I live in Central Iowa. No, it isn’t the suicidal nuclear wasteland of grotesquerie that the members of Slipknot would have you believe (no offense to those guys, but that just isn’t my personal experience). However, it is quiet and somewhat desolate. Not a lot goes on here and for the most part we like it that way. We’re never in much of a hurry to get anywhere or do anything.
This can be good and bad for a metal head. You don’t get to see many live bands, but you’re very grateful for the ones that you do get to see. It is something special, not “just another show”. (I remember how shocked I was out in California, everyone seemed so jaded about going to shows, while I was practically bouncing off the walls with excitement.) I was pretty ecstatic when bands like Watain, Vader, Soilent Green, Fuck… I’m Dead and Boris actually deemed Iowa worthy of making a stop in. Of course, the fact that they haven’t been back since is telling. There are only a handful of people here that really give a shit. Of course you can always drive 6 hours to Chicago, 4 hours to Minneapolis or 3 hours to Omaha for a show, but that typically isn’t feasible when you have a career and a family.
Since it is so quiet and laid back, you’ve got plenty of time to sit and listen to music in the comfort of your own home. If you spend a lot of time thinking and writing about metal (as I do), chances are pretty good that if you need a few hours to be left to your own devices and listen to records, no one is going to stop you. The downside is that you’re not going to be able to go out to the record store and just buy those records you want to listen to. There are no “cool independent record stores” that cater to metal here. There was a shop within walking distance of my mother’s house that would at least get Relapse and Metal Blade titles, but it closed its doors years ago. There just aren’t enough serious metal heads to support something like that. I buy 99% of my music online for that reason. Occasionally the used bookstore will surprise me with some cool CDs and the dreaded FYE is usually good for the big new releases (I was pleased to buy the new Enforcer album for a reasonable price there recently), but other than that you’re going to be buying from Amazon, Ebay or one of the various indie distros.
Generally, I don’t even tell people here that I’m into metal. A lot of people here are into what I refer to as “lowest common denominator metal”, bands such as Devildriver, Lamb of God, As I Lay Dying, assorted terrible metalcore, nu metal (yes, that shit is still alive and well in the Midwest), or they play in a band that plies one of these awful styles. I try to avoid these people like the plague and if I do end up in conversation with one of them, I try to end it as quickly as possible by just agreeing that whatever awful bands they like are good and then run while they aren’t looking. I’m not about to try to explain Deathspell Omega or Lifelover to a person who actually thinks Devildriver is a good band. If that makes me an asshole, so be it. I like some pretty questionable stuff myself (the above mentioned Pantera probably falls into that lowest common denominator category for many), but I’m smart enough to recognize it for what it is… I just don’t get that from the folks I generally talk to, so I try to just avoid it all together. Granted, the band t-shirts I’m usually wearing are a dead giveaway, rendering my attempts to avoid metal conversation futile… maybe I need to start wearing polos.
Then there’s Slipknot. Once people find out you’re from Iowa and into metal, they inevitably want to talk about this band. The truth is, I own their records but they’ve never been my favorite. I’m not just saying that to “be cool”, you’ll have to take my word for it. I’ve only seen them once, and no it wasn’t in some dingy club before they were famous. It was at Hilton Coliseum while I was on assignment for my college newspaper reviewing the show. In Des Moines, everyone (except me, apparently) has a story about Slipknot. They typically go something like this: “Oh yeah, my father’s uncle’s brother’s sister’s cousin’s former roommate used to babysit for Corey Taylor… but he hasn’t talked to him in a couple of years. Corey used the bathroom at my house once.” If you want to talk about Slipknot, talk to them, not me. Again, it’s nothing personal.
Other local bands? Well there’s Black Market Fetus, a great grind/thrash/cluster-fuck of a band (when they’re actually active), and that’s about it for “real metal” these days. Anything we have resembling a “local scene”, that band pretty much carries it on their shoulders, in my opinion. There used to be a great band here called Hunger Pains that had an Eyehategod/Soilent Green thing going on, but who the hell knows what happened to them. Fuzzhawg (one of many bands captained by Des Moines riffmaster Ed Henry, now of Thee Exalted .) was another band that showed up, kicked some ass and then were never heard from again. Skin of Earth were pretty interesting the times I’ve seen them. To be honest I’m pretty out of touch with the local scene, mainly because of all the bands I’ve seen over the years, those I just mentioned were the only ones that ever really impressed me.
Iowa is not a cultural wasteland, but it does not cater to heavy metal (unless you like bad metalcore, nu metal or hair metal, but these do not count for my purposes). In some ways, I’m glad. I’m able to form my opinions in isolation, without much interference. I don’t have a million shitty local bands breathing down my neck to listen to their self-released albums and give them coverage. I get to look at things from the Midwesterner’s perspective. We’re stubborn, we’re loyal and we take our time making decisions and forming opinions. We like to have all the facts and plenty of time for study and contemplation. We don’t worry much about whether our decisions or opinions will be popular and we will defend them tenaciously. Those might sound like stereotypes, but I’ve always found them to be true.
Some people might say I’m not qualified to write about metal since I’m just a “hick from Iowa”. The truth is that because of my geographical location, I’ve had to work harder than just about anyone to get into metal (as discussed in “I was a Teenage Metalhead”) and to be in the position that I’m in today. It doesn’t come easy out here on the prairie.