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Video Premiere: The Boneless Ones –“Good Friends”

Since 1984, The Boneless Ones have been all about good times: skating, partying and raising hell. But their song “Good Friends” cuts deeper; it’s about the effects suicide has on the loved ones of someone who takes their own life. “I saw my friend crying after learning of his childhood friend’s death and heard his mother breaking down while processing her son’s death. Those are images I’ll deal with for the rest of my life,” vocalist Max Fox says.  “I believe those same common feelings of loss are felt by everyone post suicide.”

Check out the video premiere of “Good Friends” below. After the video, read a few quotes from the rest of the band. Thanks to The Boneless Ones for sharing this critical message, especially in light of the recent death of Trevor Strnad of The Black Dahlia Murder and the increase in adolescent suicides during the pandemic. Take care of yourselves and each other.

Please remember: if you are considering suicide you are not alone. Each life is a precious gift. Reach out, talk to someone and get some help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.

 

 

“I have lost far too many family and friends to suicide in my life. My father took his own life in 1993. After the tragic loss of John Lee last year, Troy and Max wrote this very powerful dedication to him. Please if you are suffering and feel lost and hopeless reach out to The National Suicide Prevention hotline. You are not alone in this fight.” -Chris Kontos

“This is a very personal and important song for me. My best friend, my father, my grandmother, and my great-grandmother also hanged themselves. Please watch over each other. We love you.” – Troy Takaki

“We’ve all had too many good people die needlessly by suicide. Depression can be overwhelming at times. Getting to talk to somebody in our darkest hours of need may just be our saving grace.”- Craig Locicero

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Q&A: Grave Digger’s Chris Boltendahl on Crusaders, Falsettos, and “Honest Heavy Metal”

In 2015 the German metal institution Grave Digger rerecorded their early 80s staple song “Heavy Metal Breakdown.” The accompanying animated video (see below) was brilliant and hilarious: it showed all the band members hooked to IVs in a care facility before they break out and proceed to fuck shit up. While tongue in cheek there were some truths to it: Grave Digger has been an active band for all but the first decade of metal’s half-century existence. Over the course of 42 years and counting, they’ve released a staggering number of albums, including their upcoming 21st record Symbol Of Eternity (due in late August). Vocalist and band founder Chris Boltendahl has led the charge through a number of lineups and a history department’s worth of topics. The heavy metal lifer talked to Decibel about the new album and the graves of the 80s.

What has life been like for you the past two years and how did you adjust to the pandemic, especially in Germany where there were even lockdowns this year?

I made the best of it. I worked on writing albums and last year I built my studio. I started doing some productions here in March 2021. I did all the Grave Digger production, mixing, mastering, and vocal recording in this studio. After almost 60 years I keep trying to express myself in new ways.

Had you always wanted to build your own studio?

No, it was a spontaneous idea. I had a new record deal and started thinking about things I could do to keep some money in the house. Production nowadays is really expensive. I used to record stuff in these big principal studios where all the German bands record. I talked to a friend who said he could help me build a home studio and give me some tips. He even let me practice in his home studio. (After it was built) I started working on some smaller productions and then started working on the Grave Digger album.

Were the other band members in your bubble or were you just sharing files and recordings?

Axel (Ritt, guitarist) and I always try to prepare some stuff and then meet in Axel’s studio. We do pre-production with computers and then we record everything. Our drummer recorded in his studio and I did my vocals in my studio and we put it all together for mixing mastering. All of us were in our home studios when we made this record.

It’s so interesting to live in a world where not only do you collaborate remotely but every band member seems to have their own studio.

It’s great to be able to keep some money by not renting a big studio.

Why did you want to go back and tell more stories about The Crusaders and The Knights Templar on Symbol Of Eternity?

The idea was developed during the pandemic. As you know we made the Knights Of The Cross album about the Templars (in 1998). But you can’t cover history this deep in one album. I asked the band how they felt about another album on the Templars. I thought we had so many stories left to tell and could easily do another 10-12 songs on the topic.

Do you do any research when you develop these historical albums or are they a product of what you read anyway?

I’m interested in a lot of historical things but I do need to refresh my memory. I read about the Holy Grail and mystical things and keep reading about it. (I’m interested) in both the true stories of the Crusades and the mystical side and the legends. Legends are always good for metal albums.

I always think about what I wasn’t taught about the Crusades like sending children out to fight wars when there are no able-bodied men. The Crusades were cultural imperialism.

Well, a lot of the same things are happening now if you look at what’s happening in Ukraine. They are sending unprepared soldiers into war just like in the Crusades. Many similar things happen throughout history.

Did you have the story arc and lyrics written before the music?

It always starts with a concept and some lyrics. Then we decide what kind of lyrics will fit into a song. For example “Symbol Of Eternity ” needed to be heavy and a little doom-y to match the lyrics. The first thing is always the written stuff – not the music.

Your voice has changed. Can you still hit those high notes and that falsetto?

I handle my vocals completely differently now. When I was younger I had one tone higher. Throughout my life, I think my voice just kept going deeper. I think my deeper voice sounds more complete and more like a voice – not a scream. From The Reaper (1993) on you can see my voice getting deeper and deeper. It’s not easy to sing some of the (old) songs the way I did – I can’t do it. It’s much harder than it was 20 years ago.

I think it’s worked. The material you’ve produced from your middle period on works with the lower range. Those high-pitched vocals in the early 80s were part of that time.

I feel comfortable with the style I use now and I think it might even be more commercial. It’s easier to listen to. When I listen to the old stuff it almost reminds me of an ugly, angry dwarf (loud laughter).

That’s funny because I love all those records.

I love them too – it’s just different.

Could you break out that falsetto for one song if needed?

If I were to use it again it would need to sound authentic. I need to stretch myself to hit those high notes. It’s easier to sing the way I do now. Two weeks ago we played in Italy and did “Headbanging Man,” and “Witch Hunter.” I did the verse in the lower octave and then switched to the high voice for the bridge. That’s more comfortable than screaming all the stuff again.

When you rerecorded “Heavy Metal Breakdown” you dropped an octave.

Yes, but if you listen carefully I will do some higher notes in the background. I like showing these old songs in new ways.

