AltCovid: The Ballad Of 2020, or How Bair Spent His Quarantine

It has been far, far too long, Alternative Control. It brings me great joy to be contributing once again to a blog that has always given myself and my contemporaries here an opportunity to showcase entertainment that we believe deserves recognition (or steer you away from something less so). When I reached out to Esteemed Editor Jessie May, I asked if I could share some of the things that I’ve listened to get me through this challenging time.

Whether you were furloughed or laid off, working from home, or on the front lines as an essential employee, you almost certainly found yourself with more time to… well, to yourself. Between concern over the virus and a handful of other escalating societal issues, a lot of folks experienced considerable stress, at the very least. The first item I’m spotlighting addresses our feelings during this trying time, and does so in an absolutely Metal fashion.

“Persistence” is a standalone single from returning, longtime Scene contributor Adam Schmidt (formerly of Catalyst), and is both musically and lyrically an expression of everything a lot of us are going through. His inspiration was drawn directly from Covid, as it happens. Adam recalled, “I wrote this song in the early days of self-isolation during a particularly rough night. I was beginning to exhibit symptoms of being sick and my anxiety, as a result, was off the charts. I was afraid of what this meant for me but moreso afraid that if this was the virus, that I may have inadvertently passed it along to friends and family… The fear and anxiety I experienced that night was almost overwhelming. In a sense, this song and music in general is what helped me find solid ground in the midst of being swept away by the tide of my overly active imagination.”

My first listen-through offered what, at face value, is an outstanding melodic death metal effort, reminiscent of Opeth’s former glory or Moontower. Schmidt growls menacingly, snarling defiance in the face of the oppressive climate that Coronavirus has created. Sweeping, overarching choral voices and epic, encompassing guitar sounds blend seamlessly with more intricate melodies, creating a comfortably complex aura of unrest. This is the artful heavy metal music that we have always argued for, when people who don’t get it try to insist that what we listen to is yelling and noise.

In direct contrast with the controlled chaos of the composition, however, are the lyrics. After listening in my car, with no regard for the video accompaniment, it was brought to my attention that the video is a lyric video, so I more attentively listened while soaking in the words. What I discovered was a concise, direct telling of one man’s struggles with the near-martial-law quarantine timeline. While the music has probably a dozen moving parts all working together, the words are purely the emotions, stated simply. The melancholy droning accented by interweaving melodies is pulled together capably and firmly by raw, powerful poetry. And the story flows from uncertainty and concern to triumph, and finding what makes you whole again. If you are or were worried about you or your loved ones getting sick, scared about the economy, breathless from amplified social disparity, this song can speak to and console you. I strongly suggest it to anyone who enjoys Metal, and is affected by current events.

The next item for your consideration is also the most recent stand alone single from a staple of the Connecticut Scene, but is substantially different in every way. Mark Lyon, who is Musical Director and Guitarist with his current soul project Phat Astronaut, has performed with countless other musical groups, Metal and otherwise.  This is his solo debut. The recent release is coyly titled “Quarantine Dream Girl” and features Nick D’Errico on drums.

This is not Metal. But it is heavy, and groovy, and while “Persistence” was acknowledgement and opposition of the current climate, “Quarantine Dream Girl” is a distraction. A galaxy-floating guitar line introduces us to a world away, transporting us like Beauty School Dropout to a fonder time. Then, the bass drops, and this piece brings more funk than month-old mold. My dear friend Ace (also a huge fan of Lyon’s, coincidentally) calls music like this “stompy” because the driving, pounding beat literally makes you stomp your feet. What vocals occur are big, Funkadelic-inspired declarations that it’s time to get down, and I challenge anyone to sit still while listening. At least until the misty, whimsical guitar resumes, drifting us back to the unfortunate reality that Lyon helped us escape for a brief time.

The final offering I’ve discovered during the Covid era is an even simpler pleasure. Professional wrestler and promoter Sully Banger, out of Rhode Island, also used the downtime to create his first solo musical effort, an EP simply titled “Providence.” The genre is called “LoFi Hip Hop” and while I can vibe with the name, I don’t want to mislead anyone — there isn’t an emcee rhyming. This is very relaxed, passive enjoyment, meant to be digested slowly and thoughtfully. (Quite contradictory to what most people would probably expect from a veteran of the ring wars.)

Understated is an excellent descriptor. This is music to meditate to, to stretch or do yoga with, to clear your mind alongside. Delicate and deliberate melodies drive each of these short tunes, and while each feels like it has told it’s story to the end, they are morsels, five songs totaling about fifteen minutes. Some people could certainly employ tunes like “Fight Forever” for background noise. Others could center on it and dissect it, finding meaning in the painfully subtle nuances that exist in transitions between differing notes and extended rests between similar, slow rhythms. The lack of vocals, aside from samples, might strike some people as jarring, especially with such laid-back and unobtrusive composition. But to me, this is music for a long drive. Something to help get your head right, or when you need a little help while focusing on a mental or emotional obstacle. If this sounds like something you might enjoy, I suggest you use it as I did, to stay even-keeled in a tumultuous time.

Lastly, I will throw down the shameless self-promotion, because it has in fact been years since we’ve crossed paths. If you didn’t know, my time away from performing with my beloved Connecticut Metal Community has been to pursue professional wrestling myself. Here’s my quarantine offering, defending my Battlefront Professional Wrestling Hardcore Championship without an audience, against my primary rival at the time, Dirt Bag Dan. Foul language ensues but if you like wrestling or root for me, please give it a watch.

I hope to give you more to listen to, read, or watch very soon. Like, comment, and share each or any of these items if you feel so inclined. Good luck out there!

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