In this series, Ivan Belcic invites sneaker-lovers from the metal world at large to share some favorites from their collections, pairing them with metal albums that fit just right.

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“I never thought of myself as a sneakerhead. I eschew labels, for the most part. I'm not a metalhead, I'm not a punk, I'm not a DIY guy, I just pick and choose the best music and philosophies that help me create art and live a happy life.”

-Ross Sewage

There are two sneakers that characterize my childhood. One is the Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star high-top in black. Every spring as a kid, once the weather finally broke, I’d get a new pair of Chucks, always highs, always black, and those would be my go-to sneakers all summer long. I’d wear them out completely by the time the next spring came around — even if my feet weren’t growing, it’d still be time for another pair.

Later in my tweens and teens, the second became the Adidas Samba, also in black, with white stripes. I played indoor soccer in the winter, and these were the indoor soccer shoe if you were to be taken at all seriously. During the season, I wasn’t allowed to wear them casually — these were strictly for use during practice and games. But once the season ended, they’d be on my feet daily. They were kind of a status symbol — indoor soccer was a tryout sport, and no one who wasn’t on the team would’ve had any business buying those sneakers. Plus, they’re just dope.

Beyond the yearly ritual that was these two specific models, I didn’t really get into sneakers until college, and it was the Nike SB Dunk that tipped me over the edge into a brand new world of obsession. The stories behind the designs, the breadth of materials, the way the inspirations were interpreted in the final colorways — there was, and is, so much to explore. And they were comfortable, so that helped. Since then, they’ve by and large been my sneaker of choice, aside from a few other must-haves from time to time. They’ve never been harder to buy than lately, now that they’re the Hype Shoe of the Moment, but like all things both good and bad, that’ll pass.

Longtime bassist Ross Sewage — Exhumed, Impaled, ex-Ludicra, reported to associate with a certain unnamed gaggle of hooded cannibals — is my type of sneaker collector. He’s fixated on one shoe, and that’s all he wears. Like childhood me, Sewage is devoted to the Chuck Taylor All-Stars high-tops. As classic as classic gets.

When I asked Ross about doing this column, writing about his favorite sneakers, he quipped, “...about my 20+ pairs of Chuck Taylors?” At the time, I assumed he was speaking in hyperbole, but nope, he was dead serious. “If I am a sneakerhead, I would have to be described as a Platonist one,” begins Sewage. “Since I was a child, Chuck Taylors high-tops have always embodied the ideal of a sneaker to me. Simple cut, decent tread for all surfaces, breathe easy with a canvas body, and that little circle logo on the inside ankle has become an abstract symbol in art that easily identifies the object as ‘sneaker.’”

And he’s right. More so than the swoosh, more so than the three stripes, it’s that circled star that’s an immediate go-to in the brain for not just “sneaker,” but countercultural rebelliousness at large—echoed in the shoe’s steadfast insistence on ignoring trends and staying the same for the vast majority of its existence. It remained essentially unchanged until recently for decades, charting a path from the NBA through The Ramones and Kurt Cobain to a universal cultural signifier.

And a big part of that universality is in their accessibility. Unlike many other popular sneakers — Jordans, Yeezys, Air Maxes, even New Balances, forever a dad shoe in my book—Chucks are cheap. “They are the blue-collar sneaker,” says Sewage. “I mean, if you can get past the loss of quality since being bought by Nike, that is, and don't want them in basic colors.”

Sewage has refined the buying process down to a science. “I look for screaming deals at Ross Dress For Less or Converse outlets and pick up weird variations on Taylors for cheap,” he explains. “I stockpile Chucks so I can switch out shoes and never be stressed about shopping for them. I haven't paid full price for a pair of Cons in 10 to 15 years.” Pragmatic and efficient.

According to Sewage, there’s no need to switch up the pattern that’s worked so well for him for so many years. And as an avowed SB Dunk head, I completely understand where he’s coming from. If you want them to be, sneakers will become much more than the item that separates your feet from the ground. Like any item of clothing, whether you mean it to or not, the sneakers you choose reflect a part of you into the world.

For some of us, there’s one sneaker in particular that hits us in a way no other does. “There's a scene in Cronenberg's remake of The Fly that’s always stuck with me,” says Sewage. “Seth Brundle, showing off his closet, describes his inspiration for always wearing the same suit as having come from the apocryphal story of Einstein doing the same, so as to save his brainpower. Well, I don't think my brain is all that great, but I've stuck with Converse Chuck Taylors for most of my life, and I have no plans to change.”

Here’s Ross Sewage on five standout pairs of Chucks that define his journey with metal over the years, and five albums that you should crank while checking them out.

—Ivan Belcic

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Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars: Camouflage

I try to keep new kicks ready for tour so as to go out and trash the hell out of them. At least I look good when the tour starts.

This pair of sweet camouflage Chucks was going to cover my dogs as Exhumed conquered the Pacific and Europe in the summer of 2020. I was going to get a photo with a koala bear and get to three countries I'd never been to. And everyone would think I was floating when I walked on grass! Alas, we all know how 2020 turned out, so none of that happened. My dreams of a koala photo disappeared like a pair of camouflage sneakers on the lawn.

A large chunk of Exhumed's 2020 touring was to be with our friends Necrot. We spent an amazing six weeks with them in the United States in 2019. A particular highlight was having Thanksgiving together in a rented house in Washington. We were so excited to spend more time with Chad, Sonny, and Luca, but that's on hold, now.

