First Posted: 5/12/2014
When describing metal music fans, Beyond Fallen vocalist Joe Karavis recalls the words of fellow headbanger Rob Zombie.
“He said, ‘Nobody was into Slayer for a summer.’ And it’s true. People that are into this music, they’re in it for life. That says a lot about how passionate people are about this music.”
Indeed, a lot can be said of the genre and its fans, so that’s why the Weekender invited Karavis and Beyond Fallen guitarist Steve Jasuilewicz to gather a few other hard rocking musicians together to discuss NEPA Metal Meltdown, a local two-day metal festival organized by the bands, for the bands – and for, of course, their dedicated fans.
“The underground metal scene around here is actually really strong now. We’re just trying to bring it to the forefront. Locally, regionally, there’s a lot of great bands out there now, a lot of talent. It’s not like it was 10 years ago,” Jasuilewicz said, referring to when his group first formed.
“There wasn’t much. Everybody was playing their rock and whatever and you couldn’t find a metal band. It took me a week and a half to find an opener when we started doing headlining shows back in 2004, 2005.”
Now it’s much easier to locate metal acts willing to get together for a first-time festival like Metal Meltdown. Cause of Affliction bassist Matt Van Fleet, Praise the Sinner drummer Tony Kruszka, and Threatpoint guitarist Alex Olivetti all joined in on the conversation, eager to converse about their participation in the show and the burgeoning metal scene in an area that is just starting to recognize its cultural and artistic impact.
Karavis and Jasuilewicz have organized countless shows over the years, but a festival this big, made up of local bands as well as acts like Assayer from Philadelphia and Shallow Ground from Connecticut, was a new challenge that started just before Christmas last year. Unlike many shows of its kind, this one would not be a “pay to play” venture.
“It sounds simple, putting on a two-day show or just putting on a show and calling a bunch of bands, but there’s a lot that has to be done, so we took that on and it started to take off with the bands that wanted to play. We didn’t want to get just anybody who was willing to sell 100 tickets; we really listened and we really wanted to get some quality bands and diversity in the metal genre,” Karavis said, modeling the organization of the event after a German festival his band played years before.
“We’re not going to make it pay to play, but (we asked) bands (to) get out there, bust your ass, and get people out.”
After handpicking the local acts, Jasuilewicz was “bombed” with over 80 applications from bands out of the area looking to play the show, and he listened to every one to ensure a talented and diverse lineup.
“No matter what type of metal that you’re into, if you go either night you’re going to run into something that you want to listen to, whether you’re into thrash or death metal or power metal,” he said. “There’s going to be something for everybody.”
The decision to hold the event at Diane’s Deli in Pittston was an easy one, considering the venue’s consistent support of the metal scene and its central location between Scranton and Wilkes-Barre. Settling on a name for the fest was a much harder choice.
“I know there was a few (names suggested) where I got up and walked away from the desk,” Jasuilewicz acknowledged, shaking his head.
“It’s just like when you come up with a band name. You’re just like, ‘OK, here’s our band name,’ and you kind of have to digest it for a while, but once you’re out there doing it and everything, it seems natural,” Karavis pointed out.
“I think the quality of the acts that are on it are going to carry the whole thing regardless of what the name is.”
Kruszka was “honored” to even be considered among those acts, unabashedly looking up to Beyond Fallen as “the Metallica of the area.”
“It’s an honor to have you guys now looking to the new guys coming up and saying, ‘Hey, we believe in you. We want to see what you can do and what you can bring to the table,’” Kruszka told Karavis and Jasuilewicz.
“That was one of the main reasons why we jumped on, because we weren’t going to pass up that opportunity to be part of such a big movement.
“The scene is coming alive so much now. It’s coming to the forefront, and any time we get a chance to be part of anything like that, we’re definitely going to jump on it because there’s not too many venues to play in anymore. There’s not too many all-ages (shows).
The metal scene is exploding over the last couple of years. Every band is so diverse and so different.”
Van Fleet agreed, noting that the “drought” in bands has long since passed.
“Being in a band and being in a scene, everybody thinks it’s like a competition, but with us, it’s not. We’re all in the same family here, and putting us all together, it helps get our music to a different crowd, to network with other bands that will travel to play here,” he said of the festival’s many benefits.
