When Heavy Metal Goes Wrong, Part One

I AM THE TABLEI could have just posted this picture and called it good, but I’m on this whole new “effort” kick.

 So, as you might have guess from the blackness of the page you’re looking at, the repeated mentions of Satan, and the Motörhead font that I forgot to use lowercase letters with for the site logo, I’m really into the heavy metal. Or at least I was, until they kept changing what heavy metal was, and it kept getting shittier and shittier, but that’s a whole ‘nother post that I’ll probably never do entirely. But anyway, back when what was new and relevant was still a thing I gave a crap or two about, there would occasionally be these moments. These horrifying moments in time when you knew that a band you loved (or at least tolerated) had really screwed the pooch, and either they had dug a hole too deep to ever emerge from, or by the time people forgave them, it would be too late. Here are some of those moments. Those times When Heavy Metal Goes Wrong.

Diabolus in MusicaSLAYER – DIABOLUS IN MUSICA (1998)

The story so far: Slayer had been the fastest, most intense, and just generally evil of all the Big Four of eighties thrash metal. They had a hardcore following of insane mutants who would carve the band’s logo into their own flesh, and they were the prime example of  a band that you could listen to for the sole purpose of freaking out your Christian relatives. And although it had been a while since they had released any original new material, they were on somewhat of a hot streak, with South of Heaven and Seasons in the Abyss possibly being their two best albums, Reign in Blood being thought by some (not me, but still) to be the best heavy metal album of all time, and Divine Intervention being alright, I guess. If Anything bad could be said about the creative direction that the band had been taken, it was that they were falling into a rut of putting out similar material every time around, but if you know heavy metal people, they don’t mind that at all. Still, it might not have hurt to have experimented some.

What went wrong: They experimented some. All of a sudden, Slayer left their Satanic comfort zone of straight ahead, ball-stomping speed and started to use down-tuned guitars and get all “groovy” like a goddamn Ross Robinson-produced nu-metal band, complete with Kerry King pogoing like a jackass in concert and what can only be called sad attempts at rap on a couple of songs. It had all the stink of an 80s band trying to keep up with the youngsters of the 1990s, and it was awful, awful crap.

The Fallout: Somehow, Slayer came out of the ordeal okay, for the most part. The hardcore fans hated it, but most hardcore Slayer fans are hardcore enough to literally buy polished turds with Slayer logos screen-printed on the side, so sales didn’t really suffer. The worst part of all this was probably the follow-up album, though. The only thing sadder than when an old band tries to act young is when an old bands tries way, way, wayyyyy too hard to make up for the failed youth experiment.  And such was the case when Slayer went way the fuck over the top with the “guys, guys, we were just kidding, we are soooo metal HAIL SATAN”  and went so far as to name the next CD God Hates Us All and just pretended that the whole Diabolus thing never happened. It was really sad, like they might as well have packed every copy of the thing with a nice card with a sincere-sounding  apology on it and a gift certificate to Golden Corral or something. But they’re still around, people still love them, and they still haven’t put out an album I’ve cared for since 1990. Such is life.

Voivod - Angel RatVOIVOD – ANGEL RAT (1991)

The Story So Far: You might not realize this, but there was a time when Voivod was something that could have borderlined on being a hot, up-and-coming band. After they started out as a pretty gnarly speed metal band and added more and more progressive elements and spaced-out weirdness over time, they had eventually developed a sound that owed as much to Pink Floyd as it did to Venom, and it completely worked for them. After Dimension Hatross set the tone, the band came back in 1989 with Nothingface, which is still pretty much universally viewed as the band’s finest work. and they could do no wrong. Think of it this way: In 1990, Soundgarden and Faith No More, who you know as huge, platinum-selling stars, both went on tour together. On this particular tour, both bands were opening for Voivod.

What went Wrong: Well, they had a reputation for being weird and experimental, and this was their charm and all, but they just took it too far for their own good. Angel Rat took things all the way to the weird and trippy side, without enough of the metal foundation to keep the headbangers from scratching their heads, and they just weren’t big enough to get noticed by a non-metal crowd. I mean, yeah, when Metallica does a record like Load, they can get away with it because they’re the biggest band in the world, they have a fanbase that will buy a CD for the logo on the cover more than what’s on the disc inside, and it might still find an audience with people who never owned a leather jacket or a 280-Z. When you’re only  almost big, like the 1991 version of Voivod, you just get a lot of confused and pissed-off heshers wondering why you didn’t just do “Killing Technology, Part 2.” Not to say it was a bad album, because it really wasn’t, but it was still commercial suicide either way.

The Fallout: Even though the next album, The Outer Limits, was slightly more acceptable to the ear of the average metal dude, over the next few years, Voivod slid something fierce, going from late-night MTV airplay and headlining tours to being dropped by major labels and having half the band quit probably because they simply couldn’t afford to pay rent anymore. With Denis Belanger and Jean-Yves Thériault gone, Eric “E-Force” Forrest took over on bass and vocals, and Negatron was poorly received as a straightforward metal album by a band who should have been above such things, and while 1997’s Phobos was well-liked by critics, most people had just stopped paying attention by that point. Eventually, Voivod just sort of faded out of existence, until recently departed Metallica bass player Jason Newsted just kind of said, “oh man, those guys ruled, and I have ALL THIS MONEY” and got the band back together, complete with a spot on Ozzfest. Since then, they’ve been going surprisingly strong, at one point completely redefining heavy metal weirdness by recording two complete albums featuring the guitar work of founding member Denis D’Amour, even though he had literally been dead for a couple of years by that point. Which sounds about right for those guys, come to think of it.

NEXT TIME: Megadeth redefines awful, and Mike Muir accidentally lets us know that he’s really a wuss.