Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Iowa Metal Scene: Meet Caustic Vision

They don't look like a metal band.

That was my initial reaction upon meeting and hanging out with Caustic Vision... A band that hails from one of the most liberal college towns in the country, Grinnell Iowa. But I soon realized that these cats aren't just a bunch of candy-ass liberal types trying to forge into a genre that they have no business being in, but actually serious musicians who are actually pissed off at the mess this society has become, and fuel that anger into iron symphonies of  society's dysfunction and apocalyptic lore.

Des Moines and central Iowa has it's share of home grown metal bands. Slipknot! is the obvious one, and Dead Horse Trauma, also from Grinnell, seems to be be on the verge of becoming the next big thing. There is Superchief and Junk Poet from Des Moines, Controlled Chaos from Leon, and several other lesser bands that are trying to climb through the ranks. Right up there at the top of Iowa's metal scene is Caustic Vision.

Caustic Vision is a name that front man Mickie Witcraft has had on the back burner for a long time, and when he met the guys who now make up this five-piece band, he knew that he had the golden opportunity to use it.

"The meaning of it," explains Mickie, "is the way you perceive things... If you have a fucked up way at looking at things, then that is your caustic vision."

The band might have a caustic vision on society and the ills that plague it, but they are one of the hardest working and most accessible bands in the scene today. Along with Mickie Witcraft on vocals, there is Brandon Wolver and Ryan Hall on guitars (Brandon plays lead), Nate Anderson on drums, and Richard Cooper beating the bass strings.They have played with such headliners as Mushroomhead, Hed Pe, Nashville Pussy, Hemlock, Ventana, and The Texas Hippie Coalition. That being said, it is not uncommon to see them on other lineups where the bands are more local.

"When I started booking shows I used to book them because I was a huge fan and could never get to their shows. so I started booking them on my shows so I could watch them." said Chad Willey of Metro Concerts Live, one of the more active concert promoters in Des Moines. "Nate is probably one of the better drummers in town. And some of the riffs Ryan comes up with are freaking sweet... Mickie has a very distinct voice too. No one in town sounds like him."

They draw a good crowd for being local, a reward for the all the hard work and energy that they put into each and every show they do. It's not easy being a supporting act especially on a national bill... It usually means selling tickets just to get their feet on the stage, selling merchandise to support travelling costs, and dealing with different owners and situations that arise from each and every show. Then you have the sound checks, the breaking down and setting up, the interaction with fans... All of which is it's own reward to these guys, who absolutely love what they do. While the name Caustic Vision has such a negative undertone, this band is extremely gracious of the opportunities that they are given, and absolutely adore their fan base. You won't find them outside huddled in the van before the show, but rather inside the venue mingling with the crowd and actually being a part of the scene.

It was a cold and snowy day when I met with them in January at a place in downtown Grinnell called the Voodoo Lounge. It's a beautiful bar that sets below street level, and on this particular day, the venue was closed. Directly upstairs from the Voodoo was Bourbon Street, a New Orleans style restaurant that, combined with the Voodoo, takes up over 5,650 square feet. It was a great place to meet a band called Caustic Vision, I figured. Along with photographer Megan Rader, I made my way down the stairs to the spacious and empty bar. It was there that I got my first visual impression of these fellas... Which essentially was, They do not look like a metal band.

Caustic Vision behind the bar at the Voodoo
(Photo courtesy of Megan Rader)

Sure they have tattoos... Lots of them... But they didn't fit the mold otherwise. They didn't hover over me like a bunch of ogres, and their hair wasn't long and in their faces. They didn't wear scowls and sneer at us when we walked in, and their presence wasn't intimidating at all... In fact, if I didn't know better, and with no disrespect intended, I wouldn't  have pegged these guys as being in a metal band, but rather an A Capella boy band, in the spirit of N' Sync. They were clean cut and shaven... Not the picture that instantly comes to mind when you listen to their raw and powerful sound.

We made our introductions and sat down in one of the leather booths inside this beautiful place to conduct our meeting.

They told me the story of how they formed... Mickie was playing bass then along with Ryan and another dude named Chad. They heard about this drummer named Nate, and went over to his house to see what he was all about. Suddenly and instantly, according to Mickie, "We had a band!"

Their first gig was pretty typical... In a venue that normally doesn't support live music, a Mexican Restaurant called San Panchos, "the smallest damn venue you could ever imagine" according to Nate. "After they closed and quit serving food, they moved all of the chairs out of the there and we played right there on the floor." The sound was horrible, and the band admits that musically, they sucked... But 40-50 people showed up and they were paid five bucks apiece.

"It was cool," adds Nate. "That was the first goal of the band and it was met right there... To play a show and get that under your belt. It just made ya hungry for more."

They continued to play together and with repetition and practice, they began to polish their sound. They improved with each session, and when they'd play live, people started to notice that they were getting better while developing a more definitive sound.

As a four piece band, Caustic Vision started to find their niche in the Midwest heavy metal scene.They made it past the first round of the Bodog Battle of the Bands in Madison Wisconsin, and were getting ready to play in the second round, when Chad suddenly quit. They were forced to cancel that appearance, and essentially go back to square one and start over. Instead of dwelling on the negative, Mickie, Ryan and Nate used this experience as a motivational catapult to propel them into a driven machine... They tightened their sound even more, and became more professional and close as a group. They scrapped everything they had written up to that point, and started over. It was then that they developed the song, Fake, which essentially is the song that started to define what Caustic Vision is all about. Mickie said, "When we wrote Fake, and we recorded that, I was like Shit!... We could do something with this. It's our main song that's out on ReverbNation... It's our main song that's out."