What wasn't on hold was the release of Necrot’s second record, Mortal. It's a blistering take on old-school death metal, nothing but head-banging riffs and no-frills rocking. I'll be breaking in these sneaks by moshing around my couch to that.

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Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars: Dark Blue Suede

These were the Chucks I saved for the Exhumed tour with Gatecreeper, Necrot, and Judiciary in the United States. Like most of my sneaks, these were found cheap at an outlet. I thought the pairing of dark blue suede with the simple cut of the Converse was hilarious. I'd go out on stage wearing my typical dirty and ink spattered Carhartt jeans, a filthy horror movie tee shirt, and be like, "HEY! Don't you step on my blue suede shoes." When I showed up at Exhumed HQ to head out on the road, not a single member failed to comment on these pigs wearing lipstick.

They're basically destroyed now. They've been my go-to since that tour, and they have suffered. The heels are starting to blow out. The suede is ruined from getting wet. There's ink stains on the toe. But I keep wearing them because that was my last tour before COVID-19 upended all our lives, and it was so damn fun. So, these shoes remind me of our co-headliners and the swell guys in Gatecreeper. I'd suggest spinning their side of the Exhumed / Gatecreeper tour vinyl if you were lucky enough to pick it up. It's rare and limited, just like these "fancy" sneaks!

(And if you don’t have it, try this)

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Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars: Classic Black & White

I almost never have a pair of classic looking Cons. They're never discounted and cost too much. We all know they're made in crappy factories now with less quality control. They fall apart faster. So, no way I'm paying full price. The reason I have this pair of classic black and white is they were a gift. They were given to the groomsmen at the wedding of my poly-bandmate, Leon del Muerte, to his wonderful bride, the shredder Elizabeth Schall. Definitely my jam: a wedding that desired comfort over fashion. Somehow, Leon picked me as the best man, and if ever there was a stretch on using the word "best," that was it.

I've known Leon for something like 25 years. In that time, we've played in Exhumed and Impaled together in a dizzying array of different line-ups. He's also drifted in and out of so many bands, I've lost count. So, if these are Leon sneaks, which Leon band should I listen to?

It can't be Nails, because I'll never be one of them, and apparently, neither can Leon. Can't be Exhumed or Impaled, because that's just self-promoting. So, I'm gonna go with Phobia and the album 22 Acts of Random Violence. Leon's 7/8 brain elevates what could be a brainless grindcore album to another level. His writing contributions make it my favorite Phobia release by a mile. Even at his simplest, like a black-and-white Chuck Taylor, Leon contains multitudes.

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Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars: Bright Green

For some reason, Chuck Taylor must've put out too many green sneakers in the early 2010s. I think this because I picked up an army's worth of pairs for super cheap at various discount stores around that time.

I was bedecked with these lime charmers in 2011 as our gimmick/costume band headed out on our big-break tour with the Scumdogs of the Universe, GWAR. We made fast friends with the alien overlords and their human slaves.

Dave Brockie stuck out. The man was a fountain of personality. When he opened his mouth, it was time to shut up because you were about to hear the most genius (or the most insane) thing ever. Sometime during the tour, Dave stopped me. He was awestruck by my bright green Chucks. He pointed out his green New Balance trainers and exclaimed, "I thought I was the only one who wore green shoes! Fuck yeah, shoe buddies!" It was so insanely dumb, but so sweet, that one of my heroes felt even the most superficial connection to me. I never had that heart to tell him they were just the shoes I got cheap. Well, from that day on, bright green Cons became the shoe choice of my character in the gimmick band.

Man... I miss Dave.

These Cons are blood-stained; so should the music be. Jam the GWAR album Bloody Pit of Horror while getting spew on your shoes. Particularly, jam hard on the song "A Gathering of Ghouls" for, uh, unspecified reasons.

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Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars: Dark Grey / Riveted

These were a pretty ugly pair of Cons. They were dark grey, almost black, and had these hideous rivets lining up each side. They were also under $30, so I had to have the beasts. I wore these on Ludicra's first U.S. tour in 2010.

I happened to be in pretty good shape that year, having quit smoking and taken up jogging (neither lasted, it turns out... maybe someday). The band would party and drink most of the night after playing, I'd get a good night's sleep, get up for a jog, and roust their lazy asses back into the van to drive us to the next show.

The band criticized my choice of sneaks for jogging. "You can't jog in Cons, you'll ruin your back / legs / knees!" I said phooey to that, and jogged and jogged until the day came I had planned all tour: I would jog Rocky Balboa's footsteps in Philadelphia to the top of the stairs at the art museum. And there it was... Rocky's footprints... and they were Cons. I ran up and down the stairs 3 more times.

I went on a lot of adventures during that tour in those shoes. In Baltimore, we stayed at the apartment of one of the guys from Bloody Panda... Gerry, if I recall correctly. I got up early and walked on down in my fancy Chucks to Edgar Allen Poe's house. It is located in probably the worst, most seediest neighborhood I have ever experienced. Two guys crossed the street toward me, asked me why I looked like a girl, then showed me some crack they wanted to sell. I said, "No thanks," and was on my way. I got back to the apartment, told my little story, and Gerry said to me, "Ross, why are you walking around strange neighborhoods in Baltimore? Haven't you ever seen The Wire?" I hadn't.

So, anyway, listen to Bloody Panda's Summon, because that record is crushing.

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Exhumed’s latest album Horror released October 4, 2019 via Relapse Records.

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Check out the prior installments of Metal Shoebox:

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