Top 10 Accidents of Heavy Metal
Who's saying what
Heavy metal seems to be a stage-managed place with scant room for spontaneity. Iron Maiden has its nine-foot tall mummy/zombie Eddie to accompany their ostentatious sets, Slipknot are more pyrotechnic acrobats than musicians and if you ever wanted a more obvious example of gimmickry sold at bargain basement prices, you need look no further than Cradle of Filth.
Though heavy metal hasn’t been from the “streets” for a very long time, the entire genre is dependent on probability and uncertainty and has been since right from the very beginning. In honour of today's Soundwave announcement, here are ten of the most powerful examples the fickle hand of fate has had on heavy metal.
10. Children of Bodom win Eurovision…er…
Long before Twitter was invented (a year before, which is about 100 in Twitter years) we had to merely shout our casually racist epithets at the TV during Eurovision. That year was 2006, the year when we all had to feign interest in one another because our smartphones weren’t quite educated yet. In spectacular fashion, Finnish monster pop metallers Lordi took the “coveted prize” and rose to international super-stardom for about a week. But who lurked behind those monster masks?
Journalists salivated at the thought of scooping the big reveal. If you were to ask the Daily Mail, The Sun or Sweden’s Expressen, it was an ancient lineup of fellow Finns, Children of Bodom (a reference to the grievous massacre of four teenagers at Lake Bodom; it’s sort of like calling a metal band “Children of Belanglo”). Printed as the shocking truth revealed! It was neither shocking nor true; former Lordi keyboardist Enery briefly held the same makeup-less post in the Hate Crew during their first European tour, filling in for Janne Wirman. Oops. But who is Mr. Lordi? Even though he can only afford red spot specials nowadays, he’ll never tell…
9. Doctor, Doctor, please – the mess Katatonia are in
In 1995, doom metal legends Katatonia’s line-up all but evaporated. Like all good gloomy bands overcome with apathy at the best of times, they actually broke up. What put the final nail in their coffin (which they presumably had on back-order) was vocalist Jonas “Lord Seth” Renkse’s doctor delivering a grave (ugh) prognosis – “You’ll never growl again,” he said. To a death metal vocalist, that’s kind of like telling a porn star his penis is broken, forever.
Thankfully, he could still sing cleanly in his trademark despondent baritone to the relief of the band and fans. This limitation only stirred their creative spirit (that and a bizarre shared love of the electro-rock band Kent with his songwriting partner Anders “Blakkheim” Nystrom), hiring none other than Mikael Akerfeldt to lay down his inimitable snarl on their breakthrough record Brave Murder Day, breaking the chokehold on the nascent death/doom scene by the British “Peaceville Three” (Paradise Lost, Anathema and My Dying Bride) and delivering new fans to an emerging metal style which endures today.
8. This Meshuggah are real mensches, oy vey!
Ozzy Osbourne and his progeny once made compelling fodder for the late 90s-early 2000s craze of “put a camera in some hitherto cameraless place-???-profit!” style television, regrettably. Tech death nutters Meshuggah would never have in their wildest dreams (in which they’re playing polyrhythms in a time-signature of 22/7 in front of a Dyson sphere or whatever) that Jack Osbourne, Ozzy’s geeky son would prove their greatest champion.
In one episode, he can be seen playing one of their tracks to upset some hippies living next door. His words: “Meshuggah. Death metal. From Norway” (although they’re actually from Sweden) was broadcast to millions, propelling these struggling musos into household names (if your household is full of metalheads, that is.) His profound effect on their career cascaded to their record sales, tours and fans who continually supplicate before them is still felt the world over. Gorguts and Atheist were probably left scratching their heads wondering why their (superior) music wasn’t used as sonic weaponry instead. On second thoughts…nah.
Skip to the 5:20 mark:
7. Hockey almost-stardom drives “Speed” Strid to Soilwork
Bjorn “Speed” Strid, vocalist of Soilwork, the melodic death titans that vowed revenge on In Flames one time in that cheap “2-for-1” video they made, earned his nickname during the tape trading scene because he favoured extreme metal bands such as Carcass and Slayer. But this lust for aggression also found an outlet on the ice hockey rink. Little Bjorn was a rather prodigious ice hockey player and was on track to become one of Sweden’s future stars in the sport, his elite status owing much to helicopter parenting (now available at IKEA, item name SMØTHËR.)
