The History of Heavy Metal Volume 3: The Golden Age of Thrash: Thrash and Crossover 1983-1991
Rejoice metalheads: the newest entry in The History of Heavy Metal is a deep dive into one of the most beloved subgenres of metal: thrash. The History of Heavy Metal Volume 3: The Golden Age of Thrash: Thrash and Crossover 1983-1991 brings us to a seminal moment in 1983 (if you know, you know; if you don’t read on) and on through the 80’s, while touching on the biggest groups, smaller groups worldwide, and such factions as crossover and prog-thrash. The latest installment is in the same vein as the first two volumes, with entries under each band focused on songs rather than albums as a whole—as I noted in the review of Volume 2: NWoBHM and Beyond, this format is quite helpful for people new to metal, especially in an age of streaming song by song, and also to those metalheads looking for an introduction to bands they’ve overlooked. As the volumes progress they necessarily become more focused, as metal split into subgenres far from its hazily defined early rock origins and the realm of the early 70’s pioneers.
So many styles of music are pioneered by artists that later fall by the wayside. However, thrash as a genre was largely defined by a band that has subsequently become a platinum juggernaut. Metallica dropped Kill ‘Em All in 1983, and metal was never the same. They may be sellouts in the eyes of many, but they are certainly given their due here, reminding those who dismissed them after 1991’s Metallica (or Load, or Lars vs Napster, or Lulu, or any number of supposed transgressions) of not only their importance but just how fucking good those first four albums are. Stranger Things might have you listening to “Master Of Puppets” but zine author Badger will have you understanding its place in musical canon, with modes, tunings and callbacks to Debussy juxtaposed against the sheer pleasure of the music.
The technical aspects of thrash are thus given their due here, and while Badger’s prose never shies from proper terminology it remains accessible for the layperson. Atonality, dissonance and brutality of rhythm come up more than once, as does the physical aspect of thrash. “Most early Metallica riffs aren’t even that difficult, except for the downpicking” I said in a recent conversation, but ‘except for the downpicking’ is doing a lot of heavy lifting there. The stressful action of thrash downpicking requires bodily skill as well as musical, and my own wrists just can’t take it. (Insert jacking-off joke here: we are only following the steps of a thousand 80’s metal dudes.)
Another of the “big four” purveyors of thrash are Slayer, who leaned into the Satanic side of metal and were quite happy to shock their audiences in various ways. Badger pulls no punches on examining their extremely controversial “Angel of Death,” a technical masterpiece which is also a deeply uncomfortable tale about the Holocaust. Rather, in this longest entry in the zine he examines why listeners might enjoy the song, but admits it can be hard to find justification for that enjoyment. Taken as a whole the song is (supposedly) against its subject, but that view of the song requires as Badger puts it, a transmutation of enthusiasm: “it asks that you, the listener, transform the marvelously sickening visceral malice of the song into an equally visceral sickened condemnation of the crimes that it records.” And is that enough? Yes, most listeners (one would hope!) will automatically think ‘Nazis bad.’ But we know that already surely, so even the most sympathetic Slayer fan has to question the point of placing a track about such real life evil in the midst of more fantastical —and certainly glorified—supernatural horrors. My cursory review here is necessarily less in depth compared to the entry in the zine. But it is a credit to Badger that the issue isn’t ignored. These thorny issues arise repeatedly in metal, and will certainly rear their ugly head in further volumes (black metal, I’m looking at you.)
The expected American bands are covered here (Megadeth and Anthrax rounding out the ‘big four’) alongside influential international acts like Voivod (Canada) and Kreator (Germany.) Space is also made for groups who may not be as well known, such as Dorsal Atlantica (Brazil), Massakre (Chile) and Morbid Saint (Wisconsin) and the greats of crossover like Suicidal Tendencies.
