Metal Maniacs alumni return…

UnknownThe crater left by Metal Maniacs resonates to this day and after Decibel ran it’s massive history piece in their August 2013 #106 issue ( , the memories returned and fans across the Internet clamored for more information. Both Jeff Wagner and S.Craig Zahler are names that still cross the lips of long time MM readers due to their journalistic impact on the magazine and metal world and hey, they are both still very active writers with vision and creativity that people can and want to relate to. Jeff remains a devout metal writer, contributing to Decibel, several blogs, and has authored his first book, Mean Deviation: Four Decades of Progressive Heavy Metal, with another book, a biography on the life of Peter Steele currently being created. Zahler has become an accomplished screenwriter, has penned 2 novels (A Congregation of Jackals and Wraiths of the Broken Land), is about to direct the screenplay Bone Tomahawk that he wrote, staring Kurt Russell, along with his band Realmbuilder and the occasional contribution to Worm Gear. The following 2 questionnaires are unedited and were conducted by Decibel’s Chris Dick. Our thanks again go out to Chris and Decibel for allowing us to share Jeff and Craig’s thoughts on their past lives in the MM bunker. Further links will be shared at the end of this piece. -Marty

Metal Maniacs / Jeff Wagner: Oral History Writer Questionnaire By Chris Dick

Timeline: When did you start? When did you stop?

Started January 1997, stopped March 2001.

Chris Dick: How were you chosen to be editor?

wagnerJeff Wagner: I heard about the opening in late 1996. I’d been a reader of the mag since the early ‘90s, and I thought it was at a low point, with things like Marilyn Manson and Korn making the cover. But I thought I’d be perfect for the job, especially if I could help swing it back to where it should be, so I got in touch with Mike G and scheduled an interview. I was working for Relapse at the time, in Pennsylvania, and took a train to New York. I sat and talked with Mike for 15 minutes and got the job on the spot. He’d already checked my credentials with other people and felt I was the perfect fit.

CD: Did you ever have doubts about telling non-metal people who you worked for? Any stigma associated with the name or brand?

JW: Not at all. I’ve never worried about any stigma attached to the name or genre when talking to non-metal people. In fact, I’ve always been proud to be associated with it. When people learn you make your living dealing with heavy metal, they’re usually impressed that it’s even possible.

CD: What do you remember about music at the time?

JW: To the mainstream, or people outside the metal stream, it seemed dead. The focus was very much on heavy alternative bands or the emerging “nu metal” thing. Other than Pantera or Slayer, you had very few big leaders keeping it real. But then I also remember a lot of amazing Scandinavian bands evolving and doing exciting things – Opeth, Arcturus, Katatonia, Dissection, At the Gates, Enslaved – and that’s a lot of what I tried to push Metal Maniacs toward when I started.

CD: And where did the name Metal Maniacs come from?

JW: No idea. Never asked. It wasn’t a great name, but it did the job.

CD: What do you remember about Metal Maniacs? A game-changer or typical outlet?

JW: A game-changer in that it was the first U.S. magazine of its type, at least with any real longevity, to feature that kind of music. It was very much defined by who the editors were at the time, so you have a lot of different eras. I think it was, at various times, both a game-changer and typical, and various levels of importance or redundancy in between. Just depended on the era. Even the content issue-to-issue would differ greatly; a couple issues I was involved with were ones I felt we could have done much better on, and then others were among the best of the magazine’s entire run. It depended on how all the pieces fell into place.

CD: Did you view Metal Maniacs as a genuine magazine or a very expensive fanzine?

JW: It sat nestled between those two poles. It was a genuine magazine in that it had glossy color pages and was sold on newsstands all over the place, and was a big advertising vehicle too. But it resembled a fanzine in that it also had its share of black and white pages on pulp paper (because the publisher wanted to cut corners) and we constantly kept things down to earth by printing tons of readers’ address (“Shorts”), pages of demo reviews, featured bands other newsstand publications wouldn’t ever touch, and during my time there, NEVER let advertising dictate editorial coverage or content.

