Ed Duke is a closet headbanger. Nothing in his outward demeanor would indicate that his listening preferences point to the extreme edges of rock's darkest fantasyland: thrash metal. Duke, clean-cut and 43, works as assistant manager of a thrift store in East San Diego. In his spare time he feeds his alter ego "Edtrax" via Thrash Unlimited and Thrash Unlimited Radio, a locally based Web forum and Web radio station devoted to international indie thrash. He is cofounder and content manager of both. I wonder how Ed Duke reconciles his dual identity.
"We've been stereotyped for so long into head-banging, beer-drinking pot smokers, and it's just not true," he says, in deference, I suppose, to the legion of metalheads who are head-banging, beer-drinking, tattooed, shaved-headed, metal-studded pot smokers. "It's amazing," he says. "Thrash-metal fans are by far probably the nicest group of people you could ever meet."
What exactly is thrash metal? "Death metal is actually thrash metal with deep, growling vocals. If you take away the Cookie Monster growling and add a cleaner style of vocals, you'd have a thrash- metal band." That, he says, and "absolute technical perfection."
"The '80s were indeed a unique era for thrash," he e-mails later. That's when he heard his first thrash. "I traded band tapes with fans from Brazil, Canada, New Zealand, and also Japan as well as Poland and Mexico. I treasure those days. I must add that tape trading was a crucial element of the underground thrash scene." In the days before the Internet, Duke says that fans of indie and Euro-thrash connected through fanzines and metal mags like Circus and Hit Parader and Metal Edge. "Without tape trading," he says, "Metallica would likely never have gained the widespread recognition that eventually broke them on a worldwide scale."
Thrash Unlimited (thrashunlimited.com) was started by Duke and a fellow thrash historian ("that's what we call ourselves") named Karoshiga. "Part of why we created Thrash Unlimited," says Duke, "was for our desire to start an online community of like-minded thrash individuals." As of January 28, the site claimed 276 registered users of its forums. The newest registered user, it advertised, was someone named Aggressor.
Thrash Unlimited Radio (http://www.live365.com/stations/edtrax) grew out of the success of the Thrash Unlimited forums and Duke's lifelong desire to be a DJ. He programs all of the Web radio station's content.
"My collection of thrash metal spans from the earliest years of thrash, all the way back to the very beginning, as far back as Motörhead. Bands like Artillery, Whiplash, and Viking, bands that were overshadowed by, you know, Metallica and Slayer. Those early and virtually unknown bands were definitely plagued by promotional problems that basically led them into obscurity. And I felt that people needed to hear them." TU Radio also features unsigned and indie talent.
"I get a daily geographical statistic report that tells me where all the listeners are from and how long they're listening." Duke says the worldwide response to the radio station surpasses anything he could have imagined. "I'm looking at a report right now...the listeners that are tuned in are from Lithuania, Russia, the U.K., Ireland, Italy, Belgium, Finland, Australia, Chile, Poland, Peru, Turkey, the U.S., Sweden, Spain, and a country I can't pronounce....
"I thought I was the first one who ever had an MP3 player, to be honest with you. I had an Empeg or something way back in '99. The one that I use right now is a simple little iRiver 256 -- and I have an iPod, and it sucks. I have the little Nano thing. It sounds like shit. The sound quality is just not what I want. My ears are really perceptive to tones, and the Nano has a real dead, flat tone. The trebles and the basses are...I'm just not happy with it.
"I end up back at my iRiver," he says, "because of all the MP3 players that I've had, the iRiver has the most crisp, clear, bass-driven sound that I've been able to find."
Duke's Thrash Top 10:
1. Reckless Tide, "Vicious Circle"
2. Pitch Black, "Standards of Perfection"
3. Mastery, "Lethal Legacy"
4. Legion of the Damned, "Seven Heads They Slumber"
5. Kayser, "Like a Drunk Christ"
6. Imagica, "My Bloodied Wings"
7. Leprosy, "Suicida"
8. Headless Cross, "Servant to Your Death"
9. Death Angel, "Thicker Than Blood"
10. Braindeadz, "Shattered Youth"