Upping The Irons! The Heavy Origins of 365 Infantry
Heaven-Sent, Hell-Bound, and Born for Burning...
NOTE: I am making this special, massive behind-the-scenes article FREE TO ALL until JUNE 5TH, the day Issue 5 of 365 INFANTRY launches. Consider it both a humble show of gratitude to all the wonderful readers out there, and an invitation to learn just how much heart, soul, and knowledge goes into this series. Read on, Soldier!
365 Infantry was born from a triforce of influences: a love of machines, a love of science fiction, and a love of music. When I write for the series, I’m typically listening to a carefully curated blend of vintage soundtracks and library music. When I’m looking for concepts or ideas, nothing is off limits. Your favorite story may have come from a jazz bender, a jukebox marathon, or a good old-fashioned scrub-through of Miami Vice.
But as our first platter of metallic might “Wolves of Steel” goes to show, the series owes its soul to the heaviest of rockers, the most gifted of shredders, and the loudest voices on the planet. An identity founded on the street-level slaughter of punk, the white-knuckled escape of speed and thrash, the everyman headbanging of hard rock, and even shots of black and glam. 365 is forever tied to its metal roots, and that’s what I want to explore today.
Now, it would be all too easy (and all too tedious) to go through and itemize every reference to heavy metal and hard rock lore in the series. None are subtle either, such as Lt. Gibson’s bike “Exciter” being a nod to the Judas Priest speed metal classic off of 1978’s Stained Class, or Nic Ridgefield’s thinly veiled Motörhead sendup taking their name “Metropolis” from a track off 1979’s Overkill. And that doesn’t even begin to cover the dozens of lyrical references, imagery, and direct namedrops either.
No, what I want to discuss today is what doesn’t fully register on the written page. This will be a guided experience through the exact points at which the series drew on its metallic inspirations to craft signature staples and core elements of the series. And it all begins…with a Superchat.
Let me explain.
In the Beginning...
Roll the clock back to Fall of 2020.
I’m an avid viewer of one RazörFist of the Youtube channel The Rageaholic. I am madly in love with his “Metal Mythos” series, and had a question regarding a particular niche within the genre: cyberpunk.
When I asked him on one of his many “RazörFist Arcade” livestreams about good cyberpunk metal, Arizona’s Excellence of Elocution gave me three names: 1986’s Somewhere in Time by Iron Maiden, 1988’s Digital Dictator by Vicious Rumors, and 1989’s Master Control by Liege Lord.
All three get loaded into a Spotify playlist alongside a bevy of other tunes from artists like Judas Priest, W.A.S.P., and Motörhead, and the playlist is tucked away for the remainder of the year. Around this time, something had seriously begun to germinate in the back of my mind. Something that hadn’t totally escaped me since late in high school. I was sitting on a potential screenplay in a triptych of ideas. Animated films starring anthropomorphic canines in tough muscle cars. Stuck with the odious name of “Frontline Rides,” the idea took a backseat while I gave attention the first script in the series, Gunning, and was still dealing with a world in unending tumult.
All throughout the hazy summer of 2021 where I worked myself to the bone and back, a particular album continued to rear its head: Digital Dictator.
With Carl Albert’s operatic vocals, the thunderous arrangements, and a slick cybernetic polish to the entire production, Vicious Rumors suffered no sophomore slump, with particular highlights being the title track, “Worlds and Machines,” “Towns on Fire,” and “Condemned.” And it was perhaps the title track itself that took “Frontline Rides” from a “Mad Max-on-desert-island-England” fever dream to a war of nerves and raw power between an American Wasteland Resistance and a computer network gone rogue.
It was the vividness of such incredible albums that showed me the importance of music to the series and…by God did that certainly lead to some exciting times during preproduction.
No, your eyes do not deceive you, those are 10 designated playlists for the production of 365 Infantry. Not pictured is my YouTube-exclusive playlist with all of the library music not yet available on Spotify.
Around late October of 2021, roughly two months into preproduction, I had amassed so many sonic touchstones during development, both original playlists became tonally confused beyond repair. It was a feverish blend of heavy metal, hard rock, classic rock, retro electronica, and dashes of synthwave and dreampunk-style ambient that I had to remold into workable playlists.
I wound up divvying the tracks into separate playlists based on series and locale, a duality developing between the desert-set Wastelands (represented by the metal and hard rock tracks) and the cyberpunk dystopia of Haven (driven more by electronica). Some songs would overlap, some would eschew instrumentals all together, and all were curated to a fine Master playlist “365 INFANTRY” currently clocks in at over 163 hours. A week-long playlist.
