Monday, February 2, 2009

Metal Archeology: Artifacts of a lifetime devoted to metal (Part 1)

Just as archeology draws upon the fields of history, anthropology, linguistics and paleontology, metal archeology draws from other sources...mostly old Wild Rags catalogs. How else can you perform accurate carbon dating on my Gammacide 12"?

Just as archeologists carefully dig through piles of rubble in search of artifacts that can give us further information about previous societies, I too have chosen to dig through my own personal rubble in search of answers and artifacts. After what has been nearly a lifelong commitment to metal (in one way or another), I have accumulated assorted artifacts which bring back memories of the past. I have discussed my homemade Morbid Angel shirt, my autographed Obituary drumsticks, my guitar pick collection and other items from my past in previous posts. I shall now continue in that direction, aiming to dig deep into my past (a sometimes embarrassing past) in order to make sense of just who I was at the time. Part archeology dig, part psychotherapy session, I hope this series of ongoing posts will prove to be both insightful and therapeutic to our devoted readers. I shall call this new science: Metal Archeology. Let's get started.

The autographed Impetigo Picture

What an insanely fashionable bunch. "Violate caskets"? Uh...okay.
Notice Stevo's variation on the "holding a grapefuit" pose...apparently the grapefruit he's holding is super heavy.

While at my brother's home only weeks ago I saw a small pile of metal rubble which, to a metal archeologist like me, seemed like an unmistakable sign that amazing finds could lay within its depths. I asked permission to go through the pile, and was quickly rewarded with the item you see above, a picture of Impetigo signed by Mark, and dedicated to my brother. As quickly as I found the picture, the memories began pouring in.

It was a very different time back then. The early 90s (for those of us involved in underground metal culture) was a time largely spent "doing mail", as we called it then. At the risk of sounding like a grandpa, there was no email then, or inexpensive ways to call long distance. As a result of this, all communication was done via mail, and if you were involved in a band, distro, zine or booking shows, you ended up doing significant amounts of mail. In the early 90s, it was primarily my brother who would spend entire Saturdays "doing mail." I did my fair amount of writing, mostly trading death metal videos with other weirdos like Pat from Hellwitch. Doing mail on Saturday, meant going through the envelopes and packages that had arrived all week, and fulfilling orders, answering letters and the like. Out of the suburban basement that we shared at our parents house, we ran what I guess you could call a label, and a distro, as well as a video 'zine, a band, and several awful side projects. We also began to book shows at some point, and did a weekly radio for nearly a decade. These were mostly my brother's projects, in which I played a secondary role. All these projects combined meant a substantial amount of mail was constantly pouring in, filled with all kinds of demos for trade, free shirts, and the occasional box of free CD's and 7" records from Wild Rags (as a result of me being in what today would be referred to as their street team.)

I would often find myself on Saturdays dubbing hours and hours worth of concert footage in order to trade a video with some dude in Ecuador, or Greece. My video list was extensive, and had a few choice pieces that were consistently requested by all kinds of people who sent me their video lists on an almost weekly basis.

When people say that a certain musical scene felt more tightly knit at an earlier time, I usually cringe...but in retrospect it may have been true. We didn't know any of the people we wrote to, so perhaps "tight" is not the right way to put it, but the sheer amount of time and effort that you had to invest into any project always ended up consuming a substantial amount of your days. In case you're wondering, all of our efforts (however awful they were) mostly revolved around the underground death metal and the noise/grindcore scenes of the day. Few, if any, of these bands had any vinyl out, and certainly no CDs. The only acceptable format was cassette. In the case of noise bands, all the official releases were dubbed onto TDK 60 minute tapes, along with cheap, photocopied covers.

See, like any real metal fans back then, we concentrated our efforts primarily around unsigned bands whose demos we would get in the mail. Along with the demos, flier trading was common and popular. As such, we would often send individuals as many as a hundred fliers for our radio show, which they would then send out in each package and letter they sent out to other people all over the world. It was this way that bands from Turkey and Sweden would end up sending us their records and tapes so they could be played in a station they would never hear. If anyone was heavily into trading back then, you'll probably remember that the band Phantasm easily had the most fliers in circulation. Those guys must have all worked at Kinkos or something.

