There's no denying the recording industry's current fascination with the heavier end of the musical spectrum. And why not? Buzzsaw guitars, apocalyptic themes, it's-always-Halloween attire and Cookie Monster-style vocals are soundtracking America's disenfranchised youth, the main consumer of prerecorded CDs and cassettes. And there are plenty of bands that are more than happy to rock the collective cock of the mostly male metal-listening audience (although more females are lining up these days, thanks to the hunkification of the genre). Groups the world over apply for the highly sought-after job, but nobody has remained as gainfully employed as the hard-working musicians of Florida, who, trends be damned, have always kept it in overdrive.
Whether it's death metal, thrash, rap-metal or nü-metal, the Sunshine State has continued to dominate all things heavy. From the platinum exploits of Limp Bizkit and Marilyn Manson, to the continued underground push of Deicide and Monstrosity, these metal-minded musicians keep CD stores flush with grinding fury and mosh pits swirling far beyond state lines. But Orlando, despite its storied lineage that includes pioneering indie acts Death and Massacre, has been conspicuously absent from the recent major-label-sponsored nü-metal charge -- unless you count Creed's elevator metal.
All that changed last year when local bruisers JoJo signed with RCA. In March, the quartet, rechristened Skrape, debuted "New Killer America," a sure-footed strike, fueled by punishing power chords, touches of techno-synth and tough-guy themes; to date, 50,000 copies have been moved. The record has caught the ear of radio programmers across the country, including local hard-rock powerhouse WJRR-FM (101.1), an early supporter.
"I see these guys developing into a vibe band, a very street-vibe band," says WJRR program director and afternoon co-host Pat Lynch, who features Skrape's second single, "Isolated," on his influential playlist. "Just the fact that they're gonna go out with Pantera -- because Pantera doesn't take out any phonies. [Singer] Phil [Anselmo] knows the bands that are real, the fans know the bands that are real."
Helping Skrape -- who hit House of Blues Friday, June 8, with Tampa upstarts Crossbreed -- to keep it real are two veterans of the hard-edge scene. Bassist Pete Sison is a former member of the Genitorturers, while drummer Will Hunt bashed skins for Atlanta riff-monsters Stuck Mojo. This factor gives Skrape street cred, something it needs coming from the land of Backstreet Boys and 'N Syncs, still a popular interview subject.
"It is usually the smaller local newspapers ... and some of the radio stations that feel the urge to go that way," says Skrape guitarist Mike Lynchard, from an Omaha, Neb., tour stop where the group is co-headlining with Godhead (a signee to Marilyn Manson's new imprint). He's tired of the "Tell me about Disney, what about Mickey Mouse, what about Britney Spears" line of questioning.; ;
"Orlando has definitely been stereotyped by the rest of the country and the music industry in particular," agrees radio's Lynch.; ;
There is unbending support at home, however, which was on full display at Skrape's triumphant appearance at last April's "WJRR Earthday Birthday 8" blowout. Even though there are few places to play, the metal community has never been stronger or more diverse, as further evidenced by the turnout to the Orlando Metal Awards last month at F.B.I. Liquors. More than 40 hard-edgers participated in the premiere event. It was anti-boy-band sentiment at its finest.
"I've always been really really big on heavy bands in Orlando," says Skrape's Lynchard. "I think up until recently, though, everybody important was afraid of the heavy bands here. ... I have 10 to 15 CDs that Gargamel! gave me to take on the Pantera tour. I've been giving people those CDs out ... and people are like, ‘This stuff's amazing.' We take everybody's stuff with us, shove it down everybody's throat wherever we go."
Skrape is not alone on this crunchy crusade: South Florida slammers Nonpoint ("Statement" on MCA), Endo ("Evolve" on Sony/Columbia) and Darwin's Waiting Room ("Orphan" on MCA) have all been heralded as breaking bands. And don't forget Cold and Limp Bizkiter Wes Borland's side project, Big Dumb Face -- both are from Jacksonville and both signed to Interscope. Tampa's uniformed six-pack Crossbreed are stirring up quite an aural and visual shit storm with their Artemis Records debut, "Synthetic Division." Label co-chairman Michael Chambers heard about the group via snotty female thrashers Kittie.
"They sent this live concert video," says Chambers. "I just thought they were so outrageous. Normally you see a band live first, but these guys ... gut instinct, I just signed them. ... They were really a breath of fresh air ... like a mix of Metallica and the Pet Shop Boys."
Since there are so many Florida-based acts, the bands often find themselves sharing a bill. Several groups took it one step further, organizing the brief Unity Tour 2001, which crisscrossed the peninsula a few months back, with signed acts like Crossbreed and Darwin's Waiting Room, along with unsigned local outfits like Orlando's The Ox Project. There's real camaraderie, something rarely found in the industry.
So what is it about Florida that keeps churning out these angry folks?
"It all started back with the death-metal thing," explains Lynch of Florida's notoriously brutal scene, which spawned near-legends Savatage, along with indie successes like Nasty Savage, Obituary, Nocturnus, Disincarnate, Cynic and Malevolent Creation during the '80s and '90s.
"I think what you are seeing now is a lot of these musicians who maybe were weaned on that kind of stuff, hearing what's going on and seeing what's happening on MTV, know now that you can still write heavy songs that have, god forbid, a hook and might even get on the radio. "Hard rock is always there. It's just the level of acceptance isn't."