I was not expecting a collaboration with a Greek pop star Vasilis Papakonstantinou on a Grave Digger album. Where did that idea of recording “Hellas Hellas” come from?

In 1994 I was in Greece on a small island watching a show in a little stadium. I saw Papakonstantinou and he played the song “Hellas Hellas.” I loved it and thought it would be a great metal song. When we played our first shows in Greece in 1997 we played this song. Now we have a Greek label and I asked if they knew him. I wanted to do the song with the original singer. The label brought us together and we recorded a new version.

Did you tell Papakonstantinou you first heard the songs decades ago?

It was unreal. He’s a cool guy. He’s 74 and his voice is a little crispy now but our voices fit very well together.

David Gehlke’s book on Noise Records Damn The Machine came out in 2017. We’ve talked to both Tom Warrior and Mille Petrozza about their bad experiences with Noise. Do you own the Grave Digger albums released on Noise?

Noise was one person – Karl Walterbach. We were all young and drank and smoked a lot of shit. We were almost like fast food for this guy. He betrayed a lot of people in the scene. It was like signing a record deal in a prison. He (Walterbach) sold his stuff to Sanctuary and then Sanctuary sold it to Universal and they sold it to BMG. BMG contacted me and we had a good exchange. We’re in a good place with that music – much better than with Walterbach in 1984.

Are you finally seeing royalties from the early albums?

Yes, and I’m very happy about that. BMG is a huge company. They can’t not pay artists. I have an account there and I can see how much I’m selling and how much we’ve made. It’s very open and that’s good.

So you don’t get paid for all this stuff done in an underground spirit until the music is owned by a big corporation?

It (signing with Noise) was a mistake. But in the end, those mistakes make us the people were are today. It’s part of history. Walterbach did give us a chance to make music. He just got a lot of money and we didn’t.

Grave Digger has enormously loyal fans. What about your music commands that loyalty?

I think we played honest heavy metal. We always try to keep the quality high. We never want to leave fans disappointed. The only song people have ever been mad about is “Zombie Dance.” People said it was shit and we were betrayers of heavy metal. But we did it as a joke. The funny thing is that the song is now our second most played song on Spotify. I’ve loved this music since I was 12 years old. I decided then that I wanted to be on stage. It’s the greatest gift of my life that I’ve been able to create my own music and play it around the world.

The post Q&A: Grave Digger’s Chris Boltendahl on Crusaders, Falsettos, and “Honest Heavy Metal” appeared first on Decibel Magazine.

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Q&A: Patrick O’Neil On His 80s Hardcore Memoir Anarchy At The Circle K

It’s a given now that if you start a metal or hardcore band you’ll be able to get on the road and tour. In the early days of underground music that wasn’t the case. Author Patrick O’Neil (who wrote about his descent into heroin addiction and armed robbery in Gun, Needle, Spoon) helped blaze those trails as a roadie and road manager for seminal hardcore bands like Dead Kennedys, Flipper, T.S.O.L., and more.

In his latest book Anarchy At The Circle K (Punk Hostage Press) O’Neil writes about those times in a narrative that’s a combination of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, and Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life. Anarchy is a hilarious, compulsively readable personal history of the formative days of hardcore music. It’s like the punk rock version of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead: while many books focus on what happened to the people on stage O’Neil tells the tales of everyone on the periphery. Amazingly, O’Neil handled the grueling work of a roadie while a heroin addict – an addiction so severe it eventually led to armed robbery and a stint in San Quentin.

O’Neil talked to Decibel about writing Anarchy At The Circle K, the early days of hardcore, and life lessons from his years on the road. To get a taste of this book, check out O’Neil’s chapter on the police raid of Alternative Tentacles records during the Frankenchrist era which he graciously shared with us earlier this year.

This book is like a prequel to your first memoir Gun, Needle, Spoon. Why did you decide to wait to dig further into the past?

Gun, Needle, Spoon was fresh in my mind. I was out of prison and in recovery and trying to make sense of what my life was about. Anarchy was a book I wanted to write but didn’t know how to write at that point. It’s taken me a long time. It’s about the period when drugs were working. I don’t know if it’s right to call them golden years; it was a good time but also kind of a fucked up time. I had to write the first book to get here and clear the air.

 

Your recall for a lot of these events is incredible despite drugs. Were you writing back then?

No, I wasn’t writing until I was 40 when I was incarcerated. I was a visual artist and a roadie. I never wrote anything as a kid because I have dyslexia. I do have a good memory which is insane because I was totally loaded most of the time. With that said I have a horrible memory for addresses and phone numbers and names. I can meet people and recognize them and not even know their names (laughs).

One thing that occurred to me when I read Anarchy At The Circle K is how much the punk scene in the early to mid-80s was the Wild West. At one show you were slashed from your wrist to your elbow with a razor. People would punch or assault you. 

It felt like there were no rules or that we were making them. It was totally DIY. We would just get in the van and drive somewhere and expect a show to be there. It would be some kid putting on a show at a VFW Hall or a Ukrainian Hall. There would be no security, sometimes a PA, and rarely a stage. There was this bizarre idea then that shows would happen and, somehow, they did. The beautiful thing is we put together a community across the country and decades later people can now play shows everywhere.

Why as a roadie were people always trying to hurt you?

(laughs). A lot of people wanted to hurt people like (Jello) Biafra and I tried to stop that. Our job was to keep the stage clear. At some point, people start looking at you as the authority or the man which is hilarious. One of my main reasons for keeping them off stage was I didn’t want them to break gear because then I would have to fix it. It would just add to the work. I had to try to keep things in order. We all pick our roles and that was my role – to be an enforcer. It’s funny because it’s anti-punk in some ways.

Rollins wrote about that in Get In The Van: people spitting on him or trying to hit him or stab him just because he was on stage.

Hardcore then was driven by younger white males. A lot of these kids would probably have otherwise played football and this became another contact sport. It was part of the whole scene. A lot of people didn’t like it because they took the level of violence in hardcore to a different level and then it started happening everywhere.

Biafra said in our Frankenchrist Hall of Fame that he sort of fell out of love with punk in the mid-80s because of the violence.

