It is a tough call and as ideas go, bringing the dead ‘back to life’ and not one to be taken lightly. Thanks to technological advancements being what they are – we have already seen holograms of artists ranging from Dio, Whitney Houston and Roy Orbison ‘perform’ on tours that travel the world and as bizarre as the idea may sound, such tours have been successful. It is an emotive subject but one that raises genuine questions and not everyone is going to be on the same page. For every person happy that such performances exists where they can enjoy their favourite artist, there is another that says it is macabre, let the artist rest in peace. The story is not exactly the same but there was similar commentary when Static-X announced a tour to be followed with an album despite the fact that Static-X ended in 2013 and seemingly forever upon the death of its guitarist/vocalist and founding member Wayne Static in 2014. While Static-X’s story is not one of holograms, it is still a tale worth telling, one of life, death and artistic rebirth.
Static-X was formed in 1994 by guitarist/vocalist/ programmer Wayne Richard Wells and drummer Ken Jay when their previous group Deep Blue Dream (which featured Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins) disbanded. Moving to Los Angeles, they formed a new outfit called Drill with guitarist Emerson Swinford and bassist Tony Campos. When Swinford left to pursue other ventures, Drill recruited guitarist/keyboardist/programmer Koichi Fukuda. Wells later changed his name to Static intending to give his new band the same name but realised that there was already enough acts with an identical moniker – so added the X. Static-X arrived at the tail end of the 1990’s with their Wisconsin Death Trip debut which came with some hype prior to its major label release.
Aligned with the nu-metal scene but in actuality, Static-X was very much an industrial metal act influenced by bands such as Ministry and Skinny Puppy and Static himself even cited house music as an influence on the band; the album – a blend of razor sharp sharp riffage, danceable rhythms, programming and clever sampling made a sound that was to be described by the band as “evil disco”. With first single Push It becoming a rock radio hit, Wisconsin Death Trip was a roaring success with the record buying public with tours supporting Fear Factory and Slayer plus appearances at Ozzfest propelled the band to major success with the album being certified platinum in the US. There was pressure to deliver a follow up which Static took personally and while the rest of the band wanted to enjoy the touring aspect, Static spent the two years writing which denied his band mates the partaking in the creative process. This caused friction and Fukuda left the at the end of the tour forcing Static-X to record as a three piece. The album – Machine – was released in 2001 and was a commercial success. Former Murderdolls/Dope guitarist Tripp Eisen was recruited to replace Fukuda.
The turning point for the next stage in Static-X’s evolution was when Johnathan Davis of Bakersfield nu-metal icons Korn approached Static to perform vocals on a song called Not Meant For Me written for the soundtrack to the film Queen Of The Damned (based on the Anne Rice novel of the same name and the third book in The Vampire Chronicles series). The track attracted the attention of Warner executives who pressured Static-X to go for a more melodic sound even going so far as to forcing them to use a more commercial producer over Ulrich Wild who had produced both Wisconsin Death Trip and Machine. Prior to the beginning of the recording process for the new album, drummer and original member Ken Jay left the band. Shadowzone was released in 2003 and while successful, it failed to reach the same heights as the previous two albums. Following the gap filler Beneath…Between….Beyond rarities/demo collection in 2004, Static-X prepared for work on follow up Start A War when guitarist Tripp Eisen was arrested for unlawful sexual intercourse with underage girls and was duly fired from the band to be replaced by original guitarist Koichi Fukuda. The album was eventually released in 2005. Fifth album Cannibal was released in 2007 and the same year Campos was drafted to tour with Ministry following the death of bassist Paul Raven and that same year Static himself announced an intention to record solo material as a side project. Static-X began working on their sixth album Cult Of Static in early 2008. In January of 2008, Wayne Static married adult film actress Tera Wray – and later that year released their first live album Cannibal Killers with Cult Of Static seeing the light of day in March 2009 reaching their highest chart position since Machine eight years previously.
Then the wheels began to come off. Friction grew in the band and while technically Static-X was still together, band members were actually engaged in other projects suggesting break up or at least hiatus. Campos left (although states that he never actually left Static-X) to join Soulfly; Static himself announced that he was releasing solo material originally under the banner of Pighammer although when the album was released in 2011 this became the album’s name as a Wayne Static solo project. For all intents and purposes, call it ‘broken up’ or ‘hiatus’ but Static-X the band was not actually a going concern. Static tried to reform the band in 2012 but the other members refused to join with the blame firmly laid at Campos’ door by Static as to a dispute over the name. As is often said – there are two sides to every story. Tony Campos was painted as a villain, but tour manager and friend of the band since 2001 Eric Dinklemann told a different story in that Wayne’s solo project was not going as planned and wanted to change the terms of the agreement with Campos. Whilst Wayne did not reform Static-X per se, he did perform under his own name playing the band’s music with other musicians before formally ending the band in 2013 citing arguments with Campos over the name becoming too much to bear.
