Failure is never fun, but sometimes it's an important part of the creative process. Elijah Blue Allman's alternative metal band Deadsy is a prime example of what can happen to young artists when they have enough money to invest in their shortcomings.
Though Deadsy hasn't released an album since 2006 and never quite managed to break through, it did have redeeming qualities. If the project had been reimagined early on, it may have been a valuable launching pad for Allman. But the son of Cher and Allman Brothers Band founder Gregg doubled down instead and paid the price in the long term.
These days, Allman is mostly known for his ongoing legal battle with his mother, who wants to become his conservator. She's worried her son's alleged drug use will lead him to blow the fortune left by his father. Allman is fighting back in court, where he claimed he's been sober since October. But even if everything goes perfectly for Allman from here on out, it's hard to envision him filling the massive shoes left by his superstar parents.
Deadsy's sound was defined by its booming production and electronic and industrial influences. The group struggled to put out captivating material in a timely manner and has been mostly forgotten as a result. But Deadsy's catalog had a handful of decent tracks that indicated there was a creative spark somewhere in the mix.
Like his parents, Allman has a great voice. It's a dramatic baritone with a bratty snarl. All of the band's recordings have a distinct synthesized buzzsaw bass tone that blows the listener away. It allowed the group to be incredibly heavy all the time, even on poppier and more sentimental tracks.
Although Deadsy wasn't an orthodox nu metal act, it certainly engaged in some of the marketing gimmicks associated with the genre. Deftones had its turntables, Slipknot had its percussive oil drums, and Deadsy had the Z-tar – an obscure MIDI-based guitar synthesizer. The band also recorded two notable covers, one of Rush's "Tom Sawyer" and another of the Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black."
Deadsy's roots stretch back to the early 1990s, when Allman and the group's synthesizer player Renn Hawkey met at the Hyde School in Maine. A cartoon version of the elite boarding school's grounds graced the cover of the band's 2002 album Commencement, according to an interview published in 2003. After laying down a demo in 1996, Deadsy signed to Sire Records and recorded their self-titled studio album.
The LP opens with "Lake Waramaug," a mid-tempo track named after the body of water in Litchfield County, Connecticut – an area where many wealthy New Yorkers own second homes. The track's sentimental lyrics appear to be about a student leaving a boarding school to spend Christmas at a leafy country estate. This subject matter would not have landed with nu metal's target demographic. The genre wasn't inherently opposed to wealth or privilege, but bands like Limp Bizkit and Korn had more of an everyman approach that resonated with young white men across class lines.
The LP's lead single "The Elements" is somewhat catchy but very lethargic. The outro track "Sleepy Hollow" is notable for its vocal contributions from Korn frontman Jonathan Davis, but not even he could bring a sense of energy to the aptly named song. It starts with a slow, repetitive instrumental dirge which completely lacks the moshable energy that made nu metal appealing. Overall, the album is missing a sense of urgency.
The LP was supposed to be released in February 1997, but that never happened. The band ended up in limbo after Sire parted ways with Elektra, Allman said in a 2002 interview with Hits Daily Double. The label was eventually sold to Warner Bros., which had plans to release a reworked version of the album. But this also never materialized and Deadsy left the company in 1999. After appearing on the prime nu metal showcase Family Values Tour in 2001, the group finally released its official debut Commencement in 2002 through a collaboration between DreamWorks Records and Davis' label Elementree. The album included five tracks from the self-titled LP and nine new songs.
Commencement opens with "Key to Gramercy Park," which is by far the best song from Deadsy's catalog. The intro grabs the listener's attention with its catchy refrain and crushing low end. The track also has a faster pace and bouncier feel that made it a better fit for the nu metal demographic. Still, the song's lyrics and accompanying music video embody why Deadsy was never a hit in that scene.
Gramercy Park is an exclusive garden in a coveted section of Manhattan. It's not open to the public. A handful of elite New Yorkers are granted keys to the garden, which are a valuable status symbol. While having sex in Gramercy Park (which is what the song appears to be about) is certainly rebellious, it's far from relatable – even for the minority of listeners who would get the reference. The track's lyrics also hinge on two more arcane references: one to the Hittites, a long-gone ancient people group from modern-day Turkey, and another to the id, a psychoanalytic term for the part of the mind where impulses originate. While these topics would have been right at home on an Iron Maiden album, it's hard to think of subject matter that's less nu metal.
