Monday, February 27, 2012

Thrash vs. Theater: Megadeth and Rob Zombie to Tour Together

Ozzy with Black Sabbath
No matter how the narrative of metal begins, it has always contained elements of theater. Typically in this regard we think of the classic showmanship of Ozzy, the patriotic Britishness of Iron Maiden, or the dark themes pervading King Diamond and Venom.  In America, this developed into the celebratory “rockstar” fetishism we saw in glam metal bands.

Thrash metal was a reaction against glam.  As Bobby Blitz of Overkill said, referencing Slayer’s early days in L.A., “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”  Yet despite its protestations thrash was never fully an everyman’s genre.  There were still the bullet belts, the devil horns, the denim jackets, the logos, etc.  The difference, I think, is that for thrash metal these theatrical elements were contingent aspects of its success; but for other parts of the metal scene the theater was a central element.  For theatrical bands…you take away the theater and you take away the show.
Overkill: Denim, Leather, Bullet Belts...metal!

Which one wins?

So what are we to think of a tour which encompasses both thrash and theater?

According to a recent press release, thrash metal icons Megadeth and horror-show producer Rob Zombie will co-headline on a tour beginning in May 2012. This interesting pairing pits the two aforementioned aspects of metal against each other.

I saw Rob Zombie (then White Zombie) perform with Pantera in Wichita, Kansas in 1993.  White Zombie had just released their highly successful La Sexorcisto: Devil Music, Vol. 1 and put on a thematic show, complete with large movie screen in the back center-stage – depicting horror show clips.  It’s a cool gimmick and one that goes well with Zombie’s nonsense-lyric groove metal.

Rob Zombie: Metal Theater

Megadeth, whom I've seen multiple times, are more straightforward and forgo even pyrotechnics in favor of letting their guitars and crowd interactions thrill the audience.  Their music has, for the most part, stood the test of time - and are now enjoying renewed interest from audiences all over the world.

Here’s what I think.  Rob Zombie will put on a good show.  Megadeth will put on a good show.  Yet, several years from now those in attendance will be happy to say they had seen Megadeth live since Megadeth’s music will still remain relevant.  Rob Zombie’s show will, like all good horror gimmicks, fade in one’s memory. 

It is probably not coincidental that White Zombie became commercially successful during the 1990’s, a decade that almost killed thrash metal.  At that time, people were suckers for musical gimmicks that, in retrospect, were simply the flavor du jour.  Remember grunge, rap metal, and Load/Reload?

So for those of you metalheads lucky enough to go to this undoubtedly entertaining show, please remember that metal comes in a wide variety of flavors – to include both thrash and theater.  In a few years, however, don’t be surprised when popcorn metal seems but a distant memory to thrash at its finest.

Megadeth: Thrash Masters

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Thrash to Destroy with MILITIA

The birth...

Drummer Phil Achee & bassist Robert Willingham formed Militia in January 1984.  Later, guitarists Tony Smith and Jesse Villegas joined and began writing songs that featured a combination of thrash, power and melodic/technical elements. After completing five songs, Militia was still looking for a vocalist and Mike Soliz got the gig.

Live at The Ritz 1984
On July 3, 1984, Militia performed live for the first time, opening for Wyzard and Watch Tower at the Ritz Theater in Austin Texas.

In 1985 Militia recorded and released their first demo, "Regiments of Death", followed by "The Sybling". The band continued to play shows and write new material, which was featured on the band's final demo, "No Submission".

In 1986 Militia disbanded, it was thought that the band would be forever forgotten. 

In 2004, Forged In Fire Records approached Militia about putting out a CD featuring all three demos and other recordings never before released. The band agreed to do the project, but the inability to locate master tapes stalled the project before it could ever get started. Finally in 2007, “Released” hit the streets. It featured their previous demos plus other songs.

In 2007, bassist Robert Willingham set out to determine the extent of interest in Militia, especially in Europe.  In 2008 a MySpace page was launched and almost immediately, the band was corresponding with fans all over the world.  Soon after, Militia was invited to play the Keep It True Festival in Germany.  The band was not able to immediately accept the offer, as the members had not been in contact with each other for many years.  Eventually, all five original members agreed to reform and play at KIT XII in April 2009.

After a few local warm-up shows in Texas, Militia flew off to Germany in April, 2009 and played a memorable show at the famed Keep It True Festival, along with a second energy-charged show in Frankfurt the next night.  The band received a monstrous reception at both shows.  

KIT Festival 2009

After returning from Germany, Militia continued to work steadily on writing songs for an all-new full-length CD “Strength and Honor”, due to be released in early 2012.

