Anniston isn’t a heavy metal town.
It’s big on karaoke, and on parking musicians in restaurant dining rooms for three or four hours of cover tunes on acoustic guitar. There’s nothing wrong with that — “Don’t Stop Believin’” is even more fun with Aunt Rita singing along over a basket of onion rings. But it’s designed as a soundtrack to cocktail hour and dinner with friends, with audience members free to chat and check their phones.
When a metal band takes the stage, you can love them or hate them, but good luck ignoring them.
“They see a dude covered in tattoos with big holes in his ears screaming on stage, that’s really scary, people don’t know how to handle it,” said Devin Williams, guitarist of new Anniston metal outfit VEDA, which performs at the Crimson Tiger on Saturday with Oxford’s Chaotic Theory and Koralyst from Birmingham.
VEDA incorporates members of Williams’ previous band, JEROLYN, which performed around the country with other metal acts. The new crew sports three guitarists, harsh vocals and crushing percussion on their opening single, “noitadnuoF,” making them stand out from other local bands in a big way.
But it’s those same features that move them out of the mainstream, well beyond the realm of Journey covers. According to WLJS metal director Billy Ramsey, it’s hard for audiences to try something new when familiarity is more comfortable.
“How many times do people go to a restaurant, look at the entire menu and still order the same thing they always do?” said Ramsey. Another challenge, he says, is that the stereotypical expectations of metal — tattoos, screaming, violence and affiliation with evil — can be difficult for conservative audiences to see beyond.
The mention of metal might bring to mind acts that go for shock value and generate buzz through conflict, like Marilyn Manson, but they’re not ideal ambassadors for the overall genre. Brittany Henderson, lead singer of Chaotic Theory, says her lyrics are more about self-examination than generating socio-political strife.
“A lot of it is about life experience, about strength,” said Henderson. “There are things you go through in life, and we’re saying we’re not going to back down.”
Williams said his experience with the genre in high school kept him out of trouble, giving him a positive activity and release. He also points to the “straight edge” lifestyle borne from 1970s punk rock that discourages drug, tobacco and alcohol use, and which has gained prominence in both modern punk and metal music scenes.
“Kids are interacting with people that want to stay out of trouble, which keeps kids out of trouble,” said Williams. “The older crowds don’t see that. They see a nuisance.”
Part of the struggle faced by the local punk and metal scene is a lack of all-ages venues. The fabled all-ages venue 1213 Rock Shows on West 13th Street in Anniston closed its doors in 2004, effectively cutting off fans too young to drink from the area’s musical development.
“Music is a healthy outlet, and by taking it away from kids it’s leaving unhealthy ones,” said Chaotic Theory’s guitarist Nick Portuese, pointing out that every member of the band is or soon will be a parent themselves.
“We’ve personally found playing in Alabama that the all-ages places are the best to play,” said the band’s bassist, Brandon Deese. “Those kids aren’t there to drink, they’re there for the music.”
VEDA guitarist Rob Green echoed the sentiment, saying he’d been contacted by several teenagers asking if the show would be all-ages. “The kids here are thirsty for shows,” he said.
Metal fans build metal bands and do what they can to rock in public. Chugging guitars and dressing all in black might seem threatening, but for these bands, metal is a haven where they can let their inner animals out of their cages for a while. According to Portuese, Chaotic Theory will keep playing metal even if it’s unpopular locally.
“People talk about bands that make money and call them sellouts,” said Portuese. “If you won’t play things you feel because you’re afraid of what people say about you — that’s a sellout.”