After nearly an 8 year run the footlights went out for the original Headbangers Ball at the end of January 1995. By this point it wasn’t much of a surprise, at least to me. The show had become a shell of its own self. Long gone were the days of rowdy interviews and comical backstage mishaps. The programming shifted into the mainstream rock and grunge thing that was happening at that time and left its roots to rot and die a slow death. During its peak though, the show was my favorite two hours of tv and thus is the focus of this edition of tbt.
It was 1987 when ‘the ball’ started; back then MTV actually played music videos. What was different about this show was seeing some of the bands I had only heard on tape. Furthermore, getting the exposure to bands I had no idea even existed. See, metal has been my thing for a long time and back then I didn’t know anyone else that was into it, outside of Metal Twitter today, I still don’t. So this visual aspect was my way to connect deeper to the music and artists that I held in such high esteem and it gave me a feeling of belonging at a time when I was completely alone in all things metal. Particularly the live footage videos, and all of a sudden I realized that I wasn’t the only one in the world that had this obsession. Back then I didn’t go to shows or have a deep catalog of albums, I tape traded… through snail mail, remember that? Instead of the instant gratification of the present I had to wait weeks and sometimes even months to hear something.
Anyway, to get to see bands like Judas Priest, Voivod, Death, Nuclear Assault and Testament meant more to me than anything and offered me two hours of complete bliss. Sure the focus was more on hair metal but it was better than anything else going on then, plus that’s how I found WASP and Tora Tora. But really it was in the moments when the more extreme videos came on when I was truly mesmerized. Right then and there I knew beyond a shadow of doubt that I would be a lifelong metal fan and that it was not just a passing fad.
As the years went on I never faltered in watching it, even through the transitional period to grunge. Mostly because they would tease me with one really great video, maybe something from Corrosion of Conformity or Metallica, then nothing else for the whole show. But the anticipation and habit kept me watching. It had become an extension of my day to day life and something I couldn’t miss. I still have stacks of vhs tapes that I return to often. The end of the show was abrupt to say the least and I was part of the pissed off crowd that my favorite show was gone. No warning and no explanation. I even felt bad for the host, Riki Rachtman, who was just told he didn’t need to show up for work. As annoying as he could be at times, he was tied to the largest part of the show’s history and was an integral part of my memory of the show.
Looking back on it now, the writing was on the wall. Music shifted and the deep pockets in the industry turned up lint for metal. Even though I still feel like it could’ve been handled differently, there would never have been a good way to end it. The show resurfaced in the 2000’s with Jamey Jasta as host but unfortunately didn’t last, as well as never fully capturing the magic of the original. Recently Jose Mangin hosted the show in a web based platform but just as before it didn’t last long.
Below are just three in a long line of my favorite videos that aired on the original ‘ball’ so dive in and keep the memories alive.
Voivod – “Astronomy Domine”
Nuclear Assault – “Critical Mass”
Tora Tora – “Phantom Rider”