From 150 copies in 1986 to 10,000 copies in 2001, Metal Core emerged as one of the longest-running zines in metal history, and its editor, Chris Forbes, still writes about metal to this day. We spoke to Chris about the present and the past.
Hello Chris! Please introduce yourself and share a bit about your current and past activities related to metal.
My name is Chris Forbes and I am currently 58 years old and I have been into metal since around 1980, 1981. When I started seeing Saxon, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest videos on MTV. Shortly after that I started reading Kerrang a weekly metal magazine from England that a local Tower Records got in. From there I started reading about some NWOBHM bands and also US bands like RIOT for example. "Fire Down Under" is still a staple in my listening. Then I found out about a store up in North New Jersey, I live in South Jersey, called Vintage Vinyl. Which sadly recently closed. That store stocked tons of metal and rock and also Metal Forces. From that mag I discovered Anvil, Raven, Exciter, and also demos that were stocked in the store. North Jersey had a ton of clubs and bands in the 80's, while South Jersey at the time had nothing.
Now around 1983, I found out about Metallica and hardcore as well. Bands like Black Flag, DRI, etc blew my mind. I started going to shows out of the area, Lamour's in Brooklyn, NY was the best. While on a trip up there for the 1st time to see Overkill we all stopped off at Rock N Roll Heaven, which was owned by the late great Johnny Zuzula. In that store was something that would change my life: fanzines. They were selling the greatest one ever too: Kick Ass Monthly. I brought a copy and the next day I read that from cover to cover and got a subscription too. I started writing to bands and ordering demos too.
While at a local show, over in Phila, PA, I brought a fanzine called Total Thrash done by Scott Helig. I saw him after a show after that and asked if he need any writers. He said sure. I was sending him so much stuff, he said I should start my own. I took that up as a challenge and Metal Core was born. The name came out due to SOD and Overkill doing a small 7 date tour and calling it the "Metal Core" tour.
If I am correct, Metal Core's printed issues were published between 1986 and 2001, with 31 issues in total. What are you most happy about from those times?
Yes, late in 1986 was the 1st issue. Only 150 copies printed, with no pictures or ads. It was 1/2 size (the only issue half size). Interviews with all local bands and done on my dad's old typewriter ha ha. The memories are so many. From actually releasing a 1st issue to start to write to bands and receiving demos to review. Then I started getting promos from labels. As time went on I got a word processor and did the mag on that, All the classic shows I went to. Slayer "Hell Awaits tour in 1985 several times. The Lamour's show from them that year was simply the best show hands down I have ever seen. Saw so many shows there over the year too. Exodus "Bonded By Blood" tour when Paul was sick and they did an all instrumental set, which was crazy. Carnivore, Blessed Death, Anthrax, Overkill, Agent Steel getting shit thrown at them ha ha (the crowd hated the vocals), Nuclear Assault, and so many more. The whole crossover scene and going to City Gardens. Diving off the stage there in 86 at Slayer "Reign in Blood" tour and almost breaking my back. DRI, Sick of It All, The Crumbsuckers, Agnostic Front, etc.
All my band, fanzine editors, and just fans ordering my zine, pen pals and trading ads through letters are incredible memories. If you weren't there it is very hard to describe in words.
Watching my zine grow to the point that starting with issue # 25 selling it for free and printing 10,000 copies on newsprint.
Managing bands: Deadly Blessing, Symphony of Grief, Immolation. I could write a novel on this question alone ha ha.
I would like to thank my DAD as he was a sportswriter for USA Today and he is in the Pro Football for sportswriter and he told me to go for it when I started up my zine. Seeing the mailman always ringing my parent's doorbell due to the amount of mail I was getting. I eventually got a PO BOX 622 Marlton, NJ 08053.
From the issues I've read, you not only interviewed bands but also interviewed record labels and other fanzines. Can you share why you made that choice?
Yeah later on I had saw a few other zines doing that and thought it would be a fun idea. In the end I think it worked rather well and made interesting interviews. Not just the same ole band interviews.
What fanzine-related activities did you enjoy the most? Were there any you disliked?
I loved it all. I loved putting together a issue and doing the cut and paste thing. Doing the reviews and transcribing the interviews on my little recorder my dad gave me. This was before the internet so I would have to sit there in the cellar and rewind the tape back and forth unless it was a through the mail interview. I loved all fanzines as long as they were open and honest in their reviews. My favorite ever was Kick Ass Monthly. There should be a book on all his issues. Super brutal and honest in his reviews. Voices From The Darkside is another good one. Snakepit, which is still going I feel is the best these days. No Glam Fags, which later became Ill Literature was another goodie. We all traded with each other and I would spread their flyers in with my orders and letters.
Worst one is easy. Dave Horn and Sounds of Death mag. Sort of a cross between a magazine and a fanzine, no bands got bad reviews and of course if their was a ad for said band then they would almost always get a 9 out of 10. Just a awful mag.
With many years of writing about metal, what learnings can you share? Any tips on conducting a good interview? Does writing ever become boring to you? How do you decide what to write about?
