially those who find the issue of homosexuality quite offensive.
Blaze: (In utter disbelief, staring and looking surprisingly close to leathering the hapless Richey) Well, I... I... I've got to totally disagree! You can't talk about rock fans in such a trivial manner, because I happen to be a rock fan! I'm into the bands I'm into, and I can only think that other people have the same intelligence level as me. I meet fans...
Ginger: There are some rock fans who don't like women, and don't like their views though.
Blaze: Of course there are some, but he's saying that there's a massive majority! And that is fucking outrageous! What you're saying is totally abhorrent to everything I believe in! I don't think you can fucking generalise rock fans like that! They have an intelligent choice about music and they're exactly the same as us. They are not fucking donkeys! I won't have you slagging off the majority of rock fans!
Richey: But even you, lyrically, often appeal to very basic sexual emotions which I'm saying that a large proportion of your audience can get off on.
MH: Admit it Blaze, you did once write a song called 'I Like It Hot'!
Blaze: (Quickly) Basic human emotions are the basic building blocks for any writer.
Richey: If you're saying that sexuality is a basic human drive then you could argue that racism is a natural emotion too. But you can't write a song like that about racism.
Earth Versus The Manics
MH: Are The Manics really a full-on rock band?
Richey: That depends on what a 'full-on' rock band is.
Blaze: Or do you want your music to be as ambiguous as your sexuality?
Richey: If you're on about a band like Judas Priest... and the kind of bands that you've been talking about this afternoon, then we've got nothing in common with them. And we don't want to play to any people that buy Judas Priest records.
Blaze: That's a terrible thing to say.
Richey: The thing I don't like about Judas Priest is that the singer (ex-singer) can't admit to his own sexuality. And I find that really, deeply offensive.
MH: Do rock/metal fans generally accept homosexuality?
Blaze: Some do, some don't. I don't think you can generalise.
Ginger: It might help if some of the people in big bands would come out and admit that they're gay. If some well-known people in bands were to come out and admit their homosexuality, then things would improve.
Blaze: I think it's up to the individual what they do with their lives.
Richey: I don't think that metal fans would accept it if their hero said they were gay.
MH: What do you think of Roddy, from Faith No More's statement in the music press more than seven months ago, admitting that he's homosexual. (It's interesting that the metal press didn't pick up on the story when it broke.) "If I'd ever been asked about this before, I'm sure I'd have been completely open about it," he told the NME in January. "The thing is, rock stereotypes are so ugly. It's like the Queen thing - I don't know how old I was when I started listening to Queen, but even back then it was so apparent to me. There's these four guys in a band calling themselves Queen and singing opera music, pretty much, and then people have the audacity, years later, to say Freddie Mercury never came out of the closet."
Ginger: He would've stood for so much more if he'd have openly come out though, I still think. He could've done so much good for gays.
Richey: I think what Roddy Bottum did was fantastic.
Richey: To me, just seeing David Lee Roth in front of loads of Marshall amps and hundreds of naked women is a very insensitive, sexist image. And that is an aspect of metal I find really disturbing. David Lee Roth doesn't know how to come to terms with his sexuality.
Ginger: He's a fake. That's why he doesn't come out of the closet.
MH: Why are there still so few women in metal?
Ginger: (In Nigel Tufnell voice) Metal is a young boys' thing isn't it?
Tony: Metal is the most homophobic, racist, sexist, egotistical form of music. That's why. You just have to read the metal press.
Leigh: The bands that perpetrated those sexist cliches are old bands though, aren't they? There's no band here today that writes sexist lyrics.
MH: Exactly. That's why you're here. Metal is fun, people shouldn't take it all so seriously. There are sexist, stupid metal bands just like there are slimey pop bands. Anyone read any of East 17's homophobic, sexist, braindead sloganeering recently? Outsiders try to generalise all metallers for the crimes of a few halfwit bands. It is very unfair. Nobody accuses The Pet Shop Boys of being sexist just because East 17 are. Metal is perfect capable of intelligent thought. Then again, what about Def Leppard's 'I suppose a rock's out of the question?'?
Leigh: I don't think that we should take something like that from a self-admittedly bubble-gum band too seriously. They admit they're taking the piss. It's banal, true, but it doesn't matter. It's not really sexist.
MH: So is sexism dormant in nineties' metal?
