by Shawn Ohtani
One of these moments changed my life forever.
March 3, 1996, State Theatre in St. Petersburg. Headlining the bill was Tampa’s own Morbid Angel, a death metal colossus and the first extreme metal outfit to ever sign a contract with a major record label. Two prime purveyors of Sweden’s legendary “Gothenburg Sound,” Dissection and At the Gates, played in support. I was 15 at the time and though I was already a metal fan, this show transformed my interest into an obsession and introduced me to an underground scene I’d previously been unaware of, one that welcomed new converts into the fold with the sort of goodwill that seemed in direct contrast to the harsh and heavy sounds we all loved.
I’ve attended innumerable shows since, both as a spectator and as a performer, but my obsession ultimately became my profession, and I’ve experienced some truly extraordinary opportunities over the years, from working as an engineer at guitarist Erik Rutan’s Mana Recording Studios, to getting a gig as a guitar tech on the Morbid Angel tour. I’ve worked with local talent, national acts and bands from abroad. I’ve watched countless metal makers rise and fall, break up and reunite. New metal venues opened, others closed, moved or changed names, and the number of bands playing the scene have waxed and waned over the years.
In the late 1980s and early ’90s, death metal exploded as fans of metal’s “big four” — Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax — heard the distant rumble of an approaching storm coming from the east coast. The cacophonous sounds of the heaviest music ever came from Florida and captured the souls of metal fans who wished for something a little (or a lot) more brutal. Bands like Obituary, Death, Morbid Angel, Cannibal Corpse, and Deicide began a movement and jump-started death metal culture. Apart from the bands who called Tampa home, producer Scott Burns and Morrisound Studios became death metal household names, as did Ace’s Records and the Brass Mug.
For a while, it almost seemed like there were as many extreme metal bands as there were fans, a mass proliferation of death metal that eventually petered out, though the genre’s longevity remains in bands that originally blazed the extreme music trail three decades ago and are still active today.
I’ve been going to metal shows for nearly two decades — heavy metal, death metal, black metal, industrial metal, and all the rest — and I always see something of myself in both the new faces and the old familiar ones. I see people becoming fans, and I see people remaining fans.
I am immensely proud of my small contribution to the scene and the metal being made in my own hometown. And I'd like to share it with you. So, this piece is the first in a series geared at offering some enlightenment about the local metal scene starting with a brief summation of its history and my own history within it. The pieces to follow in the coming weeks will cover key people, places, bands, albums, artifacts and various other Tampa metal scene-related topics. Stay tuned...