Billing itself as 'Your Authority On The Metal Underground,' Toronto magazine Unrestrained! recently celebrated both its fifth anniversary and the appearance of its twentieth issue. This is not something to sneeze at given how far the thin and once-photocopied fanzine has come. Unrestrained!'s eighty-odd pages are now read throughout the metal community, quoted by the industry and boast approximately a circulation of no less than 10,000 copies every three months. This is quite a feat given how the magazine was launched smack in the middle of heavy metal's commercial trough and how it can now be obtained at most respectable bookstores and beyond. Who are the guys responsible for the work? The masthead proclaims Adam Wasylyk as Editor/Writer and Adrian Bromley as Co-Editor/Writer and it was the latter who sat down with Ali "The Metallian" at The Oaken Chamber of Metallian Towers recently to speak uninhibitedly about the magazine, the music and the scene as a whole - 14.12.2002
"I have a very fucked-up family, really. Not in a bad way mind you, it's just how things came to be." Bromley is introducing himself. While many might be familiar with the name through the written output, it is interesting to find out more about the person doing the writing. "My parents are both Australians who moved to Canada. They adopted my sister and then a few years later my mom gave birth to twins in 1971 - my brother Dean and I. We moved around quite a bit as my dad worked for General Electric - in Michigan, Upstate New York and Connecticut in the USA- before settling in Mexico in 1980."
He continues by answering the unuttered question, "My sister was into AC/DC, Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath in the late 1970's, the same time my brother and I were getting into Kiss. We never paid much attention to her music, as we worshipped Kiss back then. Eventually in the early 80's (circa 1981 or so) I discovered Iron Maiden, Ozzy Osbourne and Def Leppard. It was an exciting time for me as I bought any magazine, album or tape that featured my favourite bands, as well as hearing many more bands thanks to stories in metal magazines and videos played on MTV.
"I was always into the mainstream sound of metal and hard rock, but as the years went on I wanted to hear heavier music like Slayer, Overkill and Metallica. Maybe it was the restless teenager in me wanting to be violent and hyper all at once, but I loved the loudness of the music blaring from my speakers. Furthermore, the world of writing was something in which I was always interested. I actually wrote short stories as a youngster and throughout school was fond of doing stories for class assignments. In the eleventh grade I met a newspaper teacher named Jack Epstein who got me interested in the world of writing. I was excited by it all - the deadlines, the interviews and the creativity involved.
"When I graduated from high school in Mexico City I moved to Toronto to go to school. I worked for a while before attending Centennial College in the Journalism program. There I was really adamant about being a sports writer, but soon realized my passion lied in music and entertainment writing. I got a writing position at the school's paper, The Siren, where I eventually became the Entertainment Editor." At this point things begin to take a distinctly metal turns. Continues Bromley, "it was during one of my school assignments, on junkets, at college that I ran into Drew Masters of M.E.A.T. Magazine. I interviewed him and after the interview he asked me to submit a concert review. I was so excited. One thing led to another and I was soon working alongside Drew and the staff at M.E.A.T. while still at college. It was great working for the magazine, but my participation lasted only a few years as the magazine folded. After which I initiated a metal e-zine called Chronicles Of Chaos with pal Gino Filicetti (www.chroniclesofchaos.com), one of the first online metal e-zines in the world. Even though I left the e-zine earlier this year to work on Unrestrained! full-time, it is still around and going strongly after seven years.
"If it hadn't been for M.E.A.T., CoC and the contacts I made with both, Unrestrained! would have never come into existence."
It sounds simple enough, yet it rarely is. Many suppose writing and editing a magazine is mostly about fun 'n' games listening to one's favourite style of music on a diet of freebies. There is more to it than that, isn't there? - much more. Bromley details the magazine's foundation and touches on more specifics. In his own words, "the magazine came about when fellow CoC writer Adam Wasylyk and I decided to put together a 'zine. The idea had been thrown around within the staff of CoC, but no one had an interest in going after advertising, et cetra. They just wanted a free publication done on their own time and money. Problems arose and the plans for an issue were scratched. Both Adam and I decided to assemble a magazine using my connections in the music industry and his computer skill and vision.
"We decided to have the magazine released on a quarterly schedule which allowed us time between issues to breathe and do quality work. We didn't want to rush anything. Taking the time to do an issue is just as important as getting a good interview into the magazine.
