It was actually a good thing for Cage, the local band dubbed “Judas Priest on steroids,” when the local metal scene imploded in the ’90s. “There was a power vacuum,” says singer Sean Peck. “Everyone in San Diego was abandoning metal and chasing grunge. No one else was still wearing leather and studs and playing old-school, classic heavy metal.”
That worked to their advantage. “Since we were the only [metal] band left standing, we got to open for all the big metal bands when they came to town. We played with Great White when they were big. Twice for Judas Priest. We once played at SDSU’s Open Air Theatre. There were three dressing rooms. The one on the left said Dio, the one in the middle said Cage, and Iron Maiden was on the right. Right then I said, ‘It will never get any better than this.’”
It hasn’t. One promoter who books local metal acts says that the local scene doesn’t draw as it has in past years.
“Metal will always be in the underground [locally],” Peck admits. Indeed, Cage, which is now working on its seventh album, has had bigger crowds, sold more records, and received more press in Europe.
“It started in 1998, when we were named best new band by the largest metal magazine in Germany called Rock Hard. Some European metal journalist discovered our album [the self-produced Unveiled] on his own. European fans voted us best over 700 other bands. The prize was to play the Dynamo Festival in Holland in 1999, which also had Metallica and System of a Down. That led to a record deal with Omega, out of Germany, which gave us an opportunity in 2002 to play the Wacken Festival...the largest heavy-metal festival in the world.”
Other European festivals followed. The band moved on to a larger German label, Massacre Records, which released their third and more successful album, Darker Than Black. That led to an appearance at the Bang Your Head Festival in Germany in 2004, headlined by Alice Cooper and Skid Row’s Sebastian Bach.
That’s where Peck became a celebrity.
“Blaze Bayley, the former lead singer of Iron Maiden, was touring as a solo artist with a backing band. He had a song that he introduced as ‘Kill and Destroy George Bush.’ I had a problem with the anti-American sentiment that permeated that festival. Queensrÿche singer Geoff Tate had a vest that featured a picture of George Bush with the word ‘liar’ underneath. I saw Blaze backstage and told him if you had planes flying into Buckingham Palace, you might have a different perspective on things. Blaze, who looked like a crazy biker dude, stood up, lost his mind, and said in a heavy English accent, ‘Do you want to have a go at me,’ and basically attacked me. Thanks to my SDSU karate class, I was able to knock him out with one punch. He got a black eye, which I’m told he carried throughout the rest of his solo tour.”
Peck says some European concert promoters then became reluctant to book Cage.
“In 2011, I joined Blaze’s band onstage at Brick by Brick to sing a duet of the Iron Maiden song ironically named ‘Falling Down.’ We’re now close friends.”
Peck and guitarist David Garcia founded Cage in 1992. They are now backed by three younger bandmates, drummer Sean Elg, bassist Dwight Magic, and guitarist Casey Trask. “Casey is, like, 22,” says Peck, 46. “An old metal warrior once told me it was good to feed off the soul of the young. We have a whole new level of enthusiasm with these guys.”
Cage appears August 16 at the Ramona Mainstage with Midas Touch, Helsott, Wither, and Gravespell.