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June 12, 1997 * Vol. 7, No. 23


Bucking trends, Metal minions Enter Self refuse to give up or give in

by Mike Gibson

There was a time, not so long ago, when Metal was at its mighty zenith, when Ronnie James Dio reached for rainbows from the tops of magic mountains, when Iron Maid-en counted triple-sixes (the number of the beast), when even Sabbath ex-pat Ozzy Osbourne--older, chubbier, sans Tony, Bill, and Geezer--donned sequined robes and was flying high again.

Of course, when the volatile chemistry of public taste reconfigured (as it is often wont to do), the heaviest element was summarily excised from rock's periodic chart. But Metal's constitution was forged from rugged stuff, and unlike other outcast genres, it never really disappeared. Its core minions--those hardy souls with oddly-shorn locks and tell-tale concert T's--simply closed ranks and took their passion underground.

Enter Enter Self. For the last six years, the local death metal quintet has released demos with clockwork regularity, garnered press in international 'zines, even shared a stage with some of the same hard-rock titans who inspired them to pick up pointy axes in the first place. All this for an unsigned band working in a genre most musical pundits pronounced dead more than half a decade ago.

"There's a bond between people who listen to and play this kind of music you don't find anywhere else," explains lion-maned lead guitarist Tim Walker. "It sort of keeps the music going, even when most of the general public is interested in something else."

Consider the Self resumé: In the last three years, the band has put its brutal, riff-mongering wares on display at international Metal festivals in Milwaukee, Chicago, Michigan, and Toledo, splitting the bill with such death-rock demi-gods as Slayer, Overkill, Megadeth, and UFO. "Going to a Metal festival is kind of like going to a family reunion," says burly, gravel-throated singer-keyboardist Geezer Simms. "The music world would be better off if every genre had that kind of scene support."

And according to Walker, the fivesome (Walker, Simms, bassist Mark Davis, rhythm guitarist Wes LeQuire, and drummer Chad Walls) have earned ample recognition in the Death-Metal press, from the likes of Belgium's Hellraiser, Canada's Ever-Dead, and the Texas-based Beyond the Grave; one national publication even rated the South Knox outfit among its top five unsigned bands.

"There are lots of underground Metal mags, like Sounds of Death and Extremities, that review unsigned as well as major and independent label acts," says Walker. "I mean, we've got more than 30 pages of press, and we're not exactly living in a Metal mecca here in Knoxville."

But Enter Self owe their underground credentials as much to their own tenacity and enterprise as to good fortune and scene solidarity. Tireless workers and unwavering Metal devotees (Davis makes the 100-mile-round-trip trek from Morristown to practice in Knoxville two or three times every week, "all for the love of Death"), the band has relentlessly pushed an endless stream of demos--1993's Inflicted, '94's Reanimated and Decomposition, Stained in 1995--to labels, radio stations, 'zine publish- ers, and festival promoters all over the country.

And with ten new songs now sitting in the can, the Self are determined that their next release, tentatively titled Transcendental Dawn, will be a full-length CD. (The band hopes to work with MIA Records, a Texas-based indie label that has already offered them a spot on an upcoming Ozzy Osbourne tribute album.)

"We're going to wear out our welcome with every label that deals with our kind of music," Walker laughs. "And if we don't get signed, we'll put it out ourselves."

The tracks for Transcendental Dawn--a bestial, cacophonic opus marked by nether-worldly vocals and dissonant, demonic guitars--fairly resound with the influence of LeQuire, who, at age 20, is both the band's youngest and newest member. Enter Self demos chronicle the evolution of the band from the plodding grandeur of classic European Metal to the cutting-edge ballast of '90's Death rock, and Walker credits the youngblood LeQuire with helping bring about the change.

"Wes has made a big difference," says Walker. "He's nine years younger than me and Geezer, and he brought in some fresh ideas and a new approach. The extra guitar also gives us some added heaviness and maybe the chance to do some harmonies we couldn't do before."

"The heaviness we've always strived for is there now," adds Simms. "It's more brutal and intense, but the songs are also better. I think in general we're more song-oriented than most of the bands who play our style."

And Simms et al. know they'll need every advantage to persevere in a musical climate where even stalwart labels like Metal Blade and Roadrunner are signing few new heavy bands. Does Metal's current lack of broader recognition--and the subsequent loss of opportunity for its practitioners--discourage Enter Self? Not a bit, says Walker, because band members have an unshakable faith in the inevitability of Metal's Second Coming, that their chosen subculture will rise like Lazarus from its mortal pallet and once again ascend to its place at the top of the pop music heap.

"Hey, Black Sabbath is back together again," says Walker with serene self-assurance, referring to the recent reunion of the genre's founding fathers. "Metal is still alive."

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