“I never even had no school/hey sugar, don’t ya think I’m cool?” - Teas’n, Pleas’n
Before we get to the clown, let’s talk about Watchtower for a minute. That was Jason McMaster’s old band. They were a big deal in the underground world of metalzines in the early 80s and their debut album, 1985’s awkwardly titled Energetic Disassembly, was one of the most eagerly awaited and well-received indie-metal albums of that year. Now hailed as perhaps the first “progressive metal” record, at the time Watchtower were often labeled “Technical metal”. Which is why I never really bothered with Watchtower. Technical metal sounds like it involves math, and I got into rock n’ roll for whatever the opposite of math is. Also, they shared the same name with the flagship magazine of a popular Christian death cult. Don’t know if the Jehovah’s Witnesses are still around or not, but they would send weird old ladies to your door to sell copies of Watchtower magazine and to let you know the world was gonna end in two weeks.
Looking back I guess that’s pretty fuckin’ metal, but it seemed like a misfire at the time. Anyway, when you consider how overblown and ridiculous prog-metal has become over the ensuing decades, it’s funny to think that something as relatively primitive as Watchtower could spawn orchestral nightmares like Symphony X. Seriously, Watchtower just sounds like a garage band with an over-enthusiastic bass player. But then again, it was the 1980s. We had no idea what progress meant. We were listening to cassettes and re-electing Ronald Reagan.
If rock n’ roll does have an opposite of math, it’s got to be sleaze metal. You don’t even need to know how to read to dig sleaze metal. It’s flash metal’s hipper, more dangerous cousin, all teeth and claws wrapped in denim and leather. While glam flirted with cross-dressing and celebrated rock’s party atmosphere, sleaze metal took on the iconography of outlaw biker gangs and revelled in the mud and blood of rampant hyper-masculinity. Anything that could ruin you, sleaze metal was for it. Sleaze metal drank too much, did too many drugs, slept with too many (usually evil) women, broke more bones than Evel Knievel, rode (and crashed) crazy motorcycles, and feared nothing. Sleaze metal practiced the art of manly living. Zodiac Mindwarp and the Love Reaction took sleaze metal to its cartoonish limit, but there were plenty of other chest-thumpers making the rounds by the late 80s: Circus of Power, Rogue Male, the Cult (Electric/Sonic Temple era), Warrior Soul, Horse London, Sea Hags, The Hangmen, Junkyard, Jetboy, Four Horsemen, Little Caesar, Cycle Sluts from Hell, The Almighty, etc. And that’s the blood-for-fuel train Jason McMcaster hopped on next.
In 1988, McMaster ditched Watchtower to sing for the still pretty glammy Pantera. Had he stayed with Pantera any longer than he did, it’s doubtful that ‘modern metal’ would even exist. Seeing as Pantera planted the seeds for what would eventually become the travesty known as nu-metal, you basically have Jason to blame for Limp Bizkit. But anyway, fortune came McMaster’s way when a side-band he was in, Onyxx, got signed to a major label. He left Pantera and took up all things Onyxx. They changed their name to the less-generic Dangerous Toys and recorded their first album with well-known metal producer Max ‘Subtlety is for suckers’ Norman.
Here’s the major legacy of Dangerous Toys: their mascot. It’s a killer clown. Actually, it’s a killer klown, since it was inspired by the 1988 cult flick Killer Klowns from Outer Space. The band named it Bill Z Bubb, and it’s essentially the American Eddie. A fun-loving serial killer. And isn’t that what the USA is, really? That logo was everywhere for a couple years. I dunno how many records Dangerous Toys ever sold, but they must have made a fucking mint on t-shirts.
Oh yeah, the record. It’s pretty good. Here’s the sweet-spot for Dangerous Toys, the album: if you kinda wanna listen to Guns N’ Roses and you kinda wanna listen to AC/DC, you can do both at once with Dangerous Toys. They were state-of-the-art sleaze metal, the right men for the job at exactly the right time. Their lyrics also had a tongue-in-cheek element that went largely over people’s heads. I mean, now you’d get it if, say, The Darkness or Steel Panther wrote a song like Sport’n A Woody (“Sport’n a woody when you’re walkin’ by/Sport’n a woody when your titties fly”), but at the time they weren’t much different than whatever bullshit Motley Crue was spouting. Aside from the mascot and the satirical edge the the lyrics, however, their wasn’t a whole lot to chew on with Dangerous Toys. They just kinda sounded like everybody, all at once. But what the hell, every Pearl Jam needs a Stone Temple Pilots, right?
Things looked pretty good for Dangerous Toys as the 80’s rolled over into the alt-rock decade. Little did they know the entire landscape of heavy metal and hard rock was about to change drastically. They bashed out a meat n’ potatoes sophomore record, Hellacious Acres, in 1991. They also hit the road on a disastrous summer tour with Judas Priest, Alice Cooper and Motorhead that basically sold zero tickets. That line-up sounds amazing now in this nostalgia-loving world of middle-aged metalheads, but nobody wanted anything to do with all those creaky dinosaurs in the early 90’s. And that wasn’t Dangerous Toys’ only problem. Jason’s old band, Pantera, were about to release their landmark Vulgar Display of Power album, which essentially decimated whatever else was happening in Texas metal. Dangerous Toys’ laffs-laden sleaze sounded positively square next to Vulgar’s minimal-riffing ultraviolence. By 1992, nobody was down with the clown. Badtimes settled in. Time to put the Toys away.
To his credit, McMaster never let go of the dream. He still plays with Dangerous Toys every so often and spent most of the Bush years with gnarly AC/DC-ists Broken Teeth. And that goddamn creepy fucking clown still haunts my dreams.
**Next week: Take a rock n’ roll shower . **