A new generation of local rockers embraces the heavy metal sound
Thursday, November 8, 2001
"You know," he says absently, his eyes searching the barroom. "I think metal has its time, it just comes back for about two years whenever other music sucks."
In one corner of the bar sits a monolithic pile of instruments and guitar amps. Beside it, a group of band members--seemingly dragged out of an era when Ozzy Osborne ruled the world and music was as twisted as it wanted to be--rifle through the pile, setting up their equipment for another evening of blistering metal rock.
A dense crowd swarms into the bar that evening. One girl in tight pants staggers in wearing an extra-small Legion Victorious shirt and a sweet smile, followed by a tribe of people dressed in black, wrapped in chains and sporting plenty of attitude. For the audience, it''s fashion show a la Rob Zombie. For the members of Liquid 8, Legion Victorious and other local metal bands, it''s part of a lifestyle that never went out of vogue.
Some of the people who have shown up for tonight''s concert have no idea what is about to befall the room. They look onstage at a huge black drum kit, the individual drums curved like horns, like old-fashioned blunderbusses pointed at the audience. Matt Omera, the drummer for Legion Victorious, walks around the kit placing his cymbals and checking their placement as carefully as a soldier inspects his weapon.
Omera''s hair reaches past his belt line and runs over a face that is fiercely animated and intense. Gator Collier, the bass player and singer for LV, sits watching the room like a hawk. His intensely sinister gaze is framed by a long Viking beard and flowing hair. Even before they begin to make music, their appearance makes a vaguely aggressive statement. A few days prior to the gig, Paul Hastey, lead singer for Liquid 8, was working on a poster for the bands'' joint show. He chuckled while trying to explain his compatriots: "I think Legion Victorious has sold their souls."
The 37-year-old Hastey now stands behind a soundboard and a light display. He watches the members of Legion Victorious while they set up and makes sure the opening bands have everything under control. His bush of spiked, fiery-red hair glows in stark contrast to the rest of the denizens in the room. Here''s a group of people old enough to remember the first time metal had its day. Now they''ve come back in a state of perfect preservation--long, mangled hair and musty, stained Judas Priest and Black Sabbath shirts--but with a little more experience around the eyes and the belly. Paul Hastey looks like a punk caught in a speed-metal medium--not that he cares.
"We''re not metal," Hastey says of Liquid 8. "I call it ''whatever the fuck comes out of our head.'' ''Metal'' seems so cliche, it seems like a hair band or something."
As about 20 disheveled, long-haired headbangers shuffle past him, Hastey flicks on the board and the intensity of the room builds as people move to stand right up in front of the stage. Among those nearest to the edge are some members of Liquid 8, standing to watch while their friends perform a set. The rest of Liquid 8, including bass player/band manager Don Frank, stand next to Hastey and gauge the room with encompassing gazes.
Then the room explodes in sound as Legion Victorious begins its set without warning.
A grinding scream tumbles off the stage and into the audience like a sonic cannonball. Gator Collier growls rather than sings into the microphone while his hands jump across the fret board of his bass. Guitarists Jeff Drew and Mica Meneke hang their hair down across their eyes and toss it in frenzied fashion. Matt Omera''s odd-shaped drums send percussion blasting into the audience. The room goes nuts, a mosh-pit forms, and amid the anger and a rising feeling that you want to move, or run, or get laid, there''s gentler emotion, one that seems out of place. Along with all the harsher passions there is also a certain nostalgia. At first it seems incongruent but, despite the music''s hard exterior, at its heart it''s just like any other music, capable of snaring listeners and performers alike with sentimental memories of youthful exploits and experiences.
Rebirth of Death Rock
If the roots of the metal movement in the Monterey scene dig deep through years of solitary practice in bedrooms and in squalid hangouts, the rebirth of the music, according to at least one theory, occurred in a small record store at the dawn of the new millennium.
On New Year''s Eve, 1999, Starz (now Ocean Thunder) was dead, and the only hope for finding one last adventure in 1999 seemed to resonate from the interior of a closed shop two doors away that was littered with record bins and old rock memorabilia. At Vinyl Revolution, a blaring wave of music was rattling the shop''s windows and shaking the posters pasted on the walls.