“You’ve got to branch out, and for us to get contacts from out-of-state bands helps us, so it’s really a great idea to get everybody together to play in front of different people, to meet new bands and to meet new people.”
For Olivetti, it’s just like hanging out with old friends
“All of our bands have played with each other numerous times in the past,” he explained. “It’s getting one show with all of us together, which is even cooler because we’re used to playing with one or two other bands on any given night. Now it’s all of us together in one place, just hanging out, jamming, meeting new fans, bands from this area, or possibly from out of the area.
“I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
So what caused this recent explosion of like-minded musicians in NEPA? The five metalheads, each representing different generations, presented a few theories.
“A lot of things fell into place. A lot of the smaller venues are letting us do what we do, which years ago you couldn’t even get in. It was like a monopoly. You couldn’t play originals. You could never play this kind of stuff. It was out of the question,” Karavis began. “The cover bands don’t have the power that they had in this area that they used to have.”
The press, they agreed, has started moving away from demonizing the genre as well, beginning to see the genuine talent behind the music.
“We didn’t have the support before like we have now. It was a totally different scene,” he continued. “You couldn’t get a break, but now it seems like the media outlets in the area are way more supportive, and people are willing to listen.”
While the significant loss in small venues within the last decade or so is often cited as a major blow to local musicians, Kruszka believes it also helped the underground metal scene in another way, allowing the New Penny, Ole Tyme Charley’s, Diane’s Deli, the V-Spot, The Factory: Underground, and up until recently, The Rattler, to fill the void by supporting original local music.
“We’ve lost a lot of clubs over the past few years, and losing those clubs allowed the scene around here to get away from the Media Five-style bands who are out there just playing your Nickelback and your Limp Bizkit and all that kind of stuff, which those are the bands that are out there to make the money, and it turned more into the underground clubs, which brought more of the underground bands to the forefront,” he explained.
“We’re not playing for the money – we’re playing because we enjoy doing what we do. We enjoy playing for the fans and getting people out, having a good time, bringing all our friends together.”
While still rebellious, metal has also slowly become a general part of pop culture. Even throwing up the sign of “the horns,” the universal hand gesture popularized at metal concerts by Ronnie James Dio, has become a common pose in photos.
“The one thing all metalheads share together is giving the metal sign. If you tried to give the metal sign back when we were back in high school, man, your parents were like, ‘I’ve got to send you to a psychiatrist. What’s wrong with you?’ Now I’m seeing little kids – like my son is in kindergarten – in grade school pictures throwing the metal sign up and the parents are like, ‘Yeah!’” Kruszka related with a laugh.
“You couldn’t have that back when we were kids. It was the devil, and there’s something wrong with you. You were a Satan worshipper. It’s so different these days. It’s so much more accepted that I think everybody has had a little metal in them. You’re able to come out now and not feel so shunned for it.”
“You go to a show and there’s people there with their kids, just all ages. That says a lot about how timeless the style of music,” Karavis noted.
“You see people of all different ages there. You see older people, and you see younger people. There’s people in their 60s – some of the people that are up on stage are in their 60s now. Some of the most legendary metal bands in the world are still up there doing it and there’s little kids there watching.”
“People want to be different,” Kruszka emphasized. “They don’t want to conform to the norm. People enjoy the fact that they can express themselves and be different.”
Each musician in the room can relate to that feeling, one that transforms them when they’re performing in front of a raging crowd.
“I’m more of a quiet kind of person. It’s almost like my form of expression, like speech, writing any kind of music, or even just playing in general. I used to play in cover bands and I had a blast in that, and now I get to write my own stuff and play that out to people all over the place,” Olivetti shared.
“I get to be creative, and people accept that and like it and like what I’m doing or what the band is doing. They buy our stuff and listen to us and it’s an awesome feeling, especially when you’re on stage and people are cheering for you and doing the air guitar thing. To me, that’s the best thing in the world.”
“When I go up on stage, it’s like I’m a different person,” Van Fleet agreed.
“It’s just me and my bass and my band, and I just get sucked into the zone and I just rock out. I give as much as I can. I jump, I throw my head around, whatever I can do to be entertaining to people and just to express myself. I find it really funny because being a musician is the last thing I ever thought I would be because when I was a teenager, I was an amateur fighter in boxing; I fought for the state title three years in a row. Then I fought professionally. Well, I realized I wasn’t that good, so I didn’t pick up bass until I was about 23, 24 years old, when I got out of the Marine Corps, so for me to even be in a band or a musician at all is something that never even crossed my mind.