Volume 3 is characterized by the same careful research, tight prose, and even occasional humor (calling Bobby Ellsworth of Overkill “the World’s Largest Ham”) as the previous two. Badger seeks to continually improve on the zines (and has rewritten parts of the earlier volumes, which are still available if you haven’t picked those up yet) and includes a small addendum to Volume 2 at then end in this issue. If thrash metal isn’t your thing, you still stand to learn a lot about musical history, and if you prefer a different genre—well, doom metal, death metal, and many more remain.
Find all the volumes of The History of Heavy Metal at Bandcamp here, and get to headbanging.
One of my favorite Bandcamp finds last year wasn’t music, but a delve into one of the greatest musical genres of all. A History of Heavy Metal is a self-published zine series by B.A. Ricciardi, who goes by “Badger” around these parts. It was a serendipitous discovery; since I started here at FTA, I’ve been thinking a lot about music writing. Describing music is always a tightrope between a press-release or an op-ed, and that goes double for longform. In an overview like this, what separates compelling history from simple, encyclopedic entries, or an overly personal list?
Badger seems to have found the perfect formula, melding necessary information with heartfelt musing about what makes metal so fucking good. The recently-released second volume, NWoBHM and Beyond: The 80’s Metal Explosion, tackles the coalescing of metal into something more definable than the often-scattered hard rock of the 70’s. (For the uninitiated, NWoBHM stands for ‘New Wave of British Heavy Metal’, and includes such bands as Iron Maiden, Venom, and Saxon.) All the greats are here, but the reach is far wider than Britain in scope, and many other artists are brought out into the light (including some lesser known female-fronted acts of the era, as well as bands from Japan and South Korea.)
The format of both volumes so far is a short introductory piece — which here includes an aside on the polarizing and impossible to ignore phenomenon of 80’s hair metal — followed by a walk through the music itself. Bands get an introductory blurb (length depending on how high their influence looms) after which a selection of tracks are given their due. The focus on songs rather than albums as a monolithic whole is really a boon to those descending into unfamiliar territory, especially in this day and age of streaming. That’s not to say the impact of historic albums is neglected, just that acts such as Mythra (1*) and Trespass, who never released a full LP, are given a fair shake, and bands with a larger output don’t take up so much space we tire of them.
NWoBHM is not my bread and butter, so unlike the first volume, where I knew (nearly) every act, this volume brought me a number of new entries for my playlist. And of course, choice is a form of editorializing. But I maintain that any good overview of a genre like this can and should never be complete, and will immediately invite the reader to shout into the void about what was left out, because otherwise what you have is an anodyne encyclopedia. As Badger wisely states, “I always make an attempt to be fair, but I never make an attempt to be neutral.” Why write about music on anything but a wiki if you don’t want to include your own opinion? And so I find myself shaking my head that Sabbrabells aren’t here with the other Japanese metal bands, and vowing to fight Badger in a Denny’s parking lot over Motley Crue. (Too Fast For Love is a masterpiece. 2*) And honestly, that’s a plus in my book, as “this is still a History of Heavy Metal, and not a list of every good metal song that ever came out.”
The writing doesn’t shy away from technicalities when necessary (I’m sure some people will have to look up ‘ostinato’) but it’s couched in fairly colloquial speech, so it never feels like reading a textbook; rather, it’s almost as if Badger himself is right there, extolling the virtues of metal with a gleam in his eye. Like a lot of great metal music, NWoBHM and Beyond mostly takes itself seriously, but knows when to poke fun at itself and when to just have fun. From waxing poetic on Dio’s relative lack of poetry, to an extended paean to X-Japan’s “Art of Life,” the text is both straightforward and intricate, like the best metal songs: riffs and elaboration.
NWoBHM and Beyond: The 80’s Metal Explosion is available in A5 zine format, at 64 pages long. Both volumes of A History of Heavy Metal can be found at Heavy Metal Handbook on Bandcamp, with volumes three and four, on thrash and death metal, respectively, to be released in the future.
Fucking thank you for introducing me to this EP:
2. Note I’m not claiming this is heavy metal, just that it’s good
Keith Haring is, and always has been, an icon. There is no other way to describe him. It’s hard for me to think of him at times without getting very emotional about his immense talent and life, and what the world lost when he died of AIDS related complications in 1990. It also particularly hurts because if only he’d lived just a little longer, the treatments and drug cocktails that saved so many people’s lives started to get better and more stable just a few years after he died and he might have survived had he been able to get that treatment.
