Where you come from. (Or being a metal fan in Iowa and its disastrous consequences.)

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.

14 thoughts on “Where you come from. (Or being a metal fan in Iowa and its disastrous consequences.)

  1. As a fellow Midwestern music aficionado, I really empathize with you. Seriously. When I was in Indianapolis, most everything worth seeing never came any closer than Chicago, though sometimes through Columbus OH or even Bloomington. And Indy not being a college town, really just more of a big suburb with a few cool neighborhoods, just doesn’t have the makings for a good scene of its own, metal or otherwise.

    Though of course its worth saying that there are a lot of diamonds in the rough, especially for metalheads- though I’m not terribly into metal myself, we got Dude Fest, Gates of Slumber is based here, an awesome hardcore band called About the Fire was here too but broke up before I ever got to see them, and Disfear even passed through! And of course, in typical Midwestern fashion, its probably for the best that we don’t have any “scene” to speak of cause we don’t have, nor need, the egos for it! FWIW <a href="http://hoosiergringo.blogspot.com/2010/02/why-does-all-action-in-indiana-have-to.html"I actually touched on this a few months ago on my own blog

    And btw I really love the part about the Midwesterner’s perspective (second to last paragraph), hits the nail on the head as far as I’m concerned.

  2. Having lived in the midwest and california for a long time in both regions (and not originating from either region), I think it’s human nature to be appreciative of something when it’s scarce, and jaded when it is overabundant. You live somewhere long enough, and your attitude will adjust accordingly.

  3. Interesting piece!

    I grew up in Southern Indiana and moved to Chicago 16 years ago. Of course being in the big city affords many more musical options and it certainly was an “eye-opener” for other styles of music.

    However, I don’t think it really matters where you are to actively seek and or find good music (esp. with the advent of the internet). I do agree with tleilaxu23: as when great music or live options are SCARE then you tend to be much more appreciative.

    Anyway, the get my 80’s Midwest Metal perspective point your browsers here:


    *You may also like to peep the hilarious “Metalhead in Indiana” articles etc. I have a lot of Midwest bands posted and old school/rare memorabilia throughout and in the Vaults as well.


    Curt King
    Demolish Fanzine

  4. I really enjoy what you have to say here Josh. I’ve read your writing on Invisible Oranges, and did not relize you had your own blog. I found this from the NPR year end list, and I have to say kudos overall.

    I’ve lived the majority of my life in Northeast Indiana, with plenty of travel to other places, and I would have to agree with most of what you have to say here. Being a fan of “extreme” music of any sort can be a very isolating experience in the midwest, but I would also agree that it also creates a greater appreciation for the music and the role it plays in my day to day.

    It also makes me thankful for what little scene we do have here in Indiana. I have a friend who lives in Brooklyn, who is always telling me about all of the shows he gets to see, but also lamenting how few people show up to see something like Eyehategod or Sunn O))). Eyehategod recently came through Indianapolis, and while I wasn’t there, I’m told it was sold out at a reasonable large venue.

    We don’t get everything the big cities do, and in a lot of cases a person like myself has to drive a few hours to see it, but there are a few people doing awesome things to make Indiana a great place for metal, hardcore, and punk. I wouldn’t live anywhere else.

  5. I am from Sri Lanka (for those of you who do not know, SL is a small island in the middle of the Indian Ocean), and we have a small but active underground metal scene here. I’m moving to Ames in a few days. Every time I told a friend I’m going to Iowa, the reaction I got was, “Whoa! Slipknot!!!”. And I’d shrug and say, “well yeah, they’re cool BUT I don’t really like them much”. A concerned friend of mine even warned me that I should probably not say that after I land in Iowa. They’d stone me, he said.
    Reading your article made me feel both better and worse. Better because I’m not the only person who does not like Slipknot. Worse because, according to you, there are few alternatives :S

  6. @Purple Cygnus – Thanks for commenting and welcome to my backyard! Tell me, are you moving to Ames to go to school? I only ask because I myself am a Iowa State University alum. I definitely don’t think you’ll get stoned for not liking Slipknot, but you might still hear lots of stories about them when the subject of metal comes up in conversation.

    If you have transportation, there is a monthly event called Metal Up Your Tap the last friday of every month at a venue down in Des Moines, Iowa (about a 45 minute drive), that brings in local and regional metal bands. It is starting up again in January.

  7. 🙂 I feel you should give the local scene another chance, but that’s just my opinion. I may be a little biased. Good call on the Metal Up Your Tap mention.

  8. Yep. I know well that while in a small farm-bum-fuck-town that Ebay and other online distributors are your friend.
    It’s funny, I’m into Black Metal more than anything (not to forsake my love for death metal and other extreme sub-genres.) However, I curiously consider Slipknot to be my favorite band. They were the first band that I really latched onto and that tapped into my musical yearning. After that, I was delving into all sorts of metal. A lot of Nu-Metal is total shit though, however I do not think the whole sub-genre should be lobbed into the one category because I feel that the name Nu-Metal bares many different styles actually.

    Alas, I have no shame in what I am passionate for.

  9. That was a very entertaining article (so was the i was a teenage metalhead) and in the article it said that you dont have to deal with a bunch of local bands breathing down your neck to listen to there demos / give coverage and such and was wondering if you would be wiling to just take a look at a song or two of ours ( when we get it recorded ) and maybe give us your opinion we dont expect you to write an article on us (unless you enjoy us that much then we encourage you to but again not expected ) we are a black metal band not as blistering as bands such as burzum and gorgoroth though they are insperation but more like cradle of filth with the piano melodic poetic hints into the black metal music and we live in hubbard encase you dont know where that is its near eldora iowafalls and ellsworth and nomore than maybe 5-6 people in the whole of hardin county even like anything like what we are playing we were just looking for maybe some places you think maybe we could get booked for gigs and just your honest opinion and or criticism

  10. Hah, oh man can I relate! I’m from Des Moines and as an extreme metal musician it’s ridiculously hard to find like minded people to play with.

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