Metal as Brand: Businesses Themed by and For Headbangers
Compared to more accessible, mainstream music genres, metal doesn’t feel all that commercial. The aggressive sounds and imagery that are behind it could make a hard sell for a business trying to appeal to the masses. While it might not sound like an instant formula for success, there are entrepreneurs who also happen to be metalheads, and that bleeds into their businesses–ideally less marketing tactic, more natural extension of who they are. There are some metal-themed companies out there beyond the obvious extreme music-geared bars and venues. A metal-themed business certainly runs the risk of running into cheesy territory, especially if the tie-ins to the genre feel forced, but these are some of the companies who get their references right.
TRVE Brewing Company
Denver, CO’s TRVE Brewing Company has garnered itself a strong reputation for solid craft beer with inventive, unique flavors and techniques. It’s also known for its metal aesthetic. Founder and owner Nick Nunns is a black metal fan, and opened the brewery to be a neighborhood hangout for like-minded individuals—as well as people who just love amazing craft beer.
Nunns admits he was worried that the very theme that has made TRVE stand out in a positive way could be an obstacle. “I never thought the brewery would take off to the level it has because of how niched the concept is. In reality it’s helped us to differentiate ourselves from many of the other breweries in our area.”
According to its website, TRVE’s brewing approach is built on new ideas, inspired by the chaos of mischievous Norse god, Loki. The black metal tie-ins don’t end there, but perhaps what makes TRVE’s take so pitch-perfect is the fact that it’s not supposed to be taken so seriously. “…Even the name itself is wink and nudge at the whole metal scene,” Nunns explains. “When we boil it all down, metal is absolutely ridiculous. Part of the fun (at least for me) is having the self-awareness to step out of my own shoes when I’m at a show and look at how ridiculous we all are. Corpsepaint, viking ships, evisceration, circle pits… it’s all totally over the top! To me, that’s what makes metal so fantastic. I wanted to recognize how insane heavy metal is while still celebrating how incredible it is.”
“Support your community. Eat beef. Bang your head.” Metal is woven into the very ethos(and about page) of Kuma’s Corner in Chicago.
The restaurant, now with a second Chicago location so appropriately at 666 West Diversey Parkway, is more than a few Iron Maiden fans flipping burgers. Metal is as much a part of this restaurant’s mission as the meat. From a constant metal soundtrack to artwork ranging from sacrilegious to bloody on the walls, Kuma’s probably heralds metal most with its menu: they’ve named burgers after the likes of Yob, Goatsnake, Slayer, Absu and Neurosis.
Opened in 2005 by Mike Cain, Kuma’s made headlines in 2013 with a controversial menu item. The Ghost burger was made from ingredients that are pretty clever ways to tie in their homage to the Swedish retro rock band it’s named after: goat shoulder topped with ghost chili aioli and red wine reduction. Oh, and a communion wafer–enough to whip some Catholics into a frenzy. Being under fire with the church only upped Kuma’s metal cred.
Grill ‘Em All
Something about burgers and metal goes together, apparently. Like Kuma’s, Grill ‘Em All in Alhambra, California also takes things further than putting up some posters or making their playlists metal-based. Originally a food truck, co-owners Matt Chernus and Ryan Harkins built their burger brand on a love of metal, crafting every detail around their favorite bands. “The metal theme was perfect for the truck because it’s such a visual animal, and metal is a striking lifestyle that lends itself to that,” Chernus explains.
From reports on the spot’s interior, it sounds like Chernus and Harkins have created almost a Planet Hollywood-type metal theme restaurant, only with an equal balance of tongue-in-cheek irreverence and clearly devoted fandom. “We are not posers or fake metal guys, we grew up in the scene and playing in bands,” Chernus says. “I think that comes across and most metalheads know we are coming from a genuine place.” Think artwork of Lemmy, Rob Halford and Dio peering at you while you eat. It’s not clear what using grilled-cheese sandwiches as a bun had to do with Behemoth enough to get such a burger named after the band, but that monstrosity joins other hat-tip menu items like the Immortal, the Napalm Death, and the Exciter, as well as Anvil fries.