"The first issue had 24 pages, of which we printed 1,000 copies," remembers Bromley. "Five years later we are at 80 pages, glossy paper, colour cover and 10,000 copies. The magazine is available throughout Canada and North America, parts of Asia, Mexico and Europe. Chapters, Indigo and Barnes & Noble are solid chains and you can find our current issue at all of them. With each year in existence the magazine grows and hopefully by this time next year we will be at 15,000 copies. We also have a website which we update weekly with news and stories located at www.unrestrainedmag.com."
What Bromley did not touch upon is the division of power and responsibility. Given how the magazine is a partnership of two, a clear delineation of responsibilities has to exist. For nary a venture survives past the perceived slights and irresponsibilities one partner may feel towards the other. It is called human nature. "Even though in the masthead of the magazine it says Editor Adam Wasylyk and Co-Editor Adrian Bromley, we are both equal partners in Unrestrained!," Bromley is happy to point out. "All decisions are made between the two of us. It has always been that way and it has worked out fine for five years, so why change it? We both work well off one-another"
The proof is in the pudding as the saying goes. Having said that, there has to be more to it than that simple notion. How, then, do they avoid a sour case of too many chefs? Seems Bromley has a picture of why it has worked so well in mind. "Adam and I are like the Laurel and Hardy of the extreme music scene," he asserts perhaps humourously as he is clearly laughing. "What I mean is, we both need one another to balance things out, to make things happen and push this magazine down the same road we have always wanted it to travel. If there were a third partner involved, then there would be problems. I am the hyper one - hence the nickname 'The Energizer' - and Adam is the calm one. We are perfectly matched to work together; if not for the strong friendship we have, then for the real passion we have for metal music across the board."
It is time to roll up the proverbial sleeves and get into the nitty gritty of Unrestrained! a little more. The first thing one notices on the cover of the magazine is the exclamation mark attached to the logo. Now, as any mallcore fan worth his salt knows, the same punctuation mark has always adorned England's Kerrang!, a magazine known more for its stylized trend-hopping than any kind of musical coverage or journalistic worth. So, one has to wonder whether Kerwank has had an influence on Unrestrained!'s logo. If so, one has to strongly wonder why the editors are trying to be offensive to the metal fan. Thankfully, albeit not unexpectedly, Bromley is adamant that the connection is coincidental. "No, that was never the case," he blurts right off the bat. "The word 'unrestrained' has an independent feel to it, to not be held back or tied down, to be free from restriction. We just wanted the name to jut out at you and make a statement, to tell people we stand for what we deliver with each issue. We always have the magazine' s name in caps and with an exclamation mark it just makes a strong impression we think."
The use of the word 'strong' necessitates an uncompromising and stringent focus on metal. This, though is not the case with Unrestrained! So, very simply, the question is why do you cover non-metal bands? "I knew you'd ask that question," claims Bromley while, in the process, backhandedly complimenting the interviewer, "and I'll tell you why. Adam and I, as well as a good portion of the staff, are very open-minded when it comes to music and while we are metalheads, we like to sample a lot of what else is going on. The bands we have covered in the magazine that aren't metal, we believe, have an extreme angle, sound or characteristic that can easily carry over into many of the metal bands we have featured. I can confidently say that we have always stood by the bands we have featured.
"I think early on we were doing many interviews with bands which were available to us more so than others that were harder to reach, but now that has changed and we always make an effort to bring new sounds, styles and ideas into the magazine. Diversity has always been important for us, but so has originality. We cover many bands other magazines do not cover and that makes us feel proud. Our readers love that quality about us."
He speaks with conviction when asked about covering non-metal bands, yet the slogan reads 'Your Authority On The Metal Underground.' The question is put to the interviewee that the contradiction may be deemed as either misleading or commercialism. "If you have followed the magazine since the early days, we threw that slogan onto the magazine cover beginning within Issue 11 - we are currently at issue 20. Previously the slogan was 'Canada's Authority On The Metal Underground.' We changed it to the current one when we started growing in size and getting good distribution in North America. I think people who know the magazine and pick it know that they are going to get an ample amount of metal coverage from the underground, but also know we are going to have bands that fit into the extreme mould some way or another. I don't think it is misleading at all - it states that we are a worthy source of underground material. It just so happens that a portion of the magazine showcases other forms of music. Most of our readers enjoy discovering newer bands they would not normally read about.. If people don't like the bands we cover that aren't part of the metal underground (and some don't), then they skip to the next story."
