Just two years ago, Zach Moore feared that he had missed his shot at success. He'd just broken 30, and his band, Hero Destroyed, had spent years playing in Pittsburgh's metal scene without a big break to speak of.
"At that point in my life, I'd sort of already said we were just playing for fun," says Moore during a lunchtime beer break in Oakland. "Getting found and touring the world -- I thought that was something that happens when you're younger. I thought we'd missed our chance. But then it came."
And it came in the form of a MySpace message.
Pittsburgh math-rock weirdos Don Caballero, longtime friends of Hero Destroyed, had passed along the band's EP to Don Cab's own reps at Relapse Records.
As Moore recalls with a smile, the resulting MySpace message from Relapse "just read, 'We heard your EP. We're interested in talking.' I still have that message."
Fast-forward to 2010, and Moore is singing -- or screaming, to be precise -- a different tune. Hero Destroyed is signed to Relapse Records, one of heavy metal's most respected names. (The band's labelmates include the likes of The Dillinger Escape Plan, Coalesce, Cephalic Carnage and modern metal legends Mastodon.) Hero Destroyed has recently released Throes, its debut full-length album of brutal, earthquaking metal. And the band is now regularly touring the East Coast.
Moore and Hero Destroyed have come a long way since 1998, when Hero Destroyed was born -- as "Nob" -- in the South Hills. Lineup changes and general restlessness resulted in a new moniker in 2005. Not long after that, the band's current roster took shape: Moore and fellow guitarist Jeff Turko, vocalist Pat McNicholas, Dustin Newman on bass and drummer Neal Andrus. The self-titled EP that drew Relapse's attention was dropped in 2006 (and later reissued by the label).
A lifelong Pittsburgher, Moore says Hero Destroyed's brand of technical, thrashing metal fits in with the city's somewhat off-kilter musical tradition.
"People always ask why all the strange bands come out of Pittsburgh," he says. "I don't know, but it's true -- they tend to have a strange little edge to them."
Take acts ranging from Girl Talk to Don Cab as proof -- and the phenomenon extends even to a metal genre often criticized for being stuck in its ways. On Throes, Hero Destroyed expertly mixes different strands of metal -- the surgical precision and nervous energy of math-metal, the brute force and growl of some Southern metal and even the abrasive scratch of doom or sludge metal. Moore promises that it's worlds away from any of "the worst bands who've made it" like "Disturbed, or any band on The X." But you can put the labels aside: At face value, Throes is just a powerful, crushing document of heavy metal's retained relevance. And it may also be a key piece of evidence proving that Pittsburgh is an incubator for aggressive music.
One band alone won't put Pittsburgh metal on the map, and Moore says the city needs some unity for any of its many scenes to flourish.
"I'd like to see more cooperation between bands, venues and promoters. They are three separate entities right now," says Moore, and are often at odds with each other. "I don't know why it's such a three-headed monster."
But such complaints are rarer now: The fears of just a few years ago have been overshadowed by the band's promising future.
"We still have the bills to pay, the house to maintain," says Moore. "You've got to be realistic, but you never want to say 'No, that can't happen.' We're doing what we want to do."