CD: Where did the cover taglines come from and how did they play into the business of Metal Maniacs? The Superstar Special, Movie Mirror, etc.

JW: Movie Mirror was a magazine dating all the way back to the 1930s. The publishing company at the time, Sterling/Macfadden, had a long history that went back half a century, so you had all these established/copyrighted names of old magazines that were used to spin off other new magazines, and Metal Maniacs, as I understand, began as a one-off thing and flew under the banner, legally, of one of these older names. I never concerned myself very much with all that.

CD: Where did the titles come from? Street Screech, Brash Bits, Interrogations, etc.

JW: “Street Screech” wasn’t used during my time there (thank fuck, because it sounds retarded). They were just column names dubbed by different editors and each new editorial team either kept the old title or changed it to a new name. The only column I originated was Think Tank, but I don’t know if they carried that on after I left. It was a think piece, a conceptual column about a very particular subject or phenomenon. I thought it was cool, and it was warmly welcomed, but a few readers actually told me it was “too cerebral.” So much for thinking outside the box.

CD: Metal Maniacs had political leanings throughout its existence. How did politics play into the editorial and general outlook of the magazine?

JW: The Katherine Ludwig/Alicia Morgan era(s) pushed politics more than any MM era prior or since. When I was there, Mike G and I would talk politics sometimes on our lunch breaks, but we both felt it wasn’t our place to push politics in the magazine, so it would only creep in now and then. I can’t speak for the other editors, but we felt it was best to separate our personal, non-musical views from the music we were committed to covering. Of course, if a particular band we were covering were heavy into politics, then you get into it. Other than that, no. Having said that, I thought what Ludwig/Morgan brought to the magazine, in terms of their politics, was very cool; it made things a bit confrontational, and expanded the range a little bit. I just was never interested in using the magazine as a forum for my beliefs. Mike G certainly had strong political convictions but he voiced those rarely in the magazine. Each editorial team had their way of doing things and that helped define the different eras and keep things fresh.

CD: How did the magazine change over the course of your editorship?

JW: When I came in, it was catering to the trends that were happening at the time, you know, nu metal and Marilyn Manson and various barely-metal and even non-metal bands (Seaweed on the cover!?). It was partly a matter of Mike G trying to survive 1995/1996, a tough time to be a real-deal extreme metal magazine. When I came in, I felt MM had sidestepped its mission of being a newsstand magazine that covered bands no other newsstand publication would, so the biggest change I put into effect was swinging it back to covering real metal and digging underground more than they had in the year prior. The argument at the time was “do we gain more readers by going for mainstream appeal or do we lose more diehards by doing so?” The latter were the loyalists who would make or break a magazine of this kind, so I fought hard for that, and Mike gave in a little bit. I also expanded the range of bands we covered. If, in 1997, big magazines weren’t covering Iron Maiden, we stepped up. And of course, there was always the more obscure stuff that I loved and felt deserved coverage, and I pushed that agenda too. I also brought in power metal stuff like Helloween, Hammerfall, Iced Earth, Jag Panzer and Nocturnal Rites because, as the mag’s mantra went, we covered the bands other magazines refused to cover. And no other newsstand publication covered those bands. I grew up on England’s Metal Forces magazine, and their coverage span was incredibly wide, from super-melodic AOR-type metal to the sickest underground noise. I tried to bring that mentality in during my time at Maniacs, and it was successful, for the most part.

CD: How did you staff the magazine? What did you do to court the best writers?

JW: Some were already there when I started, and then I brought in new blood that I felt the magazine would benefit from having. Mike G always made a division – “my writers” and “your writers.” Not in a competitive sense, but he had his people and I had mine. At the time I was keeping up with fanzines and I wanted to bring aboard writers like Chris Maycock, Marty Rytkonen, Matt Johnsen, Stephen O’Malley and S. Craig Zahler, because I loved their work in their own ‘zines. I would approach them, offer them stories or reviews, and that’s that. And all those guys became close friends, so it had the feel of creating our own little army, and after a couple years we had an extremely strong stable of contributors. I reeled Sue Nolz (now Sue Verica) back in too, as I remember…I think she had “retired” from the magazine at some point before I got there, but I felt she had to be part of this new G/Wagner regime so I got her back on board too.

