The Ghosts Of Metal Past: Of fate, friendship and fast food

We remember the folks who were around when we started listening to metal. One of the people I have a vivid memory of is my old friend Robert Dyer: a wild haired guitar aficionado that sat next to me in many a math class during our four years at a parochial prep school. Robert often watched in horror as I attacked my desk with a high school issue compass, which the TSA would classify as a weapon today. Robert was unforgettable: he was shy but incredibly warm and good-natured and had a wonderfully dry sense of humor. He was also one of the few guys who learned how to play guitar instead of just talking about how cool it would be to shred. We had many conversations about the brilliance of Ace Frehley – who was charting a solo career – and shared the early Metallica albums. Robert was way more into classical and proggy stuff; I liked and still appreciate more extreme fare. So Robert never ran with Slayer and Venom quite like I did, or got into Darkthrone later down the road. Stratovarius and Malmsteen? That's his speed.

What was important is that we were fans, and friends. When many of our high school classmates were singularly focused on college and futures as bankers or attorneys, we talked about records. It's nice to find the people who share your passions. One of our passions was metal. It certainly wasn’t geometry.

Perhaps my greatest memory of Robert was when he played the high school talent show. As you have surmised Robert’s last name is Dyer. His band's name: Dyers Eve. Pretty much everyone thought it was a take off on his last name; those in the know immediately picked up the Metallica reference from ...And Justice For All. Like the double entendres in AC/DC songs, it worked well regardless of interpretation. Robert didn’t win the talent show; it was probably a Tone Loc imitator. But I sure as shit don’t remember anyone else who played.

I’ve always wondered what happened to my old friend Robert, and if he was doing well. I’m happy to report that he is. Through the visionary power known as the Internet I learned that Robert now has a bustling practice as a fast food reviewer on YouTube. He’s reviewed every product that public health advocates have warned you about, and done so with gusto.

His reviews are getting noticed: Robert’s channel has close to 200,000 views at this writing, and many of his commenters are return visitors. I don’t know how anyone could see his droll but often spot on reviews and not envision him on television so if we have any connected readers please forward them the link. But focusing on fast food would short-change Robert; he’s recorded and released an album; run for office (as a Republican) in Montgomery County, Maryland (where he can verbally joust with the best of them) and started a websites to showcase local businesses. We both agree that life hasn’t turned out quite like we expected (Robert’s a Republican for starters) but Robert has made the most of the mixed bag we all receive. So, I decided to e-mail my old friend and see if he'd be up to talk and allow me to record it. And he was more than game.

Jeff Hanneman's passing was a stark reminder that life is often shorter than we'd like. This conversation happened weeks before Hanneman's death but seems especially poignant given that he was one of the icons of our youth. Remember your old friends and don’t be afraid to reconnect. So ladies and gentlemen – welcome, WELCOME – my old friend Robert to the Deciblog.

Robert was even cool enough to run out to Barnes and Noble and grab a copy of Decibel. We begin this week’s blog post with Robert's new video review of our magazine. My favorite part: his aside that Barney Greenway must mean business because he has a rotary phone. Hey Robert, you need to subscribe and get a copy of Albert's book, too!

How much of a run did you make at the musical career after we graduated from high school?

I did go on to college and I was totally focused on being a professional recording artist and breaking into the business. It was more challenging than I expected. It seemed like if you didn’t have connections, you were on your own. I always did home recordings and I did some studio recordings in the mid-90s that I shopped around record labels. I got sidelined for a few years in the mid-90s when I had wrist surgery. Since I recovered I haven’t had any problems. I finally figured out I would just finance my own independent recordings. I put out a record called Out For Revenge in 2000. At the same time I majored in Latin American history at the University of Maryland. I had the opportunity to specialize and I picked the field because it interested me.

Did you keep up with metal in the 90s?

The funny thing was that once we got to the Nirvana years the guitar magazines all switched over to grunge or alternative. So I just cancelled my subscriptions! I was listening to some of the names that went forward like Yngwie Malmsteen and George Lynch. Dokken got back together at one point, I think. I would listen to a lot of things from the small labels. I just kept listening to bands I liked from 80s. I haven’t been great at keeping up but, ultimately, I’ve found that I always go back to the 70s and 80s. The music was better.

We both loved Metallica although we could never get you fully on the Slayer train. What did you think of the path Metallica took? Of course, your band’s name was Dyers Eve.

Their career never matched the first three albums. I think a lot of artists have that period where they just make classic material and have classic performances, then never match that package again. But I do think they’ve done good stuff. They had some good stuff on the most recent albums but it doesn’t feel the same. If I was going to tell someone the Metallica albums to get it would be the first three. Master Of Puppets has it all: production, sound, songwriting. Even ...And Justice For All was a little too dry for me. I like the big sound.

The whole thing with the band name Dyers Eve was funny. I dropped an apostrophe to make sure people understood but no one did!

Decibel covers some of the extreme ends of metal – black metal, death metal, grindcore. Did you ever sample that music?