It was in this climate that my brother and I would often befriend (if only by mail) members of bands that we loved, such as Impetigo. I'm not sure how the correspondence with Impetigo began, perhaps my brother can clarify, but I'm sure it was something like us buying their VHS video through the mail, or them sending us music to be played on the radio show. Either way, Mark from Impetigo's letters and packages became a fixture in our mailbox. I distinctly remember him being the first person I knew who asked for his stamps back whenever you wrote him. At first, I didn't understand why he would want his stamps back, but quickly realized that he was coating them with a thin film of Elmer's glue or soap, making the ink of the post office's rubber stamp come off with water, thus making them usable once again. My brother and I quickly adapted the trick ourselves, making our budget for stamps and postage suddenly become much lower. As a result of this latest trick, our small basement bathroom sink was usually filled with water, in which stamps were left to soak in order to be reused. I distinctly remember our hand towel (which hung under our Order From Chaos poster) being used for endless rows of stamps that were left to dry by the sink.

It was in one of these exchanges of mail with Mark from Impetigo that he sent the picture to my brother.

The picture hung above my brother's desk for many years, the desk where he would sit for hours on Saturday mornings and afternoons to "do mail."


  1. You should put all of this stuff together and write a book. A personal history of late 80's/ early 90's death metal scene.

  2. I'm still in contact with Mark; extremely nice guy. I've always thought John Tardy was a cool guy, but I'm sure you have another story to tell on that. Other than that, the majority of the other people I've encountered weren't the brightest. I remember getting "called out" via an e-mail from the guitarist of some shitty Cleveland death metal band. He replied asking me if I was still going to buy his CD and I made up an excuse that my girlfriend was tired of music like that (I didn't even have a girlfriend at the time). Being anything but metal, I was too polite to say, "Your band sucks and I'd rather have twelve dollars than the three dollars and eighteen cents Record Exchange will offer when I go there the day after I received your album in the mail."

    Aside from the Deathrage letter, have any of the Metal Inquisition received any "threatening" or unrealistically inane letters?

    Whenever I opened a package, I'd always bring a garbage can with me. Those fliers were annoying as hell and I never re-mailed them.

    By the way, if you're going to keep rummaging through your metal artifacts, then you might as well post that picture of Danzig and you. Don't think we readers have forgotten that. ;)

  3. i recall all the labor and time consumption as well! even then, it seemed there must be better methods yet to be created, to solve all the labor of mail order.

    i recall richard from wild rags always sending me stuff i didn't request, 'cause he was out of stock (or didnt have what was claimed).

    pat had a huge video list!!...thats where i got this footage of trey screwing up solos backstage high on cocaine. haha. dont get me wrong that dude is great..just not when he's strung out

  4. Hey Zach...
    The guy who you refer to as some guitarist in some shitty Cleveland death metal band wouldnt be Duane Morris who played in every kind of band depending on what the current trend was?
    What a fucking self-important douche, and all the bands he played in were generic whether it was Decrepit or From The Depths!
    Another dude who was so obsessed with showing you how metal and underground he could be!
    How fucking lame...
    Anyways, fuck that guy!

  5. Brilliant, posting. Not only am I an actual field archaeologist (read my blog if you don't believe me...), but I was also heavily involved in the underground Metal scene in the early nineties.

    For me it was more Black Metal than Death Metal, but the principles were the same. Being in a band and a tape trader I would spend many hours doing mail just to get those traded tapes. I would be sitting for hours listening to my bands demo as I recorded it for the millionth time that day. But I think it was great, it was a real community (even though I never met the others in the comunity...), a dynamic time which we will never have back thanks to the likes of Myspace.

    Back then it took effort to release your own stuff and to get hold of albums and demos, so they were somehow more precious. Nowadays any Douche can upload their shit onto myspaz and have a thousand Emo fuckers self harming themselves to it within hours. It makes me sad for the underground.

  6. Great post. Makes me wish I had been more involved with tape trading and writing than I was at the time.

  7. BloodofChrisLee,

    No, it wasn't Duane Morris; it was the guitarist from Dislimb or one of those countless shitty death metal bands from Cleveland.

    I remember buying a few Decrepit CDs from Duane Morris before. He included some stuff I didn't want like a CD-r of the Funeral Pyre songs and the From the Depths' CD. I'm not going to complain because they were free, but they were free for a reason. That From the Depths album is one of the worst records I've ever heard.

    Now that I think about it, I traded in those Decrepit CDs the second week after I got them. The whole Cleveland scene sucks.

  8. Thanx for all these emails, no internet, just tape trading, self addressed envelopes and international reply coupons.
    I still, to these day, wonder what "IRCs" are. Same goes for the postal employees of my little village!

