This was the April/May 1996 issue of HM Magazine … and the first one in several years (if I recall correctly) that we featured an indie band. Technically, they were on Narrowpath Records, but it was narrowly distributed at best. While this magazine didn’t really start out with a policy of covering only signed bands with major retail distribution (our private litmus test for what is truly “indie” or not), we kind of fell into a habit of doing so by default. I guess you could say we mostly covered the bands that were great (who thusly would be picked up by labels) and who were readily available to readers.
If we’re going to get excited and/or give coverage to an artist, it makes sense that it would serve our readers best if they could then soon acquire that artist’s music. That’s one reason why we don’t just have a popular, best-selling artist on the cover each issue (like Motley Crue on every single cover of Metal Edge during the ‘80s, for an exaggerated example). We give coverage to artists on the same cycle as their albums release. It also aligns with marketing, creating a synergy with the record company machine and the artist. The time when the focus of media, marketing and live touring usually rotates around a new album release.
This issue was different. The Jesus Freaks were an unheralded band and I thought they deserved the attention. We went with a photo that the band sent us – a simple 4” x 6” print that we scanned in with our HP flatbed scanner. I don’t think I talked about our two biggest acquisitions prior to our 10th anniversary issue the previous year: a flatbed scanner and the Syquest 200 MG cartridge disc drive. This allowed us to send large files to the printer and/or transport to the local “service bureau” for getting film made. Each page of the magazine in these days was converted to large 10” x 13” sheets of film, which were used by the printer to “burn” blue-line proofs and then (if the proofs were approved) printing plates. All that’s been bypassed now in our age of Gigabyte storage devices, high-speed internet connections and the handy PDF files. These high-technology devices of its time helped us design our own magazine in-house instead of relying on an outside source.
There had been times over the years (including this era) where we leaned on the graphics division of a record label to design our covers. We usually foot the bill for the film charges (I think), but the art and graphic design labor was a trade-off the label made in exchange for the quality-control they had to make their artist look good.
I remember purchasing the Adobe Illustrator program just so I’d have the ability to change the color of our oval hm logo – matching it with the colors from the cover photo. This issue featured a little “drop shadow” beneath the oval logo. The centerfold poster for this issue was The 77’s, who have earned the status of Christian alternative rock legends. I used the drop shadow feature to make the hm logo “pop” off the 2-dimensional surface. Both of these designs featured some flaws. I had not yet mastered the use of the “dust and scratches” filter in PhotoShop (which, contrary to its name, which implies that it could add some cool “stress” to a design, instead blurs out and removes imperfections in the image) and the “cloning” tool, where I could set it to “darken” or “lighten” only and basically remove tiny little hairs that were on the flatbed scanner at the time the photo or slide was scanned. Unfortunately, there are a few small hairs on top of the dark jackets two of the guys in Jesus Freaks were wearing. I was able to clean up a bunch of junk on the 77s poster, though.
Other bands listed or highlighted on the cover for this issue were Plankeye, Deliverance, Nailed, Everdown, the Readers’ Poll results (misspelled “Reader’s Poll,” as if it were one reader choosing the favorites) and our “What Green Day Sez” article.
Big, full-page color ads this issue included Blackball’s Super Heavy Dreamscape debut album, the Friction debut album from Stavesacre, The Blackball ad had a reference to a free sampler, with more details on the thick subscription card that was inserted or “blown-in” inside the magazine. I probably could have charged a lot more for this marketing tool to the label (Metro One Records), but I was just happy to have my blow-in subscription cards paid for. The Stavesacre ad also had a gang of other T&N releases spotlighted: Everdown; Upside Down Room; Unashamed; Roadside Monument; Overcome and the I’m Your Biggest Fan “punk and emo” compilation.
Other full-page color ads included Brian White & Justice, the Buzz Tour with Guardian, Eric Champion and Imagine This, Z Music Television, EDL’s Disgruntled debut album, Lifetime Adventures (a young single adults weekend retreat in Ridgecrest, NC), independent artist Paul Howey and a Plankeye ad on the inside back cover (for the Commonwealth album).
