R.I.P. Matt Holt of Nothingface

Yesterday, word came out that Matt Holt, former vocalist of Washington, D.C. alt-metallers Nothingface had died after a battle with degenerative illness. Let me tell you a little bit about why he and the band he sang for were important to me.

I imagine for a great many of today’s metal fans, the news of Holt’s death didn’t mean much. Nothingface hadn’t released an album since 2003, and outside of a couple abortive reunion attempts, Holt has kept a low profile in recent years. In any case, the band could be easily dismissed as one of the many also-rans of the nu metal era to do their time on the Ozzfest second stage only to go nowhere.

Nonetheless, I would argue they were much more that. Certainly, the Korn influence is strong in their early work, as heard on the 1995 self-released, self-titled album – later largely re-recorded for the 1996 debut LP on DCide, Pacifier. However, on those records there’s already a strong sense of how to connect heaviness with hooks and melody that made the band stand out among the day’s infestation of Jonathan Davis wannabes.

The balance of elements came to fruition on the band’s 1998 sophomore album, An Audio Guide to Everyday Atrocity. Guitarist Tom Maxwell (whom you may recognize as the guy in the cowboy hat squandering his talents in Hellyeah), drummer Chris Houck, and bassist Bill Gaal delivered an infectious collection of stripped-down groove metal peppered with ominous samples of film dialogue, while Holt alternated between a coarse bark and alt rock-style melodic vocals. Beyond his obvious technical versatility, Holt’s contributions were distinguished by his ability to convey a far greater range of emotion than the average metal vocalist and his bleak lyrical point-of-view.

The darkness grew even more prevalent on 2000’s Violence, when the band made its jump to TVT Records. This album was their most vicious and thoroughly metallic, full of rippers like opener “Make Your Bones,” “Same Solution,” and “American Love.” Still, Holt’s melodic vocals continued to be a prominent feature throughout, notably on the single “Bleeder.”

This period was when I first heard Nothingface. I was a high school kid in northwestern Illinois, feeling my way into metal at the outset of the 2000s. Effectively, that meant listening to a lot of second-rate nu metal as I worked my way through the catalogs of more respectable gateway bands like Metallica, Tool, Pantera, Slayer, and Sepultura. Nothingface caught my ear because their angular riffs and groove-oriented drumming maintained a visceral aggression much of the Pro Tools-saturated alt metal showing up on MTV2 lacked. Meanwhile, the focus on dynamics made the music far more immediately accessible than the limited amount of death metal I’d heard at the time. And, of course, Holt was a huge part of the appeal. The paranoia and frustration he expressed in his lyrics was highly relatable to a pissed-off teenage, with his on-the-dime shifts between murderous rage and angsty melody perfectly capturing the tumult of those stupid, formative years.

When Skeletons was released in 2003,  I was gearing up for college, and my tastes had largely moved toward bands like Opeth, Morbid Angel, Soilwork, Nile, and Meshuggah. Nonetheless, I was glad to hear from Nothingface again, with its first album featuring Tommy Sickles on drums following Houck’s departure during the recording of Violence. Beyond the shift in the rhythm section, the band had further broadened out its pallet. A brutal track like the anti-Christian rant, “Here Come the Butchers” is balanced by “Ether,” basically a straight-up alt-rock song. Holt’s lyrical focus changed as well, with a definite shift toward the political in response to the Bush administration. Still living in a largely conservative, semi-rural town, I felt fortunate to have an ally for my burgeoning leftism in my copy of the CD.

Holt’s mounting frustration with the business end of music also shows through in on a couple Skeletons tracks, especially “I Wish I Was a Communist.” Indeed, the band’s conflicts with TVT (famously also the subject of Trent Reznor’s ire on Broken) seem to have been a major factor in its break-up. Later, there were a couple tries at reviving the band, but relations apparently grew strained between Maxwell and Holt. Consequently, the music world had not heard much from Holt for a while when he died at 39.