In the early days, we really felt like we were out there making a difference in the world. He (Biafra) used to dive into the crowd and surf and would be placed back on stage. Later on, when he dove in people would just start punching him and I’d have to come to get him.

 

When you write about pulling up in some of these towns it reminded me of the scene in Easy Rider where Billy, Wyatt, and George try to order in this restaurant, and one of the locals says: “I bet they don’t make the county line.”

There was a lot of resistance, especially in the South. There were two schools of thought: some people thought we could be the next Stones and other people thought we were weirdos. We’d be in a diner and cops would come in and ask for IDs and why we were there. It was harassment. Honestly, I just don’t navigate the south well because I don’t understand the heavy, embedded racism. That just doesn’t work for me. So being there was pretty hard. Sometimes it was more a subtle attitude of “you don’t belong here.” I tried to not be out late in a lot of towns – just stay in your hotel and don’t be obnoxious. But sometimes you would get out of the club at 2 a.m. and it was inevitable.

Later in the book, you walk into a poor African American neighborhood and stumble on a bar. Not only are the people nice but you end up partying with them.

That was in Eudora, Arkansas when T.S.O.L.’s van broke down (laughs). Meanwhile, the white section of town didn’t want anything to do with us.

When you wrote Gun, Needle, Spoon you showed the horrific consequences of addiction. In this book, drugs were involved but a lot of it seemed like a fun crazy adventure. Was it hard to be honest about those times?

Well, drugs work and that’s why I started taking them. I stopped feeling so socially awkward and things started happening in my life. Anarchy is about when drugs were working. There is definitely a part of the book where they stop working. But there is a certain time when you start using where things are magical. Every alcoholic has experienced the same thing. It was hard to look back at using them then because I couldn’t condemn all of it. It wasn’t always nice to be dope sick in some podunk town but I thought being a junkie was part of being a punk rocker.

You write about one night at the Mabuhay Gardens in San Francisco at a Dead Kennedys show. A metal show is happening across the street. The crowds don’t mix. Just a few years later the metal and punk scenes started intertwining with DRI, COC, Agnostic Front and so many other bands. Was crossover starting to happen when you toured?

It was. You would see Slayer shirts at Kennedys shows. At a show in Chicago on Halloween, Mercyful Fate played an afternoon gig. The same kids who went to the Mercyful Fate show waited around and then came to our show. There were also a lot of metal tones coming out in hardcore. Look at Suicidal Tendencies. They were supposed to be a punk band and they were totally metal! Even Bad Brains courted metal. I was at a Judas Priest concert at the Cow Palace in San Francisco in 1982 and the roadies were wearing DKs shirts.

Did you ever think we’d still be listening to Dead Kennedys, Flipper, or T.S.O.L. four decades later?

For a while, I thought this whole thing would never end. My involvement in punk came to an abrupt end in 1987 when I got the call from (East Bay) Ray that the Kennedys were done. I was about to get my malaria shots for a tour. Then Will Shatter from Flipper died and T.S.O.L. went the hair metal route.

What is your writing process? Do you try to work every day?

I used to be a binge writer who would try to write as much as he could at once. That’s not sustainable. I now get up early every morning and write. I had to learn that if I wrote 50 or 1000 words when I worked, the book would still get done. So I get up and do it every day. I also try to put some deadlines on sections. For a while, I was in a writing group and would meet once a month. I’d write like 20 pages of Anarchy and share them. I work every morning and do self-imposed deadlines. I write in the morning, edit at night, and start fresh every day.

Metal and punk bands that tour now have a roadmap. People know the clubs that book punk or metal. They know the promoters. Your generation created that roadmap.

Absolutely. There were young kids booking shows in small towns who eventually became bookers or promoters. One time in Chicago Greg Allman was playing a gig in a small theater and the Kennedys were pulling like 3,000 people. People quickly saw it as a viable market and it eventually became just another commodity.

The post Q&A: Patrick O’Neil On His 80s Hardcore Memoir Anarchy At The Circle K appeared first on Decibel Magazine.

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Carey “KK” Hodges: 1968-2022

There’s something about extreme and underground music that leads people to start labels. Much of this is the DIY ethic that’s been a part of metal, punk, and hardcore since the early days. Another part of it is that every fan feels a sense of ownership. The music isn’t a backing track to life as much as it is interwoven into identity. The urge to participate and give back is strong.

Some people release a few albums and move on. Others make it a successful side hustle. A handful turn it into their lives. Carey “KK” Hodges was an outlier: well into adulthood, she launched a label with her husband that has flourished for more than a decade now. San Diego-based Last Hurrah Records has released albums by bands including 16 (Lost Tracts Of Time) and Mike IX/The Guilt Of (Isolation Room) as well as bands from other genres. Sadly, Hodges died recently at just 54 from complications of an autoimmune disorder.

“She decided we were going to do a record label while driving back to NOLA
from SXSW,” Hodges’ husband and label partner Chad Hensley says. “She did everything – designing and updating the website, order fulfillment, looking for new bands, maintaining strong friendships with old bands. She liked to exercise to High on Fire. Pete Stahl dedicated some Goatsnake songs to her when the band played at Brick by Brick in San Diego. She often surprised me with tickets for shows as gifts.”

“I am so shocked and saddened to hear about the sudden loss of Carey Hodges,” says 16 guitarist Bobby Ferry. “In addition to being the sweetest person ever, she was instrumental in creating some of the most beautifully packaged vinyl ever made in my opinion. We are honored to have worked with her. This is a massive loss.”

In addition to her label work, Hodges was a web designer and a graduate of the University of New Orleans. Decibel sends sincere condolences to her family and friends. Safe travels.

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Don Argott and Demian Fenton On Their New Dio Documentary, ‘Dreamers Never Die’

Perhaps no one is as universally beloved as Ronnie James Dio of all the figures in metal’s five-plus decade history. When Dio died more than a decade ago after years of touring with his Black Sabbath bandmates, it felt like a loss to our collective family. Needless to say, any film on his life will receive extra scrutiny because of that connection. Decibel is happy to report that Dio: Dreamers Never Die, by the same team that helmed the Bobby Liebling documentary Last Days Here, is wonderful, a labor of love that tells Ronnie’s story through the prism of chasing your dreams and fighting the odds. It’s a story about an everyman from New York who ended up playing in arenas and earning universal recognition as one of if not the defining voice of heavy metal.

