Unlocking the truth about Unlocking the Truth

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock or are just oblivious to who has been making noise in heavy music for last year, than you probably have some familiarity with teenage, upstart metal band from Brooklyn, NY, Unlocking the Truth. Starting as an instrumental two-piece rocking out in Times Square as street performers, the duo’s (later trio) video went viral, and the world took notice.

Seemingly overnight, Unlocking The Truth became the band du jour to serve as opening acts for the biggest names in rock and metal including Guns N Roses, Queens of the Stone Age, in addition to playing mammoth festivals like Coachella and Heavy MTL. More recently, their ascent to fame has been capped off by securing a highly publicized and possibly lucrative record deal with Sony as well as a performance on The Colbert Report, which is unheard of for metal acts.

The public at large appears to be fully embracing this band. Overall, I think that is a great thing. I can’t help feeling somewhat connected to the band. For a time, God Forbid was considered by some to be the torchbearer for black metal musicians. Despite our bass player, John, being white, and my brother and I being bi-racial, race was a big part of our narrative. Especially in the early years. It made me proud to be an ethnic metal band, knowing that it lifted the stigma for many young black people who were hesitant to get involved in music because of the resistance between black, urban culture and rock music. Even if it’s not true, I would love to believe that God Forbid helped pave the way for a band like Unlocking the Truth, and make their journey easier.

Although I feel that Unlocking the Truth’s presence is a net positive (lord knows metal needs some exciting stories), something about the meteoric nature of their transition from obscurity to notoriety is troubling. I couldn’t shake the feeling, so I kept ruminating. The pure talent and ability, for such young people, is obvious. These kids can play. They also aren’t scared of the spotlight. That shows confidence, which usually takes a lot of time to cultivate.

The question has to be asked: Is this band as good as the hype machine is telling us or are we all just wrapped up in the subterfuge of a charming, appealing underdog?

After a good deal of thought, my diagnosis is that the momentous adulation is slightly premature. We are crowning the king before he is ready to rule. Out of some politically correct instinct, the media has been tip-toeing in pointing out the band’s inherent novelty: They are teenagers and they black. Right now, people are enthralled with the novelty and the raw talent.

But, we are yet to hear a song that exemplifies what this band has to say as musicians, artists, lyrically, and sonically. We haven’t heard that song because the band has not released any material yet. How excited can you be for a band that you don’t even really know what their music is? Maybe we’re in a time where the music is supplementary to the spectacle and the story. There are plenty of great bands out there who are personally boring as hell. No story. No image. No brand. No charisma. Style and substance have been glorious partners in rock n roll history. Expert tacticians with no personality bug me just as much as glamorous storefronts with empty shelves masquerading as bands.

I am mainly troubled because I am worried about these kids. From what I hear, their parents and handlers are doing a great job taking care of them. Which is wonderful to hear after the nightmare stories circulated about child stars like Lindsay Lohan and Macaulay Culkin’s parents. I am worried because there is a strong chance that this moment in time is as good as it gets. They won’t always be teenagers. Novelties wear off. Especially if you don’t have the music to back it up. Will Guns N Roses or Colbert want them when they are 25 years old instead of 15, grinding on their 3rd record, and the shine has faded?

Three examples of bands that come to mind who were previously heralded for their advanced skill level at a young age are Silver Chair, Kittie, and Trivium. In all cases, their first album was their biggest album in terms of record sales (US & UK for Trivium’s Ascendancy). Out of the three, Trivium is currently the only active band and has had a robust and consistent career. They were slightly older than Kittie and Silver Chair, and you could make a case that their music was good enough that their youth only enhanced success that would have already been there. At least Kittie and Silver Chair had a handful of definable hit songs that were played on the radio and MTV. The fan impact and connection was measurable. UTT has not even hit this benchmark.

Having your highest point of success as a teenager must really do a number on your psyche. You can see why so many child stars end up with drug problems and mental and emotional issues.