Bromley has a point. Still, his claim to individuality is somewhat negated by how almost every other 'metal' magazine heralds the same policy. Regardless, there are not many magazines out there which have grown to national distribution with availability from the Maritimes to British Columbia and yet give anything, other than token coverage, to underground bands. Unrestrained! has indeed maintained its attention to the more subterranean strata of bands. Speaking of coverage though and taking the cue from Bromley's own impassioned speech about the magazine one has to ask what his definition of metal journalism is. "Metal journalism, to me, is the responsible act of bringing a band to the forefront - whether it be by a review or story - and helping showcase an angle about the band that people can read about," Bromley asserts in a manner that makes me think the topic has previously crossed his mind. He continues, "and from that the reader should come away with a good idea whether they will pursue the band or not.. Being creative and passionate about what you are involved in, especially in this type of journalism, is key."
Does metal journalism also imply warning people away from abysmal or needlessly hyped bands? "I think as a magazine, people expect to be informed some way or another about a band that is hyped," affirms Bromley in his sincere manner. "I think if there is a review of a band - good or bad - people will take that to heart and either look into a release or avoid it like the plague. Some people I know like to check out bands that get slagged just to see if they are into the music, perhaps something the reviewer missed or just didn't latch onto that the particular person did. Like any magazine covering metal music, opinions are expressed and people can take it for what it is. If a review says an album such and such is just hype then people take note for the most part, but then there are those who want to hear it for themselves."
Has journalism been a factor in your and the other contributors' writing? "Unrestrained! has always been about showcasing bands through fair, responsible and well-written metal journalism," contends the co-editor."I think so, for myself at least. I know for a fact that most of the staff didn't go to Journalism school (with the exception of Alex Ristic), but did go to college or university. I learned a lot in the Journalism program at Centennial College and I use a lot of that for my writing. Interview techniques, writing styles, getting a good story angle, et cetra. By having those skills I feel more confident when doing my job for the magazine."
While on the topic, is Unrestrained! looking for new writers? If yes, be specific and explain how one goes about applying. "Right now we are not. We have acquired several new writers over the past few issues. Adam and I are very pleased with the new blood coming into the mix. If we are ever in search of new writers, Adam and I will scope out people who have either contacted us or writers who we read and like and who could offer something of substance to Unrestrained!"
Going back to the earlier-discussed theme of journalism, there is no doubt in anyone's mind, be it at the industry's or the readers' end, that the metal scene is suffering under an acute dearth of quality and objective writing. What that alludes to is how the media is practically treated as the mouthpiece for the bands and record labels as opposed to advocates for the bread and butter of the industry, i.e. the music-buying public. The sham is sooner or later liable to break under its own weight. In this context, Bromley is asked if he can compare Unrestrained! with the competition. In short, how is your magazine more deserving of the public's money than the competition? "We have always gone out and tried to be creative, to create our own vision of what we wanted to be, which is a nicely assembled, glossy magazine covering the underground," explains Bromley. He then adds, "When it comes to other magazines, I think we don't really try to worry about how they look or what they are doing. As a main decision-maker for the magazine I want to make sure that we are offering our readers a great issue to pick up with a cover story on a band that is worthy of a title and is not just the flavour of the month.
"We put a lot of hard work and decision-making into who goes on the cover. It isn't decided by sales' considerations or how good the album is, but rather by who we feel is worthy and what we think readers will want to see. The band on the cover needs to fit the essence of what we are all about as a publication."
Your answer indicates to me that you prefer to be cagey with this question as opposed to doing a head-to head comparison. "No, I just answered how I wanted to respond to the question. In no way was I unwilling. I don't have a problem pointing out how Unrestrained! is different from other magazines. I think there are many good magazines out there for metal fans to read, magazines like Brave Words & Bloody Knuckles, Terrorizer, Metal Maniacs and Rip N' Tear. The great thing is that Unrestrained! is similar in some ways to those magazines, but also very different in our coverage and attitude.
"BW&BK: Well, if there was any magazine that was a competitor to us in North America, it would be BW&BK. I have always been a fan of the magazine and while I don't read all of the material, I do like many of the writers and the 'Hot Boxes' of information. With the tons of news featured I call them the Sears' Catalog of the metal world - everything on all genres of metal and hard rock is in it. Metal Tim Henderson has done a good job of taking this magazine to new heights each year. The great thing about BW&BK and Unrestrained! is that while we are both large magazines covering metal, we couldn't be any more different. We are totally opposite magazines for the most part when it comes to coverage, with a few bands covered by both magazines. That to me is cool - offering two quality magazines with two distinct personalities.