Dio: Dreamers Never Die debuts at SXSW today. The filmmakers talked about how the movie came together and the lessons we can all take from Ronnie’s heroic journey.

How did this film come together? 

DON ARGOTT: We met with [executive producer] Kathy Daum. We made a film called Believer that she really liked. She had some projects in development, and she pitched a few that weren’t for us. We kept the dialogue going. One night at about 10, there was an email from Kathy that said “Dio” in the subject line and then the text “any interest.” I forwarded it to Demian with a lot of exclamation points. Wendy [Dio] wanted to make a film for some time and talked to many filmmakers and didn’t get the right people. Kathy came along, and so the stars aligned.  This is something we really wanted to do justice. 

DEMIAN FENTON: We’re lifelong fans, so it was hard to get the responsibility of doing this film. You can tell in this film that we are Dio fans and that heavy metal is our faith. Dio was heavy metal incarnate. But Dio’s story wasn’t the Sunset Strip crash and burn story. 

It’s interesting you bring that up. Ronnie’s life was devoid of the things that make up the bulk of most rock documentaries. Most of these films are cliche: rise to fame, get addicted, go broke, start the comeback. That isn’t Ronnie’s story. What is the arc when you have to do a story that’s nothing like that?

ARGOTT:  That’s a great question. We chart out the first, second, and third acts whenever we start laying out a film. Ronnie had almost four full careers that span decades. You don’t want the film to feel like a historical narrative. Every career shift had to push the narrative forward, especially because he never fucked his whole life up or hit rock bottom. His career is a straight line. There are some pitfalls or lows, but it doesn’t follow the archetypal Behind The Music format. 

FENTON: We tried to look at the footage as storytellers and take a step back. We tried not to be the people who listened to Dio. We thought: how does someone go from a crooner in the ’50s to battling an animatronic dragon on stage in the ’80s? That became a part of the arc. The interesting part of Ronnie’s story isn’t an OD or ending up in the hospital. It’s almost more heartbreaking when his career takes a hit with the hair metal crash and burn because he did everything right. 

So what is Ronnie’s story about?

FENTON: Dreams. Perseverance. Taking challenges head-on. Believing in yourself and holding your ground. Never let anyone steer you down a path you don’t want to go on. When you get to the top, empower others. Ronnie’s story is not an easy three-act structure, so we embraced positivity. This is a story about righteousness. 

What surprising things did you learn about Ronnie making this film?

ARGOTT: We heard that Ronnie was the sweetest guy and so sincere. We thought we’d find some proof of Ronnie being an awful person. And he wasn’t. Every one of our interviews ended in tears. People look for juicy, scandalous moments. Ronnie’s story was a life of righteousness. But that doesn’t mean chasing your dreams and being a perfectionist doesn’t cause some problems. 

FENTON: We’ve been doing documentaries for a long time, and you do get close to the people you profile. Wendy had a lot of trust in us and gave us material, and stayed out of the way. It was nerve-wracking to screen it for her the first time because it was about someone she cared deeply about. Our biggest regret was that we never got to know Ronnie or spend time with him. To know that Wendy thought we did Ronnie justice was a big deal. 

What was Wendy Dio’s reaction?

FENTON: We rented a little theater in L.A. to screen it for Wendy. We knew the film was emotional because we screened it for a few people. We bought a big box of tissues. I started to joke before the screening and said all we could get was this big box. She jumped back and said she wasn’t going to need tissues. Ten minutes after (the film), she sobbed. We had to leave the room. But the feedback was all super positive. I think the most rewarding experience was that she said Ronnie would love it and that there were so many memories there. 

What are the plans for theater release or streaming?

ARGOTT: BMG funded it, but they won’t distribute it. The first public screening is at SXSW. We’ll use it as a launching pad for distributors. We hope someone picks up the right to release it. So this is the first step.

What would you want someone to carry away from this film as the documentarian?

FENTON: It should be the same thing whether you’re a Dio fan or never heard of him. Whatever you do, believe in yourself and do it full throttle to the best of your ability. This will lead you to a fulfilled life, whether you achieve it or not. There is something really nice about the film — this sincerity is packaged in heavy metal. I know the Mr. Rogers documentary inspired many people, and this has a similar pull.

The post Don Argott and Demian Fenton On Their New Dio Documentary, ‘Dreamers Never Die’ appeared first on Decibel Magazine.

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“You Ever Go By The Name H. R. Giger?”: Inside The Dead Kennedys’ ‘Frankenchrist’ Album Art Raid

Decibel recently inducted Dead Kennedys’ psych-punk masterpiece Frankenchrist into our Hall of Fame. One of the biggest components of the Frankenchrist story was vice agents raiding Jello Biafra’s home and Alternative Tentacles looking for “harmful matter.” Dead Kennedys included a print of H.R. Giger’s Landscape XX as a poster insert with the album. When the album ended up in a teenage girl’s hands Los Angeles prosecutors got involved.

Author Patrick O’Neil worked at Alternative Tentacles at the time of the raid. The following is an excerpt from his upcoming memoir Anarchy At The Circle K, about his years as a punk roadie in the early to mid-80s. The book will be published by Punk Hostage Press later this year.

San Francisco, 1986: Alternative Tentacles: Clampdown

It’s 10 a.m. I’m late getting to work, and I have to stop to pick up Alternative Tentacles’ mail. The post office is crowded. It’s taking forever. I didn’t have money for the parking meter, and I’m worried the van will get a ticket.

As usual, there’s two large mailbags waiting for me. Every punk in the entire universe sends Jello Biafra mail. To them, he’s the punk messiah. Half our mail is zealot fan letters he’ll actually read and trinkets he’ll cherish. The rest are orders for records and merchandise.

“Goddamn punk kids,” I mumble as I drag the bulging bags across the marble floors and out the polished brass and glass doors of this ornate public building.

A meter maid is circling the van, peering in the window, trying to spy the VIN number off the dash so she can write a ticket.

“Hey!” I yell. Running towards her, dragging the bags behind me.

“I already started writing the ticket.”