Inside, owner Bob Gamber had set up his drums atop a faded Indian rug. Beside him stood Angelo Tringali, a slightly younger man with a lacquered brown Gibson SG.
Gamber''s longish graying beard and even longer hair attest to years of bucking neatly trimmed professionalism in favor of sticking with the persona he has created for himself. He is an elder among the young kings of the new metal scene in Monterey. On this night, Tringali and Gamber were playing the heaviest songs I had heard in Monterey up to that time. The music poured out like molten steel, and by the time the New Year was ready to begin, two other adventurers and I had listened in reverence to a hard and different voice from the Monterey scene. Little could one guess at the importance of this moment to the future.
In the last Metal wave, during the late ''80s, Tringali performed with the group Cold Mourning, with whom he still plays. He would shortly become a central character in the current scene when he hooked up with Lance Thompson and a few other merry men and founded the band Red Light Nightmare.
Last year, Red Light Nightmare played at the Rock & Art Festival in July. They followed that gig with repeated performances at Viva and Long Bar, picking up a growing army of local fans. Playing on a non-paid basis may have seemed like a bad career move, but it lent credence to the band''s claim of passion to rock any crowd.
The band was made up of guys who met at the great open-mic jams at the old Starz bar. The singer was Lance Thompson, a maniac with huge yellow glasses, a frosty blond pate, and a voice that could cut through Plexiglas. Rick Ramirez--a heavyset Latino with a rainbow-colored mohawk and a mean countenance--played rhythm guitar, while Angelo Tringali, clutching the same brown SG and sporting the same long black hair, played lead. Bassist Aaron Thomas, a one-time hero among the late-''80s crowd, and drummer Gnibus punched out a rhythm dubbed as Power-Rage. To top it all off the band came with Lucy, a beautiful go-go dancer in thigh-high boots.
Red Light Nightmare tapped a market as yet unexplored by local clubs, and the fans started pouring in night after night when the band played.
"We are just having fun and playing songs we loved to listen to," guitarist Ramirez muses. "It''s strange to think that all these people wanted to come out to see us."
Lance Thompson was--and is--the focal point. Offstage, he''s the kind of guy who''ll stare wild-eyed at someone until they either laugh or duck. His extensive knowledge of all kinds of strange music lends to him a kind of brilliance, a consciousness that makes it seem that he thinks everything else in the world is just cheesy and cliche.
"Socialism is dead," is what he shouts out of his big white van every time he drives by.
At first the band stuck with traditional covers of AC/DC and other thrashing metal groups of the past, only to find themselves creating their own sound in a way that to this day still finds a niche. They opened the door, shedding light on a whole new pathway in the Monterey music scene; metal with all the crazy guitar licks, but with the bollocks-to-you attitude of punk rock.
The size of the hard-drinking crowds that showed up for RLN''s shows made an impression on the club owners, paving the way for a slew of other metal bands to find bookings throughout the Peninsula. Now, during any given week, metal heads are likely to find their kind of music being played live.
For the musicians, the sudden upswing in metal''s popularity--following years in which the music languished unheard--has led to an unusual camaraderie.
"The other local bands we see around here seem to compete," Liquid 8''s Hastey said one evening, standing behind a pool table. "With us it is more of a growing process for all of the bands. Anyone that didn''t help any of the bands we play with can go fuck themselves--we''re here to build a scene."
The tribal spirit that inspires bands like Liquid 8 and Legion Victorious seems to extend itself wholly into everyday life. The guys in both bands talk about the other group as a unit. Instead of individualizing members you''ll hear, "Legion did this," or "Liquid did that," signifying the close relationship between the bands.
At the beginning of a set, band members of LV or Liquid can be found mingling right at the front of a crowd, urging the performing group on. This strange connection extends not only between Liquid 8 and Legion Victorious but to any group performing with them, like younger metal-influenced groups like Driven, Death Metal Lords and Relapse.
Maybe the music''s popularity will last for only a moment, but the musicians in these bands could care less--their heavy-thrashing lifestyle is as much an integral part of them as it is a lifestyle.