"Terrorizer: I love the look of the magazine and the diversity of coverage, but sometimes just can't get into the writing. Maybe it is a British thing? They usually have a good pulse on what's hot in the underground though and usually go out of their way with big features to cover that. That I like, but sometimes they do these cover stories just to sell issues with a big new release.
"Metal Maniacs: I like the stories, although I hate the layout. The layout is the worst thing about the magazine. I think the American magazine covers the more mainstream market of the metal community. They have a wicked print run and distribution and really get out there.
"Pit: Don't even get me started on this magazine. I don't like it at all and I used to write for it a long time ago. I just think the interviews are poor, the layout is mediocre and overall it seems lacking in inspiration. Needless to say, I don't ever pick it up."
This creates an ideal time to pose a question regarding the coverage of Canadian music to Bromley. Namely, to ask him how he believes Unrestrained! has been a contributor to the Canadian metal scene. His answer is straightforward if a little typical. "I think we have provided a quality magazine that has always - to this day - supported small indie labels, zines and bands in promoting their material. We have always been open-armed to helping get a band's name out there when we can, either with a review or an interview. It is important being Canadian and having that known by all those who pick up our magazine. Even though we are distributed all over the world, I want people to still know that we are from Canada and are proud of our scene."
Can Bromley address the subject of supporting the Canadian metal scene aside from how he is located in Canada? Bromley points out that, "beside being from this country, as you would try to help any scene, we keep an open network and let bands, labels, et cetra know that we are here to help, which is the way things have always been for us. We have always tried to help and support bands which we think are great assets to the Canadian scene. You need to go to shows, show support and just be willing to give people a chance. We pride ourselves on how we handle things and the way we give our best in exposing bands, scenes, and labels that come from here."
As to how he sees the metal scene, "I think the Canadian music scene is starting to see many good bands surfacing. It is far better than it was when we started out five years ago. Now there are more bands, more diverse styles and we've noticed a lot more stamina displayed by bands to get noticed. I think the international metal scene is quite healthy as well, there are many great bands out there. Although there are too many bands being pushed by labels that were obviously assembled to sell records or follow trends. I can't complain about metal music in 2002, there are many great albums that came out this year and still a few more to come."
Unfortunately an integral part of running a magazine is dealing with the politics of the industry. Readers may not be aware of how much subtle and explicit pressure is applied upon the media. Being vulnerable, that is relying upon promotional product and advertising, much of the coverage in the media is manipulated. The result of this short-sighted status quo is an uneven playing field for all concerned. The situation is actually so bad that no less than a record company proprietor, namely Paul Thind of Necropolis Records, warned Metallian's readers in an earlier interview that they should doubt the veracity of the positive reviews they read. "There is a level of politics in running a magazine, but it is only a nuisance if you let it get out of control." opines Unrestrained's Bromley. "I think we have done a good job of keeping the essence of the magazine intact without having to cave into any bullshit politics that I have seen many magazines fall into i.e. M.E.A.T. I think both Adam and I are too into what we do to have someone dictate how things are going to be, when we damn well know what has to happen for us to continue carrying out the goals of this magazine. Being honest to yourself and your cause is the best way to stay free of politics."
Let us be more specific about this issue, Adrian. In order to shed more light upon this situation, and in your estimation, how much pressure is exerted on you mentally or commercially to cover bands or to skew your reviews? "We have never received any pressure from labels to cover certain bands or run a feature," contends Bromley in an assured tone. "As the years have gone on, we have managed to become very determined to only put bands in the magazine that we want to see covered. Labels understand we are a certain way and they still advertise even if it means only a review and no features, et cetra. They know our magazine gets out there and people are faithful to us picking it up at newsstands. All of those who write for the magazine are very passionate about the music and how they go about writing. What you read in their reviews is how they called it - whether someone likes the review or not!"
Fair enough. Before we go on, you mentioned M.E.A.T. magazine with which you got your professional start. "It was a great experience for me,."acknowledges Bromley. "I learned a lot about the business - the good and the bad - and it really got my foot in the door. Looking back I am proud of what I did with the magazine but the tail-end of the magazine, shortly before its demise, I just felt the magazine was changing too much and not delivering the goods. With Unrestrained! I never want to get to the point where it feels like we are just going out and doing an issue just to get one out. The fire has to be there with each issue. I will always say good things about my days at M.E.A.T., but to be honest, it kind of came to a crashing halt and that was kind of sad."
