Metaleros' journey: Meet N.Y.'s thriving Latino metal scene
By Ana María Toro January 14th 2009
They are the metaleros, Latino metalheads who rock the New York underground scene with their head-banging, crunching guitars and guttural vocals en español.
"Metal is strong in New York," says Roberto Ramírez, 38, an electrician and the heavily pierced and tattooed lead singer of the local band Missifuss. "The rocker community is very big."
Band members and fans say some of the appeal lies in releasing pent-up feelings through the genre’s signature aggressiveness.
"As a foreigner, you don’t fit in in this country. [The music] reflects what we feel inside," says Beto Escalante, 30, a Mexican restaurant worker and the bassist for Raza Odiada.
"We want to let out the anger we have inside," he adds, "not with violence but by showing people we have talent."
The bands have all-Latino lineups and their lyrics, often in Spanish, deal with issues like crossing the border and struggling to survive in a new country.
The difference is that there’s no trace of the congas and trumpets usually associated with the city’s traditional Latin scene.
"When we used to say that we were bringing Latino bands, [Club owners]thought they were tropical or mariachi bands," says Everardo Reyes, a concert promoter who works with local metal bands.
"We have shattered the myth that Latinos are all about salsa and merengue."
Although Latino metal bands are not headlining Madison Square Garden, the genre is nonetheless making waves in music circles.
"[My friends] used to ask me, ‘Isn’t rock for white people?’" says Jonathan Auseumarey, 18, a recent high school grad and the half-Dominican singer of Nahual.
"But everyone is accepting it now because there’s bands that have come out that are not white."
Metal is so big south of the border that the veteran U.S. band Metallica performed at the Premios MTV Latin America in Mexico in October.
"Ever since I was a kid in Colombia, I was into metal," says Javier Duque, 29, the lead singer and guitarist of Carnal, a band he started back home as a teenager and moved to New York in 2005.
The bands regularly open at venues like Irving Plaza and Webster Hall for more established rock acts touring the city, like Spain’s Mägo de Oz and Charlie Montana from Mexico.
They also do shows at smaller venues like La Kueva and La Oveja Negra in Queens, all the while promoting their music on MySpace and with self-financed CDs.
The fan base transcends age, nationality and gender. At a concert in November at Don Hill’s, a club in SoHo, some 300 fans rocked to three local bands. Outside, middle-aged fans from Mexico waited on line next to young metalheads from Ecuador.
The older crowd was dressed in jeans and leather jackets, while some of the young ones sported Mohawks, dog collars and black lipstick.
This Saturday, Kronicas, Blanca Santería and El Seis Veinte will perform at The Brecht Forum in the West Village, part of an all-day celebration that includes visual arts, poetry, theater and dance.
For this new generation of headbangers, listening to metal instead of the mainstream rhythms of reggaetón, hip hop and pop has filled a void.
"Metal is an art form. The music comforts me; it keeps me company," says fan Joel Campos, a 30-year-old Mexican construction worker from the Bronx.
"At the concerts, you feel like family. You don’t feel alone."