"I was like every other teenager who had dreams and aspirations to be a rock star, but I never got out of the garage," says Aaron Hayden, bassist with local metal/thrash band Masticated. "I didn't actually play my first gig until I played with friends while I was in the Marine Corps. It definitely helped."
The City Paper first heard about Masticated this summer when a pack of local metal bands got together at the Oasis on James Island for a showcase/competition (the top band won an opening slot for Otep). Charleston's underground metal scene was on full display with sets from Foraminis, Actuatus, Masticated, Mare of Steel, Alcoholicaust, The Sign of the Southern Cross, Eva, Red Skies, The 33's, and Primo Noctis.
"Every band is different in the Lowcountry metal scene," says Hayden. "You never really see or hear the same thing twice."
Hayden, 26, became a soldier well before he considered becoming a professional musician. He grew up in the Lowcountry, moving around from West Ashley to Summerville and Goose Creek. In 2002, just a couple of months out of high school, he was working at Walmart and Papa John's when he decided to dump the dead-end day jobs and join the U.S. Marine Corps.
"I knew I had to take another step to grow up," he remembers. "I thought I'd give the military a shot. The party was starting to get a little old. I was doing the same old thing all the time ... stuck in a rut. I figured that the Marine Corps was the toughest branch out there, so I was naturally attracted to it."
Although he joined shortly after the events of 9/11, he was motivated mostly by his own personal goals to serve his country, gain valuable experience, and grow into a more confident individual. Of course, the attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., in 2001 rattled him as much as any young recruit.
"I still get chills on my spine when I think about that day," he says. "How America rallied to the cause is inspiring. It was like, 'Let's go kick some terrorist butt,' you know?"
Hayden completed his 13-week basic training in Parris Island and served four years, working in North Carolina and Okinawa, Japan. He met his wife along the way, and they decided to come home to the Lowcountry to settle down.
"Basic training definitely makes you appreciate home a lot, because you hit the ground running, and there's no down time until at night before you hit the rack," he says. "It made me closer to my family, to be quite honest. I've been to a lot of places around the world, but Charleston's always been home to me."
Hayden's first serious local band was a punk-metal four-piece called Hate Excel. They played a few gigs at A Dough Re Mi and Oasis, usually at the bottom of multiple band bills.
The group fell apart around the time Hayden's active duty with the Marines winded down. He re-enlisted into the Air Force Reserves in 2008 and currently serves as a senior airman and ground equipment technician working with crews on the C17s at the Charleston Air Force Base (the huge planes supply cargo to the war efforts in the Middle East).
"When your active duty time comes to an end and you're still in your early 20s, you still have a lot of energy," Hayden says. "I kind of started missing the structure and camaraderie that a lot of veterans miss. I wanted another opportunity to serve and stay in Charleston. The Air Force Reserve offered a way to serve the country and work in the area."
Hayden joined Masticated and started handling bass duties earlier this year. Drummer Brandon Duncan and guitarist Tim Morrison had formed the band last January. Chris Summers, of local metal band Mare of Steel, sang and screamed for Masticated during their formation period.
"The band is new, and the lineup has changed a bit, but it's going really good," says Hayden. "Chris did a vocal track on a song called 'Distance' for us, and it got played on the Bam Show on 98X."
Rob "Big Gore" Emery of Coffin Syrup, Chris Viera of Blindsyght, and Omar Mitchell have jumped on the lead mic on occasion, too. The newest recruit is a guitarist named Ed "Theeze" Na.
The band name can conjure wicked and disturbing images — cannibalistic or otherwise. The word literally means "chewed." The band's music has enough bite to back up the brutal connotations.
"It definitely has an effect," says Hayden. "When you say it, people are like, 'What?' Duncan came up with it.
"People have their different influences," he adds. "I like other kinds of music, but I grew up on classic stuff like Iron Maiden, Metallica, Anthrax, and the old-school stuff. I like all metal as long as it sounds good. Duncan's into more of the European stuff, like Children of Odin and bands I have a hard time keeping up with."
The band sounds quite locked-in on a recent demo, especially on a track titled "Corpse Fire," a grinding, syncopated dirge in drop-D tuning with tricky rhythms and patterns. It's early Sabbath on 45 rpm.
"Naturally, we're still discovering our full capabilities," says Hayden. "We're experimenting with different kinds of metal — even tuning down sometimes. We're really just a bunch of guys who love to get together and create music. It's not about money, fame, or recognitions. It's just a life-long passion that we've all had. I'm glad it's coming together, and I'm glad that people are enjoying it.
"Playing music is a stress reliever, and it allows you to express yourself," he adds. "If you're having a bad day, you can just pick up a guitar and kind of wail away, you know?"
Masticated shares the stage with Fortune at the Oasis Bar & Grill on Fri. Sept. 24 at 8 p.m. For more info, visit myspace.com/masticated.