How Dee Snider Came to Accept + Understand Extreme Metal [Interview]
Dee Snider of Twisted Sister fame still has the fire after all these decades and just release Leave a Scar, his latest solo album which finds him at the forefront of modern metal. The singer even recruited death metal icon George 'Corpsegrinder' Fisher from Cannibal Corpse to deliver some vocal brutality on the song "Time to Choose" — a complete surprise coming from a legendary figure of the '80s hair metal scene.
At Loudwire, we've so often seen comments readers have left regarding our coverage of extreme metal music. Many fans brand it all a bunch of noise and slap the dreaded "Cookie Monster vocals" label on it, dismissing these bands as, well, garbage, and, ultimately not real music.
Our suspicions as to why this happens so frequently are manyfold — too many to get into here — but we do understand that death metal, black metal, grindcore, metalcore and so many more harsh music styles are difficult to perceive. It is grating to the ears and with all the blast beats, low-tuned guitars and inhuman vocal noises, finding a starting point to comprehend what's going on can feel impossible.
So, to help explain how to make this transition, we chatted up Dee Snider because he struggled with a lot of the same issues. With the help of time, his kids and some patience, here is how Snider came to understand and accept extreme metal.
Oh, and that Corpsegrinder guy? He's one of the nicest musicians in metal — here's proof.
I'm so happy you got Corpsegrinder on a track because so many fans of metal's classic era disregard extreme music. If anyone can open the gates, it's Dee Snider!
I love to talk about this because this is a important subject to me.
Metal is a family and we need to respect and support each other and not in fight as a community. We're stronger when we're together. You don't get 90,000 people at a festival in Germany without having the death metal stage, the classic metal stage, the black metal stage, etc.
People need to remember it's all from the same bloodline, like family. You may not like a crazy uncle or your weird brother, but it all comes from the same background and it just expanded.
Dee Snider, "Time to Choose" feat. George 'Corpsegrinder' Fisher
How aware were you of metal's heavier developments that progressed into further extremity in the mid-to-late-'80s and early '90s?
A lot of the developments happened simultaneously. Twisted Sister toured with Metallica in '84 in Holland. After watching Metallica's set, I told Mark Mendoza, "These guys got a lot of heart, but they're never going to go anywhere." I thought they were just too heavy and the mainstream would never accept them.
As a touring commodity, what did you think was possible for the extreme bands?
In Europe, we were playing with Motorhead and Motorhead was playing stadiums with an extreme, punk/metal type of sound...
The definition of extreme has changed a lot over time, but Motorhead did bring a sort of anti-commercial sound, especially with Lemmy's vocal style.
Yes, then Metallica was born.
We were touring together in Ireland and we were headlining. It said Twisted Sister in, like, a size 10 font and the Metallica logo on the posters was gigantic. I said, "Holy shit, these people are here to see Metallica," and I sent my road manager to tell the band they could close because I didn't want to close a show that was clearly their show.
My manager came back and said, "They said no." They thought it seemed suspicious — what headliner tells the opener to close? I went in the room myself and said, "There's no trick here. We're not fucking with you. You're clearly bigger than we are here. This is your audience. I don't want to go on after you there'll be nobody here."
So they closed the show.
I got to watch them and I saw 2,000-3,000 rabid fans. I saw that it was working in certain places, but Europe still seemed to be a different animal for the heavier stuff like that.
Venom were huge in Holland, but hadn't really done really well in England. I just didn't see that crossing over and actually becoming popular.
Documentary: Metallica's First Headlining European Show
Do you remember the first time you heard a guttural style vocal?
I was now doing my first radio show and it was two hours a week.
A new record came in — Cannibal Corpse — and I put it on and I was reading the lyrics. I was mortified. This isn't metaphor, this isn't a dream like [Iron Maiden's] "The Number of the Beast" was. It was literal, [paraphrasing] "fucking her in the ass and stab her in the pussy with a fucking knife." That was [loosely] one of the lyrics and I just said, "This is fucking garbage."
As a metal fan, I was horrified.
It took me a while to adapt to that vocal sound. My kids are metalheads and educated me, and now I hear the words. But it was a shock to the system, no doubt about it.
Did you ever attempt at any point in your life to do any vocal like that? Not like on a record, but just at home like can I even do this?
Not that pure death metal singing, more hardcore vocals, which you can hear on my new albums — chanting and things like that.
It was my idea to bring Corpsegrinder in on "Time to Choose." Jamey Jasta said, "Nobody from your world even acknowledges that. That's a mistake. That's wrong." We did a demo with Jamey on that track [to get a feel of what it would sound like].
When I was 13 or 14, the first time I heard all the extreme metal, I just could not comprehend it. I couldn't hear the musicality in it, and it sounded like a wall of noise. What helped you overcome that hurdle?
I really got to give credit to my daughter, Cheyenne. My sons are all metalheads and the new bands they liked were still melody driven bands, for the most part.
My son Cody was actually in a hardcore band and he was the high screamer — they had a low scream and a high screamer. They would play local shows and the kids were always proud of me, but they didn't want to live my shadow. He said, "What do you think about coming and doing 'We're Not Gonna Take It' with us, detuned? You sing and I'll scream on top."
It was one of those VFW shows.
Word got out I was going be there and, before the show, my son said to me, "Dad, people come up and climb on the stage. They climb on the bands." I said, "They're not doing that to me. I come from a different generation. they are not climbing on me."
I came out and everybody rushed the stage, merch people were diving over the tables. It is pandemonium and the pile of bodies on the stage like in 300. I just it and the complete pile fell off the front of the stage. People got hurt, there were hospitalizations, and I said my wife, "Let's go, we got to go!" You could hear the sirens.
This is where I started to understand what was going on and then Cheyenne, my daughter, the most brutal of the family, she brought me to all these shows. Suddenly I'm listening to the music in the car with her and I'm starting to understand what's going on and she's teaching me.
Maybe that's what older metal heads need is someone to take them by the hand and show them.
What about music that's more in line with metalcore, where you have extreme vocal and clean singing exchanges? Does the presence of melody and a hook help bridge the gap to the harsher elements in the music?
Some of your biggest hardcore bands have really crossed over when they brought some melody in there. Look at Bring Me the Horizon — their first album had no melody ever from Oli Sykes. I'm friends with those guys, too, because of my daughter. But now they had a breakthrough when they added a chorus that's melodic with the growling vocals.
Finding that balance helps to educate people and bring it to a bigger audience.
How many people from these extreme metal bands have approached you over the years at festivals and told you how much they love Twisted Sister?
All of them! It's mind blowing.
When I first started going to these shows with my daughter, she was stunned. Everybody's crowded around me and we're all talking and hanging out and she couldn't believe they were fans.
Thanks to Dee Snider for the interview. Get your copy of his latest solo album, 'Leave a Scar,' here and follow Dee on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Spotify.
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