Metal's Slave Escapes 

Weary from labor of love, Mario Perotti has sold his online headbangin' haven to the Man.

It's the little things that matter to Mario Perotti now. Daylight, for example. "I was looking at my schedule going, 'Okay, I've gotta go to this show, I've gotta organize this,' and I started realizing, 'You know what, this is getting to be a lot of work!'" recalls the giddily abdicated king of, the nearly-five-year-old NorCal metal Web site. "I was spending hours and hours on the road, and hours and hours in small little dark clubs. I stopped seeing the sun, basically. I'm serious, man."

Mario is a Bay-Area-and-beyond metal scene legend for masterminding Powerslave, the means by which a Bay-Area-and-beyond metal scene legend can actually form. He officially launched the site in July 1999, after enjoying several local metal acts in concert but completely failing to find any info about 'em online later on.

Originally, Powerslave consisted of a couple pages and info on ten to twelve bands. But hit it up today and you'll find a labyrinthine portal of evil containing show and CD reviews, a frequently updated news section ("Beat Officers drummer Weppon has injured his shoulder, and may be out for a few weeks"), a staggeringly huge band profile section (seventy-plus from the East Bay alone), and, of course, a fleet of message boards; the "General Discussion ... Total Chaos" board is inching slowly toward half a million posts.

Powerslave is without question the most exhaustive and beloved music scene Web site this area has -- it began by covering NorCal metal, and now it literally is NorCal metal. It's also Mario's baby, but citing burnout and a lack of direct sunlight, he has given it up for adoption. And the new owners want to turn the site from a labor of love into a labor of love that pays.

Mario and his co-owner, Michael Graben, sold the site -- though he won't get super-specific, his original price was $50,000, and he doesn't seem too terribly displeased now -- to WiseWeb Trading, a young e-commerce company based in Sunnyvale. Though Powerslave went down for several weeks early this year after Mario officially bailed, it's now back up, with four full-time employees and an ambitious long-term plan: Make money.

"In the immediate future, the income is gonna come from advertising," explains Jason Augustine, Powerslave's new 22-year-old marketing and communications director. "Thirteen thousand hits a day -- actually I think it was closer to twenty -- is what they were getting for December of last year. They didn't pursue advertising all that much, and that kind of traffic will definitely command a high advertising rate."

That Powerslave has survived at all -- most local music sites, no matter how well intentioned, end in general apathy or complete disaster within a year, if that -- is stupefying, but a business? With a marketing and communications director? Is this metal? Will this actually work? And will the Powerslave faithful stand to have Mario the aficionado and martyr replaced by a bunch of earnest e-commerce types?

"At first there was just this huge question of 'Who are these people?'" Jason admits. "It was just such a sudden thing to have Powerslave back up. There was definitely a little bit of that at first. But then, once we got the site up and running and everybody saw that it was back as it was, everybody was just happy that it was back. They saw we weren't making big drastic changes or anything like that."

Indeed, WiseWeb's plan is to avoid overtly changing Powerslave at all, making the site commercially viable without the site's followers even noticing: After all, Mario set up the site with enough advertising to break even, so it's not as if these folks haven't seen a banner ad before. But there's still a disconnect between Saint Mario and these new quasi-stuffed suits: On Powerslave's "Meet the New Staff" page, instead of trumpeting their love for and experience with regional metal, you instead get résumé boosters -- you'll be happy to know Jason's PR efforts at a haunted house "increased attendance by over 300 percent in two years."

Gnarly, but can the dude handle a mosh pit?

Then again, maybe metal posturing is Michelle Prodanovic's job now. Michelle is Powerslave's new editor-in-chief; she posted an impassioned introductory letter on April Fool's Day. Powerslave "has acted as an excavator of boundaries and stereotypes of those associated with metal," she wrote. "It has transformed what we are and what people see us as. We are not just 'metal-heads.' We are intelligent, driven, motivated, passionate, and creative. We are versatile, confident, unique, and we take pride in not conforming. We take pride in not being vacant Gap ads. We aren't manipulated and produced. We'll never be Britney."

Michelle is the new Mario: Powerslave's primary writer and planner and concertgoer. Her mantra is very simple: "It's based on quality, and quality content, period," she explains over the phone. "Anything that goes on our site is proofed a hundred times. We stay away from the bad language, just because it doesn't look professional. Just because we're metal doesn't mean we're stupid."

Chatting with Michelle, she doesn't exactly scream "metal" to you. She peppers her speech with "oh goodness" and "gosh," and lists her age as "never ask a lady that question." But in that sense she's perfect: a walking debunked stereotype about lunkheaded metal dudes who can't get it together. Meanwhile, if the posters in Powerslave's "Total Chaos" forum are any indication, the regime change hardly registered with them at all -- they're back to swapping porn avatars and praising Fight Club as usual.

As for Mario, off into the sunset he rides. You will not find him in da club: He's on a self-imposed one-year show sabbatical as he fine-tunes his new Web business, built largely on the skills and modest fame Powerslave afforded him. And even after a near-five-year run, the withdrawal is already dissipating. "A certain time of day would come when I knew it was time for Powerslave work, and there was no Powerslave work to do," he says. "Normally, I'd complete my day-job responsibilities, and I'd start working on Powerslave about six or seven at night and go till about one o'clock in the morning, but now there was no responsibility. I found myself sitting in front of the TV going, 'Wow, I've got myself some free time. '"


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