Heavy Metal in the Age of COVID-19
I had a feeling, back in January, that this year was going to blow. We should have seen the writing on the wall when only a week into the year, Neil Peart, the professor, passed away from brain cancer. Then came the crazy news cycle that consumed everything in January and February. We should have all known then that we were in for one hell of a 365 days, but then came March and the pandemic.
We are literally living in the cover artwork of an 80’s thrash album, and it begs the question, what is next for music in the age of COVID-19?
Earlier this year I lamented the fact that I was going to miss a mess of concerts because of personal reasons. Now every stage across the world is empty, every P.A. system quiet, and every roadie out of a job and sleeping in their vehicles. Music is personal, but it is also communal.
Few things in life compare to being at a show with 100, 1,000, or 10,000 other fist waving metal heads, but while the Metallica’s and Maiden’s of the world have a dedicated fan base with throngs of adoring fans and Scrooge McDuck-like vaults of cash, Jeff down the block, struggling every day to book a gig or rake together enough cash to make flyers to hand out at the local club is truly going to suffer. Up and coming and underground bands need the stage. They build a reputation through the “buzz” generated as they jam a 5 song set on the bottom of the bill to a mediocre headliner in smoke filled, piss smelling, hole in the wall clubs where the only criteria for entrance in the front door is a surly attitude and a stench of whiskey on your breath. While we may not be feeling the effects of the pandemic on local talent right now, it is possible that a slew of new hungry bands will never get the opportunity to sign to a label. Without the stage to create the buzz and help them perfect their musical cohesion, it is a likely that metal will see a shortage of new talent in the not too distant future.
When the lockdowns subside and clubs and arenas open up their doors again I expect we will not see musicians and fans willing to jump back on the concert horse like the pandemic never happened. We’ve already seen members of Testament, eXodus, and Death Angel come down with the sickness following their Bay Area Strikes Back 2020 tour. Will Carroll, drummer for Death Angel, spent nearly two weeks on a ventilator in the ICU and had this to say to San Francisco’s KPIX 5, “I was in hell, or you know what seemed like hell. And the devil was a woman and very scary looking. She had red skin and glowing eyes and fangs. She was sitting in a throne and laughing at me. It was a horrible, horrible vision…and I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.”
When all this has blown over are musicians going to want to go on tour again? Will fans pack themselves into sweaty pits without knowing how many people they are moshing with have the virus? It’s entirely likely that guitar heroes on the stage and the air guitar heroes in the audience will be a little bit gun shy. As reported by Blabbermouth.net, on a recent interview with the podcast Vox&Hops, Lamb of God Singer Randy Blythe commented, “As far as how shows will be in the future, I don’t know if there will be shows until we can have shows normally—in general, for anyone.” If artists cannot perform then they will get into the studio and write.
Without touring and with many musicians now on lockdown I imagine that a ton of new music is being written as we speak. Artists create art in the best of times. I can only imagine what they will come up with after they’re been forced into isolation with nothing to do but create more art, and the unique unprecedented situation we now find the world in should provide ample subject matter to explore.
I have already seen a whole mess of artists announcing that they have taken this time to write: Last in Line, Scorpions, Styx, Overkill, Butcher Babies, Ace Frehley. While there will be a period of time where very few albums will be released thanks to no new sessions taking place for the last month or more, I look forward to the output that will come down the road when these artists finally release the albums that are being written at this very moment.
Also, as you no doubt have seen, musicians the world over have embraced connecting to their fans through the internet. Short live sets, acoustic performances from home, question and answer sessions. Bands have reached out to provide their fans with a connection to them during the quarantine. Maybe, when the dust settles, bands will take it upon themselves and continue to reach out to their audience in a personal way through social media.
Heavy metal and COVID-19 cannot coexist in this state. At some point, unclear at this moment when however, citizens of the world will have to emerge from their coronavirus hibernation and go back to their jobs. They will resume their lives albeit in a much different fashion than before all of this began. Social distancing and face masks will become a new normal. Eventually too, much later though I fear, the tours and concerts will return. In the meantime, we still have the music, and I hope a whole slate of new albums are coming just over the COVID horizon. If there’s any music that can survive and thrive in a disease frightened, pandemic ridden world it is metal, and I relish the day when I can once again stand next to a multitude of screaming and headbanging metal brethren and put this whole damn thing behind us.
Schreck is the host of Panzerschreck Armory on Alloy Radio airing every Saturday at 9pm EST on the Alloy Armory channel.
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