“You can stop anytime.” I toss the bags in the side door.

The meter maid walks to the back of the van, hastily jotting down the license plate. I take off, tires screeching.

“Fuck yoooou!” I yell out the window and flip her off for good measure.

Traffic is light. One thing about being late is I miss the morning commuters. I take an illegal left off Mission onto Eighth and head toward the office. I’m a regular working stiff now. The tours are over. Dead Kennedys broke up right before we were supposed to tour Brazil and Japan, which really pissed me off. I’d been scheduled for malaria shots and was brushing up on Yakuza tattoos. T.S.O.L. is in disarray, Subhumans haven’t come back to America, and Flipper, without Will Shatter, is doing shit all nothing. With no income to pay rent and two major drug habits—mine and my girlfriend’s—I start working at Alternative Tentacles as the art department. I’m doing layouts for album covers, ads, and posters, and generally just hanging out for a little over minimum wage.

It’s sort of strange coming to work every day. I still haven’t come to grips with who I think I am as opposed to who I really am. So much of my self-image was wrapped up in touring and working with bands. I feel like I’ve lost something. I’ve gone from the road manager who makes tours happen to that guy that stands in line at a show with all the other civilians. Then again, I’m strung out and a total mess. No one else would actually hire me.

But working in the record business isn’t that bad. I can still say I work in the music industry and leave my inflated ego somewhat intact. I get to work with Winston Smith. I drew the lettering for his Bedtime for Democracy cover. When I’m broke between paychecks— which is all the time—I pilfer petty cash, or steal mail, or a small stack of records to sell. So there are perks.

Of course AT being an “alternative work environment” everyone does several jobs. I pick up the mail every morning on my way to work. Only I’m always late and Microwave and Debbie give me loads of shit. But what they don’t know is I have to score dope, shoot it, then get to work, and some mornings just take longer.

I pull the van into Rodgers Alley and drive to the warehouse’s roll-up door. We share the space with Ruth Schwartz’s Mordam Records, and Leslie Jambor’s Black Wave t-shirt printing. It’s like some punk rock collective, only we’re not that organized. With the door up I back in the van. I grab my bag, leather jacket, the mail sacks, and head into the office—a small walled-in area in the middle of the warehouse that houses the AT staff.

“You’re late,” says Microwave; manager of Alternative Tentacles, and former road manager for Dead Kennedys.

I don’t even answer. What’s the point? I’m always late. His statement is rather rhetorical. I drop the mailbags at Debbie Gordon’s feet, and she looks up and rolls her eyes. Debbie is always rolling her fucking eyes and I’m not sure if it’s because I’m late, that Microwave even bothered to say something, or that there’s the usual ton of mail.

I slip my bag off my shoulder and onto the back of my chair and carefully cover it with my leather jacket. Lately I’ve been scoring dope in a particularly nasty housing project off Potrero Hill, a few blocks from where I live. Even though it’s easy to get in and buy the dope, getting out can be a bit of problem. All the local junkies wait in the shadows and stairwells to rip me off. As a precaution I’ve been carrying an old .38 that I’m hoping works. But I’ve never actually fired the damn thing. All I want the gun to do is scare the hell out of the other dope fiends so I can get back to the van and do my shot in peace.

Still I’d rather not have everyone aware I have a gun, needle, spoon, so I always hide it in my bag under my jacket. Truth is everyone knows I’m strung-out. I’m not fooling anybody. Even though I act like I am. I just have never come right out and said, “Hey, I’m a junkie,” which causes a lot of tension. Leslie in particular is always mad at me. Angry at what I get away with. Debbie tolerates me, and knows I’m totally irresponsible, but laughs at all my jokes. Microwave just accepts this is who I am.

“You live in a barn?” says Microwave.

“Fuck.”

I walk out the office, past Ruth, who’s always out there counting records, across the warehouse, and pull down the roll up door. It’s San Francisco. No matter the season the warehouse is freezing cold. Leaving the door open lets in a wind that chills to the bone. With a shitload of heroin in me, I can’t feel the cold. But the days when I haven’t been able to score and I’m waiting for my girlfriend to bring me something, I huddle in the corner, my teeth chattering.

“What’s on the agenda?” asks Microwave when I return to the office.

“I thought maybe I’d smoke a cigarette.”

“I need an ad for Maximum Rock and Roll.”

“I’ll get right on it boss man.”

The next hour I’m cutting and pasting a sloppy layout for an ad, sufficiently punk enough in its execution to look the part. As the usual office small talk ensues: what band someone just saw, whose doing what with who, where and what are we going to eat for lunch.

It’s just Debbie and me in the office when Microwave calls out. “Debbie, Patrick, come out here.” Microwave sounds really formal and stiff, which is unusual and weird.

“What the fuck for?”

“Just come out here.”

Art to choke hearts: The image that launched an obscenity trial

We walk out into what seems like a million cops, some in plain clothes. A few have guns in their hands.

“Sit,” says a woman cop in uniform. Indicating the couch and easy chairs in the area out front of the office.

“Where are the guns and drugs?” barks a plainclothes detective. A gold shield hangs from a chain around his neck.

Fuck. I’m thinking of the meter maid, the fuck you, and driving off burning rubber. But quickly discard that thought. There are too many damn cops for that to be the reason they’re here. This is for something much more serious.

“There’s no guns and drugs,” says Microwave.

Except there is. In my bag. Under my jacket. On the back of my chair. Right in front of the ad layout I’m working on. It’s not going to take a rocket scientist to figure out whose shit that is. I’m starting to get nervous. I want to take the Xanax that’s in my pocket. Then realize I have a fucking Xanax in my pocket.

I take a nervous glance at all my co-workers and know I’m putting them all in danger. Alternative Tentacles is not a hotbed for illegal firearms or drug sales. In fact, I’m the only drug addict and the only one with a gun. For the cops to even begin there is totally ludicrous and thoroughly indicative of how the authorities really view punks and our music. 

“Can I get a smoke,” I ask the room full of cops.

“No.”

“What’s this all about?” asks Microwave.

