Before They Were Metal
Making fun of metal bands is good. Making fun of metal bands that used to be glam is great.
Ministry during their fake British accent years.
Metal is possibly the most unforgiving genre. It’s impossible to even talk about it without offending someone. The lines between black, heavy, thrash, and others are drawn so clearly that to encroach on them is musical sin. It’s this religious dedication that makes it so satisfying when you find out that a metal icon was once a platform boots wearing, glam loving, glittering demi-god wannabe.
Trent Reznor Performed Synth-Pop
You probably know Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails who, in the 90s, was instrumental in bringing industrial metal to the mainstream. But I really hope there is someone out there who hears that name and thinks, “Oh cool, the guy from synth-pop trio Exotic Birds.”
According to the above news anchor, the Exotic Birds made “modern music very popular in this area”. The area is Cleveland, which really adds an extra level of glam. The Exotic Birds played cheesy 80s synth-pop, and opened for The Eurythmics and Culture Club.
Reznor provides some vocals and keys alongside his co-Bird Andy Kubiszewski, who later played drums on the track “The Downward Spiral” from Nine Inch Nails’ 1994 album The Downward Spiral. Other members included Chris Vrenna, who also drummed for NIN as well as Marilyn Manson; and Doug Beck who was involved with the Baha Men’s zeitgeist-capturing 2000 detective mystery "Who Let The Dogs Out?”
Ministry Also Performed Synth-Pop, But With A Fake British Accent
It would be unfair to out Trent Reznor as the only industrial metalist who got caught up in 80s new wave music. But where Reznor rebuilt his persona under a new band name and image, Al Jourgensen seemed less concerned with fresh starts.
Jourgensen is of course the creative force behind Ministry, the often-polarising Cuban born group who fused metal with electronica and paved the way for acts like Fear Factory. But before he introduced electric guitars to his repertoire, Ministry entered the MTV age with a debut record featuring icy ballads and fake British accents.
Jourgensen has since distanced Ministry from its early days and refuses to even say the name of bands debut record, “I hate With Sympathy because I was told what to do, what to write, what to wear, what to look like, etc.” he has said. Despite his apparent revulsion to new wave, a few years ago and before reforming Ministry, Jourgensen threatened to record a new collection of 80s pop tunes. It’s not clear who he was threatening, but what is clear is that—should it ever eventuate—the record will be nothing like the album that’s name (out of respect to Jourgensen) we shall not mention twice in one article.
Alice ‘N Chains: “Over easy and Super Sleazy Heavy Metal”
Aside from new wave and synth-pop, the 80s is synonymous with glam, a genre whose spandex outfits tempted musicians with even the blackest metal hearts and was responsible for inflating the price of eyeliner and cocaine. Probably.
Grunge was developed largely in opposition to glam, but only after certain grunge musicians stopped performing it—such as Alice ‘N Chains. Just to be clear, we’re not talking about Alice In Chains the metal/grunge hybrid fronted by Layne Staley. No, we’re talking about Alice ‘N Chains, the 80s glam metal band fronted by—Layne Staley. There’s apparently a single quotation mark between parody and integrity.
Alice ‘N Chains existed for only a year. Billed (by themselves) as being “Over easy and Super Sleazy Heavy Metal”, the band rose like an androgynous phoenix from the ashes of yet another glam outfit called Sleaze. ‘N case you’re wondering, that single, nagging apostrophe was apparently introduced because of fears their audience might think the name was a reference to bondage: a woman literally being wrapped in chains, presumably for sexual pleasure. Staley and friends did not want to be mistaken for S&M fetishists, which raises doubts about their self-prescribed sleazy image.
Aesthetically Alice ‘N Chains were indistinguishable from their glam metal peers: puffed out hair, tight outfits, make-up, and cowboy hats. They recorded two demo tapes that included memorable hits like “Fat Girls” and “Don’t Be Satisfied” before being brought undone by drummer Nick Pollock’s epiphany that he looked ridiculous. Nick recalls: “One day I looked at myself and said, 'What am I doing?'”
Staley then briefly performed with Jerry Cantrell’s Diamond Lie, another self-prescribed “sleaze” glam band, before eventually abandoning grammatical contractions and becoming Alice In Chains—the band who helped define a generation that didn't care if your name referenced bondage or not.
Pantera’s Glam Metal Magic!
Pantera today and knows as thrash metal monsters, whose history of rage and aggression includes an album cover where a fan is literally being punched in the face. They also used to look like this.
Originally named Pantera’s Metal Magic, and fronted by some guy called Donnie Hart, their glam period lasted about six years longer than Alice’s. They released four records—produced by Jerry Abbott, father of Darrell (guitar) and Vinnie (drums)—with songs such as “Ride My Rocket”, “Onward We Rock!” and “Proud To Be Loud” (which featured on the soundtrack of D2: The Mighty Ducks).
Over the four albums they moved towards a heavier, more groove-based sound that they would build upon with the introduction of vocalist Phil Anselmo in 1987 and producer Terry Date. As they entered the 90s, Pantera made a subtle transition between metal subgenres: they retired the spandex, released Cowboys From Hell, andjust pretended the whole glam thing never happened. To this day the four records they made in the 1980s aren’t even listed as releases on their official website.
But thankfully, the Internet never forgets.
Follow John Dean on Twitter: @johnd145