Story by Jay H. Gorania
Images by Jay H. Gorania, Kevin Lerminiau, Isabelle Stricklesse, John Judkins, Joey Mack
At a border authority’s behest, John Judkins—Today is the Day’s bassist—flipped through a metal rag in search of a TITD interview. Skimming across an image of TITD’s main man Steve Austin aiming a firearm, Judkins replied, “Nope.” Understandably, he didn’t want to be unnecessarily hassled by “the man.” Steve Austin has a tendency for being misunderstood, and it’s safe to say the outspoken man certainly has an intense personality that’s not for the faint of heart.
Supporting their Axis of Eden album last summer, the legendary experimental extreme metal/noise rock outfit TITD embarked on a successful, sonically violent multi-national European tour supported by the nomadic, dynamic duo Jucifer (they constantly tour and live in their RV), Pittsburgh’s grindcore outfit Complete Failure and Paris’ Four Question Marks.
May 15-24: Holland, France, UK (England and Scotland)
Almost immediately after leaving our hotel in Amsterdam, Steve convinced a lanky, balding blonde man to drive us (Steve, John and myself) to Harlem, just on the outskirts of the major center. With distant yet polite mannerisms, our guardian angel, or devil, boasted upon the cultural tolerance of the Dutch—that was of course before he trash-talked Moroccan immigrants. On route, Wierdo played a cheesy, 20-year-old Euro pop song assuming we’d be familiar with it. “This is Jeannie. You know this?” No, buddy, we don’t. And like a metalhead needing to start over a song like “Angel of Death” to feel that one part, Wierdo hit play again as his chest fell heavy with deep breath. We somehow survived.
Tennessee boys Steve and John found a “coffee shop” shortly thereafter where we encountered Julius Green, an old soul singer originally from, ironically enough, Memphis. Blanketed from head-to-toe in white-colored, pimp-like clothing, our second guardian devil seemingly came out of nowhere. The experience was beyond surreal. He proceeded to relate an old prison story about a friend who was a convicted murderer. That friend was raped by another convicted murderer; so in retaliation, Julius’ friend, the convicted murderer, killed the other convicted murderer…who raped him. Completely surreal. Completely insane.
Our jaws firmly glued to the floor, Julius calmly said, “But life goes on. So, y’all come check out my band tonight.” With nothing better to do, we experienced his occasionally off-key singing and third-rate Dutch “soul” band. The crowd full of drunken cougars ate it up, though, presumably just because he was a southern black man (it had to be good, right?).
The following day the other bands converged for the initial show in Alkmaar, Holland where every band had new-tour kinks to unwrinkle. Jucifer seemed shaken because their massive wall of amps wasn’t present, yet their inherent power was undeniable throughout the entire tour (successfully playing without their million-and-one amps in Europe actually gave the band enough comfort to strip their arsenal down a bit back home). Onstage, drummer Edgar Livengood often screams at his wife Amber Valentine, sometimes spitting toward her. But it was ComFail’s drummer Mike Rosswog and singer Joey Mack who occasionally fought like a married couple. Thankfully, they diverted that energy onto the stage about a week into the tour, about the same time it took for ComFail to musically adjust for the fact that their bassist James Curl was unable to join them in Europe.
A few days in, TITD headlined the Paris Noise Festival, including Nachtmystium, Horse The Band and Genghis Tron—the latter two conversing even though Genghis Tron apparently dissed the horsies in an interview…but the Nintendo-loving, nerdy vibe of said bands meant there was no threat of Euronymous/Count Grishnackh-caliber violence. Perhaps a duel of Duck Hunt awaits.
Passing the white cliffs of Dover, the jet-black hell bus was transported by ferry toward the U.K., storming places like metal’s birthplace, Birmingham, through to Plymouth, where the Mayflower departed, arguably the womb of America.
Punching his fists and gesturing to the crowd as though issuing battle commands, Steve offered one of his most intimidating performances in London (after which Joey and I picked up and moved a car that was blocking the bus…not such a Herculean feat considering that the compact size of the European vehicle was barely larger than a Matchbox car).
Before the Cardiff gig, Mike Rosswog—who destroyed his body twice nightly with ComFail and as touring drummer for TITD—described the assembly of the drum kit as “constructing Optimus Prime. It’s a death machine.” But Optimus Prime is the Transformers protagonist. “Whatever,” Rosswog replied. “This is a death machine.”
