The Past, Present, and Future of Metal Come Together in Tempe
There's nothing like hearing the past, present, and future of heavy metal in one place. But that's what will happen Thursday, November 7, at Tempe's Marquee Theatre — a veritable buffet of heavy metal.
There's the "baby band" Huntress; torchbearers of the new wave of American metal Killswitch Engage and Lamb of God; and legendary thrash veterans Testament, celebrated by fans all over the world after they reunited in 2005.
Getting the acts together wasn't easy, thanks to 45 weeks of touring a year, legal troubles, and interpersonal hurdles that, at times, seemed insurmountable.
It's been a chaotic couple of years for all these bands. In Killswitch Engage's case, the band's original vocalist returned to front the band. And Lamb of God fans were left to watch as vocalist Randy Blythe was on trial last year for a fan's death at a Lamb of God show.
Huntress, for its part, is still trying to cement a legacy.
"We just feel so humble to be here," says Jill Janus, who founded the band in 2009, drawing on influences such as Judas Priest and King Diamond. "All the bands have been so supportive. We're the baby band that wants to learn everything from all three of the heavy metal legends. We're in the wings watching and listening and taking notes."
Since 2012, Huntress has released two albums. Before that, Janus was classically trained in opera (she has a four-octave soprano range), hosted a night cabaret in the World Trade Center up until 2 a.m. on September 11, and has been a part of a witch coven since age 15.
"Knowing that I wanted to do something big with my voice, I reached out to a woman named Melissa Cross. She has a DVD titled The Zen of Screaming," Janus says. "With her video, I was able to sculpt my classical inflections into the high scream and also into a deeper growl."
Lamb of God vocalist Randy Blythe also is trained by Melissa Cross.
"Lamb of God reached out to us last year when we put out our first record. Fast-forward a year [and] we're now on tour with them, so we really feel like Lamb of God has been vouching for us and we're forever grateful to them," says Janus. "I'm also amazed with Randy Blythe and his vocal abilities, seeing his transformation from early albums to now."
Although Huntress is still fresh on the metal scene, there's little tolerance for a lot of modern metal.
"What I battle every day is mediocrity. I despise the glorification of mediocrity in America and especially in metal bands," says Janus. "To be honest, I don't listen to modern metal, and I don't apologize for it. I listen to the trailblazers, the ones that cleared the way and kept it true."
Killswitch Engage arrived on the metalcore scene about 10 years earlier than Huntress, gaining a significant following with 2004's The End of Heartache. Since then, the band has released six albums, and 2013's Disarm the Descent solidfied its reputation for double bass drum patterns, power chords, and melodic vocals mixed with screams.
Vocalist Howard Jones left in 2012 after nine years, and the band replaced him with original singer Jesse Leach, who sang on the band's first two albums. Killswitch Engage has been touring since this with little to no time off, but the group already is looking to a tour in South Africa in 2014.
"Testament I've only seen once in my entire life and I'm a big fan. I'll probably be on the side of the stage giddy watching them every night," bassist Mike D'Antonio says. "The Lamb of God guys we've known for quite a while. We're excited to see our old friends again. On tour, you really do form great bonds with bands and band members."
It was just a year ago when no one was sure whether Lamb of God had a future. Ironic, considering the band's last album in 2012 was titled Resolution. In 2012, vocalist Randy Blythe was arrested in Prague and faced the possibility of a long-term jail sentence after a 2010 incident in which a 19-year-old man died a month after attending a Lamb of God show in Prague, supposedly from injuries sustained after he was thrown off the stage. Blythe faced up to 10 years in prison and spent several months detained in a Czech jail cell.
"Randy's one of the nicest, most stand-up guys I've ever met," D'Antonio says. "When I first heard about it, I felt terrible. That's a scary thing; the concept of having to go to a Czech prison for a long time.
"For the music, maybe it will be more political? He probably sat there writing 300 songs from the experience. If they gave him a pen."
Since 1990, Lamb of God has released seven studio albums and even received a Grammy nod for 2006's Sacrament. But it's hard to say what material the experience provided Blythe, as the band has been very quiet in the press lately.
Even though Blythe was acquitted of all charges in March 2013 and the band resumed touring quickly thereafter, the mood within the metal community remained somewhat somber. "Very relieved for my dear friend," guitarist Mark Morton wrote on Twitter. "But we still think of Daniel [the dead fan] each and every day. There is nothing about this that can be 'celebrated.'"
Lamb of God plans to enter the studio in 2014 to begin recording its eighth studio album.
Formed in 1983, Testament has remained one of the biggest names in thrash metal for 30 years. Members have come and gone, and the band's touring schedule is relentless. Testament has racked up more than 1.4 million album sales in the United States alone and the 2012 album, Dark Roots of Earth, entered the Billboard 200 at 12, the band's highest position to date in the United States.
"I would say I've gotten more used to touring if anything," says lead guitarist Alex Skolnick, who was in the band from 1983 to 1993, 2001, and now since 2005. "Nowadays you can even stay in touch with people. When we first started touring we didn't have cell phones or the Internet."
In mid-October, Testament released a DVD/live CD.
"A good period of the band is captured, and we have footage from the early days when I was in my teens or early 20s," Skolnick says. "It's a good document of us getting back together years ago and reconnecting. But since then we've done two albums, arena tours, festivals . . . We've really become resurrected during that time."
Surprisingly, Testament and Lamb of God have never toured together. Despite touring with established bands like Judas Priest and Anthrax, Testament hasn't played shows with groups that came later, like Lamb of God and Killswitch Engage.
"Even though there are musically some obvious connections, I think those bands have some very different fan bases," says Skolnick. "And I think some of their fans have heard our name but have never heard us live. So we'll reach out to a lot of new people."
So when it comes to the evolution of the music industry, what does Testament think of the bands following in their footsteps?
"I don't really like to be called an 'elder statesman,' but I can feel comfortable with my experience and respect the bands that are in our present and future. As for us, we are in no way slowing down."
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