Iron Men

After sixteen years of makeup, metal, and stage blood, Impaler remains proudly undead

Maybe it's the conspicuous dearth of folded arms in the audience. Or maybe it's the unusually high number of baseball caps, or the increased cubic volume of hair. Maybe it's the bobbing heads topped with either of the above, thrashing in a slavish fervor near a stage befogged with dry ice. In any case, there's something instantly recognizable and entirely dislocating about the 7th Street Entry during an Impaler show. For a few hours it's the coolest spot in some Bizarro universe where metal--not punk--accrued the largest heap of subcultural cred over the past two decades.

"You're way too fucking kind," bellows Bill Lindsey to an appreciative Entry throng on May 27. The lead singer of Impaler is a lump of ghoulish cartoon rage, swaddled in a dingy shroud and a tangle of hair. His skin has an embalmed kind of pallor, and he growls like a B-movie zombie when he grasps the mic stand, which is knotted in the shape of a chain. Impaler's songs are a series of expertly corny horror-film puns--"Tall, Dark and Gruesome," "Dying to Meet You"--with protagonists ranging from interplanetary grave robbers to goblin queens. To give these lyrics a foundation, the band generates punkish and lean power chords, propelled by their newest addition, drummer Tom Croxton, whose double-kick pace is too brisk for heavy pomp.

But Impaler seems cramped in the Entry: There's barely enough room for their wooden tombstones and the bald, ax-lugging executioner who loiters stage left. And their makeup doesn't seem as carefully applied as on the sleeve of their latest disc, It Won't Die (Root-O-Evil). Lindsey isn't as baroquely scarred, and the black smudges underneath the eyes of Brad Jonson make the guitarist look more like a shortstop than a hungry warrior of the undead.

The only local band that really splatters: Impaler's Tom Croxton, Bill Lindsey, Erik Allyn, and Brad Jonson
Daniel Corrigan
The only local band that really splatters: Impaler's Tom Croxton, Bill Lindsey, Erik Allyn, and Brad Jonson

"Who's a fucking wrestling fan here?" Lindsey demands, eliciting a shout of affirmation--who isn't these days? But when Lindsey calls for a moment of silence in memory of dead wrestler Owen Hart, the crowd, either mishearing or hopped up on adrenaline, responds with a flurry of applause. Still, the fans pay closer attention to the band's gruesome finale, executed with choreographed precision. A short, hyperactive zombie leaps onstage to cause trouble. In a matter of minutes, Lindsey batters the interloper into submission with an arsenal of metal folding chairs. Then he plunges his hand into his adversary's gut, producing a mushy strand of intestines. The disemboweling complete, the singer pounces into the crowd and smears stage blood on anyone fortunate enough to linger within reach, including one prim, carefully arranged, and visibly startled scenester girl. After some final shouts of obscene gratitude to their fans, Impaler is gone.

"Metal never goes away," Lindsey remarks one week later, the makeup scrubbed from his face. And he's not boasting. No matter how industriously critics shovel dirt on the genre's casket, metal--like Freddy Krueger or Jesus--perennially rises from the grave to take care of unfinished business. With hard-rock acolytes ranging from Korn to Buckcherry to long-toothed Metallica on the radio waves--and Axl Rose glaring out from the cover of Spin when you'd expect to see him on Behind the Music--Impaler's album title seems apt. Numerous variations on a heavy theme are once again amplifying the not-so-secret desires of suburban male teendom, once again terrifying the neocon ninnies who have appointed themselves our nation's moral protectorate.

When Impaler gathers in its lair--a St. Paul practice space postered with images of Kiss, classic horror flicks, and bare breasts--the four band members chat idly about their chances for success, speaking politely and with elongated Midwestern vowels. Except for bassist Erik Allyn, each has a comfortable paunch. And, except for 32-year-old drummer Croxton, they share a common age, 37. But their space is a monument to a kind of lingering adolescence filled with nerdy collections and gear. Lindsey may have two kids, a house in Eagan, and a day job as a physical therapist, but he has remained as proudly, if unassumingly, uncool as when he was a misfit from a blue-collar family at the affluent Highland Park High School.

"The two things I like, heavy metal and pro wrestling, they come in waves of popularity," says the unreformed fan. "They peak and then they go back underground. But they never go away, because there are always the core fans."

 

Lindsey has been around long enough to know. He's the only band member to have lived all 16 years and half-dozen albums of the Impaler saga. When he formed the band in the early Eighties, he recalls, "The heavy-metal tape-trading underground was going on, with bands like Metallica circulating their demo, and we got caught up in that." Word of Impaler's sanguinary stage show spread to New York's Combat Records, the cream of independent metal labels. Two albums were released on Combat before Impaler had what Lindsey terms a "falling-out" with the imprint.

By the turn of the decade, Impaler had everything that an underground metal band could dream of: modestly successful national tours, a zine-fostered indie-metal rep, and even a spate of well-publicized skirmishes with the dread PMRC (Parents Music Resource Committee)--the cover of Impaler's debut EP, Rise of the Mutants, showcased more gore than Tipper could stomach, and the future Second Lady brandished the record in public as testimony to the fact that our youth were in peril. But soon all heavy-metal bands faced an adversary more insidious than any squeamish clique of senators' wives, and more distasteful to the headbanging faithful than any blow-dried power-balladeer. Out of the Northwest rose a strain of hard rock high-minded enough for taste-making glossies and café hipsters to countenance, with both power riffs and untrimmed hair, and an approach that was thoughtful, collegiate, and, ugh, serious. "Once all that grunge stuff came along, bands stopped dressing up onstage," Allyn laments.

"They stopped putting on a show with any kind of visual entertainment," Lindsey elaborates. "I call that the 'alternacrisis' for a lot of bands. They changed their name or cut their hair or started playing different styles of music than what they had been playing." Lindsey himself took a black sabbatical from the biz while it floundered in sincerity, a respite he sums up with a suitably gothic metaphor. "There was an occurrence in a laboratory with a mad scientist," he recalls, "and for a year and a half I was frozen in a block of ice."

Thawing himself for the post-alt era, Lindsey hooked up with local metal benefactor Earl Root, host of KFAI's 13-year-old Saturday-night metal show The Root of All Evil and owner of the St. Paul record store the Root Cellar. Root has become a fulcrum for the Twin Cities die-hard metal scene, releasing a variety of showcase compilations featuring both area and international acts on his Root-O-Evil label. Root had been an Impaler fan since the early Eighties, when he witnessed the group's dominating performance at an early local metalfest. "Bill wore this hokey football shoulder-pad thing," Root recalls. "It was huge--and remember, this was way before Gwar. All that pyro and blood. And, oh, and they were really loud."

Combined with a resurgence of metal zines--check out the locally produced Battle Helm--heavy metal in the Twin Cities is, in Lindsey's view, experiencing a rebirth. Yet he insists that Impaler considers their external environment to be of cursory interest, at most. "Our outlook really hasn't changed with the time. We're all fan boys, toy geeks, and we share the same interests outside of music"--Kiss, old Universal monster movies, wrestling, and all manner of model kits. "We've surrounded ourselves with the things that we like," he says, "and that's our world."

 

Impaler will perform Thursday, with openers Ripsnorter, at the Turf Club. Showtime is 9:30; (651) 647-0486.

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