Return to the Firing Squad…

UnknownMetal Maniacs was a publication that led a lot of us through the thick and thin of an exploding metal world. I stumbled upon this mag in a local grocery store many years ago and was blown away that I was able to read about new and old bands in the metal realm, spilled from the hearts and minds of obvious fans like myself. Here in small Traverse City, I was introduced to a larger world where I no longer felt alone. We were out there and we were ravenous for the music that quickly and so deeply molded our lives and yes… culture.

Fast forward a number of years to 1995… I was one of 4 contributing editors to Worm Gear Zine, eager to share my thoughts with the world on a musical style that I obsessed over and this was my way to emulate the publication that I hunted down every issue of. This humble and dedicated zine came across the desk of one time Relapse Records publicist Jeff Wagner who ended up taking the helm of Maniacs and eventually contacted me to contribute to his rebuilding of the MM empire. It was a complete honor and remains with me till this day as the best and most rewarding “job” I ever and likely will ever have.

Fast forward to 2013… Chris Dick constructs a Metal Maniacs retrospective piece for Decibel Magazine’s August 2013 issue (#106 with Johan Hegg on the cover) and sends out a list of questions to a handful of editors and writers to harvest content for this extensive piece. I am honored to have been given the opportunity to be a part of it. Since he used several quotes from this interview, I thought it would be good to share with all of you the unedited piece instead of letting the rest of it fall into obscurity.
Many thanks to Chris Dick and Albert Mudrian for the approval to share this MM recollection with the Worm Gear readers! -Marty

Metal Maniacs: Oral History
Writer Questionnaire
By Chris Dick

Chris Dick: Timeline: When did you start? When did you stop?
Marty Rytkonen: I don’t remember the exact year, but my first Maniacs tour was around 98, up until Jeff Wagner stepped down as editor. I left when he did. I was a part of his reign for a couple of years. I also did some writing for Liz for a year or so, leading up to the demise of the magazine.

CD: What do you remember about music at the time?
MR: Emperor’s Anthems? Yes. Influential releases by Immortal, Darkthrone… the list is endless. Even though being on the staff of a large publication had privileges of hearing tons of new music, the releases at the time were still extremely high quality which made it even more exciting and fun to be a part of. But, the ultimate commercialization of extreme metal was just around the corner…

CD: What do you remember about Metal Maniacs? A game-changer or typical outlet?
MR: A complete game-changer that has left a seemingly bottomless hole in the American metal world. It was an amazing experience and felt like I was part of something that cared and was working to guide metal fans on a path of learning about new and fantastic bands, rather than writing to earn the respect and ad $$ of the labels that supported it.

CD: Were you a reader of Metal Maniacs before you were a writer?
MR: Absolutely. I was a long time follower of Maniacs as it was often easy to obtain in Northern Michigan. The day Jeff called me up to ask if I would be interested in writing for him, I thought he was joking. Once the shock subsided, I cannot tell you how honored I was to have been given the opportunity.

CD: Or were you in a band? Any conflicts of interest? Or did you start a band as a result of writing about music for Metal Maniacs?
MR: Was in several bands that never amounted to anything other than a creative outlet and fun. Maniacs had no impact on that. I always looked at playing music as my once a week “poker night” if you will.

CD: Did you have your writing “voice” before Metal Maniacs or was it curated during your tenure?
MR: I was one of the founding fathers of Worm Gear Zine back in 1995 and by the time Jeff asked me to join the MM fold, I guess you could say that I had stumbled upon a style with my desperate word “sculpting”. I took this instinctual style and really tried to expand it with my work for Maniacs. Since they were actually paying me, I wanted to do the best I could for them. Through it all, it was an amazing experience and I learned a lot.

CD: What do you remember about your first assignment?
MR: I should know this…. I think it was an interview with John McEntee/Incantation? No matter how many times I had interviewed bands for Worm Gear, doing it for Maniacs was always different and more intense. Nerves and a lack of self confidence would take over. I recall second guessing myself all the time, for I respected the roster of writers so much, and felt they were all more developed than I was (technically and stylistically) as writers, it was intimidating. Maniacs legacy in regards to my own metal development over the years leading up to this also was a huge part of this anxiety.

CD: Did you ever travel for features? If so, please provide a synopsis of where you went, when you went, what record you were covering, and any fun stories about your trip?
MR: Yes. Quite a bit actually. I would cover the Milwaukee Metalfest every year which led to heading out East for the 1st ever New England Metal and Hardcore Fest, along with another Jack Koshick (SIC?) Fest called November to Dismember. There were others that have all blended together in the mush of all the years that have passed. These events were full of other writers from all over the world and we are an interesting cross section of individuals that would cross paths often. Other than drunkenly being convinced to have my picture taken with who turned out to be a King Diamond impersonator (thanks for running that one Jeff) and having our hotel rooms filled with floor crashers who all complained about my snoring, these events were filled with fun stories and exciting performances that I feel honored to have been fortunate enough to experience.

CD: How did you submit writing to editorial: email, fax, used USPS/UPS to mail work, hand-written?
MR: Email. The Internet was clipping along just fine by then.

CD: How much content freedom did you have?
MR: Total freedom. There weren’t word count restrictions on interviews, features or reviews. I was never asked to bend my opinion one way or the other. It was an incredibly freeing position to be in. I think Jeff got to know his writers well enough to trust us and let us do what we do. Since he obviously liked our work leading up to asking us to join him, I think this allowed him to trust that what we would submit would be up to par with what the magazine needed.