The cops are being evasive. There’s a couple of detectives from Los Angeles, some Feds in suits, one in a weird uniform I can’t figure out, a group of San Francisco detectives, and a bunch of uniformed SFPD. While the detectives are busy in the office searching through drawers and shelves, the others keep us sitting and ask questions. The detective with the gold shield hanging from his neck starts taking notes. The other detective asks everyone their names and what their job is. The Fed holds his hand out and asks for our ID’s.

“You work here?” he asks me.

“Yeah.”

“Doing what?” he says and looks at my driver’s license. “Mr. O’Neil?”

“I’m an artist. I’m the art department.”

“Artist? You draw posters?”

“I’ve done some posters.”

One of the cops comes rushing out of the office. “We’ve got it!” He has an expression on his face like he just came in his pants.

My heart jumps into my throat. I start sweating. My stomach turns. I’m expecting him to have my bag. Instead, he’s holding a handful of negatives. The kind used for printing. Halftones for color separation.

The cops get all excited and go into a huddle.

“I really need a cigarette,” says Debbie. “Can I get my pack in the office?”

The woman cop in uniform gets the okay nod from the detectives and follows Debbie while she retrieves her smokes. When she sits down, we all grab one and light up in unison. Holding the lighter I notice my hand is shaking.

The cop with the gold badge breaks from the huddle and walks over to me. “You ever go by the name H. R. Giger?”

“Dude, I’m not Giger. Giger’s famous. He lives in Sweden.” Actually, I’m not sure where the hell Giger lives. Although, it’s rumored he lives in a brothel in Sweden. But who the fuck really cares?

“So you didn’t draw this?” Holding up the halftone negative for the Frankenchrist poster—the Giger drawing “Penis Landscape” with Winston Smith’s red, white, and blue DK logo border.

“Fuck no.”

The cops are packing up posters, negatives, and halftone color separations into several boxes.

“Are we under arrest?” asks Microwave.

“No.”

“We’re free to go?”

“No.”

The main cop, an SFPD detective, is on his radio. He’s talking to some higher-up, and it sounds like they’re coordinating another raid. “Okay, it’s a go,” he says to one of the detectives.

Across town, the cops are storming Biafra’s home—a two-story house in the Mission district with a heavily overgrown yard. Every inch of his house is packed with stuff: records, and posters, Dead Kennedys and Winston Smith artwork, framed and on the wall. Cut out and taped to his refrigerator are milk carton ads for missing children, “Have you seen this child?” The cops take a special interest in these ads—what kind of sicko has missing kids on his kitchen fridge?

All this chaos because a teenage girl bought the Frankenchrist album for her younger brother. The boy opened the record, in front of their parents, and pulled out the poster—and H. R. Giger’s wallpaper-like repeating image of crusty erect cocks inserting into equally grungy vaginas suddenly invaded their lives. The mother was shocked. Shocked enough to call the authorities. The Los Angeles City Attorney charged Biafra and Microwave with “distributing harmful material to a minor” and brought them to trial. A year later, a jury deadlocked, and the judge declared a mistrial.

Patrick O’Neil is a former junkie bank robber and the author of the memoirs Anarchy At The Circle K (forthcoming from Punk Hostage Press, 2022), Gun, Needle, Spoon (Dzanc Books, 2015), and Hold-Up (13e Note Editions, 2013). His writing has appeared in numerous publications, including Juxtapoz and Razorcake. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing (Nonfiction) from Antioch University Los Angeles, and teaches creative writing at various rehabs, correctional facilities, institutions, and universities. In the early ‘80’s he was a roadie and/or road manager for Dead Kennedys, Flipper, T.S.O.L., and Subhumans; and he was fired from the first Lollapalooza tour for being “too loaded.”

The post “You Ever Go By The Name H. R. Giger?”: Inside The Dead Kennedys’ ‘Frankenchrist’ Album Art Raid appeared first on Decibel Magazine.

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Five Heavy Albums That Changed My Life with Corpsegrinder

George Corpsegrinder Fisher is one of the most iconic death metal vocalists and frontmen of all time. As the longtime frontman for Cannibal Corpse (who, you may have noticed have just been announced as a headliner for Decibel Magazine Metal & Beer Fest: Philly in June), he has garnered a reputation as one of the most dependable and consistent vocalists in the genre. In less than two weeks, Corpsegrinder drops his first solo album, so Decibel caught up with the legendary vocalist about the five heavy albums that changed his life.

Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath

That basically is what changed my view of music in general. My father was always a Rolling Stones rock guy and my mother listened to Frankie Valli, Herman’s Hermits, had a lot of old country like Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings and stuff.

I heard Black Sabbath. That pretty much changed my whole mentality about music and started me on the path of ever thinking about wanting to be in a band.

The song “Black Sabbath,” it was just scary. I mean, it was like, “Woah!” When you hear it, Ozzy’s voice is just… I wouldn’t be here without Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osbourne. In a death metal capacity, I would say there are other bands that put me where I’m at as a death metal singer but wanting to be a musician of any sort, it was Black Sabbath without a doubt.

Mercyful Fate – Don’t Break the Oath

My favorite album of all time is Don’t Break the Oath. It’s dark, it’s evil. Some people even try to equate it to being a black metal and I don’t know if I’d go with that, but it’s like Black Sabbath even further. When I first heard the song “Black Sabbath,” I was scared out of my wits but there’s an eeriness about [Mercyful Fate] and King Diamond’s voice is the most unique voice in heavy metal. No one sounds like him and no one will ever try to do it. If you listen to a record and singing in that style, you’re like, “It’s King Diamond.”

I would put in the top five heavy metal vocalists of all time, my personal opinion. I think everyone should agree with my personal opinion. [laughs]

Death – Scream Bloody Gore

Scream Bloody Gore is another record that changed everything for me. I had that record and I loved it. Possessed is the first death metal band, 100%, but I think the beginning of what we know as modern death metal with bands like Obituary and Deicide, Morbid Angel, Cannibal Corpse, Death is one of the beginnings of all that. Scream Bloody Gore and their demos are really amazing.

I use this record as an example because it’s the first album they did but when it changed for me, I saw them play in Baltimore, MD at this place called Godfrey’s Ballroom. If there were 50 people there, you were lucky. They were supposed to play with this band Dead Brain Cells from Canada and Dead Brain Cells didn’t make the show, but I was in the front row like right in front of Chuck Schuldiner. I’m pretty sure Leprosy was not out yet. They had this huge setlist, played all these great songs and when they started and he started singing, it changed my whole mind.

