Up Close & Painful

Studio shows put the intimacy back into blood-curdling metal.

Mayor of the Sunset Strip The Cleveland Cinematheque Friday, May 21, and Saturday, May 22
"Are you guys ready to get your fuckin' heads torn off?" Machine Head guitarist Phil Demmel asked on a recent Thursday afternoon. Thirty metalheads shouted back in the affirmative from the main studio of Lava Room Recordings. They were part of the latest installment of the Metal Show Unleashed, a new concert series put on by 92.3 Xtreme Radio's weekly Metal Show. It's an up-close-and-personal gig by some of the biggest names in metal, presented at no cost other than to the audience's hearing.

Today, New Jersey metalcore upstarts God Forbid have packed them in, with the guys from Machine Head hosting. Gals in tight jeans and dudes in Venom T-shirts crowd around the musicians, who are within arm's reach. "You're gonna see the reserved set," one of the God Forbid guys chides. "You're gonna see us all nice and pretty and shit."

This isn't the case. With a burst of distortion, the band launches into its bare-knuckle thrash. The guitarists headbang hard enough to dislodge vertebrae; the drummer pounds his kit so relentlessly that Machine Head drummer Dave McCain has to sit on the bass drum to keep it in place. By show's end, sweat glistens on the tattoos that cover the arms of burly frontman Byron Davis.

"I'm a fuckin' monster on this goddamn microphone," he exclaims.

Afterward, the bands sign autographs and hang out with fans down the hall. This, of course, never happens at regular concerts.

Since its launch last month, Metal Show Unleashed has featured similarly invasive sets by such hot bands as Nikki Sixx's Brides of Destruction and the Atlanta prog-metal outfit Evergrey, which drew fans from as far as Houston and New York. Bands normally do the show during the afternoon before playing a larger gig in town that night. All concerts are by invite only; fans can gain entrance by being among the first 50 to sign up on the Metal Show website (www.themetalshow.com).

Organized by Metal Show hosts Matt Wardlaw (aka the Warlock) and pit-bull DJ Chris Akin, Unleashed happens several times each month, but it started as little more than a one-off.

"We needed a place on the spur of the moment to do an interview with a couple of the guys from Pantera about their new project Damageplan," says the Warlock. "That was the first time that I had been to visit Lava Room Recording, and after I went there, I knew we had to do something there. That was when the thought occurred to me that Lava Room would allow us to fulfill that dream of having bands come in and play live for the show."

Indeed, the Lava Room, owned by former Warrant guitarist Billy Morris, is a posh West Side suite, decorated with track lighting, blue and purple walls, and framed Derek Hess prints. All concerts are taped for eventual broadcast, and all of them also feature an upstart Cleveland metal band, which receives a professionally recorded disc for its efforts. For the guys in Hatecore Inc. , a recent gig was their first-ever recording opportunity.

"Warlock and Chris Akin are two of the biggest supporters of the Cleveland metal scene -- as well as Billy Morris," says Kris Dann, frontman for Hatecore Inc. "The Metal Show Unleashed has helped Hatecore Inc. very much, since we are one of the newest metal bands in the area, and we've gotten a lot of great exposure."

Akin has seen plenty of strong local bands wither in empty clubs, and he hopes that the Metal Show's support can help them fill more rooms.

"I'm a firm believer that local shows just suck, and the only listeners are the friends and fans of the bands that are on the show in any given week," he says. "We've always tried to play local bands, but not because they are local. We play them if they are good, period."

The next edition of Metal Show Unleashed is one of the biggest yet, with white-hot metalcore upstart Killswitch Engage stopping by the Lava Room this Wednesday before its gig at the Agora Theatre.

"Ultimately, what this whole series is about is having fun," the Warlock says. "And all of the bands, local and national, have really done that."

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