Childs, Rudy (Director)
Tension-25 Years Underground (DVD)
Originally produced in 2012 this documentary didn’t have a huge amount of promo, distribution or support so I’m very pleased to be writing about now. To get some of the technical components out of the way, TENSION-25 YEARS UNDERGROUND is certainly an independent project and a labour of love. The DVD is a budget presentation, photocopied cover, no booklet, and is a CD-R. As far as I could tell there was no menus or ability to navigate the movie just abruptly starts, which is actually quite refreshing instead of having to watch commercials or that omnipresent FBI Piracy warning!
The whole movie runs 140min and has very good, good sound levels, good and good picture. It comes with two bonus videos, live performances for ‘Death Sentence’ and ‘Shock Treatment’. Childs, or at least I’m assuming it was Childs, interviews virtually everyone who was in the band even for the briefest time giving the movie credibility and authority. What emerged quite quickly in my mind was the tenacity of founder Tom Gattis from Deuce/Tension and Wardog then onto Balistick.
TENSION-25 YEARS UNDERGROUND covered all the angles from the early days in 1978 to and followed them up to a reunion of sorts as they practiced and prepared for the Keep It True XV Festival in Germany in 2012, which was their first overseas gig. There was tons of footage and still shots dating back to the earliest days of the band and lots of grainy old VHS footage, but surprisingly well-preserved. Marty Friedman was kind enough to lend his presence to the film as he was interviewed extensively in Japan and he speaks of nothing but good memories and respect for his early band. Some of the early footage of him shredding in the late 70’s is incredible.
The documentary did not just exclusively cover the band. There were segments with comments and information about the NWOBHM, the PMRC, definitions, underground Metal and more. These added context and while the info was really nothing new, it was interesting and worthwhile.
I was a bit surprised to hear Tom and indeed all the band members, say the recording of the debut album was a huge disappointment, plagued with technical problems and production issues. Of course the band signed with the short-lived subsidiary of Capitol Records called Torrid Records. The band traveled to LA and recorded their debut in a high tech studio. The debut album BREAKING POINT (which was unnecessarily delayed to detrimental effect) was eventually released to some modest critical acclaim and the footage and commentary speaks to that. One if the other factors that inhibited the bands success as well as the ill-timed, but legally necessary, name change to Tension from Deuce.
Through the film there seemed to be running theme that the band was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I have to disagree about the time part of that statement. Any number of other similar bands spread across North America in the early 80's, Anvil, Riot, Lizzy Borden, WASP, Malice, Armoured Saint, Malice, Virgin Steele, even Slayer, co-existed with Tension. All these bands were heavier not glam but not thrash. At one point one of the people being interviewed said they never made it because of marketing, which I think is a more accurate assessment.
The band was very honest about how much help the money and time invested by Tommy's mother was and how instrumental she was in making the band professional. Without her it is likely they never would have made it. As she fully outfitted the young band with not only gear but a full rehearsal hall loaded with a PA, lights and full stage! Very few bands ever have that early advantage. Being interviewed from her home in South Africa she says it was ‘only $10,000’ to build the barn/practice hall! This advantage helped contribute to the professionalism of the band early on.
On the flip side, the band was surprisingly candid and honest about why they didn't make it with several members admitting that they should have moved to LA and realistically did not do what it takes. It was refreshingly honest and a nice change from bands that usually blame everyone else and everything except themselves for lack of success. Tellingly, Marty Friedman did move to LA and as history has shown us became the one ex-Tension member that did actually make it to the big leagues with Megadeth. Arguably Tom waved the flag of true Metal with a couple of underrated albums with Wardog.
In the beginning while I was watching this, I had a dual sense of curiosity and a lingering sense of wondering, 'Why'? Why was a documentary made about Deuce/Tension as compared to 1000 other bands that never quite made it? That vague feeling of was overruled by the sheer interest in the story and the interesting personalities behind the band. Was their story that unique? Not necessarily, but the documentary brought out the human interest side of the band and it’s story.
I get the sense that many people in 2015 won't care about who Tension were or even they are today as they dabble on the retro festival circuit. The few loyalists who did know who they were back in the day and will fondly remember this band that was on the verge of greatness. I would encourage all Tension fans to see this of course, and even fans of what some consider, the ‘Golden Age’ of American Metal, for an excellent piece on a great band.