I am also a bit bothered by the populous being a little too enamored with their blackness and youngness. “They are so cute. They are black kids playing heavy metal.” How cute it is indeed. But therein lies the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” As if their youth and race are impediments. It feels like people rooting for someone with a disability completing a rudimentary physical task becoming somehow heroic. It’s unknowingly and passively insulting. We should like them for being good…period. Not good for being young, black men. We have to judge them against great music as a whole. This isn’t boxing. There aren’t weight classes.

With all of that said, I am rooting for these teenagers. For all of our sakes, I hope that signing Unlocking the Truth is analogous to drafting Lebron James out of high school, and they will become the Hall of Famers so many are predicting. As a realist, I refuse to see the Emperor’s clothes. That dude is currently naked. When these young men arrive, I will be the first to greet them with open arms. We need the next headliners and gateway bands. Until that happens, let’s be supportive but reserved until there is tangible substance.

This Is The End

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“This is the end!” This is the emphatic, anthemic line in the God Forbid opening track from the album IV: Constitution of Treason, which was released during the peak of our powers in 2005. In fact, it wasn’t the end. The end came much later. At the time, it felt like we were invincible, destined for heavy metal immortality. And we were in the lower tier of the NWOAHM (or Metalcore or whatever you want to call it) in all metrics for determining the success or popularity of bands. If you look at album, ticket, and merchandise sales, Myspace friends, Youtube views, Facebook “likes”, or the ever mystical buzz on the street, God Forbid was probably never half as big as any of the rest of the Big 4 of Quitters (I should trade mark this) including Bleeding Through, Shadows Fall, and now Chimaira. Knowing that, even we felt invincible. That’s how intoxicating achieving any discernible success with your art can be. Shadows Fall and Chimaira hanging it up in the last couple weeks have brought an outpouring of sadness, shock and disappointment from fans. It seems like the end of an era, and maybe it is.

Hearing that these great bands are moving on makes me sad and disappointed, but not shocked. The truth is that amongst peers a good majority of our conversations have to do with figuring out how to stay relevant by finding new audiences, getting great tours, signing with the right label, writing the next game changing album, and more. Teetering on the edge of existence has been much of our collective realities for half of our careers. As the O.G. quitter, I’m here to explain why this is happening and why you shouldn’t be surprised.

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The Sound of White Noise

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I have always been fascinated by American race relations. Ours is a history that has always been colored by race, no pun intended. Being bi-racial probably gives me more objective standpoint than most, but no one can claim pure objectivity. We’re all victim to our upbringing, environment, and even genetic tools of intellect we’re born with.

Barack Obama’s election was supposed to be dawn of the post-racial society, but instead I believe that it has been a powder keg for racial tensions that have been brewing in all of the decades since Civil Rights breakthroughs of the 1960’s. It seems as though race is the backdrop to every other scandalous news story: The Trayvon Martin case, the Donald Sterling debacle, and now the firing of radio show host Anthony Cumia of ” The Opie and Anthony Show” on Sirius/XM.

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Vagus Nerve Announces First Ever Live Performance

Vagus Nerve Rehearsal

 

After a couple years of trading files, false starts, long drives to jam, hiccups, looking for band members, my rock project turned actual band, Vagus Nerve, has decided to make it’s first live appearance ever at Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn, NY this Saturday night, March 22nd.

This show is all due to the ever talented Ms. Meghann Wright and her birthday celebration. I would like to thank her personally for helping make this happen.

Vagus Nerve is: myself, Ravi Orr (Phyllotaxis) on vocals, Aden Oxenreider on bass guitar, Moe Watson (Aliens) on drum, and Mike Gowen (Mother) on 2nd guitar.

Vagus Nerve music sampler and show flyer after the jump!

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Fuck Zombies

SVEDKA Vodka, Shutterfly & Smartwater Present Heidi Klum’s 14th Annual Halloween Party at Marquee

It’s 3:25am. I am about half-way through catching up with the latest episode of The Walking Dead. I find myself drifting. Bored. Questioning every logical move of the characters. Why go in that door? Why walk down that road? What the hell are these assholes doing?

Than emerges a revelation…an epiphany…a corner is turned….a shark is jumped.