This particular issue had a couple of items that were pretty personal in a family sort of way. One was probably kinda cool and the other probably a little too “cute.” The backpage had a sonogram of my first daughter, Kaela, in her mother’s womb. The message was based around the “fearfully and wonderfully made” theme from Scripture. The table of contents page, however, featured a large graphic of our big, fat cat – Martha. The Leaderdogs for the Blind story featured a negative/inversed photo of our neighbor’s dog (Dakota) peeking through a hole in the fence. I like the freedom of doing something weird in the face of limited resources (like no band photo), but this one doesn’t stand the test of time, either.
When I look over the stories listed in the table of contents, I’m shocked by my lack of input. Out of 12 features I only wrote one. Our Assistant Editor, Brian McGovern, wrote the Jesus Freaks cover story, the Metanoia, Plankeye and Waterstain pieces. Ginny McCabe wrote stories on Nailed and Deliverance. These were big stylistic deviations for a writer that was usually doing CCM-type artists for mags like CBA Marketplace (a trade publication for Christian bookstores). Former White Throne staff writer and longtime metalhead David Muttilo did a piece on Audio Adrenaline. Seems like I could have made a few switches with some of these, huh? Dan MacIntosh (who still faithfully writes for us today) did the 77s and Dogs of Peace. Former Noteboard editor Brent Hershey did the story on metalcore pioneers Everdown. Randy Spencer, who was a staff writer for the Take A Stand newsletter/zine (and also does artist management in L.A. today) wrote on Leaderdogs for the Blind. I believe Randy still keeps in contact with a former member or two from this band.
The opening spread of the “Hard News” in this issue features something I like: an in-studio photo of a band that we’re keeping an eye on. The band was Stavesacre and there’s a nice solo shot of Mark Salomon in front of a mic. There’s also an inset that shows the band (including producer Bryan Carlstrom and a long-haired Brandon Ebel). In the text body there’s a piece of Stavesacre trivia: apparently bassist Dirk Lemmenes was babysat by Jeff Belew when he was a wee lad. Wow. The opposite page shows a nice stage shot of Petra in Latin America – a market that was just beginning to open up for a lot of Western Christian rock and metal artists at the time.
Some other interesting news tidbits included a notice that Fleming & John inked a deal with MCA, which would re-package and re-release their Delusions of Grandeur album. Trouble was re-joined by founding drummer Jeff Olson for the Plastic Green Head album. Power metallers Veni Domine announced a deal with Massacre, which would re-release their Material Sanctuary album to the general market. Fourth Estate released their See What I See album.
Another small feature that was happening around this time was our “Internet Madness” section, where we listed hot website spots that people should check out. We also listed tour dates, which was still a very helpful resource prior to the internet’s increased exposure and use for such information.
Layout-wise, I like the use of an up-close shot of Scott Stilleta of Plankeye’s thick-rimmed glasses, which were like a visual trademark of the band. It was another reminder that music had entered a different era, where long-hair and “cool” were not as in as nerd (Weezer was huge) and be-yourself-ism. Overall, though, the layout of the magazine was busy, crowded and messy. I probably wouldn’t re-use any of the layout methods in this issue now – with the possible exception of the “collector’s card” style design in the Readers’ Poll. There was an over-use of the lower-case lettering in lots of headlines. Yuck. I also didn’t seem to understand that I could adjust my tab settings to an eighth of an inch instead of the quarter or half that was default. I hate the way the paragraph indents look in these old issues. I want to throw up in my mouth a little bit.
The Deliverance story this issue focused on their latest release, Camelot in Smithereens. I wrote the review in this issue, which I raved was my new fav D album after Learn. I guess I considered it a great mix of their new Bowie-esque vocals with the intense rhythms of their early speed metal days. Sales-wise, I guess not many people agreed with my assessment, because Jimmy Brown told a story about this album having dismal sales at the recent Deliverance reunion show last weekend in Southern California. In the article Brown explains it was a concept album – one in which he wanted to publish a companion novel in conjunction with its release. The story centers around a female character named Lindsay, who is in love with a non-believer. She is counseled to leave him, so she does and she begins to grown in her relationship with Christ inside the church. Then she gets pregnant and excommunicated from her church. Hearing Jimmy talk about this album as he introduced the ballad “In-U” at that recent show and reading about this concept makes me want to pull this album out and listen to it again. I wonder if I’ll still like it more than Learn? Hmmm…
Going back and looking at a Readers’ Poll is always telling about an era. Here’s who was popular:
Favorite Guitarist: Gary Lenaire
Bassist: Steve Rowe
Drummer: Ted Kirkpatrick
Singer: Dale Thompson
Live Band: Bride
Album: Drop (Bride)
Lyricist: Steve Taylor
Album Cover: Primitive Rhythm Machine (Mortification)
Producer: Steve Taylor
New Band: Grammatrain
Indie (a tie between): P.O.D., Ultimatum, Bare Bones and Sardonyx
The “What Green Day Sez” feature was interesting, because Mike Dirnt was so silly. I remember him bringing up the “force” (as in Star Wars) when talking spirituality. When I asked him about Jesus, he said, “I’m down with JC. Whatever.”
