Words by Andrew Lampela
Andrew Lampela was an employee and eventual co-owner of the 40-year old institution, Haffa’s Records in Athens, Ohio, just outside of the dark woods from which Skeletonwitch emerged. Over his years there he has played in a number of bands ranging from rock to noise to metal and has taken his lifelong knowledge of music into contributing to a number of publications.
First of all, I’m a complete sucker for oral histories. Second, hair metal was most certainly a bridge between my Duran Duran/Go Gos/Queen-loving childhood and my nothing-but-the-fastest thrash teen years. The better question would be how could I not read Tom Beaujour and Richard Bienstock’s Nöthin’ But A Good Time (buy it at your local book store, here’s mine!), the Uncensored History of the ‘80s Hard Rock Explosion. I still regularly listen to many of these bands, albeit from a personally curated list that excludes some of the hits, but not all. Some of those hits are goddamned undeniable, so not all the hits have to go. They have to be carefully worked in towards the middle, with enough deep cuts front-loading the mix to show that I am not here to fuck around with nostalgia, but to fuck around with a body of music that has been on in the background of my brain since I hit double digits. Obvious hits are immediately nixed, but then again, who am I to deny the power of “Youth Gone Wild”? Still, too early and…
…I digress. This stuff hit during my formative years, with the perfect storm of dumbed down guitar pyrotechnics I could almost play, videos with scantily clad ladies, and the blitzkrieg of leather-clad publicity that was MTV. I may have fronted all things Slayer, Coroner, Voivod, and Nuclear Assault, but my Cinderella tapes were always within reach. That monstrously popular self-titled Whitesnake album? Completely on fire with tasty John Sykes guitar riffage. I play songs off that album all the time just to air-squealie around my living room. I can honestly say, though, I haven’t really paid much attention to the lyrics I’ve known by heart for thirty years. They’re just, you know, the lyrics.
It dawned on me about a year and half ago, when I found, and subsequently paid more than I normally would for a record, a super clean pressing of Skid Row’s self-titled debut. On my second spin, my brain did something bizarre, dragging intellectual ideas into a realm that was in no way prepared for the scrutiny, and it occurred to me, mid-verse, that “Big Guns” was definitely just about someone’s boobs. 1989 Andrew did not yet have the skill set to see through puberty and realize that, even if hopefully all of that stuff was consensual, there was still an impenetrable misogynistic power imbalance. Besides, I was too busy honing in on those riffs to really think about it. 2019 Andrew most certainly knows how dumb and offensive most of these songs are. They don’t really deviate from what rock music was founded on. It checks out that half of Zeppelin’s catalog is about hobbits, but the other half is most certainly about Robert Plant’s dick. And I don’t know when you last perused the Free catalog, but for me it was a little under a year ago. Admittedly, their first five records are smouldering rippers, as far as ‘60s British blues go, but whoo boy, are those lyrics rapey. Somehow, though, bands like Ratt, Motley Crue, and yes, even Poison, made everything sleazier, dirtier, more pointlessly wasted.
Nöthin’ But A Good Time covers quite a bit of ground, rise to inevitable reckoning, not just focusing on the musicians, but plenty of key industry stalwarts and mega-producers. I devoured this book in a weekend. It succeeds in reserving judgement and allows the narrative to be driven by the people that were there, and whoo boy again, is that something. I didn’t really hear anyone from Dokken feelin’ too bad for being gross. I mean, what outcome could possibly exist where you give the four nineteen year olds in Motley Crue a boat load of money and they don’t spend it exclusively on drugs and chicks. That doesn’t even get into the massive enabling of the record industry. Several of the producers interviewed were on their second generation of bands getting blotto on hard, mind-crushing drugs, and they literally held the door open. What a decade!
A large part of the final act focuses on Nirvana’s Nevermind not only being the nail in the coffin, but the wood, the dirt, the entire graveyard hair metal got buried in. I’m not so sure that Nevermind should get all the blame (or credit, depending on who you talk to). The bloated, cocaine-addled hangover can only last so long before you look in the mirror and have to ask yourself, “Did I really just blow ten bucks on a fucking Slaughter tape? Man, this sucks.” Bands became a faceless smear of mascara and formulaic power-balladry. I believe the saying goes “Sure, the guys in Motley Crue looked like chicks, but they could kick your ass.” Trixter? Not so much. And as soon as the industry can’t exploit you for money, you fall off the cultural map fucking hard.
As with most oral histories, I immediately started binge-listening everything from the old favorites I know every pyro-strobe by heart to fringe albums I didn’t pay much attention to back then, and I’ve discovered that it’s pretty difficult to un-realize how gross most of these songs are. I love me some L.A. Guns, but why on earth did I ever think it was awesome to hear about Phil Lewis’s “Sex Action”? Gross. The paradigm shifted for a reason. Grunge, Riot Grrl, Hardcore, hell, even indie rock was a direct rebuttal of that wildly misogynistic, coked-out machismo. I’m not saying those scenes are perfect, as we’ve seen time and again, but at least they were trying. Hair metal excess was an industry in itself.