I never met Holt. If I had gotten into heavy music four years sooner or later, there’s a good chance his music would not have meant nearly as much to me. But I didn’t, so those records were a major source of catharsis, and Holt was an inspiration for my early attempts at fronting a band. My old copies of An Audio Guide to Everyday Atrocity and Violence still come out a couple times a year, and as I sing along I can remember what it was like to first discover devastating, passionate music that seemed to reflect perfectly what I needed. I thank Matt Holt for that. R.I.P.

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Published on: April 20, 2017

Filled Under: Metal, News, Opinion

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  • Señor Jefe El Rossover

    Great writeup, Dr. K. I’ve never even heard of this dude or his band, but it is obvious the impact he had on you was great. Sad to see another musician go like that.

    • Óðinn

      Yeah, I have to admit this band flew almost completely under my radar. I guess I’ve heard of them, but I couldn’t name a song or pick them out of a lineup. Still, I’m sorry to hear that one of the band members has died.

    • Dr. K

      Like I said, I think if you got into heavy stuff a few years before or after me, I would really not expect you to have more than a passing familiarity with the group. I think most people who were around for that precise period have fond memories of them though, largely just because so many other bands were doing similar things at the same time not nearly as well. There are a couple metalcore bands about whom I have similar feelings, but hopefully I won’t be writing in memoriams for any of their members anytime soon.

      • Señor Jefe El Rossover

        I completely understand and respect that!

        Also, I hope you won’t be writing anymore memoriams soon as well. Quite possibly the worst inspiration for an article.

  • TheGranulatingDarkSatanicMilfs

    Great article, Dr.

    I didn’t listen to this band until sometime in 2003, and by the time I was already into death and black metal. I just remember reading an article in Revolver (I know) about how the poor guy had battled substance abuse, and had lost everything he had in a house fire prior to the recording of Skeletons. That made me curious about the band, so I checked their song “Ether”, which I though was pretty good, but since it didn’t have blast beats I didn’t pay much attention to it. It wasn’t until many years later (2013 perhaps), when the nu metal revival started happening, that people started referring to them as “the only nu metal band that was good/didn’t suck” that I finally checked their complete catalog. I definitely see how they could have been a gateway band for many people into more extreme metal.

    Very talented vocalist and may he rest in peace

  • i just about burned through the plastic on my Violence CD back in the day. awesome tribute, Dr. K. RIP, Matt Holt

    • xengineofdeathx

      I had the shirt with the meat hook with blood on it that said “it’s everybody’s time to die.” Rocked that shit and felt so edgy in 9th grade. Damn…

    • ME GORAK™✓ᶜᵃᵛᵉᵐᵃⁿ

      DID U SEE ON PANTERA MORBID ANGEL & SOULFLY TOUR?????

      • No sir. Back in y2k (as we called it) I had probably only heard one Soulfly album and I certainly would have considered MA too heavy. But now, that tour sounds bad ace!

        • ME GORAK™✓ᶜᵃᵛᵉᵐᵃⁿ

          TOUR ONE OF FEW COOL SHOWS TO ACTUALLY STOP IN TOILLETTO!!!!!!!!
          PICKED UP VIOLENCE AFTER SHOW!!!!!! HAVE NOT LISTENED IN REEL LONG TIME NOW!!!!!!

        • xengineofdeathx

          I weirdly was stoked for MA. I might have been the only person there (gotta remember this is Wyoming), besides this old hesher dude who was all “I’ve been listening to death metal since you little motherfuckers were in diapers.” I didn’t know it wasn’t cool to like death metal and bands like Korn and Mudvayne etc. I just tried to grab everything I could on Kazaa Haha

      • Here’s one you’ll appreciate: at around that same time, we had an “Extreme Hoe-down” in STL featuring Sevendust, Fear Factory, Staind, uh…. Powerman 5000, a few others, and we left before Slipknot and headliner Kid Rock took the stage. Haha! I was an elitist back then too.