While I certainly knew what AIDS was as a child in the 1980s, I knew it more as this scary nebulous monster that came to “get” people; I didn’t know that so much of what was actually “getting” people was ignorance from blatant homophobia and racism informing baseless fears and gross government and medical inaction. I was too young to fully understand what was happening during that era, but when I got older, I learned the full story and ever since my heart has remained absolutely broken for every early victim of the AIDS pandemic. So many vibrant souls who might have been saved had the medical establishment and the Reagan government valued their lives and treated them with dignity. If the people in power at the time had taken things even 10% more seriously Keith Haring, and tens of thousands of others who were not celebrities, might still be here today had they gotten the treatment and medical care they so desperately needed and deserved.
While Haring may be gone for over three decades now, he has been a constant presence in pop culture regardless, and to me at least, it feels like he never truly went away. I recognize that may also because I have been deeply connected to the queer world my entire adult life and he remains even more of an icon in that realm, an important would be elder that so many of us still acutely feel the loss of today. Along with his staying power in the queer world, he still is found all over in mainstream culture as well and his style is as fresh and familiar as it was 40 years ago when he was first bursting onto the art scene in New York City. His work still regularly adorns items from t shirts to toys, pillows to Polaroid cameras, and I often see Gen Z aged folks who were born a decade or more after his death wearing shirts and other items with his art.
That being said, I find an odd disconnect sometimes, as many people my age and older recognize Haring’s art but don’t know his name since it’s not a household name these days. And for the young adults a generation or more behind me, they recognize it too but assume it’s just a “brand” (which I suppose it is but certainly not in the 2021 context of a “brand”). The common thread is both these groups often can’t connect the art and the name when I mention Keith Haring without one of his works visible. I always respond to this with “no you KNOW him, trust me” and then Google something for them to look at. I just said this very thing to my brother when I mentioned I would be traveling to see this show with our mom; He didn’t recognize the name but he immediately recognized the work and smiled when I showed him a picture- that is the staying power Haring’s art has had on people’s psyches, you see it and just KNOW.
The whole point of this exhibit is to address this disconnect and introduce and familiarize a new generation with his work, or in the case of middle aged guys like my brother, to reacquaint them. As per the museum’s website: Fenimore Art Museum celebrates both the icon and his iconography in Keith Haring: Radiant Vision, a premier exhibition that introduces a new generation to Haring. Featuring an extensive collection of lithographs, silkscreens, drawings on paper, and posters, the exhibition describes the full arc of Haring’s short but prolific career. Visitors will instantly recognize seminal images like “Radiant Baby”—images that permeated American culture in the 1980s, became emblematic of the time, and are powerful examples of how Haring fought for change, using art as a platform for activism. The exhibition features over 100 works from a private collection working in tandem with the Fenimore as a tribute to this iconic artist and his dedication to social justice and the betterment of youth worldwide.
The exhibit was a mixture of work he personally created, as well as some silk screen prints that were dated 1990 and 1993 which while it was not made clear, I assumed were made by authorized printers instead of by Haring himself. This obviously was the case for the prints dated to 1993 but I also assume that the 1990 prints were also created in this manner as he died in February of 1990 and was in the hospital for the final weeks of his life. I was also very excited to see some of his pencil drawings and particularly one his very early subway chalk drawings which date to the early 1980s; I had never seen any of these in person before. A few of the commercial advertising pieces he did I had never seen either, such as his collaboration with Richard Avedon featuring Brooke Shields. Of course it was also a delight to see large silk screened prints of the Radiant Baby and Three Eyed Smiling Face, even if they were likely not personally printed by Haring, they are still impressive to see up close. Those images are among his very best known, iconic images of the 1980s which are such a clear memories from my childhood; I really can’t remember a time in my life when I was not conscious of them.
