Although Zoetrope only lasted a few records, I think their impact on the Chicago metal scene and the music scene as a whole is self-evident.
Not every band’s history is a success story. The truth is hundreds of musicians form bands everyday but only a fraction of those aspiring artists stick with it and accomplish something. Success is a term often open to interpretation, especially in the music business where it can mean releasing a few albums or finding super-stardom.
Zoetrope is a metal band from Chicago, Illinois that was started back in 1976. At that time the underground scene was largely comprised of ‘Punk Rock’ acts like: The Ramones, Sex Pistols and The Clash. This soon to be mainstream music quickly gave way to another underground style known as ‘Hardcore’ or ‘Hardcore Punk’ which was a faster, harder version of punk rock. The scene was dominated by bands like: Black Flag, The Dead Kennedys and Agent Orange. The quick death of punk and the subsequent demise of hardcore caused splinters in the blossoming metal scene while at the same time influencing a multitude of musicians.
Zoetrope arrived at a time when the ‘Thrash movement’ of the underground was just starting to take off. Fusing the best of hardcore punk with classic metal, these ultra-fast tempos and aggressive lyrics spawned juggernauts like: Anthrax and Metallica. The ‘Crossover thrash movement’ began simultaneously when established punk bands like DRI/(Dirty Rotten Imbeciles), Suicidal Tendencies, and Corrosion of Conformity made the cross from hardcore punk to a more thrash oriented sound.
Zoetrope developed their own hybrid style of this music coined ‘Street Metal’ because the lyrical content focused on the underbelly of big city life. Songs like “Member in a Gang”, “Pickpocket” and “Death of a High School Narc” exemplified Zoetrope’s desire to write about urban dirt.
The music was well received by both critics and fans alike. Zoetrope refused to categorize their sound and continued to play on the same bill as both hardcore and metal bands which widened their audience and helped bridge the gap between musical scenes. The band got their major break 1985 when they signed with Combat Records. I actually saw Zoetrope play live several times during this period opening for acts like: Slayer, Nuclear Assault and Motörhead.
Zoetrope had a short career by industry standards releasing only three full length albums: Amnesty (1985), A Life of Crime (1987) and Mind Over Splatter (1993).
I think Zoetrope’s career was cut short because the original line up broke up during the recording of the band’s second album, A Life of Crime. Guitarist Ken Black left the group for STB/(Sharon Tate’s Baby) and was replaced by Louis Svitek. After a short tour, Louis left to join Billy Milano in M.O.D./(Method of Destruction). He also played in Lost Cause, Ministry, Mind Funk, Pigface, The Hollow Steps and Project 44. Drummer/Vocalist Barry Stern went on to join the doom metal band Trouble where he participated on two albums: Trouble (1990) and Manic Frustration (1993). Barry also served as touring drummer for the doom metal band Cathedral. Sadly, he passed away in 2005 from complications arising from hip replacement surgery. Trouble’s 2007 album Simple Mind Condition is dedicated to his memory. Guitarist Kevin Michael put the band back together with a new line up and released Mind Over Splatter in 1993 but the magic was gone and the band folded for good shortly thereafter.
Although Zoetrope only lasted a few records, I think their impact on the Chicago metal scene and the music scene as a whole is self-evident. The band found a way to thrive during a turbulent time in metal history. They were true pioneers bridging the gap between punk and metal. The albums A Life of Crime and Amnesty are filled with classic metal tracks which fans of thrash, speed metal or even hardcore punk should be exposed to. Check out Zoetrope and let their unique form of street metal influence you! \m/
Zoetrope (1987) :
• Kevin Michael – Guitars
• Ken Black – Guitars
• Calvin “Willis” Humphrey – Bass
• Barry Stern – Vocals, Drums