I also started on a separate project away from the web: mixtapes.
I burned a record total of 15 CD-Rs during preproduction covering a range of genres and styles to capture different elements of the series including a double-album’s worth of Motörhead, a single disc of Judas Priest, and a mix based on specific tracks for specific characters pinpointed in my character profile sheet.
Then came this:
You are not dreaming, I actually sat down and made a DVD-R of heavy metal and hard rock music videos.
A DVD-R with full menus and interlaced with TV spots for any and all films that captured the look and feel I wanted, such as Blade Runner, The Wraith, and Heavy Metal, the disc’s title of “One Way Ticket to Midnight” being bummed from the Sammy Hagar song for the film.
When I commit to a project, what I demand most of myself is complete immersion. I must live in the world in which I am creating. And for me, music was the quickest gateway to that world. I’m a filmmaker at heart with an undying love of all mediums, but music was the first love and the fastest trigger to getting my mind in gear and ready to dream up something fantastic. And boy would I be dreaming in those early stages.
The Mortars of Your Mind
I’ve always tied the metal side of the series to the desert. Something about ruggedness of the genre, combined with the penchant for epic tales and a larger-than-life attitude, lent itself to that original seed of Mad Max-style pandemonium in earlier concepts.
A few key tunes were ringing in my ears all throughout the production process, and I’d argue the earliest of them all was a little number from a little band called Alcatrazz. A little band with massive talents.
Fronted by ex-Rainbow singer Graham Bonnet and featuring the neoclassical riffage of Swedish dynamo Yngwie Malmsteen, Alcatrazz’s 1983 debut No Parole from Rock ‘N’ Roll held within it a nascent power metal edge that captivates with each listen. And sitting high and mighty atop the pile was the harrowing atomic horror of “Hiroshima Mon Amour.”
It makes sense that a post-nuclear world would draw on a song explicitly inspired by the earth-rending finale to WWII, but nothing can prepare you for the fire and fury with which the Amazing Iron Lungs himself regales us all with. When I hear those opening notes, all I see is desert. Wide swaths of sand, peppered with cacti and tumbleweeds, a blue sky lording over all.
It was an opening volley to end all opening volleys.
Next came albums that captured the feel of being on the road in this world, in the form of another trio. 1980’s Wheels of Steel by Saxon, 1981’s Point of Entry by Judas Priest, and 1983’s Another Perfect Day by Motörhead. The first album is the road metal record to rule them all, with Biff Byford and the rest of Birmingham boys hitting the highway with classics like “Motorcycle Man,” “Machine Gun,” and the 6-minute monster of a title track, my most listened to song of 2021 in fact (according to Spotify).
Point of Entry was the desert gateway. With Rob Halford’s love of Arizona and biking in tow, the album lives up to its name as a way to get my mind dreaming. “Desert Plains” especially captured the vagabond energy early in development.
And then there’s the curious case of Another Perfect Day.
Though it wasn’t designed for the purpose, this may be the most evocative of the hardened soul of the series, and the setting at large. Something about Brian Robertson’s colorful guitar tone, the emphasis on atmosphere, and that trademark Motörhead momentum, takes me straight to the highway. Lemmy was on his A-game both lyrically and vocally, laying down some of the most blues-drenched heavy metal of his career and in the genre.
By the time this album was in white-hot rotation, my vision of the series was almost crystal clear. All it took was one last piece to fall into place. That last piece was 1986’s Seventh Star by Black Sabbath.
With Glenn “The Voice of Rock” Hughes behind the mic, never before would Sabbath’s brand of epic doom gain a soulfulness that really spoke to the heart of the series.
I love these characters. Not in a too terribly precious way either (least I hope not). I want songs that take me inside these magnificent wolven beasts, and something about Seventh Star does it. From the grandeur of the title track to the life-on-the-edge attitude in Danger Zone, this deeply underrated record finally helped it all congeal into the sand-set epic that was to come.
Voices on a Page
There’s something to be said for adapting celebrity likenesses and traits into fictional characters. Previous behind-the-scenes subject Gerry Anderson was notorious for doing this, routinely having puppets modelled off of hot-item actors and actresses of the day, and having voice artists perform all manner of impressions to suit a character. Most notably, Captain Scarlet actor Francis Matthews would provide the eponymous Spectrum agent the velvet voice of Hollywood icon Cary Grant to great effect.
In the case of 365, there was a subtler version of this at play. Coming from the film background that I do, I regularly drew on the breadth of my knowledge to pull references for character voices and mannerisms as I wrote. But when writing for The Speedfreak Files, something occurred to me: what would these hounds sound like when singing?
Because the series was living life at 11, I couldn’t just settle on a single voice for the power trio Metröpolis. While “Speedfreak” Ridgefield was openly modelled after Motörhead frontman Lemmy, from the Western wardrobe to his white Rickenbacker bass to the growling blues-soaked voice, the other two would take on equally distinctive styles.
Guitarist “Richter” Garret would wind up, with the iron-clad vocal chords of, lo and behold, Graham Bonnet! The man reared his head once again, with an apocalyptic voice fit for the tempestuous young lawman, supplying a raw power few singers have ever achieved before or since.
Earlier drafts of On the Ivory Coast explicitly named the song Richter could wail on to impress frontman Nic: the colonial speed metal of “Jet to Jet” from the aforementioned No Parole from Rock ‘N’ Roll, with both the story title and the desolate DMZ between Haven and the Wastelands pulled from a lyric in the song.
It is also something of an ironic twist to giving the delinquent guitarist these golden pipes. On one hand was Bonnet’s infamous James Dean-meets-Miami Vice image that proved controversial with Ritchie Blackmore; a short-cut pompadour hair style and an array of Hawaiian shirts and colorful suits. On the other was his associations with almost every guitar god on the planet, including Blackmore, Michael Schenker, and most notably, Yngwie Malmsteen and Steve Vai in Alcatrazz.
The cherry atop it all is the fact that Malmsteen, Blackmore, and Motörhead guitarist “Fast” Eddie Clarke all share something in common with young “Richter” Garret; the Fender Stratocaster.
Richter was set to conquer.
While never publicly pushed in stories, the voice of “Madskins” Armstrong was modelled on W.A.S.P. frontman Blackie Lawless. The forthright leader of the L.A. shock rock behemoth, Lawless’ indominable banshee screams and white-knuckled deliveries felt perfect for the trio’s skin-bashing biker.
In earlier drafts of Maniacs Afire (whose working title of “Flesh, Fur, & Fire” was a nod to 1986 B-side “Flesh & Fire”), Rory was seen leading the charge on drafting a setlist to showcase all three voices at once.
“I come in with ‘Scream Until You Like It,’ Harry comes back in with ‘All Night Long,’ and then we give ‘em an encore of ‘Overkill,’ but in a sorta round. Like the three of us all take turns on verses?” - Rory Armstrong
Feb. ‘23 Draft of “Maniacs Afire”
For those not in the know, “Scream Until You Like It” was a 1987 W.A.S.P. song written for the soundtrack of B-flick sequel Ghoulies II, the other two being Top 10 Rainbow hit “All Night Long,” and Motörhead classic “Overkill” respectively.
Another amusing exchange occurs when, after some heated back-and-forth, Harry questions if Rory would still be able to nail the banshee shriek in W.A.S.P. standard “Animal” after putting his voice through the ringer for a full show, to which the following occurs:
“Rory drew breath and gave me the loudest cry of “I FUCK LIKE A BEAST” I have ever beheld in life. My hat flew off, our ears went flat-back, and I’m pretty sure I still owe Doc like, 100-something credits for the glasses shattered.” - Nic Ridgefield
Feb. ‘23 Draft of “Maniacs Afire”
Now, admittedly, a lot of this is fan-fiction horseshit that has a snowball’s chance in hell of happening in a show or film (for now…), but the difference is that all three are their own characters. They aren’t inserts of celebrities, but characters with their own ticks, ways about the world, and dynamics with one another. Plus, we have the benefit of being set in the distant future where, regardless of those with us and those no longer, all of these artists can only live on through the records upon records of awesome music and the musicians who keep singing their songs.
Moreover, the key is that these references do not impact functionality within the series. There’s a tendency in modern writing to wink-and-nod with such violent awareness, the whole in-joke or lack thereof feels jammed down the audience’s throat. When writing for 365, the references are more for me than the audience, and are often written with a deft enough touch. Those who get it get to join the Secret Society (decoder ring coming soon) of those with good taste, and those who don’t can carry on with the story as wrote.
In short, it’s my party and I’ll scream if I want to. And so will these three killers.
To put it succinctly, 365 is metal. Without it, we would not have the kind of swagger, style, or sheer tenacity to keep going. It is that indominable spirit, that fuck-you bombast, and overwhelming variety that sparks the imagination that drives this series forward and informs its madcap world.
I don’t shill it often, but any of our readers on Spotify might dig our “Ride On” Mix. Exactly 365 tunes that best captures the many moods of the series. And trust me, some of the songs in here get heavy.
In the words of George Carlin, “I have no ending for this, so I take a small bow.”
Thanks for reading.