Besides the ranting and raving of the Deliverance album, other reviews that stand out and were important include the Reflection album by Unashamed, which said it “could be considered a praise & worship album,” the Tom Tom Blues album by the 77s, Speak by Dogs of Peace and No Sign of Intelligent Life by Rocketboy. The other albums reviewed are:
Mortifiation – Envision Evangeline
Kerry Livgren – When Things Get Electric
Audio Adrenaline – Bloom
Sweet Nectar – Tired Face in Clown Makeup
Rob Walker – Strobe (from Wish for Eden)
Resurrection Band – Lament Video Album
Mortal – Pura
Fourth Estate – See What I See
Newsboys – Take Me To Your Leader
Dale Thompson – s/t
And the following demo cassettes by:
Painted by Moses
Serenade (who later became Gretchen)
Blood & Fire (yes, two separate bands)
Bones of Adam
Some of the other ads in this issue include a new solo album by ex-Kansas guitarist/songwriter, Kerry Livgren (When Things Get Electric). It was fun and interesting to deal with Kerry directly about the booking of ads and the artwork for them. Rescue Records had a couple of ads – one with P.O.D.’s Snuff the Punk (complete with a guy pointing a gun to the devil’s head) and No Innocent Victim’s Strength album; and one with just the Scripture in it. That was a powerful statement. The Camelot Music gang ad featured Deliverance, MxPx (On the Cover), Chaos is the Poetry, The Best of Five Years by Mortification, Common Children and the Stryper Tribute Album. There was an ad for the Mosh Fest (which took place up in Hastings, Michigan and featured bands like Living Sacrifice, Crashdog, Frank’s Enemy, Aeturnus, Crimson Thorn and many others). Metal Blade took out an ad for the Machine Fish album by Galactic Cowboys. Guardian had an ad for their indie release of their early material. There was an ad for a week-long youth camp called Crossroads ’96 in Boiling Springs, NC. We had a “house” ad for our own “Artist vs. Industry” Flag Football Game, which we staged each year in Nashville during “GMA Week.” Those were really fun events, where lots of radio and industry guys would take on musicans. We did those games each year for nine years in a row. One of the items we sold in our merch ad was the Extremely Loud Guitar Book, which featured tab for a bunch of Christian metal songs. Someone should do that again. A clothing company called Grava Enterprises had some simple but cool designs for Skaters for Christ, Snowboarders for Christ and Surfers for Christ. 5 Minute Walk Records had an ad for their Buy the Land, Build the House, Feed the Kids Tours, which featured Black Eyed Sceva, Dime Store Prophets, Sixpence None the Richer and Poor Old Lu … and gave proceeds to build the 5 Minute Walk House in Tijuana, Mexico. Both Rugged and Intense Records took out an ad congratulating Bride and Tourniquet for sweeping so many awards in the Readers’ Poll. I love it when organizations take out ads like that. There were small ads for Blanch Pall’s Texas Rockfest, 8-Ball Cholos, Ultimatum, Broken Vessell, Jennings Thompson bass guitars, Conviction, Athan Asia, Torman Maxt, Music Craft, Blood and Fire, Dove Enterprises and Christian Compact Discs.
Not a bad issue … showing a magazine going through the transition of a changing music scene. You can see by the ads that individual and unsigned bands took out that metal was losing its grip on the mainstream, but not its energy and enthusiasm for rocking hard for Christ.