While preparing for the imminent release of the new CD "Strength and Honor", Militia bass player, Robert Willingham, took time out to discuss Militia's new CD and the bands future with Thrash Metal Times.

JS: Can you provide Militia fans with any updates for the new CD? Are we looking at an imminent release?

RW: All of the recording and mixing for "Strength And Honor" is complete.  Tony and Mike report that mastering is nearly complete.  We are putting the final touches on the artwork and layout for the cover and insert.  We estimate being ready to go to press in around 3 weeks.  Shouldn't take more than a couple of weeks to press.  Once we have the CDs in hands, we'll issue a release date.

JS: Will it be keeping with the progressive/thrash sound we all know?

RW: There is definitely a lot going on with these songs.  Some songs definitely have a thrash element, while others feature a powerful, classic metal sound.  All of the songs contain slightly progressive elements which serve to add some "spice" to the songs.  Overall, there are lots of changes of tempo.

We didn't set out to write songs to fit a certain mold.  Tony and Jesse are our primary songwriters, and both of them have a very natural, untainted perspective to writing.  They write what moves them.  Sometimes, a song initially might not sound like something that would be a typical Militia song.  And in many cases, we were tempted to reject these ideas.  But we found that when we all collaborate and add our touches, there's no mistaking that the finished product has that unique Militia sound.

JS: What are the plans for the CD release? Will there be a release party or a gig to promote it?

RW: Because we haven't been able to nail down a release date, we haven't set up the CD release events.  However, we definitely intend to do some events.  Ideally, we'd like to set up a little Texas tour (Austin, Houston, San Antonio, Dallas/Ft. Worth), as well as a  couple of CD release parties at local record stores.

JS: In previous email conversations concerning the recording process for the new CD, you mentioned that for some songs, each of you would email files back and forth so as to do some of the recording tracks in your own homes. How did that process work out? Do you think it is easier to do that rather than coming together in a studio?

RW: We started with the drums, which were recorded at Mike Botello's (from Assailant) home studio.  Guitars were recorded at Jesse's house in our rehearsal space.  Because I live 45 miles away from the other guys, I wanted to my bass tracks from home using a direct interface to my PC.

However, I abandoned this endeavor, as I couldn't get a tone I was satisfied with.  The tone just wasn't tough enough.  It was more suitable for a jazz recording.  This meant that I had to lug my bass rig down to South Austin and record my bass tracks the old-fashioned way!  I dreaded this, because I knew it would require multiple sessions.  Plus, Austin was in a record-setting heat wave, and our rehearsal space doesn't have air conditioning!  It took 4 sessions, and the temperatures each session ranged from 104 to 113 degrees.  This is the outdoor temp, so it was probably 20 degrees hotter inside!!

But, it worked out way better than expected.  I got a much tougher sound by using two tracks consisting of my amp/cabinet and the SansAmp bass driver DI.

As far as which is easier, recording separately or together, I assumed it would be better to record separately, mostly for convenience reasons.  Also, I tend to require many takes to get a good track down.  I guess my own insecurity led me to think Mike & Tony would get frustrated with me, but in actuality, they were very supportive and encouraging to me, and kept me from getting frustrated with myself!!  This experience affirmed something very unique about our band - the fact we support and encourage one another.  I actually did a better job with my bass tracks being there with the guys than I would have by myself at home.

I guess every band is different - the dynamics between members and the resources available to them play a big part in determining whether it's best to record together or separately.  For Militia, it turns out best for us to work together.

JS: In writing songs for the band, is it a group process where all pitch ideas, or are there one or two main songwriters in the band?

RW: Tony and Jesse are the primary writers of the music.  On a couple of occasions, one of them will have an entire song written.  But most of the time, our songs consist of parts written by both Tony and Jesse.  Then, the band comes together during rehearsal and we work out the arrangement, come up with transitions, and how we want the song to begin and end.  Everyone contributes during this process.  Once the music is finished, we do a rough recording of it and Mike uses this recording to write the lyrics and vocal melodies.  Mike writes nearly all the lyrics, with some contribution from Tony.

JS: How many songs will be on the new CD?

RW: "Strength And Honor" will feature 11 songs.

JS: Did you record any of the old Militia songs that we thrashed to when you played live?

RW: We wanted this to be an all-new project, but we realized that there was one song from our early years that we never recorded.  It was actually the first song we played at our very first show in July 1984.  Since it was part of our post-reunion set list, we decided to record it for the new CD.  The song is called "Onslaught".  A really old practice recording appears on the "Released" CD.