CD: Did you have your editorial “voice” before Metal Maniacs or was it curated during your tenure?

JW: I think I started to find it just before Maniacs, when I wrote practically all the features for the premier issue of Relapse’s Resound magazine. That was a great trial by fire, and great timing too. Before that I had been doing other freelance writing and also my own fanzine, but I was an over-excited mess at that time, trying to figure out my own voice and how best to get that across. So, I definitely found my “editorial voice” during Maniacs, yeah.

CD: What were some the best features or interviews, if you recall? And why?

JW: If you’re talking about my own? Probably the Think Tank column on bassists, the article on Opeth in my final issue, my reviews of the Celtic Frost reissues, and a review of some terrible album by Virus 7. That was a Hank Shermann project, and it sucked so bad; I gave it a terrible review and so many people mentioned how much they loved that review. As for others’ pieces, it’s tough, we had a lot of great writers who contributed a lot of amazing stuff. Chris Maycock’s Think Tank on bigotry/racism in metal was really good, and just about anything S. Craig Zahler wrote. He would get the widest array of reaction from readers, which is a very healthy thing. I loved his stuff. Ula Gehret’s demo column was the best – he’d make you laugh a lot, as both reader and writer suffered through yet another batch of mostly-shitty demos together. Good times.

CD: Any nightmare scenarios you had to deal with?

JW: We’d get what were called “blue lines,” the final proofs before the printing stage that could NOT be changed except in the case of an extreme fuck up. Despite being an extremely well-proofed magazine – Mike and I were anal about that stuff — I remember seeing little typos or factual errors at that stage and flipping out and letting it bother me all day. I hated typos of any sort, no matter how small. Like, “Ace to Spades,” which the eyes just fly over because you assume it’s “Ace of Spades,” right? And, not sure if it’s a “nightmare scenario,” but one of my favorite bands is Judas Priest, and one of my biggest heroes is Glenn Tipton. Well, the first or second issue of Maniacs that I was involved with, I gave a scathing review to Glenn’s first solo album. Shortly after the magazine hit the stands I got an out-of-the-blue call from Glenn. He was upset about the review, but never raised his voice or insulted me (and I’m pretty sure I was insulting and unfair to him in that review), and then we became friends of a sort. He’d call me up every now and then, and we finally met when they played in Manhattan a year or two later, and it was all cool. But man, I was pretty freaked out that he was going to be super-irate with me when I picked up the call. But I still stand by my feelings – it’s a shitty album.

CD: What was production like?

JW: Fun to do, but probably boring to read about. Basically: it was very old-school, and this from someone who’s not necessarily a technology geek (like Mudrian, I don’t own a smartphone). I mean, we’d have everything penciled in on the master sheet, an 11” x 17” sheet of paper that acted as a map for the layout of each issue. We’d have to erase and re-position stuff as ads came in, or stories went longer than anticipated, or whatever. Then eventually the edited content would get into the hands of the layout people. After about two years there I tried my damndest to tweak the tiniest thing to the layouts to make them look better. That was an uphill battle sometimes. The publishing company was so old-school that it would have been hilarious if it weren’t so fucking frustrating. But I tried. Content was most important to me anyway, and I had to let go of hoping that the magazine would ever look amazing.

CD: Did production change as the times and technology changed?

