Chivalry, Honor and Crom: Metal on Metal at "For the Glory of Steel"
Words by Liz Ohanesian, photographs by Jackie Canchola. Click images for entire Metal on Metal slideshow.
Chivalry, honor and the spirit of a ruthless Cimmerian god abound Saturday night at the Steve Allen Theater in For the Glory of Steel, where tournament battles following the militaristic and societal codes of the Middle Ages presented by the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) met up with the mosh pit chaos of L.A. band Crom for a night of metal madness. Limbs were severed, sweat was flung from thrashing chunks of hair and in the end we weren't sure if we had visited a violently gallant past or stumbled into a lawless alternate present.
The SCA, an international organization that aims to recreate aspects of medieval life, came from lands tucked inside the the Kingdom of Caid, a grand conquest that includes what modern men and women know as Southern California, Greater Las Vegas and Hawaii. They represented primarily the Baronies of the Angels (parts of Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley), Altavia (San Fernando Valley) and Gyldenholt (Orange County), dressed in their battle best and prepared to raise swords in a "heavy metal parking lot" complete with long-haired guys in cut-off denim jackets.
Meanwhile, Crom emerged from the shadows of L.A. clubs and DIY spaces with penchants for black metal and Conan the Barbarian, bearing guitar riffs that actually live up to the album review cliche "brutal" and manage to leave a trail of blood and spilt beer in their wake. Vice Magazine loves these guys. Your prissy childhood best friend probably doesn't. They had come to brandish axes towards our insignificant skulls.
And so the question was asked, who would be victorious in the
great engagement of Metal vs. Metal?
And so the question was asked, who would be victorious in the great engagement of Metal vs. Metal?
Like all good tournaments, this one began with a simple one-on-one match, with each successive scrimmage growing in complexity and number of participants until it culminated in a melee. But even when the SCA members are in the throes of a heated, large-scale bout, they keep their code of conduct in check. There are no referees here, the marshals at the side of the ring exist only to protect the crowd of onlookers, and all sword-wielders must fight on an honor system. If someone strikes your arm forcefully, you must continue fighting as though you have been maimed. If your opponent delivers a good blow to your other arm, you're dead. Monty Python cries of "It's just a flesh wound" don't cut it here.
But there were actual flesh wounds Saturday night. Even though the swords are made of rattan and duct tape, which approximate the size of a period weapon without resulting in pesky mortal wounds, a hit from one of these rods can hurt and the members of the SCA have the injuries to prove it. One fifteenth century Swiss fighter who goes by the name Jethro de Calcy des Excurtynyx showed us a gash on his left hand after the tournament. Like most of the other members of the group, he practices once a week and typically participates in an event every weekend. Also like the SCA members, his clothing abides by the tradition of the era and country he represents, not only in appearance, but also in craftsmanship, and is either handmade by himself or obtained through barters with other members.
Founded in Berkley in 1966 as a May Day event, the SCA aims to educate as well as entertain. In between matches, the fighters leaned over the sidelines to answer questions from the audience. Both children and adults were in awe and a few members of Crom lamented the impossibility of playing a gig dressed in fifteen pounds of armor. Alas, on this night, the band waged battle in battered jeans, T-shirts and Iron Maiden Vans.
I've known the dudes from Crom for a decade and can tell you two things for certain: They can literally cause a ceiling to crumble and any surprise guests during the show are probably from LAPD and most likely aren't there to have a good time. The SCA operates on honor and chivalry. Crom's on-stage maxim is barbarism and Conan-styled debauchery.
But something happened on this fateful night. Crom played and nothing broke. No one was hurt and no cops spoiled the party. Sure there were commanding growls for "more mead" and guitarist Scott Martin did try to challenge Sir Philippe de Tournay, a fifteenth century knight from the Court of Avignon, and Jethro de Calcy des Excurtynyx to "beat the shit" out of him, and yes, those old enough to know better did mosh as though they were recreating a medieval melee, but it was, at least by this band's standards, a tame show. Could a new age of Crom be upon us? Could it be that the SCA is the only group capable of subduing a band as harsh as Robert E. Howard's fictional deity?
Probably not. We'll call this one a draw.