On 1st November 2014, Wayne Static tragically died. He was 48 years old. Substance abuse had been a spectre that had followed Wayne although he and his wife had walked away from illicit substances in 2009. While drugs were initially blamed for Static’s death, the family denied this but the coroner’s report stated that Static’s passing was due to accidental overdose, excessive amounts of prescription drugs – painkillers and anti-anxiety medication – and alcohol in his system. The loss of Wayne was felt throughout the metal community, tributes came far and wide and a memorial show was held on 20th January 2015. Despite the event being a celebration of Wayne’s life in music, sadly, his former bandmates and crew were banned from the memorial by Wayne’s wife Tera. On 13th January 2016, Wayne’s widow Tera Wray committed suicide. She was 33. Wayne’s passing was obviously a human tragedy and a devastating loss for his wife and family, no words can describe their loss. From an artistic point of view, Static had much more to give to music. No-one knows whether Static would have continued on the solo path or if he and his former band mates would have reconciled and resolved their differences – although a statement from Tony Campos in 2019 detailing Campos’ relationship with Wayne stated the hope for a reconciliation. Wayne had at least left a body of work that would be remembered by generations but what happened next was something of a surprise. Or was it?
Wayne Static may have been the face of Static-X, its vocalist, front man, guitarist, brainstormer, a creative engineer and obviously a founding member but the band was a partnership. An acrimonious end and a feud played out in the press and public and a death does not stop another founding member operating Static-X banner and as difficult as this may be to stomach, this exact situation has been successful for bands such as Queen and Alice In Chains. In October 2018 it was announced that Static-X had reformed with the three original members, Tony Campos on bass, original drummer Ken Jay and guitarist Koichi Fukuda and that there were plans to tour the dual purpose being in tribute to Wayne and in celebration of the 20th anniversary of Wisconsin Death Trip. Naturally, questions were raised as to how a tour as Static-X without Wayne would take place. A hologram? Video material? The answer came in the form of a live front man named by the band as “Xer0” whose identity is hidden behind a ghoulish mask with the signature upward spiky hairstyle like Wayne’s.
The idea was not universally praised and in fact condemned by some as “zombie Wayne Static” and “creepy Wayne Static cosplay”. If nothing the announcement was brave and defence of the decision was not just that other bands had done the same thing but Tony Campos stated that it had the blessing of Wayne’s family. Drummer Ken Jay took it one step further commentating that it “fit Wayne’s terrific morbid sense of humour” but what Wayne himself would have thought will always be unknown. The identity of “Xer0” has never officially been confirmed but it is thought that the singer is a friend of the band, Dope main man Edsel Dope – although this has been emphatically denied by Dope himself – the rumour persists. The tour was a huge success. It was also announced that there would be a new album entitled Project Regeneration Vol 1 to be released in 2019. Originally, the idea was to have guest vocalists but then it was discovered that Wayne left behind a number of demos that he had been working on and had sent to a producer friend. Campos himself found unreleased demos that did not make the Start A War album and that these would be re-worked to form Project Regeneration Vol 1. Despite the record tentatively slated for a 2019 release, the album did not see the light of day until July 2020. This delay is thought to be due to a dispute with former guitarist Tripp Eisen who claimed some of the songs that make the album were ideas that he worked on with Wayne during his tenure with the band. Citing a legal dispute delaying the album’s release and claiming that songs had been altered to deny him credit and that he was responsible for the reunion – even saying “you’re welcome” to throw some salt onto an open wound. Eisen also claimed credit for bringing “Xer0” to the band and a further war or words has broken out with Edsel Dope going on the attack in response to Eisen’s claims –an attack that Eisen responded to. The band has confirmed and did not deny that they were using some of Eisen’s compositions but that he had no involvement in the studio.
The unexpected thing tragedy gives us is the opportunity to rebuildIntroduction to opening track to Project Regeneration Vol 1
“Anticipated release” is a phrase often tossed around when there is no such thing, but the fact that there is a new Static-X release eleven years after the last album Cult Of Static and six years following the death of Wayne Static does throw a punch of anticipation that it is going to be difficult to duck from.
