Oh, the Midwest… A rural landscape of nothingness mixed with a few splotches of urban life here and there that remind you that civilization does indeed exist. There’s a reason we’re referred to by many as the flyover states, and often, that’s rightfully so. But, to natives it represents the grueling, grinding work that people dedicate their lives to which provides the rest of the country with the essential food products they rely on everyday. If you’ve ever passed through the Great Plains while traveling to your favorite vacation spot, you probably wouldn’t have noticed that between the corn and wheat fields lies a story of a different kind of grueling, grinding work.
Imagine being in a metal band starting up in a small town somewhere in the Midwest. You don’t have the luxury of the population density of the Eastern seaboard or the West Coast. However, you’re still here sticking it out, trying to spread your music, and get your names and faces out there. Touring the Midwest can be a daunting and often discouraging quest. You travel from city to city, often unfamiliar with the venue, the bands you’re playing with, and – most importantly – if you’ll even get paid. One band that can attest to this is Illinois death metal trio Annihilate the Hero. Formed in 2002, they’ve toured the Midwest several times and have experienced both sides of the spectrum, be it utter frustration or trying to gain new fans. Bassist Tony Lamantia gives us an inside look into traveling through towns that most bands wouldn’t have thought about stopping in.
“The Midwest has treated us well. We are mostly met with positive responses. We do get the occasional, ‘Who the Hell are these guys?’ But, once we have finished the set, people are usually into it. Ninety-five percent of the shows we have played have been awesome. We all have less than spectacular jobs, so when we get to play for people – which is really what we all want to do for a living – we enjoy it. There is the occasional show where we may get stiffed on money or our set time is cut short, but for the majority of it, it’s pretty sweet.”
Annihilate the Hero is a three-piece metal band which brings together a mixture of death, progressive and old school metal, along with a pinch of grindcore and metalcore. In the past decade, they’ve released six albums and toured the Midwest with such bands as Bleed the Sky (Metal Blade Records) and Silent Civilian (Mediaskare Records). During their tenure, they’ve also had the privilege of sharing the stage with several new wave metal bands such as Superjoint Ritual, Hatebreed, Chimaira, God Forbid, and many more. While they’ve had good experiences, they’ve also had their fair share of crap.
“The worst experience we have had involved a show in Memphis, TN. We were new to getting out of town and said “yes” to a small tour that wasn’t planned as well as it should have been. The band that we played with was quite different stylistically than us. Needless to say, their crowd did not like what we were spewing, and everyone went outside. By the end of the 2nd song, we were playing to a bartender reading a newspaper. so we scrapped the set and worked on new material until the set time was over. On the 4+ hour ride home, we had a lot of time to contemplate the $40 we received and our choices for future touring.”
One thing all evolving bands struggle with is the hard task of gaining recognition within an area, expanding their reach, and accomplishing their ultimate goal of being paid to play their music rather than the other way around. But, in the age of social media and YouTube, there are millions of bands out there on the same dreamt journey. The age old question resounds louder than ever: how does a band set itself apart from the rest?
“I have no idea how to set oneself apart. If we did, you would be getting this from a truck stop somewhere on the road versus from my living room with me sitting in my jammies on my day off. We strive to write quality music and to get it out to as many people as we can get to listen to it. Hopefully, people will enjoy it and tell others who do the same and then come see us when we play near them.”
An intuitive tool that had come of age recently in the music industry is the realm of crowd-funding projects that help bands, both young and old, reach out to the masses for support in releasing an album, purchasing equipment or merchandise, and saving up to hit the road. There are mixed feelings among bands these days. Often the argument focuses on the old-fashion way of busting your ass and earning the success that comes your way versus the idea of bands that ask for money to fund an album or a tour. A frequent justification for the latter is that the bands who receive these donations are often putting themselves under the pressure of delivering a quality product that will be accepted by the fans. If the fans support an album that subsequently receives low reviews, those fans are going to be pissed.
“I am torn with crowd funding myself. It could be a positive way for a band to record or go on the road with the support of dedicated fans who truly love the music they are supporting. But, it could also be the easy way to get something for nothing. I’m an old fart, and I think you need to earn the things you have. Annihilate The Hero has always been a self-made band. We have 6 albums out that we put out on our own dime. We have always paid for merch with our own money. All of the things we do, we do because we love playing music. It seems to me that if you are handed money, it would be easy to slop something together just to get it out. When you are responsible for the product (music, merch, the show you are performing) you are going to put your heart into it and deliver.
Now don’t get me wrong if someone with scads of money came up to us and said, ‘Here you go boys; have fun’, we could do some serious damage with it. Unfortunately, not everyone will use these tools for good.”
Over the past decade, Annihilate the Hero have been chiseling away at the stone wall of the underground metal scene, becoming closer and closer to breaking through as they carve their way through the abyss of the Midwest. “Oracle”, their latest full-length release, has a very intoxicating sound. There are hints of Lamb of God, Misery Index, and Arch Enemy influences. Mixed with delicate interludes of guitar riffs are the occasional clean vocals that keep the listener from drowning in monotonous blast beats and Cookie Monster vocals that other bands seem to deploy non-stop for four to five minutes at a time.
While being on a major record label is the ultimate goal of musicians worldwide, there’s something raw and inspirational about independent artists fighting to survive in a cesspool of mediocrity and popular trends… In order to chase their dreams, many indie artists face those all-too-familiar decisions of leaving family, friends, and often even their jobs to travel with their bandmates in a small cramped van up and down and around the country in which they live. The underground metal scene is arguably the toughest road to travel. Annihilate the Hero are well on their way to conquering it.
Check out Annihilate the Hero, listen to their music, and download it for your own price at http://annihilatethehero.bandcamp.com/