“This song’s about getting your head chopped off,” yelled the vocalist for Thy Will Be Done before plummeting into a song called, “Guillotine Dream”. I wondered how he could know of such things. The guitars roared as the vocalist began to bang his head so hard that I thought it was possible for the skull to come right off the stump of his neck.
It was a Sunday night jamboree at the Knitting Factory. Five Heavy Metal bands in the heart of downtown New York converging upon the community of Chinatown with their brand of aural communication. What is this music and who are these people?
My writing desk was a wooden shelf, which ran along the wall across from the bar. I had to brush aside flyers in order to write anything. Distorted guitars screamed high pitched tones, which were manufactured for the purpose of awakening its audience to a new level of human strife. I was there with my friend Joe who knows all about these things. He invited me in the first place.
When we arrived our tickets were given to a man with a scruffy beard and eyeglasses. The two of us were thirsty so we went to the bar where men sporting tattoos communed. Girls with jet black hair and bright smiles stood alongside them but it was mostly a boy's club. Later on in the night, Joe and I went outside to smoke a cigarette when a cab driver pulled up to the curb and asked if it was a gay bar.
Near the entrance of the Knitting Factory were vendors who sold T-Shirts, banners, magazines, and CDs while fans crowded around the tables. One of the tables had a sign, which read, "Give us your drugs,” so I presumed that one could also barter with these salesmen for a brand new CD. I had my eye on T-Shirt with a design of a shark showing off its impressive collection of sharp teeth. The shirt’s slogan read, “Chum Fiesta.”
A man yelled, “Joe” and beckoned my friend over to the bar where he sat. The man’s name is John and he performs lead vocals for a hardcore band in which every member save one is named John. It was difficult to see how this man could be in a band named Turmoil when he shook my hand and said, “Nice to meet you.” After that it was a conversation about mortgages and old friends. John is an affable type; looks you squarely in the eye when he talks and is at times at least gregarious if not more pleasant. Somehow the name of the band doesn’t imply until you see them perform. It is then that one may begin to learn all of their tricks.
With beers in hand, we walked through a corridor toward the space where the stage was. As I entered, I was knocked back by the dank smell of a locker room. It was as suffocating as a humid summer night in the Everglades except this was human sweat and the only alligators there were the ones with the furious fists slamming into the air. They seemed to be maniacs set loose into a boxing ring from an insane asylum. When the bell dinged it was their go to box invisible entities which harassed them from somewhere near the ceiling… or so it seemed. In spite of all this thrashing, these men, as well as some women were pleased to be hassled by the raging sonic force of Thy Will Be Done. Their gritted smiles said so.
Turmoil began their set after Thy Will Be Done finished. Suddenly, John took the persona of the band’s heavy message. All five of them banged their heads at a steady pace with the music and then it lurched into speed as the room exploded with ferocity. The wallflowers drew closer to the stage and John wreaked havoc upon the microphone. I couldn’t understand the lyrics but I understood what he meant.
Turmoil’s set was full of incredible and rancorous drones. This intestine pulverizing music was composed by a band whose lead singer appeared to be one of the happiest people I’ve met in some time. Suddenly the room became a chum fiesta as human tornadoes dared to make victims of all those who stood along the unseen sideline where a circle formed to allow re-entry the ones wishing to beat the air once again.
This was John’s outlet. As people grind through the train systems to get to work, John is taking notes and interpreting our misfortunes. The deadly bombardment and aural crushing is the sound of a quintet dynamo explaining to its audience an alliance of understanding. This audience listens but unfortunately they don’t catch. The stage proved to be too small for him. He jumped down into the pit with every one else and slammed into a group of people in front of me falling over onto the floor. He stood back up and was back in action. He later recalled the story to Joe and me and said, “I expected someone to catch me but no one did. Oh well.”
I nearly became a victim of the audience’s emotional discharge during Turmoil’s set. I kneeled in the mosh pit to take some pictures. One of these fleshy hurricanes wore a blue bandana and a white tank top. His arms, built like tree trunks began to flail about remiss of any who could be struck. After some careful maneuvering I was able to avoid any combat.
The key to understanding the music of this band is that they aren’t trying to put people into a dark place where dreadful thoughts could manifest. Instead, they revive people by forcing them to confront and not repress their emotions. I observed explosion after explosion of thunderous release when these fans confronted their aggression and afterwards there was applause.
The breadth of psychoanalysis misses one thing: A relation to the client. It is easy to dispute, however unlikely to truly garner the exclamation point required to truly cure the patient. A release of all bonds for one evening can treat one’s desperate plea for help.
Although I do not consider myself a fan of this music, there is an appreciation for what these bands are trying to achieve. It is not monetary success. Many of these unsung heroes like John often have to support themselves by holding regular jobs just like the rest of us. They deliver their feelings to an audience who shares the same experience daily. The ones who listen call back to the band’s cause. The truth is that these bands will be a footnote in the history of Rock and Roll, however the mark that is left on their fans runs the highway of human understanding.
At the end of the show, smiles and overenthusiastic “Thank yous” were a sign of success. It’ll have to hold these fans over until the next morning when they must sluggishly return to their 9 to 5s and do it all over again.
As for me, I found myself smiling and charged with electricity returning to the cold night feeling warm and awake. After being in the ring, Joe went home with joy and a wounded knuckle. The injury was chump change for the exhilaration of temporary relief. I left without becoming a casualty yet gained a new respect for a music I hardly listen to.