Damien–metal’s forgotten power band

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It has always been impossible to keep up with all that a medium has to offer. Heavy metal of the 1980s is no different. Even if a person could have watched all the videos that Music Television had to offer in the genre, it might have proved impossible to keep up with all the albums and merchandising. But, likely no one has seen all the videos. At any rate, one of the brighter spots among lesser known bands on Music Television’s “Headbanger’s Ball” was Damien. A five-piece power metal band from Toledo, Ohio that did not get the attention they deserved.

Damien: reasons for near-obscurity

Figuring out why a band that was clearly talented, even if arguably so by some people’s standards, was ignored by the mainstream is difficult and filled with speculation. Damien struggled for a place in the music marketplace when the Sunset Strip was still churning out metal bands.

Their first recording, 1987’s “Every Dog Has Its Day,” was accepted by rock fans and the band recorded videos for it and its follow-up, two years later, 1989’s “Stop This War.” “Stop This War” is an impressive collection of tracks with thoughtful, aggressive lyrics, and unbelievable metal elements from vocals to drums. All of this screams the question, “Why weren’t they bigger?”

Fans hear about the workings of the music industry in various ways from the bands they love and music historians. One thing that Damien didn’t have was a short, snappy song that would have been considered radio-friendly. Thirty years later, this seems ridiculous, but such was important in the 1980s. All of the tracks on “Stop This War” are between two and five minutes long. It seems as if more airplay would not have been out of the question.

Another reason for Damien’s near-obscurity might have been their popularity at the end of the decade. In retrospect, by 1987, there were only a few years left of the metal decade. Bands who had been around for years were trying new things, and while Damien’s work was good, maybe it wasn’t as competitive as some industry professionals might have expected. It is difficult to tell.

So, maybe timing was Damien’s issue. But people remain excited about the band’s sound, so it does not seem as if the recorded product was the issue. Online comments about the band’s music are overwhelmingly positive, even in 2019. Even though Damien technically broke up in the 1990s, they reformed in the early years of the 21st century and have reportedly played shows as recently as the summer of 2018. The band also appears to be a four-piece group now.

The sound of Damien’s “Stop This War”

Damien is possibly best enjoyed on vinyl. At any rate, the songs have an urgency that is sometimes lacking in bands for whom traditional success has come easier.

The overall soundscape will remind some listeners of the late 1980s Christian metal bands that were popular at the time. Bloodgood, for example. The band manages to craft a big sound and fast rhythms. The vocals never scream at a stratospheric level, but a lower-pitched singing that isn’t operatic is used to bring songs about war and women who might be witches to life.

Thundering- -that is a word that is best used to describe the sound of Damien. Songs like “Rising Dawn” offer listeners a sparse guitar and voice only melody before kicking into the unexpected rhythms and general power that govern the instrumentation and vocals. For this song and a few others, Damien inspires comparisons to Iron Maiden.

For pure power and aggression, especially in the form of Randy “Wolf” Mickelson’s vocals, “Matilda” is a must-listen. The lyrics are unexpected, too. From the structure of each line, to the placement and choice of each word, the song sounds like a metal masterpiece, and as if it should have been in a horror movie soundtrack.

Perhaps Damien will tour again this coming summer. Even if the band that performs is not constituted of all original members, more than likely they will still pull off the sound and style that drew people to Damien in the first place.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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