By Josette Keelor
Metal band Monolith has played original and cover songs for nearly 20 years, but last summer members shelved their songbook. Now it's all Metallica all the time.
Despite a strong following in and around Winchester, Monolith always had a tough time booking shows.
They found a consistent venue in Winchester's Blue Fox Billiards Bar and Grill, said Monolith co-founder Eric Bayliss of Stephens City, who was 14 when he and his brother started the band in 1994 -- "but other than that, crickets."
"It's very hard to book heavy metal first of all, let alone original heavy metal," he said.
Change was even harder, but it proved beneficial to the new Virginia Metallica tribute band, VAtallica, recently earning them what guitarist Tim Artz called an "overwhelming" response at Tubby's Night Club in Duncannon, Pa., near Harrisburg.
According to Bayliss, that's nearly unheard of.
That January night, "It was shoulder to shoulder, wall to wall, all the way upfront for us the entire time," Bayliss said. Tubby's employees told him, "We've never had an opening band that anyone cared about, period. They're treating you guys like the headliner."
However surprising, he gets it -- he's a Metallica fan too -- so he and his band approached their reformation as fans would. Focusing on Metallica's first four albums, they play between 18 and 20 songs per show.
Fandom is sort of a prerequisite to being a tribute band, he said. "I think it's safe to say that they're the reason we even do this. ... playing an instrument period."
Artz agreed, "I listened to their music for so long, it's almost a part of your being or your DNA. You don't have to try to learn the songs."
All along they've played Metallica covers, but until last summer changing names never crossed their minds -- not until their drummer Brian Bayliss died.
Monolith stopped playing for a couple months, but Eric Bayliss knew his brother Brian would have been angry if the music died with him.
"It's not been easy," Bayliss said, "it's constantly difficult. I personally can't do it without him, and it's not fair to the other guys."
He said choosing to continue as VAtallica gave him a reason to keep playing.
As for their fans, he acknowledged, "It's heartbreaking for me when a band I love no longer plays anymore."
But Artz assured, "They'll still support whatever we do, and it's cool to have that sort of loyalty."
Artz, 38, of Strasburg, has been with the band since 1996 when the Bayliss brothers split with other original members over the decision to perform original songs.
"It was kind of hard to shut the door on all that music," he said. "Then again I mean I think it might just be for the better, part of the healing process, just to let it be a part of history."
Now Bayliss, Artz and fellow members Branden Shores, 38, and Kyle Luttrell, 27, meet Wednesdays to rehearse or watch recordings of Metallica. They're not trying to be Metallica, Artz said, just do the image justice.
"They were always no frills, so we just try to present that," he said.
There are differences. As lead singer and bassist, Bayliss pointed out Metallica's lead singer plays guitar, "so that's already not right, you know, if you're going for absolute look, precision."
Artz and Luttrell trade off on lead guitar, though Metallica has only one lead guitarist.
But the music is what matters, said drummer Shores. "I mean, to pay tribute to one of the most instrumental metal bands in history is pretty nice," he said.
Their fans don't care about visual symmetry, as long as VAtallica's sound is good. And if it isn't, they'll hear about it.
Metal fans, Artz said, are "honest, brutal and loyal."
"It's like a loyal brotherhood or something," he said. "You know what they're about in a way."
VAtallica will perform next at the Eagles Club in Waynesboro, Pa., March 15. For more information, visit VAtallica on Facebook.
Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or firstname.lastname@example.org