CD: What was your favorite feature?
MR: I always enjoyed the loose feel of the demo and zine features as I could just let it flow in a stream of conscious style of writing. I came after Ula for the demo column and think he always more entertaining as his sense of humor is second to none, but coming up with silly captions for band pictures was always a hoot. As far as interviews, I think my best work was the Immortal interview with Abbath being the most entertaining for people. It wasn’t fun trying to get him on the phone, although his mother sure sounded like a nice Norwegian lady….

CD: Did you take one for the team? Covering music or artists you had no interest in? What was that like? When was it, if you remember?
MR: Nope. Jeff would ask if I was into covering a handful of bands and it was my choice weather I pursued it or not. I would sometimes review material that I wasn’t into, but that’s part of the game. You can’t love everything you listen to. I would remind fans of the written word to remember that. There is something wrong with a writer that likes everything… or they are doing it for all the wrong reasons.

CD: Did you ever get re-writes or story suggestions from Editorial? How’d that go?
MR: Not that I can remember. I know Jeff would suggest I chop a run-on sentence down often, but I typically did it. After a while I learned not to do that anymore.

CD: How did you approach reviews?
MR: Probably a sad thing to admit, but I would often do them last minute before the deadline and probably be slightly drunk. Was it planned this way? No. It was just the way life was rolling back then. This allows the words to flow without preconceived notions or falling into the trap of over thinking the process. There is always room for creative flourishes when writing reviews, but the main goal is to express ones opinion clearly and creatively without coming off as too pretentious with fancy verbage. This is the way I always approached it anyway. I also remember stopping reading record reviews from other people on albums I was slated to cover for I never wanted their influence to subconsciously infect my thought process.

CD: What did you think of the “No Ratings” system for reviews?
MR: It is the way it should be. I think ratings are a crutch. Make people actually take the time to read the review. If I have done my job correctly, the reader will come away with my opinion on an album without question. It is this vital critic/reader connection that made Maniacs special and a thing of the past as reviews over the years have become short and meaningless due to the rise of the internet. People really don’t need reviews anymore as they can choose to download everything and listen for themselves. But this also could be attributed to the fact that writers anymore are also working for 5 other publications to survive and just spread thin creatively. It comes across in their writing. When it does, there is no view into their personality to allow the reader to even want to follow what they have to say. When Metal Maniacs arrived in the mail box, I wanted to read every review by every writer as they were their own unique voice with a style I could relate to. Bring back those days! Where is the passion?

CD: What was your favorite feature in Metal Maniacs? Shorts, Brash Report, Playlists, etc.
MR: Aural Assaults for the reasons I stated earlier.

CD: What’d you think of the layout? Obviously you didn’t have a hand in it, but I’m sure there are opinions either way.
MR: The layout was always the one strike against Maniacs, but I feel the writing sufficiently made up for it. Could you imagine MM’s content armed with a slick design as found in Terrorizer or Metal Hammer? Sure larger band pics and zany design would have forced us to likely stick to a strict word count, but I feel a more adventurous look would have really drawn in the uninitiated folks perusing on the newsstand. It is a double edged sword, but I think it was a good thing that we stuck to more in-depth content over appearance.

CD: Did Metal Maniacs change over the course of your writing tenure? If so, how? Editorial Team, layout, features, opportunities, etc.marty_parker
MR: It did for sure. I was accustomed to Wagner’s ways and when I started writing for Liz, it was different. Not saying that it was bad, for I believe she really did a great job taking the reigns of MM and making it her own without losing site of the old days. But by this time, a lot of writers were brought in from other publications both in print and on the web and I think Maniacs kind of lost its uniqueness because of this. There were just too many of the same bands being covered by all the magazines in the metal world. We all became interchangeable.

CD: Metal Maniacs had political leanings throughout its existence. Did you pay attention to the politics espoused by the magazine?
MR: I respected the editors wishes to talk about such things as it was their platform to do so, but it wasn’t where I was coming from with this music. It was sometimes annoying, but I could choose to overlook it to get to the info I cared about.

CD: Did you ever have doubts about telling people who you wrote for? Was there a stigma? Or did you display your Metal Maniacs credentials proudly?
MR: Proudly! I felt it was an achievement and was very proud of my work there and all that I did leading up to it. How many starving writers can say they have been “published”? And they have schooling behind them. I didn’t. Just a love for a form of music and a desire to help people find their way to albums that are worthy of their hard earned money. Being at the right place at the right time helps as well.

CD: Any other fun or interesting stories about your time at Metal Maniacs?
MR: I look back on the whole experience with a lot of fond memories and nostalgic desire for something like that to rise again. During the Wagner era, we all bonded over this labor of metal love and many of us became friends… some of which I still keep close contact with to this day. I will never forget the first ever Metal Maniacs x-mas party over at Zahlers. It was my first time ever on an airplane and to NYC… a first step into a larger world. The air guitar competition. The laughs. The endless hours listening to records and debating them. I have never been in a working environment so fun or creatively charged and I will always remember that feeling. Time certainly flies…

~ by martyworm on July 17, 2013.

2 Responses to “Return to the Firing Squad…”

  1. It was always fun finding issues of Metal Maniacs back in the day…I wonder if such a magazine could even run these days…

  2. Cool interview… I had stacks of MM magazines laying around back in the day and used to read them over and over again. I feel it was a true institution in the underground US metal scene. I was exposed to so many new bands through the magazine. It was especially important in the days before the internet blew up. Like many, I remember scouring the stores for it. Only certain stores in my area carried it and nothing was worse than getting my hopes up and finding out the store only had Metal Edge and Rip.

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