JS: How is the music scene in Austin these days?  Are there still unknown metal bands playing the small venues on 6th Street and around town?

RW: It was really different when we played our first shows in Austin since Militia reunited.  Instead of playing at an old theater with a decent size stage, shows are held at small clubs with tiny stages and not much capacity.  At least the crowds we've played for were very enthusiastic.  But there's no comparison to what we saw in the 80s.  There are very few metal bands in Austin right now.

JS: What is in the immediate future for Militia? Are there any plans for upcoming shows in Texas, or plans to play anywhere in Europe in the coming months?

RW: Our future will be determined solely by the success of "Strength And Honor". We'll definitely do some Texas shows right after the CD comes out.  There are several festivals in Europe, and it would be great to be invited to any of them, as well as opportunity to play a few cities throughout Europe.

JS: Can we expect new songs and a new CD in the future, or do you think that this was a one-time thing?

RW: After overcoming so many obstacles to make "Strength And Honor" a reality, it's difficult to imagine going through this again.  Ultimately, it really comes down to how well the CD does and if enough noise is made in the metal world to create opportunities for the band.  If we have opportunities to play, especially in Europe, and demand grows for our brand of metal, anything is possible.  If not, we'll probably call it a day, feeling grateful for the entire experience and knowing we put out an album we can all be proud of.

JS: Where can fans get a copy of the CD once it is released?

RW: Initially, the CD will be available directly from the band.  It will also be available on CD Baby, as well as from other distributors yet to be determined.

JS: Will the CD be made available as a digital download?

RW: Yes, CD Baby will sell both the actual CD and digital downloads, which will also be available on iTunes.

JS: Where can fans go on the web to get current Militia news, CD information, gig dates, merchandise, etc.?

RW: We still have a MySpace page (, along with a page on Facebook (  Jesse checks messages on the MySpace page, while Mike and I manage the Facebook pages.  We always respond back to every message.

 After "Strength And Honor" is released, we will add a Band Page tab to our Facebook page.  We will also create Militia pages on ReverbNation, Last FM, and a couple of other sites.  When they are up, we'll put up notifications on the MySpace/Facebook pages.

We at TMT hope Militia has great success with the release of their new CD and we hope to see them soon. TMT will provide a review of "Strength and Honor" when it is released. In the meantime, below are two of my favorite Militia songs - Thrash to Destroy and Metal Axe. I did my first stage-dive during Thrash to Destroy when Militia played their first live show in 1984 at The Ritz.

Militia Discography -
Regiments of Death
The Sybling
No Submission
Second Coming
Strength and Honor

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Who Sold Out the Most?

Around 1985 or so, strange things started to happen to the bands we listened to. For some un-Godly reason, there was a change in the air. 

Bands that made their mark in thrash, hard rock and rock suddenly realized the existence of the all mighty dollar. They discovered that all they had to do to reach the masses was to sell out their original beliefs and reach for the mainstream audience.

Some bands put away their leather and spikes. Some tried their hand at the “glam” look. Some put on make up, while others to theirs off.

So, of the four I have featured, who do you believe sold out the most?

Judas Priest - 

From this...

To this...

Kiss -

From this...

To this...

Twisted Sister - 

From this...

To this...

The biggest sell out of all time - 

From this...

To this...

This is where they sold their souls for the almighty $$$

This should sum it all up. Give it a good listen.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

My Introduction to the sounds of NWOBHM

Dave Murray
Who remembers their first intro to the New Wave of British Heavy Metal?  Mine was hearing and seeing Iron Maiden for the first time on MTV in the early 80’s.  Back when MTV first started, they had very few videos to play but they had three from Iron Maiden.  

MTV played a heavy rotation of Iron Maiden, Killers, Wrathchild, and Phantom of the Opera. Later I found out they were from the “Live at The Rainbow” DVD which is now part of the The History Of Iron Maiden, Part 1: The Early Days (Two-Disc Edition).  After watching the videos play about four times per day, I noticed that Wrathchild was becoming my favorite song of the four.  

I really enjoyed the guitar sounds coming from Dave Murray playing his modified black Stratocaster. Dave now has his own signature model Stratocaster. He has a unique legato style that when you here one of his solo’s, you know it’s Dave Murray playing.  He has been with Maiden on all of the releases. Along with Steve Harris, Dave is one of the most recognizable band members.

As Maiden contemplates their future, I can only hope that the final CD will be heavy on Dave Murray solos.  Until that time, enjoy a couple of videos of Dave and his legato technique.