JW: Yes. When I started in January 1997, we were running up two flights of stairs to some other office where they took our 5” diskettes, printed the info on them into “galleys,” which we’d proof in red pen, then run that back up, where they’d manually type in our changes, back downstairs, then back up again to get the corrections, read those, etc. etc. Seems ridiculous now. But I probably needed all that exercise to work off the cream cheese bagels I was eating daily – I was new to New York, and this deli next door was killer. We eventually got email, but first only inter-office email. The nepotist cheapskate running the show was paranoid that we’d abuse the Internet, so instead of allowing us access at our individual computers he set up an Internet “station” which was shared by tons of editors from lots of different magazines. At one point you had to stand up to use it, it wasn’t even at a proper desk. RIDICULOUS. (He, of course, had a theater-size monitor in his humongous corner office, and super-fast Internet access). I was grateful for the job, which in so many ways is the best job I’ve ever had…but I went through my share of frustration about all this, especially with the head of the company. I did not hide my dissatisfaction about what seemed a totally necessary new tool (Internet) that we were being severely limited in access to. I even had a black and white monitor until 2000. When that monitor finally croaked, I knew the big cheese was too cheap to hire real tech support and that he’d be the one to deliver my new color monitor, so I wrote “THE DEMORALIZER” in big black marker on the old one. It amused my co-workers, I’m sure (another aside is that I found it surreal to be working in a cubicle area that had the editors of Tiger Beat and soap opera magazines all around me – great people though, we all had a blast and laughed at our minor plights together). All this dissatisfaction led to my leaving the magazine, in part. I just couldn’t tolerate their lack of ambition and extreme penny-pinching. I’m not talking about Mike G at all, but these higher-ups; they were a blessing on one hand, never interfering with content, but after 5 years it got to be extremely maddening. Having been there that long, I cannot even fathom how Mike Williams and the rest of the office co-existed there for even a month. Respect to both parties on that one…wow.

CD: Explain how writers submitted content: email, fax, used USPS/UPS to mail work, hand-written?

JW: In the last couple years it was pretty much all email, but before that they’d mail, messenger or deliver their stuff hand-written or on a disk of some sort.

CD: How much content freedom did you have?

JW: Total. Profanity? Fine. A whole page on some super-obscure Finnish avant-garde band that only 7 people in the world care about? No problem. Okay, maybe not total — we had to be careful to not show nudity, but that’s a pretty basic thing most newsstand publications have to avoid. But seriously, the sickest, most blasphemous ideas could be printed in the magazine, and Mike G would just laugh and go, “Great!” It helped that no one higher up than Mike G were looking at the words. We had total carte blanche. One thing I’d like to clear up is the accusation I would hear (and amazingly still hear every now and then) about how Metal Maniacs was driven by advertisers, in terms of coverage, positive reviews, etc. That’s total bullshit. That might have been the case before or after, I have no idea, and that’s definitely the case with a lot of other magazines, but never in my time there. No one EVER came to us and said “Hey, such and such label is advertising, can you put in a good review” or even “Can you put in a review?” We weren’t beholden to that. When we would feature a band that was also being advertised in the same issue, we put the advert far away from the feature in the magazine, because we didn’t want it to seem like payola. In the case that a label would owe us money for old unpaid ads, then yeah, we wouldn’t cover their stuff until they paid up, but that’s a different situation. Even then I remember slipping in a review or feature every now and then, because it was more important to me to push the music and not worry about what label it was on and all the stupid politics that can get involved.

CD: How many times did you have to “take one for the team,” so to speak? The coverage of artists with no real place in the magazine.

JW: I never did it. I got accused of doing it for a review I did on Burn It Down, but I legitimately was interested in that band. There weren’t many metalcore bands I was interested in, then or now — I can count them on one hand and have a couple fingers left over — but I liked what they were aiming for. But no, I would never do something that I didn’t believe in, or give a good review to a record I actually disliked, or vice versa. Never. I know that Mike G would sometimes do favors for friends, but you’d have to ask him about that. Some of the stuff he put in there I would grumble to him about, but I never fought against something unless I wasn’t going to be able to live with myself. A couple times I fought against putting yet another nu metal band in and won. But I have tremendous respect for Mike G, I owe him a lot of gratitude. He taught me a lot, and he was always the first to admit he wasn’t a metal “lifer,” and referred to me as his “expert.” Because of that, rather than despite it, we made a great team. Tremendous respect for that guy.

CD: Do you remember how covers were decided?

JW: No big strategy there, other than going with the bigger, more sell-able bands. Obviously you’re gonna sink if you put Xysma on the cover.

