Last week, the night after Def-I’s birthday party, I shot two thrash bands, Vektor and Black Fast. It was, in its way, a kind of coming home.
A while back, I was talking to Zeus Zamora, esteemed and beloved owner of Sister Bar. Zeus has varied tastes. Over 2016 I’ve photographed Def-I, Blockhead, and DJ Mark Farina at Sister, and we agreed I could use a break from hip hop.* It was time, we agreed, for the Metal.
I didn’t know Vektor and Black Fast when I agreed to shoot them.
Truth be told, I love Metal, but it hasn’t been a priority for me since I was a teenager. Look, I love a good facemelter, and there are times nothing else will adequately help me park my big, ugly feelings outside my body. But metal tends to be… emotionally monochromatic. First, thoroughly, and foremost, the Metal is angry. More Metal? Angrier. Once I started making room for other feelings—calmness and fear, sadness and romance, subtlety and vulnerability—I needed other musics.
For many of us growing up in the 90s, what you listened to determined who you spent your time with. (Or visa versa.) It’s a sad irony that we pubescent metalheads built our identities on bands who probably listened to as much Fleetwood Mac as Slayer. We built our own cages. Kids today, in the post-Napster era, don’t seem to hedge themselves that way. They have different-but-similarly-stupid cages, I’m sure.
I realize now, I went into this show not knowing a damn thing about my subjects. Which is, admittedly, how I like to work.
Shooting a Metal show is exciting.
Visually, it’s not a lot different than, say, a bluegrass band. Same instruments, same expressions, and musicians ESP-ing among themselves. So, as always, you have to work to make the sound come through.
Metal musicians perform in the dark. Metal musicians delight in making unreasonable sounds from uncomfortable hand positions. Metal musicians head-bang. They jump, they lean back, they grimace and sweat like marathon runners and paint their faces to look more Metal. Metal musicians… make it kind of easy.
In the absence of a light show, Vektor and Black Fast just played their hearts out. It was awesome.
It was also strange. I haven’t been to a real Metal show, in a small venue, in 20 years. It’s not the same when you’re working, earplugs in, two cameras and four lenses hanging off your body, yawning past your bedtime. I have a lot of respect for those guys—Vektor especially, so humble, smiling, and gentle-mannered offstage—doing what they do, night after drive after night, in their 30s.
So I know I said it to your faces, but here again, guys. Thank you for giving me music to break the anxiety with, thank you for your affable sincerity, and thank you for letting me get on stage with you. I hope the road home is as good to you as you were to us.
*I didn’t realize my friend Dave Payne was playing Country-Americana there last week, or I would’ve been all over that, too.
Listen to and buy Terminal Redux (a jaw-droppingly technical accomplishment they played in its entirety).