The road to a “Metal Dream” isn’t always paved with gold or stardom. For some, the levels of success can’t be calculated by monetary value, album sales or commercial success. It can only be defined by personal experience, and one’s ability to find value in the people you meet along this difficult and well travelled road. This is the story of a good friend of mine, and the journey he and the rest of the band have been on for a number of years, and it can only be described as a success in the grander scale of life. It can also be deemed nothing short of personal failure filled with disappointment, and whether that’s fair to say can only truly be determined by you, the reader, the music fan, and the critic that lies deep inside all of us. This is an article that will explain the ups and downs of an individual’s journey and struggle searching for that elusive “Metal Dream”, and that elusive star in a world full of like-minded people searching for the same light within the darkness that is the competitive world of Metal.
This is the story of Rob Onyskiw, drummer for several local Toronto bands and seeker of artistic freedom. Eternally he searched for the means to express his inner metalhead, hoping to make a living doing what he loved. This story no doubt has similar characteristics to many others who have gone through the same trials, tribulations, highs and lows. This is the beast many cling onto, and the very nature of the territory dictates that whilst some find success, others will flounder in the winds, searching and seeking for either success beyond their wildest dreams, or the disappointment of finding themselves on the opposite side of the spectrum.
This journey starts in the city of Toronto in the late 80’s—steadily slipping into the early 90’s—and during this point in time there is a shift in attitude; political movements and the social landscape giving way to new ideas.The biggest change—and most important for our purpose here—is the music scene. My intent is not to dig deep in the musical climate of this time, but it’s necessary to mention the ‘changing of the guard’. Most of the mid 80’s was dominated by the Thrash movement, with Glam/Hair spreading its wings in the years to follow, gradually evolving into the force to be be reckoned with: Grunge. Genres are not truly important to this story, but there is a need to express the moment in time and to set the atmosphere.
It all started with a band called Sanitarium (not a Metallica tribute band, but they were certainly a musical influence). It’s late 1989 and they play their first show at a bar called “The EI Mocambo”, opening for the Canadian legends Anvil. Since this was their major big gig, all their friends and family were there to show love and support. For a prelude of things to come,, everything that could go wrong went wrong. “Murphy’s Law” was in full swing; the lead guitar cut out completely in the middle of a solo, as did the rhythm guitar. The guys were left with only bass and drums to finish Metallica’s “Eye Of The Beholder” on their own. Needless to say, this was not the ideal way to kick off a budding music career. This was a night the boys would never forget; from trying to fit his 11-piece drum kit unto the massive Anvil drum riser, to the instrument mishaps, destiny was knocking on the door even in these very early stages.
At this stage of his career, Bob and his bandmates did not write a studio album of any sort, but recorded a lot of material in the homemade recording area in their basements. There was internal strife, and soon some members left for other opportunities, whilst the band Sanitarium regrouped and changed there name to “Morbidox”. They released two albums under this name; the first titled "See Our Decay", arising from the band members initials (C.R.D.K. — Chris [vocals], Rob [Drums] Darren [Bass] and Ken [Guitar]); whilst the second release was titled "Strange But False", with new vocalist Trevor at the helm (Chris left to pursue scholastic interests) which featured in the now defunct local Metal magazine “M.E.A.T.” (Metal Everywhere Around Toronto) that Drew Masters put together. Things were looking up and the feeling of big success was starting to rear it’s head. When Bob was in Morbidox he also had the opportunity to play in London, England, at the world famous Marquee club in Oxford. They even had a clip broadcast on Global TV here in Toronto (as it was sponsored by Labbatt, a huge local brewery). The got to play with no shortage of great bands over their years, such as Anvil, Razor, Corrosion Of Conformity, Sacrifice, Headstones, Econoline Crush, Dink, Malhavoc, Static-X, Jason Bonham, 30 Seconds To Mars, The Used, Varga—just to name a few—and their star always seemed to be burning bright.