CD: Any fun stories about photo shoots for the covers?

JW: Not really. Unlike Decibel, we didn’t budget for exclusive cover shoots. Which is unfortunate, but that’s the reality of what we were dealing with. We’d sometimes take from publicity photos, trying to secure that particular shot as exclusive to Maniacs, or from slides submitted by the various freelance photographers we bought photos from.

CD: The reviews had a “No Ratings” system. Why was that?

JW: They never had it, since day one, and I’m glad about that. I’m not a fan of number ratings, although will do it if a magazine I’m writing for does it that way. But it’s too easy to look at a “2” or a “10” and judge an album before having read a single substantive word about it. I think it makes people lazy. You tell me the new Tribulation is a 9. Great! But what should I expect when sitting down and listening to it? I expect a great album, but what else am I in for? You hope people actually read the words below the number review, but a lot of people skim through the review section just looking at numbers. A “No Ratings” system forces people to read further.

CD: What was your favorite feature of all time? And why, of course?

JW: There were many, but since a particular one doesn’t come to mind right away, I’ll go for Ula’s caption on a picture of some demo band where one of the guys was crossed-eyed. If you took the first letter of each word in the caption, it spelled “Optigrab,” and if you know the movie The Jerk, you’ll understand why that’s fucking hilarious. Absolutely nobody got it. And speaking of something nobody “got”: My favorite review of all time was Chris Maycock’s review of Ulver’s Nattens Madrigal. If you read it carefully, you’ll see everything he writes is true, it was just how he said it and what angle he was coming in at that a lot of people couldn’t wrap their heads around. The review was very much in the spirit of the album itself. But there were a ton of really good features — picking one favorite is something I can’t do.

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.

JW: Shitty, usually. Sometimes they’d come up with something cool, but the people doing the layout not only did Maniacs, but country music magazines, wrestling magazines, soap opera magazines, teen magazines…there was a cookie-cutter mentality in place. I tried to offer suggestions and changes when I could, and some of the people were really cool to work with, but ultimately the greatest improvement/change I made was editorially, which is more important, but I always wanted the magazine to look like…well, like Decibel does now. Never happened.

CD: What were some of the obstacles you had to face during production? Apart from content.

JW: Last minute ads would upset the entire layout, and we’d constantly have to move a feature from here to there, or chop it up throughout the magazine, to accommodate last-minute ad placements. And we did it – you never turn down ad revenue.

CD: The magazine went through a few different ownerships. Sterling, Sterling-McFadden, and then Zenbu. How did the transition between ownerships affect you and/or the magazine, if at all? If you were editor during one ownership, please state.

JW: I was there during the Sterling/Macfadden era. I stated my opinion about them elsewhere, although, again, it’s very cool that a publishing company of their size even did a magazine like Metal Maniacs and let us write as much as we wanted to about bands like Deceased, Rotting Christ, Cradle Of Filth, Impaled Nazarene, Mortician and so many others.

CD: Any other fun or interesting stories about your time at Metal Maniacs?

JW: Getting a visit at the office from the Great Kat was super-interesting, she would literally be yelling at us to review her stuff. I hated her music so I left that up to Mike. I remember talking with Ryan Adams about Dark Angel and Voivod one day. He was visiting to be interviewed by the country music magazine Sterling/Macfadden published, and he was psyched to talk about that stuff — he knew his shit about underground ‘80s metal, so that was memorable. I hardly knew who he was at the time, but he became huge shortly after that. And all the travel I got to do: going to Florida for a Death feature, to Connecticut for Fates Warning, to Brazil with Bruce Dickinson’s entourage, to Finland for Amorphis, to L.A. for Armored Saint, to Germany and Holland for festivals, again to L.A. to hang out with Lemmy at his apartment. And all the heroes I met and sat with face to face, like Rob Halford, Geezer Butler, Tony Iommi…I even became friends with King Diamond after going to Texas and interviewing him in the studio as they recorded the 9 album. He would call me out of the blue, once during some festival gigs they were doing with Metallica and Monster Magnet. King Diamond, man! All this was a dream come true, something the teenage Jeff would have never believed. Best job I ever had.