        • ME GORAK™✓ᶜᵃᵛᵉᵐᵃⁿ

          GORAK HAVE SEEN MOAR OF THOSE BANDS THEN CARE 2 ADMIT!!!!!!!!!!

      • xengineofdeathx

        Yes I did!

  • Howard Dean

    RIP to a great legend. I really wish Nothingface, Motograter, and Static-X would’ve done a tour together and stopped in Poughkeepsie.

    –JJD

    • Sid Vicious Promos

      Motograter is coming here in May. I’ll be there.

  • FrankWhiteKingOfNY

    Always liked Violence. While they were thrown under the dreaded “nu metal” umbrella, I always felt they (or at least their best stuff) were more of a groove metal band with a knack for writing simple but extremely energetic riffs, excellent vocal hooks and just overall great songs.

    MY EYES SEE EVERYTHING I WANT THEM TO; I JUST DON’T WANT THEM TO SEE YOU

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g6uawGBDGCg

  • Wet W’s Whistle

    A worthy eulogy! I was actually going to comment on the TVT/NIN beef, but then you covered it, haha. Well done, Dr. K.

    • Howard Dean

      Hey Dubz,

      Will we see the Elite 8 for the Greatest Metal Concept Album contest soon, or is it being discontinued? Just remembered it and realized it’s been like 2 weeks since the Sweet Sixteen.

      • Wet W’s Whistle

        Tomorrow!

    • TheGranulatingDarkSatanicMilfs

      I googled TVT because I was curious to see with other bands have had a beef with them, but most of the results were about something called “Tension-free Vaginal Tape”. You have to actually type “TVT Records” to get any info on the label

  • xengineofdeathx

    Was not expecting to be so bummed out by this news, Nothingface was literally the first metal band I ever saw live. Like Deftones I felt that they had way more to offer than what their genre tag suggested. I grew out of them a little bit, but had actually been going back to their catalogue a few weeks ago, and was enjoying Violence and An Audio Guide to Every Day Atrocity a lot. Super talented vocalist. This sucks, man. https://youtu.be/Iu90lAtwMHE

  • Óðinn
  • Sid Vicious Promos

    RIP. I loved Nothingface and they shouldn’t have disbanded. Tom Maxwell never should have joined Hellyeah.

    • TheGranulatingDarkSatanicMilfs

      Definitely agree with the Doc that Maxwell squanders his talent in that band

    • Óðinn
  • Depechemodeisgangsta

    I enjoyed some of their songs, for some reason Nothingface, was one of those bands that got caught up in the “Nu-metal” label but almost everyone enjoyed their music.
    Sad to hear about his passing specially at that age.

  • frozengoatsheadupanunsarse

    A fine and touching eulogy. Rest in peace.

  • Óðinn

    Thanks, Dr. K.

  • Mosh Hoff

    I used to spin Violence and Audio Guide a lot when I was in High School. I can’t remember how I heard about them, but Disturbed-fan Moshito really, really dug those albums.

    I guess now’s as good a time as any to revist them, sad as the circumstances are.

  • Nice work Dr. K, I still spin Audioguide every now and then. I always describe that album as if the Deftones were playing Fear Factory’s Demanufacture.

  • Waynecro

    This is a thoughtful and touching eulogy, Kolkey. Very nicely done.

  • sweetooth0

    Always liked Nothingface. Violence rules. Random bit of odd trivia: No slot loading CD player I have ever tried the Violence CD in will play it. Not sure what’s up with that…

  • Ian H

    I can relate completely, very well done. He was one of my favorites. I did meet him when I was 17 at Tattoo the Earth Festival in 2000. My friends and I had some weed and he smoked with us and talked about how his scream was “real; from the gut, not like a lot of these fake fucks cupping the mic and shit.” He just seemed like a down-to-earth cool dude, and I’m gonna miss hoping for yet another Nothingface record. R.I.P.