It just depends on the sound of the band. In the early years of high school you remember I listened to a lot of hardcore and punk. I did listen to more speed metal but I never had a collection of those genres. I will listen to any type of metal but I tend to prefer things in a minor key. If there’s a really heavy band that has a classical influence and a dramatic sound then I probably will listen to it no matter the genre.

That probably explains why we could never get you into Venom.

Yeah (laughs). I was a big fan of Megadeth. But for some reason I never got into some of the contemporaries. I tend to prefer more of that Euro metal sound, even things like the Scorpions. Megadeth certainly has minor key scales. That’s probably why I didn’t like bands that are heavy for the sake of heavy.

So, how did you end up doing fast food reviews online? You have more than 150,000 page views on YouTube.

I’ve always liked American food and fast food. A lot of the food available now wasn’t available where and when we grew up. I’ve always been a fan of McDonalds and Burger King. So, basically, what I did was share my passions. People really seem to like the food reviews. I did an unboxing of the McDonalds Angus burger and I got more hits than ever. That’s gone over 10,000 and it’s probably more now. At the time I was getting 100 views or less per video. This December I started to do a Christmas countdown with Christmas related food. And in between that McDonalds put out a lot of new products. The fast food reviews got the most views by far so I gave them more emphasis. It seems to be what people want to see.

When you hear about fast food in our culture it’s like Michael Bloomberg trying to cap soda sizes. Or you hear about calorie counts or the downsides. But you celebrate it.

There’s definitely an element of my personal philosophy in there about what government should be telling us about what to eat and drink. The hypocrisy that goes on is funny. Beyonce recently endorsed Pepsi and I didn’t hear a lot of criticism. And I think she was part of some campaign about healthy eating – it was “Let’s Move” or something. I’m not suggesting people go out and drink galloons of soda. But I think it’s funny how they can talk about how sodas are killing kids and then endorse Pepsi. I don’t see anything wrong with fast food as an option. There’s certainly a lot of elitism toward people who don’t have a lot of money and eat it. I just don’t think government has any place in what people can eat and drink and restricting it.

I have to ask you, though: how do you eat this food and stay healthy? You look pretty much the same, which is a good thing.

I think because I do the videos people think I eat fast food 24-7. I actually eat a lot less fast food than you would think. For all my personal opinions I hardly drink any soda at all. For the last ten plus years I’ve worked out pretty much every day. So that’s part of why I’ve never seen these things as a health crisis. I eat it in moderation as part of a balanced diet and I exercise every day.

I just think it would be funny if someone recognized you at the gym and was like “what is this guy doing here?”

I do a lot on my own, actually. I walk three or four miles a day. I have some weights and I put my own routine together. It’s really helped me. When I ran for office I had to go to thousands of doors and it was second nature because I do so much walking. If a person sticks on a regular regimen there’s no reason they can’t sample what I review.

How do you go about selecting food to review? There were certain things I didn’t even know I existed like onion ring potato chips.

My interest in fast foods and snacks is the same as the other guy. Anything with bacon really jumps out at me. I like things that are unusual or decadent. Sometimes, that’s part of the appeal. Wendy’s had something called the "Baconator" that was so over-the-top. I just look for things I think I would enjoy eating.

Many bloggers and video critics end up getting courted by major brands. People like you now have as much of a voice as the major critics.

Well, there are also some people on YouTube that take an elitist, condescending approach to fast food. They’ll talk about how it’s a horrible product that’s horrible for us but let’s try it, anyway. I just take the products at face value. I don’t think anyone would claim their burger is as good as a steak or lobster. I do find that some things offered by fast food – when they get it right -- can be as good as anything put out by a restaurant. I try to offer an alternative to the tired old critics or the hipsters. I’m just an average guy who appreciates fast food and American food and will give an honest review.

I remember when we were growing up we were besieged with messages about how awful metal is. Yet a few decades later I can email you out the blue and we start a conversation like no time has passed. I have to think there’s a magic to the music. Once you are part of the community you are part of it for life.

That’s definitely true. It’s like you just walked down the hallway and started talking to me at school. Metal fans tend to be – even if they don’t realize it –more creative and intellectual and think through the big issues. Behind the volume, metal dating back to Sabbath has been about the average person trying to wrap their mind around huge issues like war, ethics and political ideologies. You don’t get that listening to a boy band. When you are part of the community --even if you just think it’s something rebellious -- you are subconsciously thinking about the big questions that face everyone. All of the controversy and fears people had about metal, look, we turned out fine! We’re upstanding members of the community.

Our high school teachers would probably be proud of this conversation.

Yup (laughs). The things we’re doing aren’t what some people would think come from a steady diet of heavy metal listening. You’re writing. I’m doing things in the community – not just running for office but also working as an advocate for the disabled. Fans of heavy metal tend to be very engaged with the world around them.

Does this mean I can show up unannounced at your house with a six-pack and a dozen Cool Ranch Dorito Tacos?

(Laughs). Why don’t we wait until they make a taco based on the Jumpin’ Jacks Dorito?

*****

Follow all of Robert Dyer's reviews -- subscribe to his YouTube channel.

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