Make your interviews interesting. Don't ask the same ole questions that bands have heard a million times like what are your influences, Do research on the band. look up what kind of history they have. Band members, record labels, how long they have been around, who they have toured with, etc.
Writing becomes boring if the band is making the interview boring with short answers or not even answering the interview. I did a interview with Raven recently and I set 2 sets over to John over 2 days. He answered both sets within 48 hours! If a band I get to review really blows me away or I think they are good I'll reach out for one. Gross Reality blew me away. Thrash metal like Forbidden. Looks that will happen. I also reach out to older people or bands I know and most are cool with doing one. I just did Wargasm, Vincent Crowley and Eviction just to name a few.
Do you have any writing routine, and if so, could you share its elements? Are the time of day or place important?
No not really. I usually do my reviews and send out questions during the afternoon. If it is a newer band I'll read over their bio and what releases they have and also who I am interviewing as well. If it is say a guitar player, I'll usually ask why he picked up the guitar and who his favorite guitar players are etc. When your getting ready to do reviews, you better be in the metal mood. Be honest with your reviews. If a band sucks in your opinion, they suck and explain why. If they are good or great same thing.
Now the way I do my interviews, it is probably different from everybody else. Heck I think this is the easiest and better way myself. My interviews are all through email now. Take for example Gross Reality. I emailed them saying I'd like to do a interview and I just need a email and who is doing it. When I email the band member, I sent off 6 questions only. I let him know I am doing the interview over in sets and when he sends "set # 1 back" I'll send "set # 2" over. I think it makes it better and easier for him. This way he is not setting at his computer doing my interview questions for 1 hour or 90 minutes. I have been burned too many times spending an hour or more of my time putting together questions and neve getting it back. 6 questions for me takes me 20 minutes to put together as well.
Has your taste in music changed over the last 30 years, and if so, how? Did you experience any low periods when your interest in metal faded, or has it been constant?
Yes it has. I like "smooth jazz" now and have been getting more into "classic rock" these days. I hate fucking "groove metal" like Pantera. They stole directly from Exhorder. Poser band. I hate "deathcore", trigger drums, Cannibal Corpse Jr bands, most black metal, and modern metal. Real thrash metal and death metal, heavy metal, crossover (not groove) is my love.
You were interviewing new young bands at the beginning of your underground career, and you still interview them now. Do you notice any differences in how current upcoming bands think and act compared to their counterparts of the past?
So many bad bands these days. Way too many bands unfortunately. Forget tape trading and fanzines, nowadays you need Bandcamp, Spotify, Facebook likes, Instagram, Twitter etc. There is some good death/black bands out there and if I like em I'll reach out for a chat. That "trigger drum" shit needs to go. Fuckin awful. Well it is 2 different eras so it has to be different. Back in the 80's bands would want people tape trading their demo and sending it out to every fanzine and underground radio station on earth and then later on maybe try and get a label deal. These days you have so many small labels and to me it would be easy to get signed and yes vinyl as made a comeback of sorts, but most bands can just email me and send me links for reviews of their band. One, who shall remain nameless, sent me something and it was deathcore. I told them I wasn't a fan and they respected me for my honesty. I don't hold back in my reviews. In some cases bands are better off releasing their music on their own too.
View Metal Core issues on Press of Darkness by clicking the covers below:
Over the years, you've interacted with various personalities in the metal world. Was it ever challenging, or was it always enjoyable? Do you find it easy to communicate with people of all kinds?
Never had a problem with anyone. Never got into a fight or was threatened. I am a big dude and have been going to the gym for 40 plus years so that might scare some away ha ha. Some were not happy with my reviews at the time ha ha. Always enjoyable seeing old friends at shows these days.
You have managed a few bands, such as Deadly Blessing and Immolation. Did you like this job? Was it hard, joyful, rewarding?
Rewarding. With Deadly Blessing it was me and Mike Minnick and we got them signed to New Renaissance Records. Not the greatest label, but they gave them a budget to record, which they didn't with others. They were a solid live band too. Going up to Long Island to play with The Crumbsuckers several times was priceless.
Symphony of Grief, I got them on Wild Rags and I and I got them a gig at one of the Milwaukee Metalfests. 17 hour ride in a van ha ha. Love to see their music be re-issued. Death/doom at it's finest.
Immolation was also fun as they ended up on Metal Blade. Just saw those guys last week and we were hanging out and they still deliver the goods. One of the best death metal bands period.
How much do you listen to music? Can you describe your typical listening day: how many hours, when, and what format? What genres do you listen to?
Well with me being married with 2 girls, I usually listen to You Tube I must say. I will either listen to thrash, death metal, or power metal and that goes for when I thinking or doing interviews or doing email or scrolling through Facebook. When I am the gym lifting it is all 80's classic thrash and speed metal.
Would you consider yourself a music collector? If so, do you collect CDs or vinyl?
As you can read from above, those days are over sadly.
How do you discover new music? Are there websites or printed media that you follow?
With the amount of promos I get ha ha, that's all the new music I need. I must get almost a 100 emails a day and half are promos from various labels easily!