There are no easy answers here, and I’m afraid the ‘art from the artist’ discussion is a personal struggle we all have to face. How does one justify singing along with David Coverdale’s sex-capades, knowing full well there have to be kernels of truth in there, but condemn Mark Kozelec because he’s a disgusting piece of absolute shit garbage that betrayed trust and abused his stature and power as a performer to ‘allegedly’ sexually assault his fans? What kind of fucking asshole… Okay, maybe a bad example. History is littered with this type of abuse and, unfortunately, much, much worse because human nature itself seems pretty gross. Thankfully, the last few years have started to shed light on the misogyny in the world, the incredibly tenuous power the record industry holds over both performer and consumer, and the utterly horrid racism infesting every facet of life, and I am all for tearing it all down to start changing things for real. I’m smart enough to know that we’re a long fucking way from that business, and I’m not so sure it’ll get much different in my time left on this Earth, but even the small victories feel like change is happening. As set in my grumpy ass ways as I am, I choose to focus on the hope.
Long story short, my hair metal playlist is still fucking fire, it’s just much, much shorter than it used to be. And Nöthin’ But A Good Time is a great read, full of driven young dudes that made something of themselves before mostly getting chewed up by a market driven landscape run by old white dudes with little to no taste but a metric fuck-tons of drugs. There are funny stories, awesome historical connections within the shredder scene I was unaware of, heartbreaking fatalities, and some really, really disgusting youthful indiscretions. It is certainly one of the more thought provoking oral histories, intentionally and not. It might be a bit much for the casual, greatest-hits-is-fine crowd, but if an examination of one of rock’s most debaucherous eras from the mouths of those posters you hung on your walls as a teen sounds even remotely interesting, I highly recommend hitting up your local book slinger.
Anyhow, did someone mention air-squealies? Celestial Sanctuary pepper just enough squealies throughout the death metal stomp of their debut, Soul Diminished (Redefining Darkness) to get me real pumped. There’s mention of a New Wave Of British Death Metal scene happening, and I know that sounds super silly and exactly like something I’m going to dive into pretty hard simultaneously. If this record is indicative, I’m fucking in. The revival of old school Death Metal is astonishingly still producing top tier albums. These dudes nail it. There are hints of breakdowns, but they are fleeting as this is, as I mentioned, a capital D Death Metal record. The beauty of these younger bands is they, at least the good ones, cut most of the cheesy bits out of their influences and just get down to crushing you under an onslaught of riffs. This is a very good one.
Of course I got stuck on the Wode (20 Buck Spin). Is it because I waited on the mail like a giddy kid for that tape to arrive? Is it because it’s a great record? A little column a, a whole lot column b. I know I profess my love of https://20buckspin.bandcamp.com pretty much every column, but they truly take me back to the days where you put your trust in a label. I might not have loved everything on Noise or Combat, but I had faith that at least it wouldn’t suck too bad. Luckily, 20 Buck Spin is on a roll with killer releases. There’s a lot going on over Burn In Many Mirrors forty minutes. Ostensibly black metal, this is far riffier than most. I get little whiffs of melodic death metal of the Swedish variety. There are keyboards, there are little rock parts. Most importantly, it all adds up to great songs. I liked this album right from the get go, but I am still finding new parts every listen. Have I heard the riff in “Vanish Beneath” before? Sure, but that song stomps my ass every time. This album is fantastic.
I’m sure you remember reading (in this very column!) about my love for the epic doom stylings of Crypt Sermon’s 2019 crusher The Ruins Of Fading Light. Anyone? No? Whatever, it had a solid showing on my end-of-year list, and I still pepper my various mixes with many of their songs. That’s because I love me some epic melodic doom, a la Solitude Aeturnus and Candlemass, but let’s be honest here, those records are dated as fuck and I’ve heard them a million times. It’s always a minor miracle to find a modern band in that vein that manages to tone down the embarrassing bits enough to recommend it from the mountain tops. Wheel most assuredly join the ranks with Preserved In Time (Cruz Del Sur). You could say they hit a bit closer to early Pallbearer territory if the conversation needs modern milestones, but this is just under an hour of grade A classic doom. Wheel get the dynamics spot on, and it all feels mystically grandeur without all the goofy bloat. I can’t really pick a song to reel you in, there isn’t a bum note on here. Absolutely fantastic album.
This Bewitcher album is a throwback burner, and tons of evil fun. There’s a new Cannibal Corpse album, and while they’ve never been one of my go-tos, there are some rippers on here for sure. The addition of Erik Rutan does not hurt. There’s a new Greta Van Fleet and holy shit I can’t believe people with ears think anything about this is good, Jesus Christ. It’s been quite a while since I’ve had a prog-shred phase, but I’ve listened to this Liquid Tension Experiment (Inside Out Music) more than I thought I would. Tony Levin is a god. KAUAN made an RPG out of their new album, if that’s your thing, but it’s cool if your thing is just immersive post rock, too. Good stuff. Memoriam keep pumping them out, and I keep listening. And finally, I’ve only just gotten the Paysage D’Hiver, so I’ll save that one for next month so I can sink in. Just didn’t want to look like a dumbass for not mentioning it.
Thanks for reading.