To me, he’s the greatest death metal singer and I don’t sing in the style that he does. He had a lot of Jeff Becerra in his voice, but when I saw it live, all that high stuff he does changed everything for me. It cemented it. I’m not going to try to sing anymore, I’m gonna do that. I’m going to do long screams, I want to do them really high.

Slayer – Reign in Blood

All the fast singing on Reign in Blood, that changed the game. There’s a lot of speed singing on there and very precise enunciation and that changed the game for me, for sure. I would be in my room in the early ’90s, just death metal, death metal, death metal. When I wanted to be a singer, I would just sit in my room and sing along to the records I was listening to.

I remember Reign in Blood had been out for a while, but when I wanted to sing death metal I would try to sing it in a death metal voice and sing those lyrics really fast. It was hard, it took a lot of practice to go over how fast some of the lyrics are, like “Jesus Saves.” Some of the speed singing in those songs is just insane. Even the song “Hell Awaits” on Hell Awaits. When I first heard Slayer, I wasn’t trying to sing super-low brutal, but once I started, I always wanted to be able to do anything. I would put on Reign in Blood over and over to try to copy Tom Araya, how well he could sing, and fast. I think we’ve done that in Cannibal since then, but that album changed a lot for me. And it’s one of the greatest metal records ever.

Altars of Madness / Slowly We Rot / Deicide

I think those three records, especially, just were all individual. Even the first Cannibal Corpse record, Eaten Back to Life, which is on that ’89, ’90, ’92 era. Those few albums all came out and those are all individual bands; Cannibal Corpse does not sound anything like Deicide who don’t sound anything like Cannibal Corpse or Morbid Angel or Deicide or Obituary.

Altars of Madness, Deicide and Slowly We Rot, for me, vocally, that just changed the game for me, too. I know it’s three records but I would lump that early ’90s death metal, especially those three bands, I spent hours and hours trying to sound like Dave Vincent and Glen Benton and John Tardy. Hours just trying to emulate what they were doing and each one did something totally different than the other. I think if you listen to my voice, you would think I listen to Glen Benton and John Tardy and even Dave Vincent. My voice is closer to their style than it is to Chuck’s, except for the high stuff.

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Dead Kennedys – Frankenchrist

Stars and Stripes of Corruption
The Making of Dead Kennedys’ Frankenchrist

Punk has always had a political conscience. But no one articulated the stakes like Dead Kennedys. Formed in the San Francisco punk scene in 1978, Dead Kennedys became the best hardcore punk band to emerge from the Bay Area and one of the pivotal bands in the history of American punk. Dead Kennedys were even outliers in their scene; when other bands said basic is best, they showed the results of both musical and cultural literacy and unrelenting work. The band also had a taste for the absurd and pranks. Frontman Jello Biafra ran for mayor of San Francisco in 1979, and the band trolled the Bay Area Music Awards by performing a farcical song called “Pull My Strings” that attacked the music industry (they were slated to perform “California Über Alles.”).

Dead Kennedys’ studio output not only matched, but exceeded their volatile live shows and God-tier level pranks. Their 1980 debut, Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables (containing the watershed “Holiday in Cambodia”), is punk canon—as are follow-ups In God We Trust, Inc. (featuring Winston Smith’s notorious artwork of Jesus on a cross made of dollar bills) and Plastic Surgery Disasters. Fresh Fruit is the subject of two books, and Plastic Surgery Disasters is a terrifying classic that exposes the dark side of the American dream: toxic yuppies (“Terminal Preppie”), government-sanctioned torture (“Bleed for Me”) and the surveillance state (“I Am the Owl.”)

Decibel, however, is enshrining the third Dead Kennedys album into our Hall of Fame. Why Frankenchrist when the first two are revered classics? Frankenchrist is when Dead Kennedys fully arrived—as songwriters, conceptualists and provocateurs. It’s a concept album about life in the Reagan era and the rise of the Christian right and corporate monoculture by a band at the height of its powers. Biafra’s biting satire, storytelling and fierce quips are at their best on “Stars and Stripes of Corruption” and “Goons of Hazzard,” and guitarist East Bay Ray offers some of the most haunting guitar tones and leads of a brilliant career.

Frankenchrist is also a complete statement befitting a band that had been together almost seven years. Dead Kennedys created a unified dystopian hellscape of conformity, mob violence, and depersonalization via technology that is as memorable and sharply detailed as the world of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 or Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. What is especially eerie is how relevant Frankenchrist is in 2022; “Soup Is Good Food” could be about how artificial intelligence displaces human workers, and “Goons” will remind listeners of Proud Boy thugs. Our world today is an acceleration and amplification of the world depicted in Frankenchrist.

The second reason for this induction is Frankenchrist’s place in the culture wars of the 1980s. Since the rise of metal and punk in the 1970s, politicians and religious figures have threatened bands from Body Count to Cannibal Corpse with crackdowns, prosecution and jail time. Frankenchrist—targeted from the get-go by Tipper Gore’s Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC)—is one of the few albums that led to obscenity prosecution. The legal troubles started when a 14-year-old Southern California girl purchased a copy of Frankenchrist, which included a poster of H.R. Giger’s Landscape XX (the image shows penises entering vaginas). The girl’s outraged mother contacted prosecutors, and vice agents raided Biafra’s San Francisco home.

Biafra and four others were charged with distributing harmful matter to minors, a misdemeanor. The charges against him were dismissed after a jury deadlocked during a 1987 trial. The record nonetheless became both a lightning rod for criticism and a rallying cry to protect freedom of speech. The Frankenchrist case was in many ways reminiscent of the obscenity prosecution of City Lights bookstore owner and publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti three decades earlier. In that case, Ferlinghetti was tried, but ultimately acquitted, for publishing Allen Ginsberg’s radical poem “Howl,” which depicted “the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked.” In both cases, straight society aligned to crack down on alternative and countercultural expression, perhaps thinking their targets wouldn’t fight back. Free speech won both times.

