20YearView: Meegs Rascon revisits the dark days that sparked Coal Chamber's volatile swan song
It only took five years for LA-based goth trailblazers Coal Chamber to make an impact that would last decades. The band's first iteration would kick a hole in the landscape of heavy music in 1997 with their self-titled debut and would go onto be a pillar in the first class of what would ultimately be coined, nu-metal.
Along with contemporaries like Deftones, System of a Down and Korn, Coal Chamber was tasked with taking up the flag for guitar-driven aggression, during an era that had been defined by the explosion of grunge from the Pacific Northwest. The spectacle of Hollywood's famed Sunset Strip had become a parody of itself and while the rock world was immersed in flannel-clad angst, there was a community of diverse new heavy marinating in the underground that would soon grab a stranglehold on the mainstream.
At the forefront fo that first wave, Coal Chamber emphasized the diversity of the golden era in the making. The band's aesthetic was a mesh of LA's subculture - Nike Cortezes and fishnets, macabre make-up and vibrant color hair. The band's style underscored their pedigree as musicians as well. Coal Chamber was from.a school that was equal parts Bauhaus, Black Sabbath and Black Flag - with a look and sound that reinforced that.
Personal tensions would ultimately get in the way of the band's continued upward trajectory, hindering the longevity that Coal Chamber seemed destined to find. From 1997 to 2002, Coal Chamber would deliver three full length entries that all left an indelible mark on the culture and help define heavy music's most diverse period. 1997's Coal Chamber, Chamber Music in 1999 and finally, the band's most volatile showcase, 2002's Dark Days - proved to be touchstones of nu-metal though the band's skyrocketing ascent was short-lived.
While the band would reconvene in 2015 to release their fourth studio album, Rivals, more than a decade after their split, the culmination of their first run in Dark Days proved a climatic finale of a transformative, turbulent time.
The explosion of the sound in the early 2000's saw the resurgence of aggressive music in contemporary culture with harsh vocals, dark imagery and hefty guitars front and center across all media. The only single from Dark Days in "Fiend" included a music video that made its way into regular rotation, doubling down on the kind of command Coal Chamber earned in just a five years. Even after the band's infamous onstage altercation that left Mikey Cox's drum kit in ruins and the band's future in peril, Coal Chamber made an appearance on network television turning up on NBC's Last Call with Carson Daly to perform - that was the intensity Coal Chamber.
With the recent announcement of Coal Chamber reuniting for their first shows since 2015 to perform at major rock festivals like Sick New World in Las Vegas and Blue Ridge Rock Festival in 2023, it's worth noting the enduring appeal of band that thrived as outliers. Two decades removed from their initial run, the cholo goths that helped usher in metal's nu-age are connecting with a new generation of fans that may have missed the first wave, but understood it's influence and are keen on experiencing it in the flesh.
Knotfest managed to score some time with Coal Chamber and Gemini Syndrome guitarist Meegs Rascon to discuss how Dark Days was a fittingly fiery finale for a band whose artistic spark set the world of heavy music music ablaze. Rascon detailed how the hostile climate and the internal friction of the band worked it's way into the music - resulting in a swan song that underscored the legacy of Coal Chamber.
Coal Chamber has always been regarded as one of those bands that was ahead of their time. Given the kind of excitement surrounding your appearance at Sick New World, do you feel like that has come full circle?
Rascon - Thanks for the compliment, but yes, it feels full circle. This festival is the perfect show for us and for a lot of the bands on there. This excitement surrounding us will definitely fuel our live show and the energy will be crazy
Coal Chamber really pioneered the cholo goth aesthetic - fishnets and Nike Cortezes. How does it sit with you seeing modern artists tapping into that motif that you guys really put into the space of heavy music first?
Rascon - Honestly, i think its really great. I love seeing it personally. It makes a band look super weird and super cool!
How do you feel about the stigma of nu-metal? For as much of a dirty word as it became for awhile, there were a handful of very influential bands that came out of that era and Coal Chamber was one of them. Do you feel like it was just a lazy, catch-all term for a new approach to heavy music?
Rascon - We have never felt there was a stigma to that term. I actually dug it. So many of my favorite bands came out of that era. I mean, that label is like calling the seattle scene “grunge”, the LA 80’s scene “hair metal”. It is what it is. I roll with it
How did being from LA shape the identity of Coal Chamber? Even now the band really seems to ride hard for LA subculture.
Rascon - Look, theres so much diversity here, that you’ll see every walk of life. Its awesome. We adopted a lot of the visuals here, everything from punk rock, skater, all the way to the cholo chic.
Dark Days was a decidedly heavier album than CC’ previous two. What was the climate of the band like during that time? What do you attribute to the heaviness of the album such that it seems to stand out from the other two?
Rascon - Here's the truth on that time of the band. We hated each other. Dez and i couldn't stand each other. While that fueled the music to get heavier and denser, the lyrics and vocal performance did the same. That record had so much tension, hence why it sounds like it sounds. That was just a time and a place. We all love each other now. Kind of annoying (laughs).
There are very few albums that matter enough to reflect on twenty years later. Nostalgia aside, Dark Days still feels like a very contemporary release - timeless. When you think back to the writing process and the recording the album, did you get a sense even back then that this would be such a memorable album?
Rascon - I mean, i always hope for that in every record I do. That record was tough. The drugs were out of control, the energy was immense, the tensions were high, we were just in our bubble trying to record a dense and dark record. Very proud of it.
Coal Chamber was infamous for being road dogs - the band was always on tour. Do you feel like the constant adrenaline of the stage had an impact on your songwriting? So much of Dark Days feels like it was written/best experienced during the live set.
Rascon - We live for the live show. The fans. The energy. This all plays in our songwriting. Its meant to be played live and have the fans go ape shit. The greatest feeling ever
Presumably with the confirmation of Sick New World, the band has been revisiting some of these songs and potentially rehearsing already. What has it felt like playing these songs again? Is there a sense of connection with these songs or is that getting too deep?
Rascon - Well, we haven''t done any rehearsing yet, but i can tell u this, seeing my 2 bros and gal will be electrifying when we do start. Can't wait!
For you as a songwriter, where does Dark Days rank? What do you take most pride in when you think about 2002 and everything that went into this record and what came of it?
Rascon - Creatively, this record ranks number one. I went bonkers on effects pedals and sound manipulation on my Protools gear. I would spend an immense amount of hours trying to make the weirdest shit (laughs). So worth it.
Coal Chamber is confirmed to appear at Sick New World and Blue Ridge Rock Festival next year. Check for updates and more information - HERE
Meegs Rascon continues his work with Gemini Syndrome. The band release their third LP late 2021, with 3rd Degree – The Raising earning high praise for as a showcase of dynamic songwriting. Stay up to date with the band via their website - HERE