  9. how did lonn friend end up in the impetigo photo?

  10. The guy on the far left looks like a young Jerry Garcia.

  11. IRC's oh my god. the memories.

    regarding dubbing brother and i wore out our panasonic dual deck boombox. the play and record heads on both decks died about two years after we bought the thing...all from dubbing so many demos. they were so worn out that they couldnt play anymore. ha haaa!

    regarding the picture of me and danzig...yes, you are correct. i will post it. i must. i'm also glad you remember the threatening letter i got from Robrt Deathrage...i wish i still had that one. I did recently uncover some real gems from my pas, which i will be posting in months to come. stay tuned.

  12. oh my god! lonn friend! how did i not see that! he also looks a whole lot like my uncle, but none of you know its meaningless, but its true.

  13. 1. i remember when i first went to your house. i was nervous because i thought you might be posers, but then i went pee and said "wow, an order from chaos poster in the bathroom?? these kids ARE legit!"

    2. internal bleeding had a lot of fucking fliers out as well.

  14. 3. i lived in cleveland in the late 90s. maybe in retrospect it was shitty, but i had a LOT of fun at those death metal shows back then- nunslaughter, decrepit, embalmer, odious sanction, etc. super fun times and i think a lot of those bands hold up pretty well today!

    4. at the risk of sounding incredibly cheesy, the sense of community really isn't the same anymore (although honestly the comments on this blog come close at times). it just takes a lot less commitment to find the bands and stuff online, which is a good thing in many ways but means that its easier for kids to come and go than it was back then.

  15. The inside door of my closet is full of Wild Rags fliers, concert tickets and other death metal memorabilia. I locked all my past in that closet...I also used the same trick as Mark to re-use stamps!
    I think that all the memories we're sharing exist thanks to this great amount of paper.
    Now the scene is all about MySpace pages, if internet one day collapses, nothing shall remain.

  16. Sergeant D, I completely agree what you say about community. I've been saying it for years. OK so maybe I never met most of the people I traded with but that didn't make them any less friends. It was a good way to get to know people outside of my shitty village, it was good to know there were others like me that had similar interests.

    I think we were all much more committed to the music back then. Maybe it was because we all had more free time as youngsters, maybe it was because we all felt as though we were part of something. I think it was the sense of elitism as well, we were all part of something small only a few people knew about.

    I'm not one to try to stop progress with Myspace (Hell, I use it myself, but can't help thinking that kids today are missing out on something that will never come back and was most definitely a sign of those times.

    Taking my Ninja Metal band as an example (It's a joke band BTW before you start giving me grief), it's been heard all over the world by more people in a shorter time than either of my two BM bands did in the early 90s. That is a good thing about Myspace and it was done with far less effort than the promotion of my previous bands. But I still feel lucky to have been part of that trading scene back then.

    IRCs. I'd forgotten all about those. 'Send $5 or a tape and 2 IRC´s'

  17. Great post once again, made me remember my tape trading days as well. I never got stuff from bands directly, and I traded only copied official releases rather than demos, videos (even during the height of my metal years I thought that nearly all metal videos sucked big time) or bootlegs, it was a lot of fun and saved a lot of money as well. If you saw someone wearing a band shirt back then, sooner or later you ended up talking to him to see if you can get some stuff copied from him, even if the person turned out to be a dick. Good times.
    PS Lucho, I totally agree with dymon. If you are thinking about publishing your "Metal Memoirs" one day, I would buy them. For real!

  18. alex, you nailed it. nothing wrong with change. i'm glad young kids can communicate so readily and find out about bands from all over the world easily. good for them. still, and i'm open to the fact that this is just nostalgia on my part, i miss those days. maybe because i miss my youth. there is something to be said, and i don't think this can be debated, that pretty much everyone who was involved in metal back then had to work so hard to be into it....that all of us were pretty die-hard. i'm sure lots of kids getting into music today are too...but its easier to be a casual listener today. back then, at least with more underground bands, you had to work hard at it just to get their tape. as such, you ended up giving so much time and effort into it. that singular focus is part of youth i suppose, but was certainly more common then. i understand how things work today, but like so many others...i miss the way things were for me.

  19. i don't miss being a friendless weirdo, though! it was fun to be so dedicated and absorbed in something, but it wasn't fun to feel like an alien and not know a single person in your hometown that was into this thing that consumed your every waking moment.

    so when i get nostalgic for "the old days," i try to remember how miserable it was for me to spend saturday nights alone in my dad's basement, playing Super Metroid with the sound off and jamming side b of "scum" over and over again while i was imagining how much fun the popular kids were having. yuck, don't miss THAT one bit!