Experience was earned and compartmentalized. In this context, and being five years down the line, how do you envision your magazine into the future. What are your goals? Bromley is quick with this answer, "Plain and simple: another five years. I will be happy if we can get to the ten-years mark with the magazine. That would be a great accomplishment for us. I just want us to stay the same and not change for anything. A lot of people say they won't change and they do and I don't want Unrestrained! to be like that. I think both Adam and I would stop the magazine if we felt it was shifting in a different direction than what we have planned out for it. We are right where we want to be now after five years."
Something that can be an impediment to the aforementioned progress is the plague of scams (labels ripping off bands and the media, media ripping off the readers, bands ripping off customers, etc.) riddling the metal scene. The question had to be posed, perhaps as something of a long-shot, whether Unrestrained! has so far been victimized. So far so good - well mostly - says Bromley. "Believe it or not, there have only been a few companies that have ripped us off over the last few years and for that we feel very lucky (knocks on wood). The first case was Van Richter Records and it was in our debut issue - it was a dispute over an advertisement placement and whatnot. We went back and forth over a few months and nothing was resolved. We severed ties with him and to this day his lame signings have never been in our magazine. We also got screwed when Song Corporation (a distributor for many foreign labels in Canada) went under while owing us money for advertising from several labels. We lost about $1,400, but it could have been $8,000+ with all that was owed to us. We dodged a bullet with that situation. We have also had problems with a handful of labels not paying us on time, but nothing really outrageous."
Interesting, yet in an earlier conversation Bromley had noted the magazine's difficulties with California's Necropolis Records in the same regard. "Necropolis is one of those labels that seems to have been going through a lot of internal problems over the last few months including money, staff, distribution, et cetra. and it has really plagued our work with them, "comments Bromley addressing my question. "We get paid late for advertisements and it is a hassle sometimes getting interviews set up - although it hasn't been recently. It is almost a chore to deal with them when it shouldn't be. We work hard and try to promote good metal and when you have to go out of your way to work with a label that has stuff to offer, it is a little annoying. They have a solid roster now, which includes Impaled, Incantation and Phobia and the new year looks promising."
Bromley promotes metal through his writing for other media outlets. One we have already touched upon is Chronicles Of Chaos although, as mentioned, that is now mostly history."The only other magazine I freelance for is Metal Maniacs," he states. "It is a great job because I can get my name out there more and help bring some of my writing and metal knowledge to the pages of Metal Maniacs, but at the same time not worry about advertising and so forth. I do the interviews, write them up and they go to press whenever. I think that magazine was not doing much for many after former editor Jeff Wagner left which worried people, but I think with myself and a few good writers, some who are new and some who are old, we have managed to inject some life back into it. I am proud of my work at Metal Maniacs as I am with Unrestrained!
"The reason I left CoC is simple: it was too much to handle. I was the coordinator of that magazine and doing a lot of work and in essence doing a lot of the writing. They have a considerably-sized staff, but a lot of people would only submit a few stories from time to time. I was always coming up with last minute features. It was a lot of work and was seriously taking away from the time I was spending with Unrestrained! I left on good terms and I plan to possibly submit a story here and there - nothing right now though."
What is your take on the international sociopolitical situation? "I am aware of what is going on," begins answering Bromley. "I watch the news everyday, but again I really have no interest. Sure I don't want to see another war start and want terrorism to come to an end, but deep down inside I know that I really have no control over what is going on. People pledge their lives to making decision and carrying out actions and luckily I am not in their situation. I don't want to go to war. In short, I look out for myself and my friends and try to live my life to the fullest."
Bromley is also a movie buff. It might be interesting to get his picks, in two senses, both of the more recent movies and older flicks. "Oh man, there are so many movies I have seen that were brilliant and yet deserved a bigger audience. The movies I loved recently were Frailty, The Deep End, Gosford Park, Bowling For Columbine and Punch-Drunk Love. Check them out if you can. I was disappointed with Red Dragon which was a great film, but needed to be scarier, Star Wars: Episode 2 which was good, but could have been better, Reign of Fire, Scooby-Doo, and Halloween: Resurrection. I love horror films and this franchise, but this one was awful!"
There you have it, the complete interview even though the editors would not provide Metallian with back issues ! Unrestrained! can be reached c/o Adam Wasylyk, 5625 Glen Erin Drive, Unit 57, Mississauga Canada L5M 6V2. The web site is located at www.unrestrainedmag.com. One can order a single issue for $5 from the same address. For a one-year subscription please enclose $20 to the same address. Tell them Kerrang! sent you.
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