There was a similar issue with the music video. The members of Deadsy were all conventionally attractive and decked out in stylish costumes, which may have actually worked to their detriment. Despite their commercial success, at this point Davis and Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst still looked like they could be found outside a gas station. Groups like Slipknot and Mushroomhead also had costumes, but their use of creepy masks and darker color schemes provided more mystery and intrigue than Deadsy was able to garner.
"Key to Gramercy Park" is a great track, but the energy on Commencement drops off precipitously from there. Much of the album consists of more booming and unmemorable mid-paced songs. Deadsy's second most popular track on Spotify is "Mansion World," which has some pleasantly sparkling synths but not much else to offer. There's also "She Likes Big Words," a more upbeat song about a romantic interest, and the band's cover of "Tom Sawyer," which is essentially just a heavier, darker version of the original with Allman's distinctive vocals. Some of the lyrics on the album's deep cuts are not up to par. At worst, they're somewhere between extremely cryptic and outright nonsense.
Commencement was not a smashing commercial success. Nu metal wasn't dead by 2002, but it was certainly heading in that direction. It's possible Allman and the band were trying to bring the genre to a more high end intellectual demographic, but that was always going to be a hard sell. By this point indie rock, emo and the post-punk revival were the hip new trends for that crowd. There just wasn't an obvious customer base for what Deadsy had to offer.
The notoriety of Allman's parents may have also been a double-edged sword. While they obviously brought a lot of attention to Deadsy, neither had a hard rock or metal pedigree. It's not hard to imagine heavy music fans sticking their noses up at the son of the singer behind the 1998 dance-pop hit "Believe." Allman tried to create some distance by adopting the moniker P. Exeter Blue, but people always knew who he was.
Fans would have to wait until 2006 for Deadsy's final album Phantasmagore, a more guitar-oriented record with clear classic rock influences. The band released the LP with Elementree and Immortal Records. Although the production on the album isn't as spotless or crushing as it was on Commencement, the deep cuts on Phantasmagore are more interesting and varied. The booming bass tone is still prominent, but it's not a constant presence. This gave the album some valuable dynamics. That's particularly evident on "Better Than You Know," which begins with ethereal guitar noodling and ends with a punchy horns section. There's also the title track "Phantasmagore," a powerful goth rock anthem in the vein of Type O Negative, and the band's take on "Paint It Black," which has a more cinematic back end than the original.
But Phantasmagore was too little too late for Deadsy. Nu metal was out by 2006 and the album wasn't interesting enough to override that. Maybe the band could have found some commercial success if it pivoted to emo or post-punk revival, but it doesn't seem like that type of transition was ever in the cards.
Deadsy seemed doomed from early on, but it's hard not to wonder what would have happened to Allman as a musician if the project was actually allowed to fail. Lots of artists have an unsuccessful first project. Given his pedigree, it's possible Allman could've crafted something amazing from the ashes. Now we'll never know.
The accomplishments of Deadsy's other members shouldn't be discounted. Z-tar player Carlton Bost was also in Orgy, the nu metal band known for its 1998 cover of New Order's "Blue Monday." Deadsy was a successful launching pad for Hawkey and drummer Alec Puro. The percussionist now has a successful career scoring TV shows. He's worked on projects like Netflix's Black Summer, ABC Family's The Fosters and DreamWorks' The Mighty Ones. Hawkey produced and provided musical direction for his wife Vera Farmiga's 2011 film Higher Ground.
Over the years, Deadsy has reunited intermittently. For more than a decade, there were rumblings about the band putting out music. Various snippets of demos surfaced online over the years, but nothing substantial ever materialized. Hawkey seemed to put those rumors to bed for good when he confirmed his departure from the band in an April 2023 Instagram post.
The comment section proved that Deadsy does have a genuine fanbase that was looking forward to a third LP from the band.
"While this feels like a final goodbye to Deadsy, I’m glad you are listening to your heart and following your creative path," one person said. "My six year old asks to listen to Commencement when we’re driving and tells everyone at school to listen to Deadsy. The sound won’t be lost."
Allman is currently in Mexico, according to his latest court filing. Maybe his sobriety will allow him to start a new, more productive chapter of his creative career.