This wasn’t the last trial involving Dead Kennedys. East Bay Ray, bassist Klaus Flouride, and drummer D.H. Peligro sued Biafra and Alternative Tentacles over unpaid royalties in 1998; Biafra lost the suit and appeals. Biafra was ordered to pay his former bandmates $220,000 in back earnings and damages, and the band’s catalog was handed over to Decay Music (a partnership involving all four band members) in 2003. It’s little surprise, then, that virtually all aspects of the band’s legacy are a matter of fierce dispute between the parties.

Biafra has continued speaking, running Alternative Tentacles, and performing with bands including Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine while Ray, Flouride and Peligro perform as Dead Kennedys. For this Hall of Fame story, we are happy to hear from all four members of the Frankenchrist lineup about making a benchmark in the fight for free speech. Right Guard will not help you here.

Need more Dead Kennedys? To read the entire seven-page story, featuring interviews with the members who performed on Frankenchrist, purchase the print issue from our store, or digitally via our app for iPhone/iPad or Android.

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Five Heavy Albums that Changed Charles Elliott of Abysmal Dawn’s Life

It’s just not that easy for Abysmal Dawn‘s Charles Elliott; he just can’t stick to five albums. He tries to push for 10 when we give our man the chance to talk about the five heavy albums that changed his life, but we tell him to keep it to five. But he just can’t: he gives us some runners-up when he sends in his full list (they are: Machine Head – Burn My Eyes; Entombed – Wolverine Blues; Testament – Low; Nile – Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka); his enthusiasm for metal is pretty obvious.

But anyone can tell that when spinning Abysmal Dawn’s new EP, the fantastic Nightmare Frontier, out now on Season of Mist. To help get into Elliott’s mind a bit more, here’s what he has to say about the top five heavy albums that changed his life.

Death – Human (1991)

This is their best album, in my opinion, with Symbolic being a close second for me. The first time I ever tried weed (not really my thing, though), I remember arguing for hours with my bandmates about which album was better. I was into fusion like Allan Holdsworth and Tribal Tech at the time, and to hear a bit of that in death metal floored me. The out-of-the-box lead playing of Paul [Masvidal] blew my mind, and Sean [Reinert]’s drumming on that record created the standard by which all metal drummers would now be judged. The songs are pissed and oddly heavier sounding than a guitar would usually sound in D standard. Chuck [Schuldiner]’s voice sounds great on it, as well. They were far sicker compared to Spiritual Healing, which they maybe went overboard on enunciating everything. I think that was Sean and Paul’s influence too, from stories they told me.

Carcass – Heartwork (1993)

This was just the heaviest goddamn guitar tone ever for decades. I loved how aggressive the music was while still being melodic, as well. All the guitar solos by Mike [Amott] and Bill [Steer] are just classic; one of my favorite guitar duos of all time, for sure. Jeff Walker’s vocals were so different from all the other death metal vocalists at the time, too. And I loved the way he used the English language in his lyrics. Besides the use of big words, they always had a clever twist or subtle dark sense of humor. I believe I have Beavis and Butthead to thank for exposing me to this band.

At The Gates – Slaughter of the Soul (1995)

After I heard Heartwork I wanted more of this new melodic death metal thing. Earache threw in a free promo cassette of this album, which I think I got when I ordered some Entombed CDs or something. The thing that struck me the most about them was how aggressive they sounded, yet sort of sad. Tomas [Lindberg] sounds like he’s being tortured and the melodies are kind of forlorn sounding. Tomas’ lyrics had a great influence on me, too. I liked how if you just read his lyrics out loud, they could very well be mistaken for poetry.

Dissection – Storm of the Light’s Bane (1995)

I love the dark vibe of this album and production. This record just sounded like it was recorded in the dead of winter somewhere. I think it’s that incredible reverb sound on the toms. This album and some of the earlier Dark Funeral and Immortal records represent the type of production I love for the more brutal black metal bands. I liked some black metal when I first heard this—ie: Emperor and early Cradle Of Filth—but this was the epitome of what I wanted out of a black metal band at the time. It’s just chock full of amazing riffs, catchy melodies and well-constructed epic songs.

Fear Factory – Demanufacture (1995)

This album was just the tightest thing ever recorded at the time. I was a big fan of dystopian science fiction as a kid and a big fan of Psalm 69-era Ministry. This kind of took that and what, say, Godflesh was doing to the next level; more intricate songwriting and riffs. I remember calling into this hotline that would play like 10 seconds of music from each single off the record. I think that’s how I first checked them out after maybe reading about them in Metal Maniacs. I would do that and then go buy the CD at a local store instead of ordering from them. That was something we did in the ’90s, when we weren’t streaming shitty 15-second MP3 samples. I think the T-shirt for this record was the first metal band shirt I ever owned, as well.

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Full Album Stream: Milquetoast’s ‘Caterwaul’

Punk has been in a bad place for a while. Metalheads get bent when they see a Kardashian wearing a band shirt but punk has suckled corporate and pop culture teat since Green Day became multimillionaires and The Offspring took over FM radio in the 90s. How long do we have to wait for someone to take us back to basement clubs with filthy bathrooms, the distortion, the Stiv Bators nihilism, the songs with big hooks AND ferocity, and the fuck the world attitude?

Wait no longer. Milquetoast is here and they are glorious. Their upcoming album Caterwaul sounds like what would happen if you put a few teenage truants in a hermetically sealed chamber and left them nothing but instruments, a few cans of Cheez Whiz, and copies of Black Flag’s The Process Of Weeding Out and Celtic Frost’s Morbid Tales. Milquetoast has done to gentrified punk what Shitfucker did for metal: take it back to the gutter where the real work is done. They’ve also done it without save the world preachiness. Why save the world when you can party on the ruins of civilization?

The songs on Caterwaul are compact, beautiful dervishes of melody, minimalism, and menace. The band shares the same name as a killer Helmet track. And, for fuck’s sake, there are a bunch of what look like Tribbles from the first Star Trek series on the cover. If you don’t like this album you are officially a poser.

It’s so punk that it’s also free for your ears. Spin the entirety of Caterwaul below and pre-order it here in advance of a January 28 release from Wise Blood.

Caterwaul by Milquetoast

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