It was about at this point that Mickie decided that he would rather concentrate on his vocals more than his bass playing, so they brought in Richard Cooper. Cooper had been a friend of Nate's for a long time, and had seen Caustic Vision play on several occasions. He and Nate used to jam together, and he says that he "always kind of knew" that he would become a part of the band. Caustic Vision became a four-piece band again, and everything seemed to be clicking.

Soon however, it became apparent that the band needed a lead guitarist. Immediately Cooper thought of his good friend Brandon Wolver.

"I had been hanging out with Cooper on a daily basis for a long time, and I worked with Mickie." said Brandon. "They both had been asking me to come try out for the band for months before I finally did it. I didn't think my skills were quite up to par, and I didn't think I was ready to be in a band and play in front of a lot of people. Mickie and Cooper both told me I was basically full of crap, and that I was really good. So finally in early September of '09, I went to one of their practices. I learned a few songs, and showed them some of my own material. The guys loved it, and we clicked very well, so I learned the rest of the songs and started helping write the songs that are now going on the new album."

Clockwise from the bottom: Mickie, Brandon, Ryan, Cooper, and Nate
(Photograph by Ashley Larue)

Brandon played his first show with Caustic Vision on November 7th, 2009, for Dead Horse Trauma's CD release party in Grinnell. He has played lead in the band since and has been a key factor in Caustic Vision's evolution and has become a major part of the band's sound.

Caustic Vision lists many metal bands as their influences... Mushroomhead, Tool, Propane, As I Lay Dying, Buckethead, Hatebreed, Killswitch Engage, and Rage Against the Machine to name a few. But surprisingly, a couple of other bands were thrown into the fray. Ryan tentatively admits that besides metal, The Gin Blossoms are one of his favorite bands. "But without that, he says, "I couldn't do what I do today. It takes that to make the rhythm that I do... It's a peaceful medium."

Nate explained it further. "It's important to be solid and good, but not to sound like everybody else.... It's those magic moments, like when you are warming up at practice and just monkeying around,  that's when the true sound comes out, I think."

On stage at the House of Bricks Des Moines

Coming from a liberal town, such as Grinnell, Iowa, a metal band has to have a strong will to persevere. It's not just a matter of not fitting in, it's a matter of not caring that you don't fit in. "I think alot of it is that we are doing something that normally this town would shut down and push out. They don't want to deal with it." said Ryan. "But the fact that we actually have stood our ground and stayed with it, kind of showed them that this is where we are."

I get the feeling that Grinnell, Iowa won't have to be dealing with these dudes for much longer...

Greg Tenac Waldrop of Dangerous Music Inc., the entity behind the "Scream" at the top of the page, sums it up like this: "Energy, stage enthusiasm, and a hunger to succeed drive Caustic Vision to upstage themselves at every performance".


Unknown said...

These guys are amazing! They have put alot of heart and soul into becoming what they are today.

Anonymous said...

This band is the $H%T! In the last 5 months or so I have seen them grow by leaps and bounds! This trademark sound that they are at the edge of perfecting is not only original, but refreshing as well. I thought metal was going soft for a minute, growing stale. Thank you Caustic Vision for providing hope!

Anonymous said...

I've been working with these guys for about 4 years and the passion that they have is what makes them succeed in the ways that they are and will continue to. They have improved so much since the 1st practice I attended. It's an honor for me to be a part of the Caustic Family!! I am and always will stand beside these guys! I have every ounce of faith in them! Keep it up boys! ((now we have to work on a cover by N'SYNC)). ha! jk :)

Anonymous said...

These guys are ok but I don't really see them making it anywhere big. They are great for around town shows and small town shows not the big screen. There songs are good just thought these guys could bring something new. Come on guys bring out the new you guys are awesome otherwise

Anonymous said...

Caustic Vision are amazing! You guys keep rocking love the music

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Love this band. The guys are down to earth. And my favorite song is Koolaid. AMAZING

Anonymous said...

Sorry to say that the Ryan Hall the guitarist has passed away today. RIP Ryan you will be missed by everyone and loved by many

Anonymous said...

I seen these guys play for the first time 2 weeks ago in Oskaloosa. I was really impressed how well they played. Better come see them now and meet them before they're playing bigger shows. Brandon is my nephew and I'm proud of him and the rest of the band.

Anonymous said...

I hate to break it to you guys, but judging from what I've heard from this band, they aren't metal.

Now, before I have people getting on my case, let me just clarify some things:
1. I'm not discouraging you from liking them.
2. I am basing this judgement on musical qualities, not personal bias.
3. I'm not writing this to anger anyone.

Now that that's cleared up, let me explain my reasoning:
To start off simply, this bands sounds more hardcore influenced than metal (a few palm muted breakdowns with harsh vocals don't make something metal, mind you), and based on Encyclopaedia Metallum's standards (Encyclopaedia Metallum being a collaborative encyclopedia containing over 84,000 bands and over 21,000 metalheads), they wouldn't be accepted (hardcore, metalcore with more hardcore influences than metal, "alt-metal", and nu metal generally aren't accepted unless they have at least one "metal" release, and that's something agreed upon by a large section of the metal community). Totally understandable for this to be mistaken though, as (unfortunately) hardcore and metalcore have really taken over in the mainstream, especially in the midwest, thus creating some confusion over what is metal and what isn't.

Anyways, I have some useful links below:
Bands which have/used to reside in Iowa, both active and inactive (you'll notice that some stuff which is considered "metal" in the mainstream isn't present, such as Slipknot)
Satan's Almighty Penis, interesting black metal band from Cedar Rapids
Ageless, great death/black band from Davenport
Pagan Flames Productions, great underground black, death, and doom metal distributor/label based in Cedar Rapids (incredibly cheap, no markups whatsoever).