Tales from the Jugular

World Wide Web Metal – A Look at the 90s Internet Culture

By: Eric Compton
Published: Tuesday, February 23, 2016
"If you're out there all alone and don't know where to go to,
come and take a trip with me to Future World"
– 'Future World' by Helloween

A little over twenty years ago I had my sleeves rolled up, pen in my hand and CD mail order catalogues all over the floor. Back then there wasn't an Amazon or a CD Universe or anything of the sort. If you wanted a heavy metal CD (or vinyl record) in the 90s then you had to order it through a brick and mortar store like FYE (Camelot Music then) or a mom and pop that would be willing to go to the ends of the Earth to satisfy their mop headed metal consumers. It was difficult and often frustrating but when your phone rang or the mailman dropped in with that special delivery...man there just wasn't anything like it.

Being in my late teens in the early 90s meant very little exposure to the heavy stuff. Most of my high school was obsessed with the skinny spandex – GNR, Poison, Skid Row or they were "Dazed & Confused" with the likes of Zep and the Dead. I had heard plenty of Metallica but when a buddy produced a copy of Megadeth's 'Countdown to Extinction', that really upped the ante.

As I alluded to in the introduction of my book 'Denim & Letters', shamelessly plugged here [Amazon Link], I was really into experimentation in the early years. I was a sponge-soaking up everything from speed and thrash to prog and death. I WANTED it all but I really wanted to KNOW about it all. So what's a kid to do with very little cash flow, absolutely no window shopping at the stores and very few peers to consult with?

You go to the WORLD WIDE WEB.

Before we dropped the www from our browser window and streamed theatrical movies on our phone the internet was referred to as the ridiculously sounding World Wide Web. You subscribed by signing up with companies like Prodigy and Earthlink which provided you 10-15 hours MONTHLY (gasp!) for $12. The first unlimited services didn't show up until '95/'96 so one had to choose wisely on downloading a fake Cindy Crawford nude or an X-Files wallpaper. Either way you were looking at a 10 minute download time and then saving it to a floppy disk. Conservation of time was the key.

With the world wide web at a fingertip the metal exploration literally had no bounds. Finally, I could move beyond domestic sounds and venture into Europe's coveted halls. Black and melodic death metal bands were the holy grail and thankfully those early acts had internet presence, albeit very limited in capacity. Most were just simply Angelfire or Geocities primitive sites that showed an album cover or two and maybe a short write-up. However for the first time ever I could actually listen to bands in small sound clips called .WAV files.

These files were before MP3 were prevalent and typically sounded much better. The sacrifice was very long download time using something like a Netscape Navigator browser on dial-up. You would spend thirty minutes downloading a 30 second sound clip but it gave you the most direct representation of a band. By the time you downloaded song samples from a reclusive far away Norwegian black metal band, you felt like you were in the snow covered forests blazing a trail and foraging for the metal goods. The hunt was just as spectacular as the find itself.

Megadeth can lay claim to being the first band of any genre to land the first real estate parcel in Cyberspace. The band launched "Megadeth, Arizona" in October of 1994, a unique experience at the time that allowed fans to communicate via a chat room called the Megadiner. The site also included video footage, tour dates and a gift shop that proved to be one of the most resourceful and innovative uses of the internet at the time. The site was used to promote the band's 'Youthanasia' record.

There were a number of metal webzines in the early to mid-90s and sadly the only one I can recall is Chronicles of Chaos, which unfortunately closed in 2015. That site had lots of song samples from bands that I otherwise would have never known existed. I can fondly remember hearing bands like Amon Amarth, Callenish Circle, Dark Tranquillity, Orphanage and Moonspell for the first time via COC's webzine. This was extremely motivating to the 90s metal fan that just had very little access to information. I remember downloading the samples and just playing the same 30 second clip over and over again. My technology-poor buddy came over and was amazed at how it all worked.

We could easily pick out a shopping list of mandatory metal albums that we had to have. From there we would place orders with mail order labels like Nuclear Blast, Metal Disc and a variety of smaller distros like Dark Symphonies and Red Stream. Back then you didn't have online ordering or anything like Paypal for example. You would just write down what you wanted and place it in an envelope with a check or money order. One would just pray that what you desired was in stock and would actually arrive 3 weeks later. Often you would list "alternatives" in case your top priority wasn't available. It wasn't until years later that these mail orders would allow you to call them and place orders with a credit card. I can remember the first time I did that with Nuclear Blast and some guy took your list, placed you on hold and checked shelves and boxes in some God-forsaken backroom. Often he would come back and say he didn't have it BUT if you liked that particular band or style he would suggest something similar. I remember him saying "If you like Dark Tranquillity you could try this band called In Flames". I took him up on the offer and was obviously glad he suggested it.

It was these times that I think metal heads united like never before. The late 70s through the 80s was obviously a glorious time for heavy music, yet nothing had embraced fans globally like the World Wide Web. Chatrooms and themed chat houses made it very easy to converse with fans all over the globe. WAV files being offered were just as good as hearing a Memorex cassette from your buddy down the street. Heavy metal magazines were brought to life online for the first time via a color monitor. It was all fertile ground that eventually sprouted roots and grew into one big family tree.

The next time you stream a Spotify album or download a few songs on iTunes just think about how we got there...and where we go from here.

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