Richmond, Virginia – Metallic Proving Ground
Richmond, Virginia in the US of A has given the world Lamb Of God, Municipal Waste, Gwar and a shitload more. David Brockie tells us all about the Virginian metal scene!
Greetings, metal-mongers, from the conquered capitol of the Confederacy, Richmond, Va., as far north as south gets in the good ole’ U.S.A. Called by many a cultural morass in the midst of a sea of mediocrity, this may be true!
But on the throbbing underbelly of this oft-burned locale, past the buried ghost train inside Church Hill, beneath the skeletal remains the 20,000 rebel dead in Hollywood Cemetery (one of this countries craziest necro-plazas), there is a vital and powerful music underworld—a place where metallic titans stride the earth, spitting bullets and breathing flame! Or at least they rock really hard.
Or, in other words, the slightly backwards, perpetually sleepy southern town of Richmond, Virginia, USA, is home to some of the heaviest and most successful bands in the hard and heavy music underground, all of whom sprang from their humble roots to rise to an international level. Shock metal gods GWAR, punk poets AVAIL, thrash metal kings MUNICIPAL WASTE, and current scene lords, fucking LAMB OF GOD, all sprung from and prospered on the fertile loam that is the Richmond, Va. music scene. One might think it more likely to find this group of elite misfits originating from a more cosmopolitan metropolis like San Francisco or New York, but you’d be WRONG! Because it is Richmond, Va., population 200,000 (soaking wet), that is home to this amazing collection of musicians, an un-recognized Mecca of metal deserved of closer inspection and perhaps even a cookie.
A word of introduction from yours truly is in order, as my story mirrors that of many of my peers, and besides that I just love talking about myself. I came to Richmond in a desperate escape from the confines of a typical suburban existence, longing for the “Animal House” -like life style that I assumed college was all about. I had spent several years in the slam pits of D.C., watching and participating in the birth and rise of hardcore (that’s right, I’m fucking old), but had succeeded in little more than earning the wrath of Ian MacKaye and his crew of “straight-edge” punks, who used to beat me up because I was slam dancing “the wrong way”. Indeed, my first attempt at a band, “Nuclear Dog Shit”, had been an unparalleled failure. So when I arrived in Richmond, Va.
I was delighted to discover a crumbling, decrepit, decadent and dangerous place, chocked full of slobbering bums, aggressive transsexuals, and a vibrant musical community which grudgingly accepted me and my idiotic attempts at this thing called “music”. My first band, the notorious “Death Piggy”, earned a reputation as one of the stupidest ever, staging epic pie-fights, pouring mayonnaise down our pants, and vandalizing any public surface with our infamous “Piggy” moniker. With our motto, “Smile or Die”, we blazed a bumpy path into local music history, and eventually began to grow and mutate with alarming force until we had formed into one of the most notorious bands in hard rock history…the mighty GWAR.
Chris Bopst, local radio personality and a founding member of GWAR, arrived in Richmond for similar reasons.
“D.C. was full of dicks”, said Bopst, “I went to Richmond to escape their pompous attitudes and go to art school.” The school Bopst refers to is Virginia Commonwealth University, a reputable and affordable institution that became a cultural magnet for creative malcontents from all over the East Coast. What they found when they got here was the perfect breeding ground for art and music of all forms, and a local heavy music scene that was already well established. Seminal hardcore bands like White Cross were already touring nationally, and as Crossover combined the best of hardcore and metal the Richmond scene became a crucible of music where bands were formed and discarded with astonishing rapidity.
The low rent and generally depressed economy was another important factor in the development of Richmond’s music and the effect it had on the world. The incredibly cheap cost of living routinely made visiting musicians from New York or L.A. soil themselves with envy (and poo).
“Practice spaces are 200 bucks a month and in New York, that’s like two hours…”
So says Randy Blythe, a.k.a. Shark, lead singer for LAMB OF GOD, the biggest thing spawned by this town since lung cancer (Richmond being the headquarters of Philip Morris, creators of Marlboro cigarettes, responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths yearly), “I came to Richmond on the pretense of going to school, but really I was there to see hardcore shows. But because of the art school thing, there was a high level of artistry involved. The work ethic was fucking unbelievable.”
Shark’s band mate and LAMB OF GOD bassist John Campbell (who doesn’t have a cool nickname) continues the thought. “We became a band in an already thriving musical scene, and in that scene there were people who whupped ass, and unless you whupped ass, they didn’t have time for you…the bar was set extremely high…”
Bopst echoes the sentiment, saying, “If you are looking for the immediate adulation of total strangers then you’ve come to the wrong place. Nobody cares what you do because their band is much better than your band.”
It was music for music’s sake, created not for money or the attention of some hot chick you wanted to nail (well, maybe a little…), and that was typified best by the style of riff-oriented bands that pushed the boundaries of musical compositions well past the comprehension of the audiences they played in front of. Bands like BUTTERGLOVE, BREADWINNER, and ALTER-NATIVES (who moonlighted as GWAR in it’s earliest incarnation), did away with the supposed necessity of a lead singer and went straight for the musical meat, creating the genre of “math rock” long before it became a catch phrase to describe the hordes of less-inspired bands that followed in their wake. Much of this was due to the efforts of legendary Richmond guitarist Penn Rollins, whose first notable project, hardcore heroes HONOR ROLE, helped pave the way for the onslaught to come.
Perhaps no other single musician better typified the Richmond attitude where the music was never about anything other than the music itself. His latest project, LOINCLOTH, continues to expand a musical legacy that his fellow Richmonder’s refer to with something like awe.
Says Bopst, who was the bass player for the aforementioned ALTER-NATIVES, “Everywhere you go, when people find out you are from Virginia, the first thing they ask is “is that where Marlboro cigarettes come from?” and then next “do you know Penn Rollins?”