There is a seed that is planted in the heart of every heavy metal fan when they listen and connect to their first Sabbath song, handed their first Metallica record, are ushered into darkened rooms to watch bootlegged videos of Cliff Burton slaying demons with his axe, or are left to stare at an Iron Maiden poster in an older siblings bedroom. When nurtured, this seed opens and a deep, abiding love for heavy metal takes root. Heavy metal is a worldwide phenomenon, and there is no denying the lasting influence that it has wrought extends to populations well beyond the head-banging hessians, the blissed-out prog stoners, and the punks with a penchant for Wagner.
As we stumble into the second decade of the century, as music continues along its natural entropic progress, and as we name more genres daily to explain post-modern re-appropriations of rock and roll, there persists in heavy metal an aesthetic and a course of action that was well defined in the late 1970’s and 1980’s. The aesthetic is a brutal one, music built for speed, technical, precise, and defiant. It’s also great accompaniment to youthful angst, driving fast, and chugging cheap beer.
Denver’s Tauntaun captures the essence of the era succinctly and has stormed the stages of our fair town to become a storied, a fabled, live act. Their sets will leave you in blisters and rattle your brian. Fog machines obscure all but glimpses of the band as they pummel through their sets. Their self titled album is a portrait of a singular purpose, a unified vision among its members, and the manifestation of the individual musicians’ pedigree. Tauntaun is comprised of some of Denver’s finest musicians, in any genre, and although they are veterans by any measure, it is obvious that the seeds planted in each of them are bearing forth fruit for those who seek the familiarity of good old heavy metal and broadcasting new seeds for any kid ready for the sowing.
Rbt. B. Rutherford sat down with the band on a sunny winter afternoon in advance of their show at the Larimer Lounge on February 26th with fistfuls of Coors Banquet to discuss the rules of metal, the persistence of a style, and how they went from a pet project to Denver’s best metal band.
Rbt. B. Rutherford (RBR) -I think there is something about the aesthetic that is tied to the era of metal that you guys play to that goes well beyond just being a “good time”. Something about it has persisted beyond that era. I want to hear what you have to say about that aesthetic, and what about it attracts you. Why do you think it persists?
Chris Fogal (Vocals/Lead Guitar) -I grew up on the stuff. It’s how I learned to play guitar. It was a good time, but it’s always stuck with me. I think that people who are into metal, they are always going to be into metal, to some degree. It doesn’t ever leave your brain. You might not live that lifestyle anymore, but it’s in there somewhere. For me, it finally came out in this band.
Dave Barker (Drums) - It’s almost nostalgia.
Chris -It is nostalgia. It’s re-creating that time in your life when you first discovered it, and that feeling you got when you heard it for the first time and freaked out.
Matty Clark (Bass) - Because you are mad at your parents.
Chris -I still am, so...
Ian (Guitar) -I didn’t get into metal until ’88, when Metallica’s …And Justice For All came out. For a lot of Metallica fans, that’s the point where they started to suck, but for me that was their pinnacle. I liked it because it was before metal got bad. In 1991, when Nirvana’s Nevermind came out, that’s when I seriously started listening to music, and that was when metal died. So anything before that, I think, is the stuff that we try to re-create.
RBR - Where do you guys think metal went wrong?
Dave -When Cliff Burton died, it started to go downhill. He would have kept it alive.
Chris -Didn’t metal die for awhile? Then bands like Creed came along and they called it “new metal”.
Dave -There was nothing about it that was metal.
Chris -It started to go bad for me with (Metallica’s) The Black Album. There were bands still putting out good stuff then, but that was when it all went downhill. When rap music got infused with metal, that’s when it was done, and that was “new metal”, wasn’t it?
Dave -But then you had the other “new metal”, which was bands like Pantera, and that new wave of groovy metal.
Ian -Nirvana played a part in that, too, because all of a sudden, having an image, an aesthetic, was not cool anymore. Nirvana was like an anti-aesthetic. So all these bands who had these images, especially the glam bands, but even bands like Slayer, who had all these nails and black, they were no longer cool. You had to dress in your day clothes.
Dave -You had to look like an average asshole.
Ian -Right. And so Pantera, they were just these average Texas assholes, and they survived.
RBR - I think another thing that changed in the early 90’s was the commodification of that style. The average asshole became a marketable product. The schleppier, the better. So metal went downhill. But, bands like Iron Maiden are still filling stadiums. Judas Priest just toured, playing British Steel in its entirety. You have new bands like Valient Thorr and Early Man who stick to the style defined by the late 70's, early 80's era of metal. There is something about that era that has been kept alive.
Chris -People recognize that that was the golden age. They want to go back to it.
Dave -If you leave it alone for long enough, people will start liking it again.
Ian -It was the same thing with pop-punk. There is this really brief golden age, between ’94 and ’95…
Dave -And that’s all coming around again, as well.
RBR - You guys started playing just to have a good time…
Ian -We made a record in February, and we did not play a show until October. And then we put out the record the following March. Between February and October, none of saw each other. Chris had moved and spent a lot of time mixing the record. Then I had to say, “Alright, let’s do this.”
Chris -Actually, we owe our entire existence to Ian. He kept us motivated during that time.
Dave -At one point, Chris and I didn’t give a shit…
Matty -Ian said “We wrote these songs, we spent two years playing them. We have to at least play a show.” It was good though, it gave us an excuse to hang out, drink beer, barbeque, and play these songs. So we got into it. And when the crowds responded the way they did, we were like, “OK. We need to get a smoke machine.”
Ian -We had started playing together in 2006, working on some post-pop-punk stuff, and we had written some songs. We weren’t all that into it so we stopped playing them. Matty and Chris worked together at Illegal Pete’s. They’d drink and mop together…
Matty -It’s all we did.
Ian -They were listening to an un-named modern metal band and realized that they could do it better. Within a couple of weeks, we had some songs.
Dave -Let’s face it, metal is not that hard.
Matty -It's just hard to pull off.
Ian -There are rules, and we just adhered to the rules and wrote our version of it. We definitely denied all influences past 1988.
RBR - In regards to your lyrics, if you are just following the rules you should have elements of militarism, mythology, and religion. Is there anything deeper there when you write the songs, or are you simply following those rules?
Chris -There was something deeper in the beginning. I was trying to vent about religion and my personal upbringing. I grew up in a really religious household. I tried to write political stuff too, because I had written all of these songs for the Gamits (Fogal’s pop-punk band-Ed.), and none of them were really very serious, so I thought that with this band I could put a little bit more into it lyrically. But now it’s gotten to the point where Murderauder, one of our newer songs, is just about running into a village on our steeds, and pillaging...
Matty -With the fog of yonder mountain seeping into our minds.
Chris -Now it has become more fun. If you are putting seriousness into your metal lyrics, it won’t necessarily come off that way. It will still feel somewhat tongue-in-cheek. At this point, I just want to have fun with it. That’s what this is all about. It’s the funnest band I’ve been in.
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