On the outside, one would think Rosswog would have little to complain about. He’s got looks, talent, drive; he’s constantly bragging about his girlfriend, pursuing a career in E-Commerce, and of course rising as one of metal’s up-and-coming drummers. Yet internally there’s an ample amount of something that’s led to the cluster of self-inflicted cuts on the back of his calve.
Rolling into the international hub of Brussels, Belgium, and contrasting the city’s sophistication, there was a seedy underbelly that John discovered firsthand. During a brief exchange with three unsavory men, John was pick pocketed (his wallet was returned on demand). Also plagued by prostitution, Austin deemed the venue’s street unsafe for regular reloading. In all-black attire, Steve approached every moving vehicle with a sun-bright flashlight, while Rosswog kept watch holding a mic stand and I was gripping a wine bottle that made me feel like a complete badass…until some pimps started glaring at me.
There was a also a vast world of contradiction in Erfurt, Germany. The venue was a leftist, anti-fascist commune that was once a WWII factory that produced human incinerators. Upstairs in the “backstage” area, there were museum-like descriptions outlining the logistical “success” perceived with the development of the incinerators (space could be conserved since the horribly unspeakable state of affairs reached the point where bodies were literally piling up). Sitting with a stern glaze deep in thought, I found John alone. He looked sad and seemed glad that I came to break the course of his miserable ponderings. Looking up at me, he was wondering why they failed to recognize, back in the day, that the “problem wasn’t how to deal with the bodies, the problem was that they were killing people.” He paused. “Why didn’t they ever realize that?”
For much of TITD’s performance, a bulk of the uber liberal crowd seemed confused by the imagery: the x-rayed MP5 submachine gun from Axis of Eden’s cover was emblazoned across the banner, and early in the day Austin was wearing a cowboy hat while the tattooed Confederate flag on his arm and Iron Cross on his hand were easily visible. Again, Mr. Austin is misunderstood.
Joey seemed somewhat uncomfortable in non-English-speaking environments. He found some self-deprecating amusement in these situations, however. Throughout Germany, for example, Joey repeatedly muttered “Hasselhoff” while in the vicinity of women (remember, for some strange reason, David Hasselhoff is regarded as an entertainment superstar in Germany.) Whether he was sitting on a picnic bench, or even on stage, he’d say “Hasselhoff,” hoping for a heart-throbbing reaction from ladies. There was no response. Joey was sad.
After the Hamburg show, a caravan of fools marched toward the infamous Red Light District, a relatively posh, closed-off road that really was red lit. There was an eerie silence. Looking like plastic Barbie doll mannequins, or deer caught in the headlights, the silicone-framed bombshells were lined up like items on a shelf. The eyes tell all. Some girls preying on base desires, others seemingly not wanting to be there at all.
On our way back to the hell bus, a few of us stopped at a Middle Eastern eatery for some grub. I kept joking to John that it was completely absurd that there was a yoghurt drink in Germany called Aryan. I saw it right up there on the menu. He kept hushing me to shut me up. But when it was my turn to order, I couldn’t resist. Proverbially speaking, traffic stopped. “I’ll also have me one of them Aryans,” I loudly belted out, as John disapprovingly sighed my name, Steve squinted his eyes and tilted his head back, and numerous Germans gave me a dirty look. As I wiped my booze-reddened eyes, I gained clarity. I got the “R” and “Y” mixed up. The drink is actually called Ayran.
So…anyway…in Copenhagen, Denmark, there were hot chicks on bikes everywhere (bicycling is a common mode of transportation throughout Europe). Here, a show-goer asked Jucifer’s Amber Valentine, “What do you call your kind of metal?” She replied, “I don’t know? Our own.”
And this was before the gong show took on Oslo, where many were eager to visit because of Norway’s black metal lore. After strolling the downtown area, most of us laid out in a park on a beautiful day to rest and chat. Sticking out like a sore thumb amongst a crowd of prim ’n proper families, Steve walked by the bus in our distance, dragging his shirt on the ground, wearing only shades and his Blasphemy shorts (I never knew the cult Canadian black metal band had shorts…pretty badass, I must say). “We’re loading,” Steve screamed at us. In all fairness, someone had to crack the whip.
Rosswog paid tribute by picking up a blue Norway t-shirt, while rapid-picking guitarist Erik Wynn wore a green T from some hamburger joint. ComFail’s lack of proper metal uniform is their uniform. Unpretentious and focused on stripped-down material, ComFail are not completely punk, nor are they purely metal. They’re just good ’ol fashioned grindcore.
Parts two and three of this tour diary will run next week.