Metal Maniacs / S. Craig Zahler: Oral History Writer Questionnaire
By Chris Dick

charnel czarChris Dick: Timeline: When did you start? When did you stop?

S.Craig Zahler: I started in 1999, during Jeff Wagner’s reign and wrote for the publication until the very last issue in 2009. I’d even written a review of Satyricon’s Age of Nero that never got published and would have gone into the next issue.

CD: What do you remember about music at the time?

SCZ: In the late 90s, black metal still felt scary, but was getting more intricate and progressive. There was one of many thrash revivals occurring and death metal was getting really, really fast with bands like Krisiun and Nile. There was also a true metal resurgence, which was a good idea, but unfortunately centered around a shit band like Hammerfall. Eventually, this led to a wider appreciation of neglected masters like Manilla Road.

CD: What do you remember about Metal Maniacs? A game-changer or typical outlet?

SCZ: It was a real and true metal magazine, and a smart one. There was an eclectic group of bright and informed writers working for the magazine when I came on board that seemed different from any other magazine— Jeff Wagner, Spider, Stephen O’Malley, Marty Rytkonen, and the always engaging, Chris Maycock.

CD: Were you a reader of Metal Maniacs before you were a writer?

SCZ: I certainly was. Actually, the first thing I ever had printed in the magazine was a letter I wrote to Maycock chastising him for not including Ian Paice of Deep Purple and Ken Owen of Carcass in his discussion of the most important drummers in the history of metal. Fifteen years later, I’m still right about that one.

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?

SCZ: Writing criticism is a terrific way to understand a craft. I have written movie criticism and music criticism and book criticism, and I have written movies, music and books. Understanding how and why any kind of art works is how I learned to develop my own distinct voice as a fiction author (my second novel Wraiths of the Broken Land came out last week) and a songwriter (the third album for my doomy epic metal band Realmbuilder will be out later this year on I Hate Records of Sweden).

CD: Did you have your writing “voice” before Metal Maniacs or was it curated during your tenure?

SCZ: I wrote my own fanzine called The Ultimate Steel Dissector, which was filled with the longest and most detailed album reviews I’ve ever come across. Really, they were far, far, far, far, far too long, and are chores to read, but my attention to detail and strong opinions were already in place. At Maniacs, there was a word limit, and this made me more conscious of the importance of each sentence.

CD: What do you remember about your first assignment?

SCZ: It was a review of a band called Ashes, which was quite mediocre, but I was excited to have my name in print in the best metal magazine in the country.

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?

SCZ: I travelled to Gothenburg to interview In Flames for Clayman (2000), which wound up being the last album of theirs that I liked even some of. I travelled to Los Angeles to interview God Dethroned for the album Ravenous (2000), and I was flown to Norway to interview Emperor when they announced their breakup and the release of the Prometheus (2001) album. Judas Priest, Nile, Iron Maiden all came to New York, which is where I live, so I didn’t have to travel too much.

CD: How did you submit writing to editorial: email, fax, used USPS/UPS to mail work, hand-written?

SCZ: I was not really online until about 2005. For the major part of my writing tenure, I would make a floppy disk copy of my material and travel over to the office and drop it off with either Jeff Wagner or Liz Ciavarella.

CD: How much content freedom did you have?

SCZ: Complete freedom. I wrote a few free form articles, but in general, I wrote reviews of bands that I had some interest in. There was always a scramble to “claim” the review spot for albums that a lot of the reviewers were interested in. Unfortunately, because of my hypercritical reviews, a lot of labels stopped sending me material and it became a bit harder for me to stake my claims early enough.

CD: What was your favorite feature?