Static’s death left something of a void; like any of our heroes that pass before their time and therefore denying us more recorded material and live shows, their life and art permeates our world, we may not know them personally but we feel that we do and their loss can be considerable. Wayne Static was individual; a sense of the weird and wonderful and gave the Industrial scene some extra spin. The sound felt revolutionary when Static-X’s debut Wisconsin Death Trip arrived in 1999 and despite them being lined up with nu-metal, they breathed some life into the 1990s. And listening even now to Static-X albums, they are still vital, they do not feel their age or belonging to a certain time and avoids the ‘footnote in metal history’ drop point. Land some of those tunes on the dancefloor and it will move! Wayne Static and his bandmates brought something to our lives and his loss as a character, artist and performer is major one.
There has to be some trepidation of a new album and one formed from musical ideas left by Wayne; the possibility that a record is cobbled together, stitched up Frankenstein-like and if it is not done in the right way therefore sullies the memory of the very man it is supposed to be laying tribute to. Project Regeneration Vol 1 is none of this – what Static-X – Tony Campos, Ken Jay and Koichi Fukuda (plus producer Ulrich Wild) have achieved with this album is simply extraordinary. With new material and hearing Wayne’s voice, there is that haunting aspect to it but this is no maudlin trip through sentiment, these are new songs that are full on Static-X. Project Regeneration Vol 1 is an invigorating listen; the material lying between the melodic and wide eyed savagery which does fit the time period between Shadow Zone and Start A War. Project Regeneration Vol 1 but musically it is prime time pedal to the metal “evil disco” that Static-X were known for – and it is this combination that makes this album so remarkable. As much as we know from what period Wayne’s vocal ideas came from, the way that they have been assembled, songs like Terminator Oscillator with its hammer time staccato could easily have been plucked from Wisconsin Death Trip era Static-X. The same goes for Ostego Placebo – with its cool dialogue samples from Schwarzanegger films Running Man and Total Recall), sounds fresh but could be straight from the halcyon days. There is some comfort in the material, not the familiarity as such because this is a diverse collection of new songs but the sonics and the landscape in which the songs reside, the use of samples – some familiar from earlier works – and drops of dialogue that that take us back in time to earlier versions of the band while bringing us bang up to date as well and added to new.
Before the Wayne Static vocals were ‘discovered’, it had been touted that Project Generation Vol 1 would feature guests and while this suggested vocals, the final released version does indeed feature guests weaving within the album. While “Xer0” performs throughout the record, there are credits given to Mushroomhead guitarist Tommy Shaffner, former Dope bassist Nikk Dibbs although it is Ministry’s Al Jourgensen that gets the “proper” guest slot with vocals on the closing track Dead Souls. And while the very mention of his name may emit shivers, what of Eisen’s contributions? These tracks, Hollow, Bring You Down and Something Of My Own are all suffixed with (Project Regeneration).
Project Regeneration Vol1 is a heavy record but its clever mix, the samples and dialogue and even some of the tunes themselves have enough melody to take away it being totally relentless. And in the Static-X style, nothing stays the same for that long and the album is not short of a hooky chorus or two such as the one in Worth Dyin’ For and the aforementioned closing track Dead Souls is a slow burn fantastic end to a record that may be a brisk 39 minutes but the rollercoaster it takes feels way longer. What Static-X brought to metal was flair and excitement, the industrial noise, the electronic beats, the samples, loops and effects. While this almost sounds “cinematic”, it was done in a perverse way because that was what industrial was all about, bending and shaping to make something new. Project Regeneration Vol 1 is a full on metal record that is totally Static-X and the balance of instrumentation and these “outside” influences is just superb.
Tony Campos, Ken Jay, Koichi Fukuda and producer Ulrich Wild have really taken this project to task, have taken Wayne’s ideas and made them in to an up to date product which is just phenomenal, realising both potential and the spirit of Wayne. This is no easy feat. Project Regeneration Vol 1 could have been could have been a disaster but this is an album that snaps victory out of the jaws of defeat in the most startling way. As the intro to the opening song – “The opportunity that tragedy gives us is the opportunity to rebuild” – and with tours done and now a record out, the transition is complete, Static-X has been rebuilt and it could – in theory – go on forever. The title Vol 1 does indicate another record and the band has confirmed this, whether this more of Wayne’s left over ideas or whether this is all XerO on vocals has yet to be revealed. Campos has stated that the band could continue “if the fans want it”.
For now, Static-X is literally back from the dead and while we will never know what Wayne would have made of it, from a fan’s perspective, Static-X has given way more than could have ever been asked.