Slauter Xstroyes – Winter Kill
I realise it’s been a while since I’ve written anything. A good, long while. And, to be honest, it might have been a lot longer, had I not come across some news that shocked me out my creative lethargy.
I think it’s important at this juncture to introduce a little context. I recently moved across the country and started my national training number in Trauma and Orthopaedic Surgery. What does this mean, you ask? Well, it means no more lancing bottom abscesses, no more being a walking urinary catheter service, and I’ll never have to digitally examine a stoma again (yes, that means exactly what you think it does, and no, it’s not very nice). It’s exclusively beautiful, beautiful bone surgery. But with great power comes great responsibility, and I wasn’t really prepared for how terrifying and exhausting it would be.
They talk about Specialty Training being the ‘next step’ up, but what no one tells you is that the step is actually eight foot high, covered in grease, and you’re blindfolded and wearing high-heels that are a size too small for you. And if the day job isn’t stressful enough, once every few days you are ‘on-call’ for twenty four hours. In theory you are allowed to answer these calls from home after 9pm, but the reality is that you have probably spent all day operating, and then you have to see all the patients that have come in over the day – there may be several, they may be cranky (from waiting all day to see your panda-eyed, sweaty self), and every now and then one tries to die on you. About midnight, decision-fatigue sets in, and by 2am, you’re too tired and too nervous to leave the hospital so you lie there in your hot, stuffy on-call room, wide awake and agonising over the minutiae of the day…
… or maybe that’s just me. But back to the original point. In the middle of one particularly appalling on-call I received a message that I almost didn’t open at all. But curiosity got the better of me, and, despite none of the usual ‘RIP’ posts on social media, I learned of the sad passing of one of the most disgustingly overlooked singers, the mullet-sporting, studded gauntlet-wearing frontman of one of the greatest American power metal bands – John Stewart of the mighty Slauter Xstroyes.
When I think of Slauter Xstroyes, I think: arrogant. Brilliant, flamboyant arrogance. Because in Winter Kill, they deliver a technical masterclass of such uniqueness and brutality – a record that I can imagine being almost unpalatable to the contemporaneous casual metal fan. Indeed, I struggle to think of bands of the time that were so blatantly flying in the face of convention, though the mind does wander to Nasty Savage – not alike in sound, but a similar defiance of the norm.
Paul Kratky’s masterfully delivered riffs, full of surprises, are perfectly mirrored by the dynamic drumming of Dave Bonow. Brent Sullivan’s bass performance, executed with the precision of a surgeon and the malice of a serial killer, is undoubtedly one of the best of the era, and stands very much at the forefront of it all, obnoxiously loud in the mix, and why the hell not?
There are tender moments, and moments that make you want to punch a wall till your knuckles bleed, there is bold use of synth, there are ridiculous lyrics (may I direct you to ‘The Stage’), and there is an energy that is both raw and polished at the same time. And then there are John Stewart’s vocals, vaulting from fragile, translucent softness to pure evil. Harmonies, when employed, are ostentatiously theatrical, but the threat of violence lurks ever near.
I’d like to think that they knew the world wasn’t ready for them – and that they chose to give a grand total of zero fucks. Unbelievably, they released a limited run of 12” independently. I can only marvel at the sheer passion for their craft, the dedication and labour that must have gone into a recording of that quality – all towards an independent release, which I can’t imagine was particularly financially rewarding.
And as many of my stories go, they faded into obscurity, little known beyond the borders of Chicago, IL. Despite a few reissues, and a noteworthy performance at Keep it True in 2011, there continues to be a dearth of information about them.
When my tired, overloaded brain read about John Stewart, I felt sad, of course, but also angry – angry at myself. As I perused the neglected pages of my poor blog, I realised that almost every article read like a eulogy, a sad commemoration of someone’s life’s work, and that broke my heart a little.
But that sadness has brought me back here, because I realise that time is not only a finite resource for me, but for everyone. There are bands, living and breathing, albums, performances deserving of great praise and accolades, and yet they remain humbly dormant in the shadows. I feel more compelled than ever to shine a light on this incredible era of heavy metal – to celebrate my heroes and the music that moves me the most, even if it is only by means of a silly little self-indulgent blog post.
So, tonight, I’m raising a glass to John Stewart, and to Winter Kill – a fine legacy to leave behind. I won’t let you down.
PS: a special thank you to all of you wonderful people who have left lovely comments, or got in touch via facebook. Your kind words have been the little lifts that have kept my head above water. Please write to me, nag me, tell me off. Your encouragement is everything.