Life or Art?

Two local bands put divergent spins on their metal theater

The music industry may want to eulogize Marilyn Manson, Slipknot and Nine Inch Nails, but the alchemy of industrial, metal and theatrics still strikes a chord with teens who just can't find it in them to link to Linkin Park. Think songs that question the need for religion; vocalists who turn from melodic to demonic; black vinyl clothing; gloomy nihilism; and tribal body paint, stuff bound get a rise out of post-Columbine parents.

You can find these fundamentals lurking in the personal makeup of Opiate for the Masses and BLESSEDBETHYNAME, two immensely popular yet individualistic Valley units. Each is bound not only by mutual friendship and a shared fan base but also by a like-minded mission to make live shows large-scale productions and to create music that's, well, difficult to pigeonhole. Both play infrequent live dates, sometimes together. Those shows sell out hours before club doors even open. They also can boast "most downloaded MP3" honors on any number of downloading Web sites and "best unsigned band" props for every year of their existence.

And yet Opiate for the Masses and BLESSEDBETHYNAME have been playing the waiting game with major labels for the better part of three years now, a tough stretch for sure. It's only in how each band has coped with their fate and maintained their popularity in a scene filled with transient inhabitants that their stories begin to deviate.

Eddie Kelly of BLESSEDBETHYNAME – and a friend in darkness.
Emily Piraino
Eddie Kelly of BLESSEDBETHYNAME – and a friend in darkness.
"So it's apparently not our turn": Opiate holds out for a break.
Mark Weiss
"So it's apparently not our turn": Opiate holds out for a break.

BLESSEDBETHYNAME

The first thing you notice about singer Eddie Kelly is that he wears a fishnet blouse and eyeliner befitting an Egyptian pharaoh – not your usual look for a sunny Sunday afternoon in a darkened watering hole like Emerald Lounge. The second thing you notice is that Kelly rarely makes it through two of his animated sentences about BLESSEDBETHYNAME without elongating a word for emphasis. Then you notice the bullet mark below his right shoulder.

Kelly is such a nice guy and devout BLESSEDBETHYNAME believer that you almost hate bringing up the unpleasantness that nearly ended his life. "The day I shot myself" is a phrase few people live to string together, but in order to understand Kelly and his band, it's an unavoidable conversation gambit. The same zeal that drives him to make each BLESSEDBETHYNAME show unforgettable also pushed the singer to strike himself like just another piece of unused stage equipment.

To hear him tell it, "If I didn't get my head fucked up, party my ass off and try to blow myself away when I did, it would've happened somewhere down the road in some motel room and I might've put the gun in my mouth."

"When I first got to this scene, I fell in loooove with it," he begins. "I came from Albuquerque and I didn't have a band here so I went to every venue, every show and I was in everyone else's mosh pits. Bands that weren't my peers yet. And I got a lot of respect."

Hooking up with guitarist Tim Ringgold and keyboardist Scott Swai in 1997, the group dubbed itself BLESSEDBETHYNAME after an intense meditation session under black ultraviolet light. Then it was up to each band member to arrive at his own stage look, which taken collectively resembles the Village People if they had taken a wrong turn on their way to the YMCA and walked in on the Tate-LaBianca murders. Kelly dyed his dreadlocks firehouse red and painted his body alabaster white. The others chose get-ups ranging from space alien to bloodied itinerant farmer to thorny-crowned bald guy.

From the get-go, BLESSEDBETHYNAME shows, dubbed by the band as "rituals," were not your usual bar-band sonatas. One notorious night found Kelly finding catharsis by dispensing with two pints of blood from his arm. Audiences really saw red at the 1998 New Times Music Showcase, when the band sacrificed four chickens. Despite the ensuing flak, Kelly remained unrepentant, seeing his fowl play in the limelight as a preferable fate to being ground into McNuggets for no glory. It gave Kelly some of that Ozzy aura, which paid off when the group issued a self-titled debut the following December. The album rose quickly to the top of Zia's local record sales chart, propelled by such visceral metal dirges as "Vanity of the Leper Queen," "Blood Puppet Ritual" and "Angel Rape," which opens with what sounds like the devil deflowering a housewife while a very loud dishwasher roars in the background.

"The first album? Totally raw," Kelly says, laughing. "There wasn't a hair on our head trying to be successful with the album."

Yet faster than you can say "I don't hear the single," labels came a-courtin', starting a footsie game that was at its most intense in 2001, when the band was asked to relocate to Hollywood by Epic Records and DreamWorks. "For four months, we went up and down the ladder with a lot of people," says Kelly.

After DreamWorks had the band do personal showcases for its bigwigs, the label decided it wanted the band to record three songs with Scott Humphrey, whose engineering credits range from *NSYNC to Spineshank, with Mötley Crüe, the Cult and the Crystal Method somewhere in between. Then something funny happened. Nothing.

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