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POP MUSIC | POP EYE

The Metal Factory Is Stokin'

May 05, 1996|Steve Hochman

You gave all your spandex to Goodwill?

You might be sorry, because metal is back.

Just five years after the alternative-rock revolution seemed to nail heavy metal's coffin shut, headbangers are alive and doing just fine. And it's not just Metallica (headlining Lollapalooza), KISS (pulling the makeup and effects out of storage for a nostalgia tour) and the perennial Ozzy Osbourne.

It's AC/DC selling out arenas on its recent tour. It's Def Leppard ready to launch its first new album in four years. It's Scorpions and Alice Cooper, whose joint tour is doing great business in amphitheaters around the country. It's Iron Maiden and Deep Purple, both back with new albums and tours. It's even such '80s "hair bands" as Warrant, Dokken and Slaughter, with new albums and tours.

"There's a real surge of interest in this music again," says Carey Curlop, program director of L.A. rock radio station KLOS-FM, which gave its format an alternative tweaking last year but keeps metal and old-school hard-rock part of the mix. "This would be a perfect time for a Motley Crue comeback."

What's going on here?

"It never disappeared, just went underground," says Tom Lipsky, president of CMC International Records, an independent North Carolina-based company that has done consistently profitable business with a roster that includes Iron Maiden (whose latest album reportedly sold a respectable 200,000 in the U.S. and more than a million overseas), Motorhead and Deep Purple. CMC has been pursued by the major distributors, and Lipsky says a deal is near completion.

"Each new generation stays away from the rock stars of that time," he says. "You don't want your older brother's rock star. So a lot of 15-year-olds now shy away from alternative and go for stuff with some history."

Of course, metal partisans maintain that it's not really that far from their music to alternative in terms of sound.

"Alice in Chains is a pretty heavy band and so is Soundgarden," says Peter Mensch, co-owner of Q Prime management, whose roster includes Metallica, Def Leppard and Queensryche, as well as alternative stars Smashing Pumpkins and Hole.

The big difference--and the potential key to a metal resurgence--is on the road. Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and Stone Temple Pilots hardly ever perform live, for a variety of reasons. And the bands that do so often lack the showmanship associated with heavy metal.

But while Mensch is intrigued by the new trends, he's not convinced that a full-scale metal revival is imminent.

"The question to me is whether there's going to be a new crop of harder rock bands that will sell records as well," he says. "Even with the older bands--I'm interested in Def Leppard's ticket count, sure. But I'm more interested to see if their record count comes back, not to the huge numbers as before, but enough so they can have a creative musical life and not rehash 'Photograph' every night."

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