“That’s metal to me. It’s kind of like I’m a different person up there. It’s who I am. … It’s a part of me that I never thought I had.”
“Metal is my lifeline,” Kruszka enthused. “It’s all I eat, drink, sleep, breathe – everything. From the moment I wake up to the moment I go to sleep, it’s all I do.
“Musically, it’s all I play anymore. I grew up doing everything, playing everything, but at the end of the day, it’s what emotionally drives me. It’s what I’m passionate about, it’s what I feel, and I enjoy bringing that to the table for other people to get their emotions out. People come to shows and you see people dancing and moshing and doing their thing, and a lot of people don’t get it and don’t understand it, but it’s just because they don’t think the way we think or feel the way we feel. It’s an expression. It’s an emotion. It gives people a chance to let loose and scream a little bit and get out the frustrations of the day.”
Karavis knows it’s not for everybody – “you either get it or you don’t” – but that doesn’t stop him from trying to convert new followers, and doing so honestly.
“If we tried to write stuff that had mass appeal, any of us, I think we’d all fail and I think our music wouldn’t be genuine. It would come across as fake, and I don’t think, for anybody in this room, their music is anything but honest. It has a lot of passion; it has a lot of longevity. Metal has outlasted pretty much every trend that’s come and gone. It’s still there, and there’s still stadiums being filled and there’s still clubs being filled, people buying the stuff,” he mused.
“It still maintains a strong following and a passionate crowd. That’s one of the reasons I keep doing it, and if it wasn’t fun, there’s no point in it. On a local level, I think a lot of us have a lot more fun now than ever before. There just seems to be so much support now and so much togetherness within the scene that I’ve never seen before.
“If somebody comes up to you and says, ‘Hey, I don’t listen to that kind of music that you guys play, but you guys were great,’ that’s the best thing you can hear because you crossed that line.”
100 PERCENT MELTDOWN
NEPA Metal Meltdown hopes to disintegrate that line completely, exposing fans old and new to 14 bands over two days.
“A show like this is a great chance to get all the bands together to show that NEPA has an exploding metal scene right now that you can’t get anywhere else but here. We have what all the big cities have. Everybody has to understand that, and hopefully with a show like this we’ll bring more awareness to the fact that we have a lot to offer. Some people just don’t get a chance to experience it as much,” Kruszka observed.
“You might experience a new band, you might have some new music in your pocket, you might make some new friends, you might decide, ‘Hey, I need to play music now,’ because somebody there might have inspired you to do something different that you wouldn’t have done before.”
“I can probably speak for everyone here that we give 100 percent every show, whether there’s a couple hundred (people) or just the bartender. You’re going to get both types of shows, so you have to give it your all every time, which shouldn’t be that hard because if you love it so much, then you are going to give your all when the amps are roaring behind you,” Olivetti insisted.
With so many diverse sounds represented in a much more intimate setting than touring metal festivals like Mayhem and Uproar at a significantly cheaper price, Van Fleet said attendees “have nothing to lose.”
“The vibe and the energy you’re going to feel you’re not going to get anywhere else,” Kruszka declared. “What’s the worst thing that’s going to happen? You might come home with a new favorite band.”
“Or a headache,” Jasuilewicz joked.
“If you’re playing metal, you better believe that the people are very, very talented doing it. It’s technical, it’s innovative, it keeps moving forward,” Kruszka continued.
“It keeps pushing people to do new things. Every time you hear somebody do something, you’re like, ‘Wow, how can I take that to the next level?’ And that’s what’s good about metal. If you’ve heard one rock song, you’ve heard 1,000. Metal is not like that.
“If you listen to Beyond Fallen, for instance, they probably play 2,000-3,000 notes in every song. I’m serious. They’re shredding.”
For the band’s virtuoso guitarist, however, it’s all pretty simple.
“It’s just fun to play aggressive music,” Jasuilewicz stated succinctly.
NEPA Metal Meltdown lineup
Friday, May 16
Doors open by 7 p.m.
Corners of Sanctuary
Cause of Affliction
Saturday, May 17
Doors open by 6 p.m.
Without a Martyr
Praise the Sinner