2020, The Year that Wasn’t – or – Rock and Roll in the Days of the Plague

Clearly, this has been a fucked up year. Going into 2020, I was looking forward to a European Tour with Gruesome in the spring, followed by a trip to Japan and Australia with Exhumed in May, and then in June, Exhumed and Gruesome had scheduled a three-and-a-half week US tour together. After that madness, Exhumed was supposed to be headed to Europe for festivals and gigs with Necrot in August. I spent weeks planning with our agents, merchandisers, designers, and of course the good folks at Relapse. Spreadsheets were built (and rebuilt, and re-rebuilt), T-shirt artwork was commissioned, travel insurance was purchased, visas were applied for. Of course, all of those plans have since been canceled because – well, you know why. As they say, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

I’m not here to bemoan the situation – there are many others who are in far tighter spots than I and my extended family of relations and band-mates. I’m healthy and so are my family and friends. I’m certainly not looking for sympathy nor will I ask you for money (although I’m happy to sell you stuff). My takeaway from the pandemic is that we all exist at the whim of forces far beyond our control – earthquakes, hurricanes, and uh, global pandemics. Watching the work I had put in to planning this year blow away like a fart in the wind was demoralizing, sure – but it was a good reminder that we can’t control or plan for everything, even though it usually pays to live pretending that we can.

2019 was the year that we finally planned and executed an Exhumed release / touring cycle correctly, and it paid off. We completed a grueling but awesome six-week tour with Gatecreeper, Necrot and Judiciary and managed to come out of it in the best financial shape the band has ever been in. 2020 was looking to build on that and get even more ambitious. We’ve put a pin in those plans, obviously. The good news is that most things fell through far enough in advance that the initial financial fallout was relatively muted – except for the Gruesome European tour with Krisiun, where we already had plane tickets booked and merch printed. We’ve been handling that the best we can by selling “Fragments of Psyche” cassettes, tour merch and we also have “Dimensions of Horror” poster flags in the works.

Despite everything going on, I must be a glutton for punishment because I’m somehow still optimistic about the future – I’m very excited about the upcoming Exhumed / Gruesome split 10” and CD that’s coming out June 5th. It was originally scheduled to coincide with the dead-in-the-water summer tour I mentioned above, but with everything going on, we figured we shouldn’t sit on it. In times like these, new music is a source of enjoyment when things might seem a bit shit otherwise. (That said, I totally respect bands’ decisions to delay their records and if I had a two-year tour cycle hinging on the timing of this release, I probably would shelve it.) This is a special one-off slab of festering Death Metal that deserves to be heard, just like our fans deserve to hear new shit from the bands they dig in these trying times.

Hopefully we’ll emerge from this mandatory hiatus with a scene that’s something like the one we remember – but the unpleasant truth is that inevitably, some venues will close, some promoters will throw in the towel, and underground touring acts will be faced with lower offers and an even-more-crowded playing field as dozens of rescheduled tours coincide. Not only will the avalanche of rescheduled gigs be a total clusterfuck, they’ll be competing for ticket sales among a cash-strapped audience, many of whom haven’t had regular work for months. That’s not pessimism, that’s just realism.

The flip-side of all that is that hopefully we’ll all appreciate the scene that we’re a part of and realize how much it means to us. It goes way beyond just music – underground metal forms a unique community that binds us together just as much as our shared love for sick riffs does. Rest assured, as soon as it’s safe and sane to get back into the van and make some noise, we will be back in your town stinking the place up.

One last tangential thought – When I think about the downtime many of us have suddenly found ourselves with, I can’t help but think about the world we live in and the kinds of lives we’re leading. Lucky for me, I never get bored. I’ve been writing music, reading, getting back into running, working on a novella for Grindhouse Publishing, and I even found time to update this blog. However, I know many are going stir-crazy. When I look for an example of an enjoyable life stuck at home, I think about my Grandparents. They led quiet, but rich lives. My Grandmother Laura was an excellent pianist, an avid reader and so-so Italian cook. Her husband Ken, my Grandfather, constantly had multiple DIY projects going, was an excellent marksman and hunter, as well as a very mediocre oil-painter. Their home was their world, and they took pride in it – everything was well-maintained and if it broke, they probably fixed it themselves. Their lives would make a pretty dull book, but they were full and admirable lives nonetheless.

It’s harder to live like that today – so many of the devices that fill our homes are so specialized it’s easier to replace than repair. It’s hard to concentrate on reading a book or playing an instrument with thousands of movies on Netflix to choose from or your phone constantly vibrating with alerts from myriad apps. Of course, the real kicker is that so many of us exist in more financially precarious circumstances than my grandparents did, which is a very real source of stress and distraction. We live in a world rich with selection, but with little real choice, where getting what you want is easy, but getting what you need isn’t. In the pre-internet age so many of us felt starved for media, but now that it’s all literally at our fingertips, we see both sides of that double-edged sword: with so much signal comes nearly infinite noise. Despite all of this, I hope this forced deceleration of our lives’ paces provides an opportunity to reconnect with truly personal things that make us truly fulfilled. If we use this time to tune out some of the noise, our own voices can grow louder and clearer. And hopefully we keep raising them and listening to them when the noise inevitably returns.

See you on the other side,

Matt

May 8th, 2020

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