New Orleans, LA--Bourbon Street on
a Friday night in December: One long drunken frat party where bars
allow you to walk out into the streets with a drink in each hand.
Drunken tourists bump into sober musicians who scurry to get to
gigs. Bars pop up every two or three doorways next to strip joints,
adult bookstores, voodoo emporiums, fastdrink takeout stands, gay
gogo boy joints, leather shops catering to fetishists of all types,
Cajun restaurants and dark shadowy hallways which lead to who-knows-where.
The bars themselves carry an aura of expectancy, of litedanger,
of sexual come-ons. Everyone has a strange glint in their eyes.
One Amazonian female (musta been at least 7 feet) leads a guy around
on a leash. The bars advertise two-for-one drink specials with hawkers
who try to lure you in with promises of cool frosty beverages and
loud music. Each place is dark, crowded, smoky and loud. One room
has hiphop, one blues, one oldstyle soul, one garage rock, one country,
one zydeco, the best of which is easily The Krazy Corner, 540 Bourbon
Street, a cool no-pressure class act with good food and strong drinks
where a jump-blues band called Rooster & Chicken Hawks are pounding
us into submission. They're so good I lose all control, down three
shots, grab two girls and start dancing like a madman whose soul
is inhabited by Mr. Bo Jangles. I need exorcism. A drink in each
hand, the music stops, yet I'm too thrilled to stop and boogie my
way out into the street, still smoking, dancing, drinking and singing.
Then I stop and realize something. Where's the metal?
Way on the outskirts of the Crescent City, in a Louisiana suburb
called Metairie, lies a small strip called Fat City, a rundown
outpouring of restaurants, strip clubs and bars. One club, (Zeppelin's
House Of Music), has the metal. In spades. Like the ringing of
Hell's Bells. For tonight, our own tour, sponsored by this magazine,
will kick out the motherfucking jams long and loud. Yeah, Death
and Hammerfall are in town and it's gonna be a long night.
As technicians scurry to
get just the right levels, the sound guy doubles selling merch,
the PR lady doubles as the lighting tech, Hammerfall and Death
do their local interviews, and the room starts to fill with the
black t-shirted pierced 'n' tatooed crowd. Fist raised in solidarity,
the exuberant cries of "METAL!" fill the air, air already beset
by the smell of stale beer and cigarettes. Girls who must be 18,
look 14 and act 12 shriek in delight as they put lipstick stains
on their joints and flirt with shaved-head dudes who are all over
them, leering at their bellys and cleavage. It's getting crowded.
Hammerfall was supposed to
go on at 9. It's past 10 and the stage isn't even ready. I grab
one of the merch guys and we go down the street for some refreshing
beverages and skingazing. The girl on the bar has ugly stretch
marks and tracks on her arms. We leave. Back on the bus, Death
head Chuck Schuldiner is holding court. "It's all connected",
he says of the disparate styles of the two bands on tour together.
"It's a great bill. Hammerfall embraces a gloriously true metal
tradition and Death takes that tradition and expands upon it for
the future". "Metal is alive in the US", says a Hammerfall guy.
"And we've got the balls to take it forward", shouts Chuck, half
rising. "We want to reprogram America. Forcefeed this country!
It's a mission. A serious matter! I mean, hey, we're
fans and we wanna promote the music we love.
It's as simple as that. We live for this shit!" The bus
breaks out in spontaneous applause.
Death's set is a death grin
of tremendous stop 'n' start timing, syncopated weirdness, guitarhero
pyrothechnics and that death yowl of vocal abrasion. "The Philosopher",
"Spirit Crusher", "Trapped In A Corner", "Scavenger Of Human Sorrow",
"Crystal Mountain", "Flesh And The Power It Holds" and "Pull The
Plug" are juxtaposed with metal flag waving and honest/sincere
Clearly, Chuck loves being
here and doing this.... as does the crowd. The only disappointment
is their missing killer cover of Judas Priest's "Painkiller".
Backstage, alone, Chuck is smiling, sweating, wiping his guitar
with a white rag, and saying something I never thought he'd say.
"I don't like having to do what I do vocally in Death" he sneers.
"I'm tired of the so-called death vocal style. Night after night
after night. I like clean vocals. Y'know, in my other band, Control
Denied, I'm just the guitarplayer. Control Denied takes what I
do in Death to the next step. That shit that was reported about
Control Denied being some alternative wannabe band is crap. You
know that". I nod in solem agreement. "Control Denied is a metal
band, man", he continues. It's taking metal to the next level
and I love it. We're certainly not gonna pull a Metallica on people".
I leave, sensing Chuck wants to be alone with his thoughts. Plus,
there's about 50 kids who want a sliver of time with the guitarist.
Chuck, let it be known, is
one of the most underrated guitarists in all of metal. You never
hear his name bandied about when the talk turns to Yngwie-type
guitar heroes. Yet after seeing his fingers flying up and down
the frets of his ratatattat machinegun guitar, I'm a convert.
He's incredible. His left hand resembles a spider. His chording
is intricate. His control cannot be denied. You can sense him
holding back during some solos, yet he goes all out on others.
The sounds he gets are inhuman, a Hendrixian pastiche of caterwauling
high ends offset by the thunderous Death rhythm section of drummer
Richard Christy and Bassist Scott Clendenin. There's a definite
percussive ping to his rapacious fretboard meanderings....
a trebly rock 'em sock 'em that invites the spirit to move.
After a solid Hammerfall
set that included "Heeding The Call", "The Metal Age", "Stronger
Than All", "Steel Meets Steel", "Let The Hammer Fall" and a finale
cover of Judas Priest's "Breaking The Law" that had them all switching
instruments, Chuck's stop/start Death timing was the perfect foil.
If Hammerfall encapsulates metal's historic significance within
rock 'n' roll with a dynamic flair, then Chuck's Death points
the way, as he says, towards its future. A future, according to
Chuck, that may lead with clean, rather than death, vocals.
Back on Bourbon Street in
the early morning hours.... the tourists are gone. Folks in the
street look so incredibly stoned. Hookers beckon. Junkies
nod. The danger is escalated. Lemme outa here.