The irony of Evan Himmel's situation is completely lost on him. As he downs two Sicilian slices outside Gino's Pizza in Great Neck, the 10th grader admits that, like most teenagers, he has caved into peer pressure in order to bolster his popularity at school. The fact that conforming means having to spend precious allowance dollars on the latest 25 Ta Life CD, instead of on his favorite band, Judas Priest, doesn't strike him as odd at all.
"Bands like Priest just aren't crazy enough to make it happen," he explains. "They sound too normal."
While it's doubtful a love of Limp Bizkit guarantees a date to the prom these days, the kid's got a point. Heavy metal is not cool, unless it's stirred with punk or hip hop. The long-haired, underfed divas of decades ago have been shoved off the radio and MTV by second- and third-generation hybrids like Korn and Rage Against the Machine, groups that like their feedback with a dose of block-rocking beats. On Long Island, metal bands have fared no better but rather than resent their spawn's time in the spotlight, they're hoping kids' craving for grind and squeal will lead to a taste for sterner stuff.
"Those hardcore and rap-influenced bands turn people onto heavier music. It opens the market again for heavier material," says bassist Bob Hoops of Ballistic, a metal group out of Nassau County. "It's a gateway for these kids, a way to cut their teeth on this style of music. Then they'll get into even heavier stuff later."
Though Evan may be unaware of the current state of heavy music, he does know that his Judas Priest T-shirt makes him a walking representative of closet metal fans at least until September. The shirt, handed down from a cousin, only sees the light of day during summer vacations.
"I never wear it to class or anything. Other than them," he says, gesturing to the four friends surrounding him, "no one would get it." One friend laughingly replies, "Even we don't get it."
It is tough to get what's happened to metal music, both nationally and locally. Bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest helped define the hardcore and rock sounds that have grown so popular in Island clubs. The pioneers get no props, though, from the younger generation. Marginalized by the same styles it influenced, metal has become a dirty word.
"It's not just a case of musical evolution," says Micah, guitarist for One, a Hicksville-based outfit that sites old-school influences. "Metal has taken on such a negative connotation that a lot of bands, including ourselves, don't use the word on purpose. We don't want people thinking that we're something dated."
In an age when metal has only slightly more supporters than Lamar Alexander, success is a relative term. When AARP-applicants Black Sabbath bring their reunion tour to Jones Beach next week, the Island outfit One Step Beyond will grace the Levi's first stage, giving them a taste of what life might have been like if they had the good fortune to form 15 years ago. If they're lucky, maybe next month they can land the opening gig for Alice Cooper's string of casino lounge shows in Atlantic City. Hey, a band's gotta have dreams.
Claiming a branch of Black Sabbath's family tree can be isolating, but guitarist and vocalist Dan Malloy says his band, Blinded by Vengeance, embraces its metal roots. "We're like the outcasts of the scene," admits the Shirley resident. "We don't sound like anyone we play with, so we're kind of like the sore thumb."
A guy like Malloy is lucky to find anyone to play with or even a place to play. Metal musicians in Nassau and Suffolk find themselves faced with a shortage of venues in which to showcase their stuff. Big clubs such as Hammerhedz, Sundance and L'Amour, which helped catapult local acts Zebra and Dream Theater to national prominence a decade ago, are long gone. Stages that do accommodate heavier bands, like Bellmore's Ground Zero and Dr. Shay's in Amityville, have had success booking metal bands, but often in line-ups that include hardcore and punk groups as well. The mix has given metal bands a chance to reach broader audiences, but it hasn't been enough to overcome the lack of big-name coattails to ride on and big spaces to play.
"At a place like the Roxy in Huntington, you used to see a local band opening up for a national act; now those opportunities for exposure don't exist," says Micah. "Success is that much harder to come by now."
According to Allison Woest, guitarist for Brentwood's MindTwist, metal suffers from a critical case of inbreeding. "The scene on Long Island is pretty terrible," she says. "All the kids that want to go see shows are in bands, so what you have is a whole bunch of bands sitting around watching other bands."
So what should metal maniacs do, other than simply deplore the situation? Take matters into their own hands and work together to stage self-produced shows the way hardcore bands have been doing around the Island, suggests Woest.
"When I was 15 and 16, local bands used to rent VFW halls all time, and that was awesome, because it was only $4 or $5 at the door," she recalls. "I love it when kids set up their own shows, and I think maybe we'll see more of that in the future."
Until then, smaller clubs continue to provide a place for the faithful to worship their favorite local idols. The sight of capacity crowds filling these scaled-down concerts has some on the scene hopeful a resurgence is around the corner.
Mike Maupin, the owner of The Roadhouse, a Centereach club that caters to metal, punk and hardcore crowds, is betting his livelihood on just such a revival. "With a lot of these bands now, it's not just about the money anymore," he states. "It's about going out there, following their dreams and doing something they believe in." He sees his support of the local scene as a way for up-and-coming bands to get exposure.
"Some places say, 'You can play here, but you've got to bring in 40 or 50 people.' I don't believe in that," he explains. "Some bands can't do that, but in another few years they may be big and then you can turn around and say, 'Well, they started here.' "
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in New York, delivered to your inbox.