How Big Al spent his summer

July 5, the Scene Pavilion, Cleveland, Ohio:

Black clouds stretch out ominously on the horizon as I head out on the highway. On the other end of this storm is Cleveland, which the Sounds of the Underground tour has decided to call home for today. Lightning? Torrential rain? No problem. Unearth, GWAR, Strapping Young Lad; all are set to rock, and I?m going. But first, a latte to soothe my nerves.

If you?re not from the Midwest, like me, these thunderstorms add a little spice to your life, to be sure. But who cares? Cleveland knows how to throw a party, and it?s worth the drive. If you haven?t been, the Scene Pavilion is itself worth the visit. With the skyline as a backdrop, and a heavily anticipated set by Chimaira, the city is every metal fan?s dream today. Culled from the cream of metal?s best ?underground? offerings, this tour has set out to showcase all that is right within our scene. (And egg throwing is not one of those things. Shame on you, Ozzfest ? more on that next time.)

One of the things that strikes me upon entering the stadium, besides the de-rigeur piercings and tats, is how young everybody looked. Yes, there are a few extended tummies and thinning manes to be spotted (not mine, of course). But, for every threadbare ??86 World Devastation? T-shirt, there are five or six goth girls or metalcore kids.

Clever slogans abound, my fave being ?Keep staring, I might do a trick.? (Note to self: Gotta get me one?a dem shirts.) Veering left, and right by the merch tables is a PETA booth. One might think that tabling in a meat-and-potatoes town like this would result in a few bonfires started, but no. In fact, proud farmers mingle with the hardcore crowd, politely accepting DVD?s and pamphlets.

The lack of ego is also apparent in how the bands greet their fans before going on. Whether hanging out at the merch tables or the autograph booths, each band-dude I see is surrounded by kids clutching a disc or poster to get signed. After scribbling their names, the guys hang around and chat with their fans as if they?d known them for years. (Some have, actually.)

Hanging out at their table is Throwdown?s Dom Macaluso (bass), my interviewee for the day. Dom and I head back out to the trucks and into their U-Haul to talk about their new album, [ITAL]Vendetta[/ITAL], among other things. If you haven?t checked it out yet, [ITAL]Vendetta[/ITAL] is unique among their m-core peers. Pummeling breakdowns are everywhere, completed by a solid rhythm section. Setting them apart is their spirit, for lack of a better word.

A communications major, Dom has a clear vision of where he sees the band among its peers. Keeping the group of metal bands tight is important to them, as is spreading their straight-edge message of no meat and no alcohol. But they still do respect their fans who chow down on meat and drink for a living: ?We love all our fans, of course,? said Dom. ?Like today, I had a guy come out and scream out ?THHHHHHRRROWWDOOOWNNNNN!?, all while spilling his beer on me! It?s definitely something we want to do, introduce people to our way of thought, but we don?t push it on anyone.?

?[Same with] religion.... If you look at the cover, there are layers of symbolism there. For example, you may notice the rosary beads, but might not catch the fact that the guy holding them is missing a part of his pinkie.... You know, I spent time in school studying how to communicate with people; I did that to make my mom proud. Now, I?m [taking that and] doing what I love, which is spreading this music to our fans.?

Guys like Dom make me proud of my scene, and yes, it is something we all own. Shows like the one today, with the mighty GWAR providing some much-needed relief during an ?intermission? and Opeth sharing its operatic metal with jam-oriented Clutch fans, bring the tribes together like few festivals can. Can?t wait until next year!

Until next time (when I review Ozzfest),