It dawns on me that the entire concept of the zombie apocalypse is fucking stupid. I apologize for the language, but mentally malnourished subject matter must be engaged with the same level of nuance in which it was conceived.

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Guest Guitar Solo for Vext

Doc & Tom Acoustic

Over the next few weeks, I will be releasing a handful of guest guitar solo’s I’ve done for a few friends. It’s all stuff I’ve done in the past year or so, and will give you a good idea of how my lead playing has been developing. It’s always a challenge writing solo’s for me. I try not to repeat the same ideas, and keep it hooky and know when to go for it, and when to keep it calm. Not over play.

This was one of 2 guest guitar Solo’s I did for the most recent Vext EP for my good buddy Tommy Vext. On the final release, they ended up only using the 2nd half of my lead, and guitar wizard, Angel Vivaldi, did a ripping lead for the first half. I thought it would be cool to show my full version for full context. I probably would have done something different for the 2nd half if I knew I was playing off of his solo. Cool stuff either way. Enjoy!

I May Be A Hypocrite

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My only real rule with my writing is to pursue a genuine sense of honesty and self reflection. This can be difficult in general throughout life because often, we lie to our selves. How can you truly be honest with others when you can’t even sift through the subterfuge of your own subconscious self deception?

With that said, I’m calling bullshit on myself for not following through with my own pep talk from my previous entry, “The Cookie Crumbles”, which details my thoughts on persevering through adversity. The article was quite rousing, if not self-helpish in it’s tone, and somewhat sanctimonious in hindsight. (I often find people giving other people life advice sanctimonious.)

Since the posting of that piece, I’ve fallen into what could only be described as some sort of depression. I usually don’t go see a doctor unless it’s a dire need, so in times like these, I tend to act as my own shrink. I always feel that there should be a logical reason for depressed thoughts and feelings; A relationship breakup, a job layoff, a death in the family, etc. Hence, there should be a logical solution to said problem. Whether it’s getting more sun or exercise, socializing more, or perhaps taking significant time to heal from a loss is the only answer. Logic aside, one caveat is that there could be just a chemical imbalance, i.e., clinical depression, but I would only want to try anti-depressants as a last resort. I had a horrible experience once after trying them for a few days. I would rather to go to the root of the problem, not reach for a band aid.

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The Cookie Crumbles

A Blue Ice Cream Cone Accident On Ezra Street
As a write this, I am doing my best to arise from a creative malaise. It’s no revelation to most of us “artists” that creativity is a muscle that weakens without consistent use. The blank canvas, empty page, or barren Pro Tools session can seem like a tall mountain climb when you haven’t produced in a significant period of time.

I’ve had several ideas floating around my head, but I haven’t written an in-depth blog piece in almost 2 months. Despite my intro, I wasn’t creatively blocked. I just didn’t have any damn time. As many of you know, I took a touring gig filling in on bass guitar for metalcore heavyweight champs, Unearth. The month before the tour was a whirlwind of busy activity. In addition to tying up loose ends with my new rock band (Vagus Nerve), cover band (Rebel Noise Group), picking up extra shifts bartending, teaching guitar at School of Rock and privately, and curating an educational performance for Tomato’s House of Rock in NYC, I still had to learn 14 Unearth songs in whatever free time I had. Thankfully, all of the tasks were completed, but I was left little time to be creative….in any arena.

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I am Playing Bass with Unearth on their Fall Tour

Unearth Doc

 

I will be filling in on bass guitar for Unearth bassist, John “Slo” Maggard, on their upcoming US tour as direct support to the legendary Sepultura on the “Tsunami of Metal Tour” also featuring Kataklysm, Dark Sermon with Scar The Martyr and Anciients featured on select dates.

I have to say it is a complete and total honor that the boys in Unearth have considered me for the position. Unearth and God Forbid came up together in the mid/late 90’s hardcore scene slogging it out in the same VFW halls, basements, and Rec centers. They are truly dear, old friends, and I can’t wait to spend a month together smelling their farts. I am especially psyched to hit the road since it’s been almost been a year since I’ve toured. Let’s see if my headbangin’ neck stick works. Tour dates after the jump.

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