The third Morbidox release was titled "PULL", and shortly after that they changed their sound and band members once more forming “QUAD” in the early 90s. They released a 6-song demo titled "HEED" and after many gigs put out their first album titled "Bring It On". QUAD consisted of four members (Pino [vocals], Len [Bass], Ken [Guitar], and Rob [Drums]). They shot their first video at the opera house in Toronto for their song "A.R.A.", which was named after a friend of theirs by the same name. Muchmusic (Canada’s version of MTV) wasn't going to play it at first because they thought that A.R.A. stood for Aryan Race Alliance (which of course it most definitely did not—hell, it could have stood for "Animal Rights Activist" for all they knew, but it was really named after a friend of theirs). The reason they put the little dots in between the letters ARA was because they thought "Another Retarded Attempt" sounded like they were trying to write a song. It was eventually aired on Muchmusic after the dots were removed and whilst they never toured with QUAD, they played shows in Vancouver, Montreal as well as Toronto. After QUAD there was once again a change in their line-up and a change in their sound. Reformed, they renamed themselves Sorundown, and after a 3-song demo and a single concert soon broke up. As you can see nothing has come easy for Rob and the rest of the band, and by this point it was starting to take a toll both mentally and financially.
They wrote a lot more songs without a vocalist but never released anything; member changes continued and they the search went on for a new vocalist, until they finally found Stephan, changing their name once more to become Latefallen. Despite his relative youth he had a great voice and things were looking up once more. The sound changed once again, transforming into something more radio friendly, but it was nonetheless something they all felt proud of. They released a few demo CD's and continued to write until they eventually released their debut album "Bloody Kiss", for which they shot a video for the title track, which was soon aired on Muchmusic (and by soon, I mean it took forever, or at least what felt like forever for the band). They played live as much as they could, and soon developed a good following. Myspace was just starting and they soon had fans from all over the world asking them to play their home towns, and they would have loved to travel the world for them all, but they were an independent band with zero money which made it almost impossible to do so. Once again, the reality of stardom began to feel like a dog chasing it’s own tail.
They shot another video, this time for the song "The Fly" (all these videos can be found on YouTube) but it wasn’t until Latefallen went on tour across Canada, during a performance in Ottawa, that they first saw a rough edit of the video, and it looked epic! They couldn't wait to see it on Muchmusic as well! Eventually, it too aired on Muchmusic and they began to get the recognition they deserved; kids started to approach them to ask them for autographs, and they gladly obliged. They continued to tour Canada, and during a break Rob played drums on another project called Birth Of Hate—my personal favorite—which went right back to his roots. Whilst they never did any live performances, they recorded a 5-song demo CD with them which to this day Bob still loves listening to, having grown up listening to Thrash Metal and Punk, which is where his style derives. Whilst he always enjoyed listening to all kinds of music, he always preferred playing the heavy stuff. But back to Latefallen.
They continued to perform live wherever the opportunity presented itself, opening for acts such as 30 Seconds To Mars and The Used. They got to play on the Warped tour (just the Toronto show) and Arrow Hall in Toronto (which was probably the pinnacle of his music career), performing on a massive stage in front of thousands of people (Bob tells me “It was awesome! Playing smaller bars after that gig was a big let down”), but they soldiered on, and after eight weeks on the road and a personal debt of $5000, Bob decided he had to pack it in. The financial issues began to weigh too heavily on him to continue. He still plays with some former band members (primarily the members of QUAD, minus the singer), and Ken's wife sings in a project he is involved with called Peace Of Night—they have recorded a song called "Beloved" (which is currently uploaded to YouTube) and are currently in the middle of recording a new song called "The Bond Between Us", which is almost done.
After vigorous touring, countless financial efforts and a staggering amount of time pursuing agents and countless record labels to no avail, Latefallen have since disbanded. To taste the fruits of stardom and to live with this disappointment; to know you were so close and yet so far—it’s bittersweet to say the very least. Yet, one has to put everything into perspective and realize that Rob and the bands he has worked with have been places, and seen and worked with bands and done more than most of us could ever dream of. For a brief moment, he got to be a rock star for all the kids and fans that showed up and supported them. There were some rough times, but too there were moments of pride and accomplishment. They can still hang their heads high and ride the highway of life as better people, even if in this story, it wasn’t paved with gold.
- David Maloney