Monday, December 2, 2013

Ize of Terror

Terrorizer (the magazine) turns 20 this month; that makes it a few years older than I was when I bought my first issue in the Fall of 1997. Terrorizer has been my go-to metal bible since I was 18. At 34, I struggle and fail in trying to think of a publication that has had as much of an effect on my life.
In high school, I was a regular Metal Hammer reader - partly because it was one of the few metal magazines you could find in South East Asia at the time, and mostly because it allowed me to cover my walls with Paradise Lost, Entombed, and Sepultura posters (I regret nothing). But towards the end of 96 and the beginning of 97, the music they covered started creeping more and more towards the mainstream as my own tastes headed further south. I wanted death metal and hardcore; Metal Hammer made Bush and the Prodigy their cover stars.

Luckily, soon after I moved to New York for college, I discovered Tower Records' ostentatious zine racks, and therein, a magazine that took its name from a legendary death/grind band. Under the masthead, Glen Benton glared at me. It was love at first sight. Inside those glossy pages were a plethora of death, black, doom, and hardcore bands that I'd never heard of and couldn't wait to discover.

And discover I did: Thanks to Terrorizer, Disfear, Behemoth, Decapitated, Dawn, and Electric Wizard were all bands that I was listening to before anyone I knew; before the old school revival became another toothless fucking trend, Terrorizer's Ian Glasper wrote a series of articles on first wave thrash, death, and crossover bands and those articles were hugely influential on me; and before the combined efforts of Myspace and Victory Records made metalcore nauseating, Terrorizer introduced me to the likes of Arkangel, Liar, and Congress, which few American magazines seemed interested in covering or even aware of. Terrorizer stayed ahead of the curve and enabled me to do the same.

A good deal of what made Terrorizer so appealing to me was its dry British wit, employed to particularly good effect in the reviews section. The magazine kept a watchful eye on emerging trends and a helpful cynicism about prevailing ones (I remember a review dismissing the growing number of melodic death metal bands as far back as 1998). But I think what I appreciated most was that the scope went far beyond the average metal magazine. Diamanda Galas, Whitehouse and Current 93 were placed in the same light as any death and black metal band; I don't think I would have started listening to the Swans if the editorial staff didn't keep stressing how important they were to the development of extreme metal (you don't have to look much farther than Godflesh and Neurosis for proof of that).

Terrorizer never talked down to its audience. The magazine was as "inside" as a music publication got; the writers and editors sometimes created genre labels for their own use. Before "nu-metal" became a ubiquitous term, Terrorizer referred to those bands disparagingly as "woolly hat"; Converge, Coalesce, Dillinger Escape Plan and the like were categorized as "noisecore" (I remember one reader wrote in to argue the term actually belonged to the likes of Unsane and the Swans). And "NWOSDM (New Wave of Swedish Death Metal)" was the go-to label for Terrorizer before "melodic death metal" became standardized (and, it has to be said, Americanized). For anyone wondering when I started coining terms like "nekro thrash" and "NWOOSSDM", you have your answer. [I got a letter of my own published in an issue with Entombed on the cover. I ran around my dorm showing it to everyone who was home.]

Month after month, religiously, I made the trip to Tower Records to get my Terrorizer fix. Sometimes it would be part of a longer trek from Generation Records to St. Mark's Place as I scoured the used CD racks for good metal; most of the time it was just to pick up Terrorizer. All my metal magazines were stored in a milk crate (I was in college after all). By the time I graduated in 2001, that crate was overflowing.

Without a doubt I would have needed to make a milk crate bookshelf for all those magazines if I'd stayed in NY, but at the end of 2002 I had to leave. All my belongings were moved to the basement of my brother's house in Boston, which is the only place I could put them; I was promised that they would be safely stored there til my return. I travelled Europe for a few months, crashing with friends and giving out my design portfolio. [Very few people seemed interested, though I did have a nice visit at the Century Media office in Dortmund.] I browsed the newstands at every bus and train station on my journey; more often than not, Terrorizer would be sitting in the racks.

The same couldn't be said when I returned to Malaysia. Over the next four years I would periodically stop in a book store to see if there was anything that would keep me abreast of what was happening in metal; other than the occasional Metal Maniacs or Decibel, there wasn't much to be found. At a time when I had no metal friends and no internet, Terrorizer would have been a boon, and I never stopped searching for it.

In the ensuing years, my stuff had been accruing dust and cobwebs in my brother's basement. In 2007 when I was visiting the States for the first time in 5 years, he informed me that he intended to sell his house, and he wouldn't be able to store my stuff anymore. I wish I had the money back then to put everything in storage; but I just didn't. All I ever owned was pared down to a few boxes of books, toys, CDs and some clothes. Everything else, including my art supplies, my cassettes (including the ones I traded with friends via mail), and a lot of my metal shirts were placed in garbage cans, dragged out the curb and are now in a landfill somewhere.

I placed the magazine crate in the corner with the things I planned to keep. When my brother saw this, he sneered, "Why? They're not worth anything."

I thought of all the bands that I had gotten into because of Terrorizer; the articles I read, and re-read, and re-re-read. The monthly trips to Tower Records (which didn't exist anymore). The value was emotional, not monetary. But it was impossible to articulate any this at the time, so I said simply, "I'd like to keep them all, if I can." In the end, to save space, I threw out all the Metal Maniacs and Metal Hammer magazines. I got to save my Terrorizers. At the time of this writing, they're in a Rubbermaid container in my sister's attic. They're safe, for now.

When I moved back to NY in 2008, I didn't resume buying Terrorizer simply because it was too expensive; between the import price and sales tax, each issue came to almost $9. At a time when a monthly trip to Costco represented 90% of my grocery shopping and I used to save money by walking home from lower Manhattan to Greenpoint (Brooklyn), spending that much on a magazine - even if it was the greatest magazine ever - just seemed fiscally irresponsible. Besides, by that time almost every C.H.U.D. with an internet connection had started a blog to promote underground music; Terrorizer (like every other monthly periodical) had lost some of its cachet.

When I returned to Malaysia at the end of 2011, I left behind everything that was important to me, and I didn't know if I'd ever get it back. It was a dark time filled with disappointment and heartbreak. Walking past a newsagent's shop in KL, I saw three issues of Terrorizer sitting in the racks. Not knowing what the state of the local scene was or if I'd ever see another gig while I lived here, those issues seemed like a godsend and I bought them without thought. And have proceeded to return to the same newstand every month religiously, just like I did in college, for my Terrorizer fix. It's a portal to a part of my life that I only see glimpses of these days. For those glimpses, and that dry British wit, and all those bands I have yet to discover, I'm still thankful.

Happy birthday, Terrorizer. I look forward to us growing old together.