SCZ: My interview / review / defense of Mayhem’s Grand Declaration of War, which I adored—and still do—though at the time, most people hated it. The truth is, I wasn’t an especially good interviewer, since 98% of what I’m interested in is the music, and thus, some of my interviews, such as with Judas Priest or Iron Maiden, where too focused on the music and not enough on the band and their lives to be well-rounded interviews. A point of pride as a reviewer was when I reviewed the Holocaust album The Courage to Be and the main guy from Holocaust (John Mortimer) commented in some interview he later did that my critique was helpful and gave him something to think about as a songwriter, informing his process in some way, which felt very rewarding, and Karl Sanders of Nile made some similar comments to me at one point. My review of Metallica’s Death Magnetic was the last thing I had printed in there, and I remember a letter commenting that it was maybe the single best review ever printed in the magazine…so it was a suitable conclusion for me there.

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?

SCZ: Nobody assigned me stuff I didn’t like, and at a certain point, I just stopped doing interviews, since I’m too focused on music—and perhaps too opinionated—to do them especially well. When Bruce Dickinson was trying to promote that stupid Ed Hunter videogame, I just kept cutting him off (which isn’t easy to do to Mr. Air Raid Siren), nor a great approach for an interviewer to take. Nor was telling him he was wrong when he called Soundgarden a heavy metal band, even though he was wrong, and they aren’t.

CD: Did you ever get re-writes or story suggestions from Editorial? How’d that go?

SCZ: Again, I just wrote about what interested me. Both Wagner and Liz took this approach with me.

CD: How did you approach reviews?

SCZ: I try to explain what the music sounds like and also evaluate how well is functions.

CD: What did you think of the “No Ratings” system for reviews?

SCZ: I like ratings in general, but a magazine in which different people have different standards is a strange place to put ratings. I have heard 5000+ albums in my lifetime, but how many would receive a 10 from me? Maybe 9 or 10 albums. Even Rust In Peace, which is my favorite metal album ever, has “Poison Was the Cure” and “Dawn Patrol,” which are okay but not excellent, and Mob Rules, which is my second favorite metal album ever, has “Slipping Away,” which is completely mediocre. So to call these albums perfect 10s is hard, though I’d default to giving them each a 10. Lots of other people have lots of 10s every year, so my rating wouldn’t work alongside theirs. My favorite albums of all time would rank in a zone of an 8.5-10, with a lot of 9s. In a good year, I get a few 8s, though not even every year. So my ratings are stingy compared to most and an 8 from me is harder to get than a 10 from most critics.
So I believe that the “no ratings” system focuses people on the content of the review and away from a number that has wildly different values for different people.
Some other favorite albums: Pink Floyd’s Animals, Mayhem’s Wolf’s Lair Abyss, King Crimson’s Red & In the Court of the Crimson King, Blue Oyster Cult’s Spectres, Manilla Road’s Open the Gates, Immortal’s Sons of Northern Darkness, Triarii’s Muse in Arms, Lost Horizon’s A Flame to the Ground Beneath, Emperor’s Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk, Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, Bobby Womack’s The Poet, Yes’s Drama, Battleroar’s To Death and Beyond, Minorauri’s II, Reverend Bizarre’s So Long…Suckers, Black Sabbath’s Heaven and Hell, Thin Lizzy’s Thunder and Lightning. Yeah…I like to recommend things…

CD: What was your favorite feature in Metal Maniacs? Shorts, Brash Report, Playlists, etc.

SCZ: Playlists were helpful in the pre-Internet era to just stay on top of new releases as well as randomly revived oddities or classics.

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.

SCZ: Sorry to whomever did the layout, but I never thought it looked good at all, especially when compared to things like Terrorizer or Brave Words and Bloody Knuckles. The mix of color and black and white newsprint always seems off—so I don’t know that this could ever look great, unless there was a color section in the middle or something. It looked like a haphazard teen or wrestling magazine.

CD: Did Metal Maniacs change over the course of your writing tenure? If so, how? Editorial Team, layout, features, opportunities, etc.

SCZ: I wrote for Wagner—he and I are good friends—and continued into Liz Ciavarella’s run until the end. Both the magazine and the material it covered changed. Certainly during the Jeff Wagner tenure there was a marked return to the truer side of metal, also with a greater exploration of the darkest corners of the genre, explored there by Spider and Marty Rytkonen and eventually by myself. By the end of the run, it seemed more hardcore / deathcore junk was coming in that I had no interest in, though overall it was still mostly in the right ballpark.