Better Off Spread
Brooklyn couple Jenny McWilliams and Jonny Boccard started their peanut butter line, Better Off Spread , in 2013 as an answer to the copious amounts of jams and other artisanal spreads on the local food scene, and set their creations apart not only with their inventive mixes of organic ingredients, but their tongue-in-cheek references to metal, as well.
The theme wasn’t so much planned as it was just a natural extension of themselves and what they were already into. “We were listening to some Iron Maiden and talking about what we should call our flagship flavor (the jalapeno honey peanut butter) and it just clicked…Jalapeno Be Thy Name! Duh,” McWilliams explains. Bands and song titles effortlessly crept into their products, with the twist of puns. McWilliams and Boccard have named flavors Enter Cinnaman, Every Rosemary Has Its Thorn, Master of Pumpkins, Jalapeno Be Thy Name, Sweet Child of Lime, and Ace of Spice, and the jars’ labels are designed with a graphic approach that would be at home on a band tee.
Photo by Jason Rowe
Full Metal Cycle
To keep one amped enough for a high-energy cardio routine, music has to be able to ignite, but the playlists at gym classes often lack the diversity to be able to always connect with the fans of different genres, metal being one of them. Spinning instructor Halston Bruce wanted to solve that problem, and developed “Full Metal Cycle” at SYNCStudio in Williamsburg. Her class offered a refuge for metalheads needing to feel invigorated by their favorite music. Bruce says she realized indoor cycling might not seem like such a macho activity for some metalheads, but reasons “There is nothing sassy about 60-second sprints in intervals at 120rpms, or an 11-minute hill climb to Neurosis in candle light.” (Nothing sassy about the time Brooklyn Brewery sponsored Bruce’s class and she, in tribute, chugged a beer during her final sprint.)
The class’s structure and pace are built on metal; the warm-up and warm-down arc goes from classic rock to more aggressive thrash and death metal before simmering into moodier black metal, at which point Bruce lights candles in the dark room for presumably more trve vibes. Noisey notes the playlist included songs from Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Slayer, Carcass, Bolt Thrower, Neurosis, Death and Blind Guardian. The Village Voice adds that leaving class with a pack of sweaty, band-tee’ed individuals who just exerted a lot of energy together to metal feels a lot like leaving a good show. Bruce plans to bring metal classes to Exceed Physical Culture, where she teaches now. She also takes playlist requests via twitter at @halstonfitness.
For those who have ever thought an Obituary album cover looked good enough to eat or just really wanted to bite into Abbath’s face, there is SlaytaniCakeS. Brooklyn baker Jessa Blavatsky has the kind of skills one might expect to see on a wedding cake competition show on TLC, but she’s also a die-hard metalhead. She started her business after a friend had her make a Death-themed cake for her boyfriend’s birthday, and more of Blavatsky’s friends who worked for metal webzines started posting pictures of the cake. The orders started pouring in, and the self-taught baker became the the go-to supplier of dessert for album releases, industry events and musicians’ personal parties. “I was always very involved in the metal scene since I was a teenager growing up in NYC and was just lucky to have such amazing and supportive friends,” she says.
Blavatsky has been shouted out by sites like Metal Sucks and Metal Injection, making a cake for the latter. She’s baked gory cakes and album art-themed confections for the likes of Carcass, Opeth, 1349, Dark Funeral and Obituary. SlaytaniCakeS’s Facebook page is worth checking just to see typically-serious musicians in corpse paint getting excited about cake (aw). When asked if she’s ever concerned metal might be too niche long-term for a cake business, Blavatsky explains: “I was never worried about limiting my business, in fact, I have done many ‘normal’ themed cakes as well. I just don’t advertise them much because I wanted to keep the SlaytaniCakes name associated with gothic, bloody and heavy metal themes.”