Ronald Reagan sure left his fingerprints on the giant floating orb we call home. Aside from major events during his presidency like the Iran-Contra affair, his cultural impact will always linger in phrases like “Win one for the Gipper” and “trickle-down economics.” Music-wise, no genres loved–or, more accurately, loved to hate–America's 40th President more than punk rock and hardcore. In Dead Kennedys' “We've Got A Bigger Problem Now,” Jello Biafra sang, “I am Emperor Ronald Reagan/Born again with fascist cravings/Still, you made me President.” 7 Seconds, Screeching Weasel, Fifteen and MDC also skewered or referenced him in song–not to mention the Ramones with their classic “Bonzo Goes to Bitburg.” Reagan Youth mockingly named themselves after him as a play on Hitler Youth. For a certain set, utterly despising Ronnie and everything he stood for has always been in vogue.
Iron Reagan –a Richmond, Va. five-piece who specialize in high-energy, generally serious, sociopolitical hardcore/thrash metal — carry a torch for this legacy, even if they only started in 2012. Vocalist Tony Foresta, who is in his mid-30s and thus grew up with Reagan in power, was clinging to this name for around four years before the group started. On the surface, 'Iron Reagan' has a couple of meanings.
First, it's a punny reference to metal icons Iron Maiden. It's also another ode to one of the most ubiquitous enemies of liberal-leaning heavy music. “The imagery of [Iron Reagan] is so ridiculous, too. It's kind of funny–the overexaggeration of the character of Reagan,” says Foresta, who is better known as the frontman of comparatively lighthearted thrash gang Municipal Waste. “[Reagan is] like the ultimate supervillain. He's the biggest villain you could have.” (It's worth noting that Direct Control–a Municipal Waste-connected project–have a song of their own called “Ronnie's Dead.”)
Digging deeper, calling out Reagan has other implications. Punks and metal-heads on the prowl for political nemeses have no shortage of targets–Why not name a group after Dubya?–but in referencing who they do, Iron Reagan specifically invoke 1980s thrash. The flavors of last March's Worse Than Dead–the band's high-speed debut full-length (which is 19 songs long with not one running over two minutes)–clearly evidence an affection for that era and aesthetic.
“I kind of wanted to do [this band] more like Direct Control–just straight hardcore–but then the crossover [thrash] and the metal parts just keep sticking their head in there, and it feels right,” says Foresta, who anticipates Iron Reagan cranking out weirder and more experimental riffs in the future.
“Throwback” and “retro” are far from the most denigrating adjectives to attach to a band, but Foresta has little to no affection for them. In the past, he has rejected notions that this group is steeped in nostalgia and lamented that the Strokes, for example, aren't called retro rock but thrash bands of this sort immediately receive the tags they do.
“I mean, I get it. People are going to call it whatever they want to call it. I'm trying to not overthink it,” Foresta says. “It's weird how everybody has to throw 'retro' on any thrash band. Oh, 'retro this, retro that' when there's a million bands ripping off Black Sabbath now. That's the cool thing to do. They're not saying that that's 'retro' something.” Sabbath and the Strokes notwithstanding, these descriptors are valid since alluding to Reagan is a pointed choice (especially if Foresta has been sitting on this band name for a while). Also, the video for Worse Than Dead's “Cycle of Violence” finds Iron Reagan performing an explosive set which is itself captured on a wood-paneled, '70s or '80s-style cathode tube television–a pointed aesthetic choice.
When Municipal Waste, Foresta's main project, got off the ground in 2001, it was as something impromptu. Thirteen years later, they're still grinding away. Is a similar fate likely for this outfit? “I mean, I could see it hopefully, as long as it doesn't get old for any of us,” he says. “If I end up not liking it, I'm definitely going to stop. But right now, it's exciting, dude. It's like having a new girlfriend or something. Everybody's like, 'Yay!'”
Iron Reagan perform with Exhumed, Witchaven, Madrost and Tormenter at Chain Reaction, 1652 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 635-6067; www.allages.com. Wed., 7 p.m. $12 in advance; $14 day of show. All ages.