As mentioned, I do get very emotional at times when thinking about Keith Haring- his beautiful life and his tragic early death- and I did get a little overcome when first sitting down to type this up. But I found that when I was in the room with his work, I felt no sadness at all. Being amongst his work and his energy- because I did feel it there- I felt nothing buy joy and happiness which perhaps is the greatest gift he gave to the world, not just his art, but the joy that came with it. The staying power he has had is incredible and I hope many more generations continue to see his work and know more about his remarkable life and career. His light will always live on and radiate into the ether as long as new generations experience all he had to offer.
Keith Haring’s official website features hundreds of images of his work sorted by year from 1979-1990, as well as extensive biographical and exhibit information and Haring in his own words.
Scroll down to see photos from the exhibit (all artwork copyright The Keith Haring Foundation; included photographic images copyright the individual photographers; photos of this exhibit by Kate Hoos).
DIY comes in all forms, street art being one of the purest forms of it really, a visceral non digital form of social media* letting passersby into a secret world contained in the mind of the artist who created the work (*social media actually being an ancient concept dating to the days of cave paintings). I’m always happy to look into that secret world be it through finding random tags on the street or by going to a more formally organized event showing off works by street artists made on canvas, paper, and other mediums. And that is exactly what “Take Back The Alley” was, yes a formally organized event, but absolutely a DIY affair which saw a small alley space in Ridgewood, Queens transformed into a gallery for an afternoon to showcase artists who create both in the streets and outside of that context.
Participating artists included HISS, Big Cutlery, Trashy Dreams, Stoic Mortuorum (which is the creation of Spite Fuxxx drummer Alex), Imamaker, Sarofoxx, Brad M Bailey, and more. In addition to the work on display that was for sale, many of the artists also had sticker packs, zines, and other small works available. The best way to support artists and the arts in general is to purchase directly from them whenever possible, so I was glad to be able to pick up a few things to bring home and decorate FTA headquarters with. It was a little crowded- but no complaints from me because I always love seeing folks enjoying art- so I didn’t get to snap as many pictures overall as I would have liked, but I got a few to share below because I made sure to at least catch pics all of my favorites before I left.
While my favorite way to interact with art is to find it randomly on the street in my travels, social media (of the modern digital variety) makes it a lot easier to keep up with everything these days, including what street artists are up to and to actively support them when I’m able to. With that in mind, I absolutely will keep looking for things in my daily travels but I will also keep my eyes on what all of the participating artists In this show get up to and head out to their other shows whenever I have the opportunity to go. I love to support the arts and strive to do so any time, and in any way I can. And you should too.
Scroll down for pics of the show (photos by Kate Hoos. All art by the individual creators)
BRAD M BAILEY
I’m unsure who the artist was for this but I loved the idea of a sticker pack in a gumball machine
Full Time Aesthetic is a music blog! Yay music blog! I love writing about and featuring music but there are also other things that I’m interested in that are maybe not music, but perhaps more music adjacent… or at least things that music fans would be likely to appreciate. And that being the case, I thought I’d add a section to the blog to feature some of that stuff- art, street art, books, movies/documentaries, record/book shops and things of the like that I find along the way in my travels or any of the other staff members in turn find in theirs. Vegan pizza place reviews are also a very distinct possibility.
I do hereby also solemnly swear that I will NOT turn this into a train/railfan/abandoned building/urbex blog. Friends and my social media followers know this is another nerdy pursuit of mine, but it is a whole other thing unto itself so I will keep it relegated to it’s own feed and my personal page…though perhaps occasionally there might be a picture or two of that if it seems fitting (or if I finally manage to throw a show on top of a particular abandoned train trestle I have had my eyes on…). That being said, I can’t promise my not so secret wish of ALSO writing reviews about weird/regional/off brand soda won’t find it’s way here because I really think that it might…as I’ve said before on FTA, UP THE SOBER SODA PUNX!
Stay tuned because more art etc happenings to be posted here soon. As always, feel free to send suggestions on things you’d like to see here or things you think we should check out, we are always on the lookout for the good stuff.