CD: Metal Maniacs had political leanings throughout its existence. Did you pay attention to the politics espoused by the magazine?

SCZ: During my run, there were no uniform politic-leanings “espoused,” because the writers were so diverse. I’m a (non-practicing) Jewish dude, but reviewed bands with white power or fascistic leanings, because I have an “art over politics” viewpoint, and even though Mike G was sensitive about this stuff, he and Wagner still ran reviews—often positive—of this material. People have a right to hate whomsoever they want to hate and also to express that feeling. Charles Dickens has a ton of anti-Semitic shit in his work, and he is a writer I like who was an inspiration to me as a young fiction writer. I’ve just never felt the best way to respond to intolerance is by returning the sentiment—partially because that is the desired response to intolerance.

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?
SCZ: There is no stigma that I could imagine about writing for this magazine—I am proud of my long tenure at Metal Maniacs.

CD: Any other fun or interesting stories about your time at Metal Maniacs?
SCZ: Two things—
I have one regret about my time at the magazine, which was when I slammed the album Risk by Megadeth. This is completely terrible album, more pop than rock (much less metal), that deserved the slam, but I made nasty joke connecting the album’s release and the demise of former drummer Gar Samuelson, which happened around the same time. I really regret this barb, which came from a place of hating the direction of the band who had made my favorite metal album ever (Rust in Peace), but regardless, it was a mean and thoughtless comment—a man died and should not be fuel for a critical bonfire and I crossed the line here. I was told that Dave Mustaine tore out the review and wiped his ass with it on stage (maybe in Ohio?), and although I stand by the artistic criticism in there, the comment about the recently deceased drummer (who I used to practice along with as an aspiring drummer myself) was utterly inappropriate and something I feel bad about. Of the hundreds and hundreds of cutting remarks I made in that magazine (I often received more hate mail than all of the writers combined) this one remark about Gar Samuelson was wrong and something I would not do now, as a far more thoughtful adult. If Dave Mustaine comes across this piece—I apologize. And thanks for musically embracing metal once again.
Early in my tenure on the staff, I threw a party for the Metal Maniacs at my apartment, which was at the edge of the Harlem. This was one of the only concerted efforts I know of in which the staff got together—Wagner, O’Malley, Spider, Vincent Cecolini, Sue Nolz and others turned up— and Marty Rytkonen even flew in from Michigan (he and I became fast friends and are pals to this day). I was a catering chef at the time and made a peanut butter pies that had the Emperor “E” and the Kataklysm “K,” and a ton of other shit. There was a lot of air guitar and truffle oil at that event.

Wagner Links:

Zahler links:

And for Marty’s interview regarding Maniacs posted on this site, go here in case you missed it the first time:


~ by martyworm on August 21, 2013.

One Response to “Metal Maniacs alumni return…”

  1. Twenty years ago, I was in high school, and I read Metal Maniacs regularly. I wonder how Katherine Ludwig (left-leaning) would have felt about the fascistic (right-wing) leanings of certain bands in MM that were given positive coverage after she was no longer Editor? She was the person who refused to cover Deicide because of their support for hunting and animal sacrifice. I didn’t always agree with what K.L. had to say about feminism and veganism, but she was considerate enough to print two of my letters in MM, and it’s maybe a little sad to hear that she now has non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which is apparently a form of blood cancer. She was the first left-leaning person who said anything positive about the Founding Fathers and their interests in hemp, freedom, and limited government. This eventually led me to research alternate political parties such as the Green, Constitution, and Libertarian Parties, and has contributed to my present understanding of U.S. politics. Of course, Katherine and Alicia made some bad decisions when they were editing the magazine, such as featuring Consolidated and Bad Brains in the magazine, who are vegetarians but NOT metal bands. But MM was probably something I needed in the timeframe 1992-1994 when I was in high school. Thanks again for bringing back some memories of a turning point in my still-young life.

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