A Black-Clad Brotherhood
Biography books talk about how musical greats of the past hunched over radios and record players listening to rockabilly and blues. For groups like Legion Victorious, this is also true. But their musical muses were AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Slayer...the list goes on.
Most of Legion Victorious came of out Carmel Valley. Gator Collier, Jeff Drew, and Mica Meneke were all friends running around together since their earliest ages. Their fanatic love of metal caught them early, and, like all mystical events, it seeped into their blood.
From 1996 until 1998, Legion Victorious was playing regularly at MPC. They didn''t have a drummer but they had a maniacal will to make music. In 1998, Matt Omera entered the picture with his black Tama drums.
"He''s the only one in the area that will work for us," Gator Collier says over a game of pool. Off in a corner, Omera shrugs off the backhanded compliment with a grin.
Liquid 8''s brother-act, guitarist Robert Gonzalez and drummer Tony Gonzalez, were influenced by a different kind of music: their father was a blues player in Los Angeles and Riverside.
"Our father was pretty strict," Robert Gonzalez says. "If you got less than a B-average in school, he would stick us in the house--with nothing to do but play instruments. So Tony got a lot of practice in when he was younger."
Even with their father''s influence, the brothers learned complete albums of Judas Priest and Black Sabbath at a very young age.
"I would call what we do just heavy music," Robert says. "In general it is something we relate to on an emotional level."
When it came time to form their own band, things came together with an ease that some would call fate. "We gelled pretty quickly I think," says Robert. "It started in our living room, where we could rehearse, in downtown Monterey."
But according to bass player Don Frank, it was the arrival of singer Paul Hastey that propelled the band to new heights.
"Paul came in and really kicked our ass," says Frank.
Hastey will tell you that the best album in the world is Iron Butterfly''s In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. He''ll also tell you that playing cover tunes just sucks--he prefers doing his own songs, like "Pain" and "In My Head"--songs which, he says, are "not about being happy."
Even so, this is music that calls for action.
"The music moves you," Hastey says. "You just can''t sit there and do nothing."
"Having a good time has a lot to do with it," says Gator Collier. It is definitely finding an audience.
"There is a huge longing for a metal scene," Collier says. His bandmate, Mica Meneke, puts it more bluntly. "They''re crawling out of the rocks, trees, and every other fucking crawl space out there."
Looking out across the floor of Ocean Thunder, it would seem that Collier, Meneke and Hastey are right. A sea of people crowd the floor and gather outside along the back patio in small groups bobbing and shaking to the reverberating, structural-integrity-test that Legion Victorious is giving the club. And they''re all having fun.
As Legion Victorious slices through the end of their set, Don Frank stands next to Hastey at the soundboard. The amps and PA seem aimed directly at the two men, as they make sure everything goes as planned.
Onstage, Gator Collier growls "Thhhaaank Youuu" into the microphone with dark, almost comic fury. Then the entire room breaks apart to allow the band to extract their truckload of gear.
The Brothers Gonzalez circle around from where they were standing right in front of the stage, preparing to set up their instruments. Robert plugs in his Epiphone Les Paul (complete with Carvin pick-ups that were hand-calibrated for tone by his father). Drummer Tony sets up his Pearl drum kit.
The group takes a short break for a chat onstage, and then after a small bit of scratching and some rough talking to the audience, they launch into a set of original songs.
By this time, Legion Victorious has finished loading the equipment and has taken its place in front of the stage and at the sound-and-light controls where members of Liquid 8 had been stationed. Members of the opening bands, Relapse and Driven, are there, too, shouting and mock-dancing, celebrating what their friends have brought to the show. Outside, on the back patio, sit Angelo Tringali and Rick Ramirez, listening to music fresh from the veins of old rockers who still have something to say.
In a world where the scene is surreal, it seems the bands and the audiences that come to see them will find solace in the screaming, distorted mayhem we all know as Heavy Metal. But despite its raucous, rowdy exterior, there''s something else, too. It''s almost like a family reunion, or a gathering of clans.
"No one is better than anyone else," says someone in the audience. "It''s just about playing music."