Powermad: The Ends Justify The Means
By Clint Roberts
In its 1989 album, “Absolute Power,” American metal band Powermad reflected on a political system that profited from bloodshed and despair, and a society in which money equals power. It was a collision of modern reign and Machiavellian Rule.
Five centuries ago, Niccolo Machiavelli, an Italian historian and philosopher, wrote about political hypocrisy and social divide with cutting candor. His book, “The Prince,” written during the Renaissance, was published in 1532, five years after his death. Machiavelli believed social advancement could be made amidst moral corruption. He believed in the separation of private and public morality, noted the occasional need for violence to transfer power, and the necessity of force to cause change—the ends justify the means.
More than 20 years after creating an album that reflected on Machiavellian Rule – and its bent on social unease, corruption, and conflict – Powermad has returned to the studio with renewed rage and plenty of material about a political system that is unchanged.
Powermad consists of original members Joel DuBay (vocals and guitar), Todd Haug (guitar), and Jeff Litke (bass), who were joined in 2011 by Dirk Verbeuren (drums). The music is complex yet accessible. Technical yet clear. It’s fueled by speed, melody, and depth.
With more contemporary guitar and drums, today’s Powermad is a departure from its work two decades ago. The music is more focused. The lyrics are raw, the riffs bigger, the bass pulsating, and the drums driving. While it has followed a different path, and the recording process took on a blank-page discovery mission, there are subtle echoes of the band’s full-length debut, “Absolute Power.” The recording sessions took on a cascade effect, with each band member influencing the next and pulling from years of knowledge and experience.
Lyrically, DuBay funnels the same anger, in melodic arrangements. After all, piss and vinegar is timeless. He notes there is more rage because things are more important now, and the aperture is broader. The distrust remains of wealth and power; government and authority, and has solidified. It’s written from a new emotional standpoint and unless the lyrics – an in turn the music – make a personal connection with the band members, the song’s not finished. Musically, it melds together with a political and human tinge. It’s vision based on sound. And, it connects to the listener.
Territories, ripe for picking/A sovereign people in decline/Puppets dance, and people die/Men in their towers look away . . .
From Open Mic to Combat
The band formed in 1984 and buzz behind the band moved fast, both in the Twin Cities and nationally. In just a matter of weeks, Powermad had sold out of the original pressing of its debut EP. While the release was simple in design and delivery (only available at local record stores), the music was complex and appealed to a larger audience.
Just weeks after informally kicking off its musical quest, the band’s EP had found its way to Combat Records, based in New York City and label home to Megadeth, the Circle Jerks, Exodus, and many other punk and metal bands. The label debuted a Powermad EP (on cassette and vinyl), and all 2,000 copies of the self-titled release sold in no time.
The band then went back into the studio to record more demos and there was again more interest from labels. Powermad opted to sign with a larger, notable label because of the promise for increased exposure and distribution. Warner Bros. signed the band with the promise to bring the music and the madness to the masses. The band’s second EP, “The Madness Begins”, was released on Warner Bros.’ sister label, Reprise Records. The label took an enterprising approach to marketing the band, which made a memorable impression: Using just one print ad—the one and only print advertisement for “The Madness Begins”—prospective fans were encouraged to send in a cut-out coupon to receive a free cassette of the new album. Reprise had estimated as many as 4,000 copies would be requested by fans, if things went really well, and the band was told to “not get their hopes up.” After more than 40,000 copies were requested, it was clear that Powermad had peoples’ attention. That was in 1988, long before the age of internet buzz and social media reach.
A year later, Powermad went back into the studio to record its first LP, “Absolute Power.” A blood and sweat studio experience that created a reflective and politically relevant album.
When Metal Met Grunge, the Industry Changed
Just before the album’s release, Warner Bros.’ A&R rep called DuBay to share that the band had a rather notable fan. Filmmaker David Lynch had chosen to include Powermad’s “Slaughterhouse” in his movie, “Wild at Heart,” which would go on to win “Best Movie” at the Cannes Film Festival in 1990. Riff by riff, and fan by fan, Powermad was bringing its big thrash can of metal mayhem to the masses.
Before it started recording its next album, though, the tenor and tone changed in the music business. Grunge music slammed on the scene under the anthem, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana. Only long-standing metal acts such as Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, and Ozzy appeared to have staying power, while other bands faded from the spotlight. Even in the midst of an ascent, Powermad was lumped with other rock and metal acts, which were now deemed out of vogue compared to the new intrigue of grunge. A lot of great songs and bands came out of the grunge movement, but not necessarily metal bands. Generally, the grunge movement took the driving guitar out of the forefront. Times had changed. Without industry support, and fans who were now torn between different kinds of music, Powermad went on hiatus in the early 1990s. It wasn’t until much later when DuBay encouraged a meeting of his fellow musical minds, and asked Powermad to regroup.
The Return of the Madness
Some 15 years after it took a backseat to the grunge revolution, Powermad was back at it. The band started to write again, and put its spare time, energy, and resources into making new music. It’s been a more fluid and collaborative experience than previous recording sessions.
Powermad’s been playing select shows and randomly releasing new songs to a core audience. Reviews have been good so the band continued on the path they had forged 20 years before. Impressions made then are still present now.
Powermad’s music from two decades ago still resonates, having been covered by bands such as Charred Walls of the Damned, Symphorce, and other bands around the word, but Powermad’s creations today are pure and inspired. The rage burns on. The music is as brutal as ever. The ends justify the means.