The Stormtroopers of Death return to set heavy metal straight

In the shop classes and smoking lounges of high schools across America, a revolution broke out. Awkward guitar-playing introverts threw off the spandex garters of their oppressors and decided it was time to make metal unacceptable again. They bought fuzz boxes and flange pedals instead of Aqua Net and got down to the business of brutalizing the music. They named their bands Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax or Exodus, and they drew on the hardcore punk of Agnostic Front and Discharge, as well as the biker space-rock of Motörhead. They were heavy as lead, and their songs ran the gamut from grim to bleak. Other disgruntled youth (too young to work for the post office) followed their lead and started thrash-metal bands and speed-core bands and death-metal bands. Heavy was the order of the day again, but at what price? What started as a musical reaction to the business world's takeover of their music became a reactionary movement that existed only to plumb the depths, and you couldn't swing a BC Rich Warlock without hitting a Possessed or Abattoir or Pyroexigis who merely aped the more obvious aspects of heavy metal's gloom and rage.

Enter Stormtroopers of Death. Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian had written a bunch of songs that didn't quite suit his band's style, so he started a new band. This side project with Anthrax drummer Charlie Benante and ex-bassist Dan Lilker combined their love for hardcore, comic books and a new element that heavy metal hadn't seen before: humor. Joined by mutual friend Billy "the Bat" Milano, they cranked out 21 songs that lampooned everything metal. They mocked the glam boys ("Douche Crew"), the thrash boys ("Fist Banging Mania"), the punk kids ("Milano Mosh") and themselves ("What's That Noise"). Loud, abrasive and funny as hell, Speak English or Die was as subtle as a steamroller, offending everyone who couldn't laugh at themselves or the cartoon violence of heavy metal. They played a half-dozen shows and promptly broke up, because their work was done. Heavy metal was thoroughly chastened. Three-quarters of Mötley Crüe turned to hard drugs. Twisted Sister gasped "uncle" and quit. Poison, Warrant, Winger and company are playing at a state fair near you. Jon Bon Jovi became VH-1's Jersey Cowboy. Metallica left the country for a two-year tour, and when they returned, they were not the same Bay Area thrashers. Only Slayer, distant and inscrutable in the depths of hell, remained unaffected, and they continued to release the same album every two years as if nothing had ever changed.

But it had. Metal shattered into myriad subcults and was co-opted by Seattle, with grunge emerging as the new next big thing. The Empire had burned, and the four members of S.O.D. had rocked out while flames scorched the earth.

Stormtroopers of Death: The once and future kings of metal.
BJ Papas
Stormtroopers of Death: The once and future kings of metal.

Back in 1999, grunge is dead of self-inflicted gunshots and metal is on the rise. But once again it's MTV's idea of what heavy metal should be. Limp Bizkit and Korn are riding high on their combination of turntables and Marshall stacks, and it couldn't be more boring. Everyone is sporting the Adidas-tracksuit-and-Gilligan-hat look, throwing around the "yo, homie" whilst "raising the roof" as if he's an extra in the latest Master P joint. (Note to self: Kill next person who "raises" any roof I am under.) Korn's best stab at originality is adding bagpipes to the occasional song, but didn't Nigel Tufnel do that a few years back with Spinal Tap? And Limp Bizkit. Take one ex-member of House of Pain, add some guitars and remove all brain cells, and voilà! "Nookie." Neither band (nor their host of imitators) seems to realize that their hybrid of metal and hip-hop was done way back in 1987, when Anthrax recorded "I'm the Man" as a joke. And neither band nor their patron saint, MTV, seems to be aware of the fact that earlier this summer S.O.D. issued a declaration of war on their commercial-metal syndicate.

Releasing their second effort in 14 years (Bigger Than the Devil), S.O.D. have come back like locusts to raze metal, or what passes for metal in the mainstream, to the ground. Maybe it's because Scott Ian and Charlie Benante feel somewhat responsible for what their hip-hop metal joke has become, and they need to squelch it before Mötley Crüe hooks up with Puff Daddy and mount their 47th comeback attempt. Maybe it's because Billy Milano is a force of nature that cannot be contained on the East Coast, and he must be unleashed periodically so that he doesn't destroy New York. Maybe it's because Brutal Truth broke up and Dan Lilker needs a band to kill basses for. Or maybe they're back because heavy metal needs a good swift kick in the ass and Stormtroopers of Death are the only band whose collective foot is big and heavy enough to do it. They killed metal in the '80s, and they never left the East Coast. Now they're on a world tour. Who or what will turn up dead when S.O.D are through this time?

S.O.D. play the Galaxy on Friday, Nov. 19, accompanied by Skinlab and Crowbar.

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