Have you ever thought about how being a metal fan affects your mental state? Some articles suggest metalheads are happier than everyone else. Do you agree?
Yes they can be. When I listen to say older Kreator, Exciter, Violence, Incantation, Autopsy, etc, how can you not be in a good mood? Sure puts me in one. Whether it's underground metal, heavy metal or rock n roll, they all work.
In the mid-90s, printed metal fanzines were the primary source for interviews and reviews, but now we have a vast amount of material just a few clicks away. Do you think we have more to read today, but we read less? Are you interested in newer media, like podcasts (listening to them or creating them yourself)?
Yup. Look at the circulation of even newspapers. They are down big time. There is more to read or listen to with podcasts, but I think people listen less. Why I try to make sure each and every one of my interviews is like a must read and when you get started you will want to read it to the end. I listen to a couple podcasts. If I wasn't married with 2 kids I for sure would have a podcast.
Over the years, you've witnessed various milestone events in metal, such as the rising popularity of grunge and black metal in the 90s, the emergence of metalcore and djent, and so on. Looking ahead, how do you think people will view the 2020s? Is there anything specific about our current years that history will remember?
Yeah all these classic rock bands that keep touring and touring. Ticket prices are insane. More festivals are happening everywhere, all over the world too. To me the cost to go to a concert these days is crazy, but these kids pay. As long as they are willing to pay these out of price range fests will continue.
Can you name 3-5 bands or records that remained relatively obscure but, in your opinion, deserve wider recognition?
Blessed Death for sure. A great 80's thrash/speed metal band that put out 2 fantastic albums, but just did not get on the right label back in the day. The band Sacrifice from Canada put out 4 fantastic albums, but with them just being licensed here in the US and being signed to Diabolic Force and Fringe Product really hurt them. I read a long interview with them in Snakepit and people may not know when your release is just "licensed" by a label and your not directly signed to them, your not gonna get much promotion. Bands from Canada, the underground ones, really have had a tough time over the years. Anvil, Exciter to name 2 have struggled, but are still out there touring and performing. I saw Exciter a few months back maybe 100 people which is a sin and they kicked ass.
Regarding fanzines, can you list your top 3 best metal fanzines ever and explain why you think so?
As I mentioned before the best ever is Kick Ass Monthly. Bob Muldowney, who sadly passed away in 2007. Just had a great way with words, fantastic interviews, brutal and honest in his reviews. Lucky I managed to have a few of his issues.
# 2: Snakepit: Like Bob, Laurent Ram has long fantastic interviews. Reviews are vicious ha ha, but he doesn't mince words and he tells it like it is a lot. Laurent likes what he likes and he backs it up and his interviews are 2nd to none these days. The best print mag out there these days. Sonic Age Records is releasing Snakepit issues in book form. They have done 3 so far 1-5, 6-10, 11-15. SNAKEPIT Archives Vol. 1 BOOK: https://www.sonicagerecords.com/_shop/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=67933
SNAKEPIT Archives Vol. 2 BOOK: https://www.sonicagerecords.com/_shop/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=70737
SNAKEPIT Archives Vol. 3 BOOK: https://www.sonicagerecords.com/_shop/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=72502
# 3: Voices From The Darkside. Frank Stover put out 10 issues and you can get them in book form and prepare to take a year to read it ha ha. Frank, like Laurent, Laurent also wrote for this zine as well, had great interviews and fantastic reviews as well. You can order Voices from the Darkside "Issues 1-10" Hardbound Book at https://www.nwnprod.com/?p=3070
You can discover a considerable number of Kick-Ass Monthly issues on the excellent Corroseum.org website. Meanwhile, at Press of Darkness, we host a handful of Voices from the Darkside issues. And one day, we hope to showcase the all-around outstanding Snakepit as well!
Similarly, talking about record labels, which ones do you admire most now? Which ones do you think are the best in terms of producing quality releases over a long period of time?
Well I am gonna go with the smaller labels ok. For really underground death/black metal I go with Hells Headbangers in the US and Invictus Productions overseas in Ireland. Both mostly put out killer quality stuff. Hells Headbangers once in a bit does thrash, but mostly death metal or death black.
Other labels are Thrashback Records who re-release old demo bands stuff on CD or vinyl. I help them out with the interviews inside the CD cases. Divebomb Records based in the US is another label that re-releases old stuff whether it be thrash, power metal or straight up heavy metal. Some hard rock too. Stormspell Records is based here in the states and they re-issue old stuff from the 80's whether it be thrash/power/or heavy metal. Heaven and Hell Records here in the US specializes in rare and cult heavy metal rock releases from the 80s and 90s. Old Metal Records re-issues old stuff from the 80's as well. Thank you for your detailed answers Chris! Any last words?
In closing I hope everyone enjoyed my interview and thanks to Giedrius for interviewing me for your site. I think it is fantastic what you are doing.
You can check out some of my older interviews I did from 2001 till 2020 with bands and records labels and my reviews at www.metalcorezine.com
I currently do interviews (bands and labels) at www.extreminal.com.