Where's the Utah Metal? 

Local bands talk about lost scene

click to enlarge Adam Paswaters, Brute Force
  • Adam Paswaters, Brute Force

When asked if he ever books metal shows, University of Utah public-relations student and club investor Rick Jones laughs and retorts, “What for? Nostalgia?”

Once upon a time, God cut through the wave of progressive rock and flower-toting jam bands to proclaim to the world, “Let there be metal.” And metal there was, in every city, in every club and in the CD decks of every teenager.

The Big Four thrash bands stopped in Salt Lake City every year. Pantera trashed rooms at the Grand America and Motel 6 alike, Ozzfest sold out the open-air venues across the country, and every local venue from the Great Saltair to the Dawg Pound had a metal act lined up each weekend, it seemed. Local metal bands were as plentiful as they were concert-ready. This, however, is no longer the case.

“The metal scene is dying in this city,” says Adam Paswaters, rhythm guitarist and vocalist for the Salt Lake City-based outfit aptly titled Brute Force. His band has been around for years, playing in every venue that will book them and any time slot that isn’t before noon. They conjure stereotypical images of a mishmash of every heavy band in history: ripped jeans, Viking hair, broken-in T-shirts of their favorite musical influences and a cloud of cigarette smoke that surrounds them like Stygian mist.

“Every show used to be metal; now it’s a bunch of indie bands and electronica. The music used to be about passion and aggression and doing your own thing,” Paswaters says. “Now, it seems like nobody wants that anymore. It’s ‘not [their] scene.’” Other bands like Ravings of a Madman, INVDRS (who played a “final show” in July, only to re-emerge in August) and Killbot have also tried to keep the bullhorns thrown high into the midnight hour whenever and wherever they could.

The time is over for Flying V guitars and blast beats, suspects former bassist for rockabilly band Hillbilly Hellcats and Salt Lake City resident Dinny Dinsdale. “I honestly haven’t been to a really great metal show in years,” he says. “Metal didn’t make the leap to the years beyond 2005, really. It’s sad. They breathed a lot of life into the city. But metal isn’t the scene anymore; people want pin-ups, not chicks in denim vests.”

Certainly the change in music in a broad scope has been multidimensional. Clothing style, dance style, social messages and drinking habits have all influenced the decline in this aggressive and sonically powerful genre.

“I don’t know when, exactly, but along the line, everybody just wanted to dance,” says “Metal” Travis Jensen, a promoter for The Complex. “Electronic music is the huge thing now, and indie.”

However, hope springs eternal; there may be a chance of revival for the genre—and from a younger generation of headbangers. “It’s not like the scene is dead entirely; we try to book tons of metal acts here. What really helps is that we have some all-ages rooms,” Jensen says, with hope.

“The bars are the last bastions for us these days,” says Logan Platt, Brute Force’s lead guitarist. However, metal stalwart Club Vegas recently closed shop, so venues are slim pickin’s. “And all the all-ages venues got shut down: Outer Rim, Lo-Fi Cafe, The Junction, Club DV8. That’s really what killed the scene, I think. ... The musical future is the kids, and they can’t see us. What we need are more venues that kids can come to without having to get a fake I.D.”

Young bands from Salt Lake City often travel to Ogden, which seems to have less of a problem keeping a lively metal scene alive. “Salt Lake is cool for going to dance clubs and stuff,” says Tim McKenna, the most vocal of a group of teenage metalheads who frequent the all-ages Ogden club The Basement. The shows feature upward to seven bands, each playing rapid-fire sets in succession to a packed house. “We can’t get into a lot of the metal shows, though, so more bands play here, I think. It’d be sick to have some better places in Salt Lake, though.”

“There’s a comeback on the way,” says local concert promoter Frank Carroll, who hails from the more vibrant East Coast metal scene. “Bands can’t get the $2,000 return that they might get in Los Angeles. It’s discouraging for them, so what they need is a group of dedicated promoters who are willing to do the DIY thing: knock on some doors, make some cold calls and not be scared of getting rejected. And they’re getting more people like that.”

It seems like metal may not be dead entirely. It might just be, fittingly, undead.

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