reprinted from venuszine: December 13th, 2008 | 12:00pm
New Mexican metal trio takes over "the land of entrapment"
By Samara Alpern
Photo by Wes Naman
It’s late dusk in the one-gas-station town of Budville, New Mexico, and the mesas are fading to silhouettes. The nearest city, Albuquerque, is out of view some 60 miles east. But it’s a lively scene at the Budville rodeo grounds, where a major share of the nearby Laguna Pueblo Indian Reservation is here to honor their metal heritage at Buckfest, a two-day music festival featuring 20 hard rock acts. Topping tonight’s roster are diosas of thrash, Suspended.
It’s no surprise that New Mexico has produced a band with a sound like Suspended’s. Metal is big in New Mexico, especially so on the Rez. It’s a natural affinity for a place with the unofficial motto, “Land of Entrapment,” a twist on the state’s license plate slogan, “Land of Enchantment.”
Like other great metal oases in the world — Birmingham, England, for instance — a lot of New Mexico is dirt poor and rife with all the social ills that go along with it. New Mexicans have been swearing allegiance to the metal gods for decades. Yet, even in a community where love for Iron Maiden is four generations deep, Suspended are still an unlikely success story: there just aren’t many chicks playing thrash, a fact Suspended are aware of, but don’t seem to dote on.
“Metal’s male dominated,” shrugs Mimo, who arms the band with bass and growl-rotted vocals.
Mandy — the girl driving the Suspended with her sorcery on lead guitar — doesn’t comment. She generally lets the strings speak for her. It’s Chan, the drummer, who is direct: “You see bands with six, seven, eight members, and we blow them away,” she says, smiling sweetly. “And there’s just three of us.”
“And we’re only five feet tall,” adds Mimo.
With a stripped, old-school sound that esteems the hoary greats like Black Sabbath and Testament, Suspended are getting noticed on musical merits. They’re not prancing around, aspiring to be one of Revolver’s “Hottest Chicks in Metal” — hell, Chan’s the only one who even wears makeup. Instead, they’re earning respect on the music alone. And with every set they play, they’re generating a new image in the Pueblos and across New Mexico of what it means to be a metal god.
Even at the very beginning, when they were girls just fucking around making music in high school, Suspended harnessed metal’s natural fury and made it their own. In their short, bright tenure, they haven’t bothered with a single cover. The band wrote and performed their first song for their high school talent show. “It was about girls in the mosh pit kicking guys’ asses,” explains Mimo.
Maybe that’s why Suspended are so at home at Buckfest. It’s already been a long, rowdy night when Suspended take the stage.
It’s not raining, but nearby thunderstorms are spitting lightning on all sides. Not too far from the stage, teenagers have pitched tents, and families have set up campers. Some little kids are playing tag, squealing, running around. A little further back, people here for the spectacle — if not the music — are just chilling in their parked vehicles, drinking beers. And across the rodeo grounds, black t-shirts and jeans are the uniform. There’s a lot of drinking. All evening, the two giants working security have been kept busy splitting the brawlers from the moshers and steering the severely wasted to the outskirts.
Suspended unleash their first chord. Then something happens that you don’t usually see at metal shows: young women shoulder through the chaos and crowd the front of the stage.
Suspended minister to the masses with their own brand of metal, melodic guitar that segues bluntly into a fire-wrath chorus. Somewhere in the middle of the set, a fight breaks out in the crowd. At least 10 guys are caught up in it, and it takes both security titans to unsnarl the mess. Suspended don’t blink, they just keep on playing. The rest of the crowd hardly seems to notice, even when the last boxer is hauled away with his face swathed with blood. According to Suspended, that’s pretty routine. “Fights tend to break out when we play,” reflects Mimo. “We’re not angry people. I guess our music just makes people fight.”
If these young women are comfortable with the aggressive vibe that surrounds their music, that’s because they were raised on metal. Chan learned her drumming skills from her dad, and he himself got into metal young, listening to his older sister’s Black Sabbath on 8-track. In answer to the question who taught her to play guitar, Mandy grins and says, “Ozzy.”
Ask the girls to name their heroines in music, though, and they struggle. After a while, Chan comes up with Lita Ford, and Mimo nominates Pat Benatar. But the posters all over their cinderblock practice space indicate their true musical influences: Anthrax, Judas Priest, and Pantera. Any attempt to pigeonhole Suspended with another band based on gender alone will earn you Suspended’s open disgust.
Mimo cites a typical example. “People say, ‘You guys remind us of Kittie.’” Kittie, a band with an all female line-up, has a goth-emo sound that is miles away from Suspended’s hescher devilry. “We’re like, ‘No, we’re not, we hate that shit.’”
Although for Suspended, it’s all about the music, the fact that young women are leading the New Mexico rock scene isn’t lost on fans. Sonni Vicente, a 25-year-old mom from Laguna Pueblo, is at Buckfest with her 13-year-old niece and 13-month-old daughter. Seated in a lawn chair a little away from the volatile nucleus of the stage, Sonni swiftly lays out her rock credentials when she lists her favorite bands: “Pantera, Morbid Angel, Iron Maiden, Relentless, the Suspended … I could go on for days,” she says. Relentless is another metal band from the Pueblo, and it’s telling that a small community like the Pueblos would produce not one, but two popular metal bands. Here, the local bands rank as favorites among the international greats. Beyond the music, Vicente values the standard Suspended are setting for women. “It’s good to see girls like that, who are into metal and succeeding.” As she says this, her young niece nods in agreement.
Galen Lewis, 21, fresh-faced, and also from Laguna, says Suspended is having a real influence in the Pueblo. He’s involved in a couple bands himself. “They inspire us men to go on and pursue a career as rock musicians,” he says. “Around here, on the reservation, people look up to the Suspended. Every girl wants to be like the Suspended now.”
The importance of that scepter isn’t lost on Galen, who is here at Buckfest with his 3-year-old daughter, Arianna. During Suspended’s set, he’s right at the front of the stage with Arianna on his shoulders. Every bit the metalhead her father is, Arianna has her little hands in devil horns and is rocking the fuck out. “I think my daughter’s going to look up to them,” says Galen, looking exhilarated, after the show. “They’re starting a new culture of rock band.”