BLOG - HOCKEY & HEAVY METAL
MAY 09, 2013 • 09:49 AM
GOLDEN GODS AND HEAVY METAL
I love heavy metal, and it’s not voluntary. It’s hard-wired, it’s mandatory, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. It’s been like this since Kiss, AC/DC, and Ozzy Osbourne got hold of me as a kid. The music chose me at a young age and decided it was going to affect me in a positive and powerful way, and that was that. But the thing is, this doesn’t really set me apart from most other folks who are into this kind of music. Take a moment and think about it - lots of people are casual music fans, but think about the metal fans you’ve known over time. How many of them were casual about it? That’s right, probably none. I mean, have any of you ever actually met a Slayer fan that who just kind of, sort of, “likes” Slayer and thinks they’re “alright”? I know I haven’t, and I take great comfort in knowing that there are at least a million people out there with whom I could have a half-hour conversation about Jeff Hanneman’s songwriting skills, and that would just be a warmup.
May 2nd may as well have been Christmas Day for me, because music lawyer extraordinaire and most excellent friend Eric German http://www.msk.com/attorneys/Eric_German hooked me up with a VIP pass for the 5th annual Golden Gods Awards, which are essentially the heavy metal version of the Grammys. Unfortunately, this normally 100% celebratory evening started off with some horrible news - Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman had passed away earlier that day at the age of 49 from liver failure, and most likely the necrotizing fasciitis he’d contracted two years earlier and played a role while also mangling his right arm and threatening his career. There was a decidedly stunned vibe there at first, not least because about half the people in the room had toured with him or knew him well. But, as Hanneman’s bandmate-for-life Kerry King put it, “Jeff would not have wanted a moment of silence. He would have wanted a moment of ******’ noise!” Jeff got his noise, and it had the effect of making the evening’s interactions that much more poignant.
To save space while simultaneously engaging in Los Angeles’ second-favorite pastime of name-dropping, here’s a list of who was there as a performer, presenter or just hanging around: Metallica, Danzig, Stone Sour, Halestorm, Five Finger Death Punch, Dillinger Escape Plan, Anthrax, Rob Halford, Slipknot, David Draiman, Rob Zombie and John 5, Chino Moreno, Phil Anselmo and Rex Brown, Papa Emeritus II, Chris Jericho, Gene Simmons, Marilyn Manson, Alice Cooper, Tenacious D, Munky, Fieldy and Head from Korn, Alexi Laiho, Zakk Wylde, everyone from Queensrӱche (who blew the doors off the Viper Room the night before with a new album playback and a “secret” show featuring an hour of classics from the 1st five albums) and dozens of others, not to mention all of the managers, agents and professionals who run the heavy metal business. It was enough to make your head bang, and mine did.
But for me, the highlight of the evening was reconnecting with two folks from my past - folks I’d lost touch with for a good while before running into them tonight. And that’s them right here - for those of you unfamiliar, that’s Herman Li http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herman_Li from Dragonforce on the right and Billy Graziadei http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billy_Graziadei from Biohazard on the left. These guys both live and breathe heavy metal, and they both serve as an example of how to do things around here.
Let’s start with Herman. Back in the late 90’s when I was an editor at Terrorizer Magazine over in London, Monday nights meant a trip up the Victoria Line to the Club Braindead at the Royal Standard in Walthamstow for an evening of death metal bands. It was always a fun scene and there was a pretty consistent core group of regulars, one of whom was Herman. But Herman was a little bit different. He was a little quieter. He definitely drank a lot less. He watched the bands a lot more carefully than just about everyone except Guy Strachan. He wasn’t around quite every week, but when he was, he more often than not wore his favorite Dream Theater t-shirt, and it was pretty much a known thing that he was sitting home practicing his guitar a lot. A whole lot. When I moved back to the States and started law school I lost touch with Herman, but was able to follow what he was doing because all of that practicing and songwriting development paid off: Dragonforce have been now going strong for well over a decade, and they are renowned for their jaw-droppingly insane levels of musicianship and sheer speed. If you’ve never heard them, all you need to know is that one of their albums is called Ultra Beatdown (because as everyone knows, a plain old garden-variety beatdown just doesn’t cut it in the world of Dragonforce). But I’m recognizing Herman here because he is proof positive that someone can get where they want to go if they are willing to commit to a goal and put in the thousands and thousands of hours of work that are required to make it happen. Well done, sir.
And then there’s Billy Graziadei. This man could write a book about his two decades and counting as a vocalist and guitarist in Biohazard, who came from New York and represented the borough of Brooklyn like few artists ever have. They mix their heavy metal with hardcore punk and hiphop, and they have one of metal’s great “secret” weapons in drummer Danny Schuler, who created a huge pocket nightly for the band to fall into while prompting moshing that looked like a fight scene from 300. To say they got up to a few things on the road would be an understatement. They also have tremendous appeal and resonance for people who come from tough circumstances - their songs of urban struggle and survival became anthems in the former Eastern Bloc countries, Central and South America and Southeast Asia. I was a big Biohazard fan long before I met Billy, and once I did it, was one of those great deals where the person in real life far eclipsed the person you thought he was through buying albums and seeing shows. I first got to know Billy during the Terrorizer days, and then he and the rest of Biohazard did me a huge favor when I switched over to artist management with old friend Dave Bianchi - they took our clients Raging Speedhorn out on their first-ever tour of Europe. And if that wasn’t enough, he and Danny went on to produce Speedhorn’s second album We Will Be Dead Tomorrow, which is still my favorite. We learned so much from them, and we had such a great time learning it. And a big part of why Billy set such a great example and made such a great compatriot is that he lives and breathes metal, full stop. Every day is a great day for metal as far as Billy is concerned, and he’s still producing and playing and writing it to this very day.
These guys got where they did through sheer determination and will, fueled by none other than heavy metal. The music chose them when they were young age and enabled them to find their paths in life early, and all that they have accomplished though maximizing their gifts is still inspiring now. This has gone on for long enough, so I’ll have to hold back on the highlights of the conversation that Herman and Billy had with each about their respective metal obsessions. It was intense and it was awesome. Even better, it turns out Billy lives here in Los Angeles now and Herman spends a lot more time here than I thought. Excellent.
Yeah, this is a long one, but a night like this, capped off with running into these guys warrants a longer post - not least because the music these guys play makes up half the title of this blog. Like I said at the top, I love heavy metal and it’s not voluntary, so much so that the 1,400+ words that make up this entry were just written in one, unedited take.