I’m aware that some parents might question the decision to take my fourteen-year-old son and a friend of his to see Sounds of the Underground, a heavy metal festival currently touring the country and featuring bands with such spiritually uplifting names as Goatwhore, Necro, Darkest Hour, Mushroomhead, and Every Time I Die. I know I did.
These are the sorts of events that are designed to shock parents, entertain counter-culturally inclined young people (to whom nothing is more entertaining than shocking their parents), and provide a break from the tedious freedoms of summer. Having ventured into the breach myself, however, I can now report with some relief to all the concerned parents out there that your children were as safe at Sounds of the Underground as they are at the local playground—maybe safer—though judging from the listless throngs lining the walls at the Myth, some may have left with their tedium intact.
With one notable exception, Sounds of the Underground traffics in a brand of speed-thrash doom metal that is as homogenous as a glass of milk and as predictable as a Big Mac. The band names change but the “music” all sounds the same—which, to my middle-aged ears, is like a grizzly bear caught in a wood chipper. It’s as if to qualify for the tour each band had to fill out an official doom-metal checklist:
▪ Machine-gun guitar riffs? Check.
▪ Concussion-bomb drumming? Check.
▪ Sonic-boom bass blasts? Check.
▪ No women in the band? Check.
▪ Long-haired guitarist (dreadlocks optional)? Check.
▪ Arm tattoos? Check.
▪ Unintelligible lyrics? Check.
▪ Smoke machine? Check.
▪ Seizure-inducing strobe lights? Check.
▪ Iconography of evil (e.g., skulls, pentagrams, mutants, fire, etc.)? Check.
▪ Liberal use of words that begin with “mother”? Check.
▪ Faux fondness for death, destruction, mayhem, and anarchy? Check.
▪ Pretend rage against all forms of pretentiousness? Check.
▪ Anti-everything (except metal bands)? Check.
These last two are particularly amusing, considering that the tour is sponsored by the clothing and accessory store Hot Topic, which is owned by Abercrombie & Fitch, the most pretentious company in existence—and that the venue, Myth, is located in Maplewood across the street from a Best Buy, an Ashley Furniture Home Store, Mattress Giant, and Toys "R" Us. Suburban hell, in other words.
The audience for this event was equally diverse and imaginative. White guys. Black T-shirts. No black people. A guy-to-girl ratio of about fifty to one. If it weren’t for the final band of the night, Gwar (pictured above), the whole thing would have been a disappointing yawner. Before Gwar took the stage, even my son and his friend—for whom this was his seminal first “real” concert—rated Sounds of the Underground a ho-hum “6.” And that was after the band Chimaira (sic) led the house in a sing-along to their anti-social anthem, “Pure Hatred,” the chorus of which—“I hate everyone!”—surely warms the hearts of malcontents everywhere.
Gwar received an emphatic “10” from the boys, however, and here’s why: They are absolutely hilarious. Honestly, Gwar is one of the funniest acts I have ever seen—that is, if you can get past the fact that their shtick is basically hacking various creatures to pieces and spraying fountains of blood into the audience. But it’s OK, because they do it while wearing crazy alien monster warrior uniforms and ostensibly ridding the planet of human scum to appease the “Master” and release the giant maggot that lives at the center of the earth. Or something like that. When we walked into Myth, the place was enshrouded in white protective plastic, even on the ceiling. I didn’t understand why until Gwar began spraying 100-foot streams of “blood” (colored water) everywhere. Limbs and heads were hacked off, and blood spewed. A giant birdlike creature showed up, and he too was slain, as was a voracious Tyrannosaurus Rex. In the end, everyone within 150 feet of the stage was soaked, and the Myth’s protective measures just seemed like good solid business sense.
Gwar has been around since the late 1980s, so they’ve been serving up their schlock-metal spew-fest long enough to be a nostalgia act on the metal circuit, which may account for some crowd-thinning near the end. If you’ve seen their act before, I can understand why one might choose to beat the traffic instead. But for my son, his friend, and me, first-timers all, it was a blast. On the way out, a guy who called himself Hardcore Dave pronounced us all “anointed.” Thus consecrated, we dutifully purchased an armload of CDs and paraphernalia in the parking lot and headed home, where the boys headed immediately to the shower to wash off the stink and sweat, happy for the moment to be teenagers living in a suburban hell—at least one that, every now and then, books a band like Gwar.
For a sample of what Gwar does, check out this YouTube video: