This is the story of Tom Gattis, a 47-year-old structural engineer at Los Alamos National Laboratory--or, more accurately, this is the story of Gattis' thrash-metal band, Tension. Back in the magical decade known as the '80s, Gattis formed Tension as a four-piece in Maryland. A superfan of punk bands like Dead Boys and Bad Brains, Gattis set out to create a thrashy, fast and hard sound. Sonically, the result lands somewhere between Mercyful Fate and Iron Maiden. This is guitar-shreddin', soprano-shriekin' awesomeness--metal the way it was before emo kids got sick of being emo and learned how to tune to drop D and string together tiresome, chugging, "jud-jud-jud" sounds.
"I always thought of Tension as punk with more notes," Gattis says with a laugh. "I was way into punk, and when metal started becoming a more legitimate genre in the late '70s, I thought that some of these bands like Black Sabbath or Judas Priest actually sounded very punk, but the dudes were just better at their instruments."
In its heyday, Tension enjoyed opening spots for Queensryche, Megadeth and Ratt. Eventually, Tension was picked up by then-killer metal label Roadrunner Records (better known today for ubershitty bands such as Nickelback, Korn and Slipknot). In 1987, Tension released an album called Breaking Point, and the band's future looked incredibly bright. Then it split up.
"Back in those days, Maryland wasn't exactly what you'd call a hotbed for media attention," Gattis says. "It came down to a choice between moving to a city where we'd have a fighting chance to go places or parting ways...We parted ways."
Gattis moved in with his mother in Pojoaque and pursued a college degree in engineering. Though he dabbled in metal bands from time to time, school became his focus, and over time, his dreams of rock 'n' roll superstardom slowly faded away.
Cut to sometime last year: Gattis receives a phone call from the organizers of the Keep It True Festival, a massive annual gathering of the world's best metal acts in Lauda-Konigshofen, Germany. Turns out, Breaking Point had become a cult hit in Germany, and a whole new generation of metal heads had been losing its shit over Tension's music. Subsequently, the organizers of Keep It True asked the band to reunite and perform alongside legendary metal acts such as Anvil, Ostrogoth and Saracen at the festival in April 2012.
"Keep It True is the fest for metal acts that may not play all the time, but have albums that never really died out," Gattis says. "To be going about my business working as an engineer and discover I was pretty famous overseas has been pretty wild, and the guys are all very excited to perform again."
Despite two decades of inactivity, Gattis insists Tension's recent band practices have gone very well, noting, "It's as if we never split." Between the reunion and the oft-desired German metal seal of approval, Tension has been offered a second chance at ruling the world. A reissue of Breaking Point is in the works, as is a documentary titled Tension: 25 Years Underground. Gattis also has high hopes for new recordings and, if we're lucky, domestic touring.
"I'd love to get some all-ages Tension shows booked in New Mexico," he says. "I've looked around, and it doesn't seem like there's a whole lot for kids to do or places for them to go. This is sad because everywhere should have a place for kids that want to rock."
No one knows what the future holds for Tension, but with a kick-ass sound and a front man as skilled as Gattis, there's practically no limit to what the band can accomplish with this new opportunity. Metal, like so many other genres, has been homogenized over the years, and for a band from the style's glory days to re-emerge like some kind of goddamned acid-spewing phoenix is promising.
"We just wanna beat some ass," Gattis says.
Santa Fe Reporter