Tony: I don't think so! Have you seen Thunder's new advert? It's got a naked woman's torso with the shadow of a man's hand over one of her breasts!
Richey: I just don't see the point of it, it seems very lazy. But they do want to sell themselves as a traditional, old-fashioned, British rock band. They really go for that angle. But, at the same time, a lot of rock music sells to spotty little white kids in their second year. And today, thirteen year-olds are not going to be interested in music, they just want their computer games.
Blaze: The consequences of which are really frightening.
Tony: (Increasingly drunk) So we're left with either kids into computer games or old men in metal bragging about their sexual conquests when they were teenagers?
MH: Are all of you here 'intelligent rock'?
Richey: Are we intelligent rock music? I just think that we chose to write about different sorts of subjects. I'm much more interested in the despair of the average white man than anything else. Which is different to what Wolfsbane might write about.
MH: But are you intelligent rock music?
Richey: (Evasively) I think we're just a different kind of rock music.
Blaze: (Sarcastically) What? You're not intelligent? After you wrote the line 'cultural Chernobyl'?
Ginger: Not meaning to drag it out, but you do push the intelligence factor. You do go on about how many O-levels and A-levels you've all got!
Richey: If you're going to write about women and booze, then go ahead and do that, and don't be ashamed of it.
Andy: Yeah, if it's your thing then go for it. It doesn't mean that I want to do it though.
Tony: You can't write lyrics about dragons and castles for the rest of your life.
MH: Dio can.
Leigh: What can you say about a band like Bon Jovi or Def Leppard, when Bon Jovis out there in front of fifty thousand people saying 'come on baby, love me' or whatever. He means what he's saying, he is living out the words.
Blaze: I want to challeng people with my lyrics, challlenge them with the darkest parts of my being, but a band like Bon Jovi or Def Leppard or Iron Maiden, where you feel that the lyrics are less personal or maybe they're just there as a vibe, I still believe that they are valid, and I think that what they do is valid because...
Ginger:...because they make us look good!
Blaze: No! Because they are still a good time and you buy their records for what you want to get out of them and, if what you want is to forget about reality and just get a little bit soppy, or a little bit happy, then you get a Def Leppard record and you know that, if you're off your fucking head somewhere, then you'll enjoy it. Anyone that hugely successful has to be worthwhile.
MH: What about Chris DeBurgh, then? Is he relevant?
Blaze: To his audience, yes.
Richey: People like Def Leppard are treated very badly by the press because of their lyrics, because of the nature of the music they make, whereas a band like Jamiroquai write exactly the same lyrics, like 'sexy lady, hold ya, squeeze ya', and it's like the most credible fucking record of the moment. I mean, Jamiroquai's first single is a great record, a great rip-off of Stevie Wonder's 'Superstition', but the lyrical content is exactly the same as Def Leppard, but one band is one the cover of trendy fashion magazines like The Face and the other band has been consigned to the dustbin of history. I don't think that The Manic Street Preachers have got anything in common with Def Leppard, but I'm certainly not going to condemn them for what they do.
Blaze: I agree. Bands like that do what they do so well that I could never knock them, because they provide such a great time for people, and you can't help but smile.
Tony: (Seconds before passing out) And I'll tell you one thing - in 1993, you can still tell a Def Leppard record, you can listen to a lot of bands and not know who they are, but you know who Def Leppard are. Let's face it, it's only Bryan Adams who's come anywhere near sounding like them!
Richey: I think that the American heavy metal scene of the eighties is over for ever. It was very overblown, extravagant, indulgent, over-the-top and based purely on entertainment. I think that rock fans are now embarrassed about that kind of thing. These days, people are worried about things, about society, and so the music that's popular is more sombre and dark.
Andy: None of us here have that much in common, except we're all rock bands. Fuck metal, heavy metal, thrash, whatever you want to call it. At the end of the day it's all just music. It's about what you feel.
...finally, is 'spandex metal' dead and gone, or just not in fashion in '93? Do bands like Warrant, Winger, Slaughter and Poison have a place in metal int he nineties? In short, is cock-rock really all over? The guys here today seem to think so, but what about you? Is metal becoming classic again? We'll see. One thing that's come out of today's debate is that there is a new generation of rock bands in this country who exist without the over-the-top trappings of eighties' metal. Is this the way forward for metal if it is to survive? Answers to the usual address...