Film: Hair Metal Revival
Director: Bruce Moore
Studio: Brutally Delicious Productions
Release Date: July 1, 2022
Featuring: Wrathchild UK, Enuff Z’Nuff, King Zebra, Bad Baron, Spyder Byte, Cruzh, Midnite City, Starcrazy, Night Laser, Wicked, and Kill City Kills
“I know the term ‘hair metal’ can be quite divisive and it tends to get people all excited. Or leave them cringing in disgust.”Bruce Moore
I’m old enough to remember the days when hair metal ruled the airwaves. It began in the early 1980s in and around California’s Sunset Strip with bands like Hanoi Rocks and Motley Crue, though from my perspective – having grown up in Ohio, light years away from the epicenter of sleaze – the timeline was somewhere between 1986 and 1990. Poison was the first band I remember responding to negatively, fair or not, and then came bands like Winger, Britney Fox, Trixter, Warrant, Stryper, and the sort. I could go on for hours about the many reasons bands like this stir up my emotions and leave me trying to invent new words for “cringe” and “disgust,” and generally give as many fucks about my stance on it as any of the musicians would give about my opinion. But we all have them, don’t we? Bruce Moore is absolutely right about hair metal’s divisiveness. Especially among those of us who lived through it, with all of our conflicting definitions about what was or wasn’t complete nonsense.
In a description of his latest film, Hair Metal Revival, Bruce sums up his thoughts on the matter like this:
“Civilization fell on September 10, 1991, when Nirvana released their chart-topping record ‘Nevermind.’ From that point on we had inflicted upon us music to cut your wrists by, and for those who wanted to be professionally miserable, this was not a good time.
“Almost overnight the musical landscape changed dramatically from one of having a good time, partying, and living in the moment to grossly overpaid but unwashed musicians, sporting dirty flannel shirts complaining about how bad their lives were and how fucked up society was.”
I don’t remember it quite the same way. Axl Rose may have had poofy hair, but “Welcome to the Jungle” sure as hell wasn’t about having a good time. And by 1990, bands like Alice In Chains, and Soundgarden were already actively chopping down the hair metal tree, not to mention a little band called Pantera who took it upon themselves to go from Power Metal to Cowboys from Hell. Understanding the relatability of things like depression, mortality, and isolation completely, these guys wrote about serious shit and wore on stage what they wore to the record store. At least until department stores started selling holey cardigans for $300. I decided it was worth considering how much of hair metal’s demise could be blamed on MTV.
“I was heavily involved in the era of the Western Civilization film,” Bruce explains, calling to mind the brilliant, though difficult-to-watch, movie by Penelope Spheeris, “and spent a lot of time out there at the Cat House, Rainbow, and such and it was massive. Beyond what you saw on MTV. Yeah, some of those names were around, but other than Pantera, no one was gaining traction. Until Nevermind.”
This brings up something I hadn’t considered. Culturally, how much of the Sunset Strip was entirely missed by people living in the Midwest? How much of hair metal’s evolution did we really get to see before a world’s worth of education and entertainment could fit in the palms of our hands? Perhaps, as the film suggests, bands like Poison didn’t get a fair shake because they simply made less sense to people in other parts of the country. There isn’t a quick and easy, one-size-fits-all answer to hair metal’s demise, and spending too much time in debate mode about it misses the point. The film Hair Metal Revival focuses almost entirely on the community surrounding a resurgence of hair metal bands in places like Sweden, Finland, and the UK. In these areas, a small but infectiously enthusiastic group of young musicians remain enthralled by the sounds and ornamental vestments of the 1980s.
“It’s rock n’ roll, I mean. What does it mean to me? What does it mean to you? We’re talkin’ good time rock n’ roll,” says Danny Doll of the LA-based outfit Wicked. “Yeah, you look like your sister. You don’t give a fuck about what anybody thinks.” If we stick with the Decline of Western Civilization comparison, Danny Doll would be the Chris Holmes-type character. But instead of floating in a pool next to his mom drinking vodka from the bottle, Doll is sitting on a couch next to his guitarist, drinking vodka from a glass. And, albeit miles less self-destructive, there are moments the dude makes about as much sense.
But it doesn’t matter because he comes off more charming than offensive, and clearly smokes what he’s selling. He’s far from the only one. Shawn Charvette of Midnight City, Alex Kron of Bad Baron, Nathan Hammond of Spyder Byte, and Ellis Sylvain of Kill City Kills all speak knowledgeably and at great length about the genre they call home. And not a single one of them gives a squirt of piss about any jokes that might be made at their expense. That sort of attitude is quintessential heavy metal, and it isn’t easy to fake.
Old school hair metallers Rocky Shades (Wrathchild UK) and Eric St. Michaels (King Zebra) have a thing or two to say about these youngsters and the many ways technology has changed the game. A major factor in how things panned out, for sure, and I don’t think it gets discussed enough. Shades says, “the Internet provides them with so many rock clothing outlets, that even the ugliest of ducklings can be turned into a peacock.” St. Michaels echoes a similar disdain for computers, suggesting modern music lacks substance and panache. Neither one of them is entirely off base, partially because 1) the recording process no longer requires two-inch magnetic tape, and 2) exposing it to a large number of people no longer requires the approval of popular media personalities.
Ellis Sylvain of Kill City Kills makes a great point about some of the darkness present in “more aggressive and rebellious” bands like Skid Row, Guns N’ Roses, and W.A.S.P. He suggests this music is less about parties and more about “confronting the cruelty of the world,” and “defending your right to be yourself.” Further suggesting this has always been the case and is, in fact, the very essence of heavy metal. Say what you want about… whatever band, then or now. He isn’t wrong.
“I think Poison’s 1987 hit ‘Nothin’ But A Good Time’ summed up the genre, the lifestyle, and the movement perfectly. It was and still is a much-needed distraction from reality and the promise of having nothing but a good time with your best buds.”Bruce Moore
Whatever any of us might think about hair metal, it’s still about the same thing it always was; Community. And as far as its apparent simplicity? In a world that’s changing so rapidly, and so often for the worse, the resurgence of music about less complicated things makes complete sense. Taking some time to unplug and watch Hair Metal Revival might just give you something to smile about. You can do that now if you’d like. Let us know what you think.
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