  20. Ben and Mason, you're both wrong... It's not Lonn Friend or a young Jerry Garcia.
    Eric Clapton did a brief stint with Impetigo in the late-80's and early-90's. Little known fact, but 100% true.
    The recording sessions for "Ultimo Mondo Cannibale" were the actual inspiration for "Tears In Heaven", not the death of his son as is commonly assumed.
    Strange, but true.

  21. You have also hit the nail on the head there Lucho. This is what I meant about that precious (insert underground band name here) CD, LP or demo, that we coveted in our youths. It was so difficult to get hold of it in the first place that it became an item of far more importance than it would today.

    I am still very much into underground Black Metal, and the CDs are far more readily available now because of the tinterweb. Also the cost of producing CDs has dropped considerably allowing for many more to be put by small labels. Also my buying power has increased thanks to being employed. I think all these factors go a long way to the difference in the attitude I have to music now.

    Gone are the days when I would sit on my bed listening to the latest (Insert band name) LP, with the cover in my hands, absorbing the artwork and the lyrics until they were memorized. Now I find it a struggle to remember song titles and album names, never mind full lyrics.

    Don't get me wrong, I still love muic and am a record collector (I recently paid 80 pounds for a Burzum Demo Cassette the other day...), but I find that music is starting to become background music to my life rather than the be all and end all. I miss that drive and vision I had as a kid but there is no way on Earth I could fit in all that effort in my life now.

    And Sergeant D, I don't miss being the weirdo, maybe that was something to do with being into misanthropic Black Metal... Ha ha ha!

  22. PS, I'm sorry to keep posting long messages on this blog, but this is something I thought only I had an opinion about. That's the power of the tinterweb right there...

  23. Sergeant D, I don't miss those days, too, but in a certain way I still enjoy all these alienating experiences.
    Misery has a morbid charm, I think.

  24. alex, long is good!

    (thats what she said)

  25. What? Nobody else ever used rubbing alcohol to remove ink off of stamps. Usually not as effective the elmer's method but you don't have to wait for somebody to send yours back.

  26. I had the phantasm demo.My letter got printed in metal maniacs and i got a million tapes and flyers out of that.Good times

  27. That Impetigo picture is great. BrOOtal goregrind is all fun and games until Dad joins the band.

    I was also involved in zine publishing and tape trading from 1987 until about 1996 or so, though for me it was more punk rock than metal. I love and appreciate the power of the interwebs to bring us all kinds of old, obscure music (mp3 blogs are the new used record store), but I do miss the personal touch - actually writing letters, pasting up the 'zine and going to Kinko's to copy it, getting tapes from all over the world of all kinds of bands. Having to put a lot of work into it made it worth more, somehow.

    Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go download Terveet Kadet's entire discography to go with the two or three albums someone in Finland sent to me on cassette about 13 years ago.

  28. I think you ARE refering to duane morris. i am a native of akron. he was a band whore. but yeah, locally there wasn't a lot going on. crypt kicker odious sanction..just run of the mill mediocre metal at that time.

  29. hmmm... funny, that this whole post started with a pic i got in the mail and just now i get to reply to it. i must say it's one of the awesomest things i have in my collection. the other may be the brujeria autographed 7" i posted before and the impetigo 'faceless' tape signed by all the guys.

    you know the idea of the book has come up a few times before and i even got a little bit of interest from an agent. Lucho and i are actually working on a completely unrelated book right now. its absolutely nothing to do with metal. maybe once we are done with that we can work on this?

  30. hot damn, what are you guys working on? prying minds need to know!

  31. I used Prit-stick on my stamps, I'd smear a little on then dry it under a lamp. I could never work out how to get the envelope remains off the back of the stamp though...

  32. after the few times i actually went to the trouble of washing and re-using stamps i figured that all the effort wasn't really worth the 30 cents or so that i was saving per stamp. of course, i would still tell people that i re-used them so as not to hurt my cred.

    and, i also am in fact an archaeologist as well. i'm reading MI while sitting here in the lab at work analysing artifacts.

  33. Impetigo are the wackest looking band ever. These guys are really incredible.

  34. the only thing that wasn't metal about this post was you supporting the Steelers.


  35. Very informative content . Love this content .
    Remove White Background

  36. Thank you so much for providing such a useful content.