Despite rigorous training schedules, he didn’t quite make the Swedish Junior National team. Eventually his disillusion grew with the sport after scrutineers and coaches would “stand around the rink and make notes about [his] playing,” sucking the fun right out of it. Fed up, Strid turned his attention to music, establishing himself as one the most revered and versatile vocalists in Gothenburg-style death metal.
6. Pink toilet paper and “condoms with strawberry flavour” in a grim tour rider
Norwegian black metal seemed to spring up just to rattle the cages of conservative attack dogs with its penchant for sonic torment, obsession with the occult and gleeful bouts of arson. But the corpsepaint smeared faces that beam a “holy sh-t these dudes are f-cking evil” image, seemed to intensify in 2005 when Gorgoroth, cultish purveyors of “true Norwegian black metal” demanded 50 sheep’s heads, 200 metres of barbed wire and a carpenter with which to build racks for them during their European tour.
Sounds pretty sinister? It sure was; until you read the entire list. In addition to rotting meat they politely demanded champagne, strawberries, pink toilet paper (soft) plus “condoms with strawberry flavour” in their grim tour rider. Not to mention their Transilvanian Hunger for a masseuse every three days on the tour to ease the Death Crush of touring. Within seconds the quasi-mythic throne of occult philosopher king metal was egregiously subject to a materialist excess of David Lee Roth like proportions. Disbelief in black metal: permanently suspended.
5. Judas Priest discovers a Beatles cutlery
Judas Priest’s 1980 sessions in the studio were proving abortive and troublesome as they attempted to record their landmark record British Steel. The boys relocated to Tittenhurst Park, the former home of John Lennon, occupied by Ringo Starr at the time. Late one night and bored, the hard-up lads from Birmingham decided to take a geeze about Mr. Yellow Submarine’s gaffe. According to guitarist K.K. Downing, they were testing out the sounds of various objects in an attempt to make the record sound more “metal.” Luckily Ringo had a multitude of "paraphernalia" lying around which was duly appropriated in metal’s unholy name. Eventually, some of it (pool cues and such) was used on the record; the most notable item was his set of cutlery. If you hear the metal hordes bearing down upon thee amongst Priest's anthemic paean to all things metal, Metal Gods, it’s actually just Ringo Starr’s knives and forks rattling up and down in a drawer. Who knew Ringo could prove useful for something, after all?
4. Dave Mustaine sleeps in and the longest thrash metal feud beginneth
On the 9th of April, 1983 Metallica slayed the L'Amour in Brooklyn and lead guitarist/ginger Dave Mustaine celebrated in a hail of booze, sex and debauchery; as he did every night regardless whether they played or not. Allegedly he did something so heinous beyond his best recollection that his former bandmates in Metallica no longer wanted anything to do with him. But they didn't fire him on the 10th; they nervously waited until he slept in on the 11th instead.
Mustaine remembers that the rest of the band (Lars Ulrich, James Hetfield and Cliff Burton) all stood forebodingly above him as his eyes creaked open that fateful Monday. They calmly explained they'd packed his bags for him, he had a bus ticket good for one trip direct to Los Angeles and that he was out. So through songs, documentaries, countless interviews and of course that whiny confrontation in that movie, we've never heard the end of it. But the fallout did spawn Megadeth, a slew of stellar thrash records and some truly epic Megadeth-led tours such as the Clash of the Titans and Gigantour. So I suppose feuds sell...so who's complaining?
3. Lemmy gets busted, fired from Hawkwind and forms Motorhead instead
Ian "Lemmy" Kilmister might be the quintessential rock n' roll pioneer having drunkenly astride the line between booming punk and blunt-edged metal since founding Motorhead - chicks, whiskey and riffs are his order of the day, every day.
But prior to his halcyon rise to become heavy metal's spiritual mentor (next to His Holy Diver Ronnie James Dio, RIP) Lemmy was a begrudging product of the flower generation. He shared a flat with the Jimi Hendrix Experience (minus Hendrix) and served as their roadie before joining progressive rock band Hawkwind in 1971. By 1975 Hawkwind were on tour in North America. After being left behind on the way to Detroit, Lemmy finagled some speed and stuck them "down his trousers" figuring they were "only" going over a lightly fortified bridge to the Great White North. They took the underground route instead. Lemmy, passed out in the back of the tour bus oblivious to his impending predicament. He was searched, nicked and jailed for possession. Five days later he was released due to a technicality (the cops said he had cocaine...it was speed, man!), he played one more gig because his replacement "couldn't get there in time." So he "buggered off" and formed Motorhead instead. Lesson to metalheads: never pass out on tour. Or rather, do pass out and form a band that kicks as much arse as Motorhead (you won't, so don't bother.)
2. A hotel fire inspires one of the greatest heavy metal songs of all time
If you've ever had your ears pointed in the general direction of an electric guitar you've heard this riff. It's the first god damn sequence of notes any guitar teach will set as homework. Provided you actually complete it instead of switching it for a plastic substitute connected to an Xbox...actually, you'll hear it there too. It's Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple. The story begins...well, bugger it, it's in the song:
We all came out to Montreux,
On the Lake Geneva shoreline.
To make records with a mobile,
We didn't have much time.
But Frank Zappa and the Mothers,
Were at the best place around,
But some stupid with a flare gun,
Burned the place to the ground.
And ahh...yeah. That's pretty much it. (And you were singing along in your head, admit it.) In December 1971 Deep Purple furnished themselves inside Montreux Casino, sat beside the shores of Lake Geneva. They booked rooms to cut the soon-to-be proto-metal classic Machine Head amid the celebrated Montreux Jazz Festival. One ill-fated evening, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention were rocking the basement until a fan fired a flare gun up toward a highly flammable ceiling made of rattan, promptly gutting the entire complex.
A few days later, guitarist Roger Glover dreamt of "Smoke on the water of Lake Geneva" and relayed this apparition to Gillan, Blackmore and co. The band swiftly cut the track in the Rolling Stones' Mobile Studio...considering their hotel burned down. That's in the song too, so it kind of references itself. How meta of them. Related: Impromptu conflagrations inspire the best songs of all time, it's a fact (c.f. Amon Amarth).
1. Tony Iommi's fingertips chopped off = the creation of heavy metal
Now I don't want to accuse the creation of a genre beloved by millions is owed specifically to a on-the-job accident, but...it sort of, actually...was. Tony Iommi was a talented guitarist in his own right but almost gave it up at the rage-pulsing age of seventeen. On his very last day of working in a local sheet metal factory, the tips of his middle and ring finger on his right hand were sliced right off. Distraught, he endeavoured to play left-handed before a brainwave saw him craft specialized thimbles to fit over his phantom tips, allowing more fret-range. In 1969 Iommi—along with bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Bill Ward—responded to an ad in the local music papers that read "Ozzy Zigg requires gig" put in by a daft git by the name of John Michael "Ozzy" Osbourne - and thus this dark beast known as Earth, later Black Sabbath, had coalesced to finally claw its way up from hell.
The freshly minted band began rehearsing in a Birmingham community centre across the road from a movie theatre. Tony or Geezer said one morning (this story is wholly reliant on Ozzy's memory - I mean his son isn't too bright f-cking up the country of origin of Meshuggah, so what does that tell you) that people will pay to see scary films, so why not create music in the same eerie spirit? Their dark, brooding sound was partially driven by Iommi down tuning his guitar from E to D#, slackening the strings thus easing the pressure on his fingers. Despite critical derision (Lester Bangs most famously labelling it a “bunch of noise; it’s not music, it’s distortion…cranked several decibels past the pain threshold" in 1972) and periodically waning popularity during the double pronged Grunge/Electro attack of the early 90s, metal deafeningly and defiantly never said die ever since.