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Metal band climbs into wayback machine

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Tom Gattis can be likened to a superhero.

No, he wasn’t bitten by a radioactive spider and now can climb walls and shoot webs out of his wrists. Nor is he from Krypton and is not faster than a locomotive or can leap a building in a single bound.

But Gattis does share a common thread with these superheroes — a double life.

Gattis is a structural/civil engineer at Los Alamos National Laboratory by day, a heavy metal musician by night.

Or at least he will be again.

Gattis’ band, Tension, experienced moderate success in the mid-’80s in the United States, but found greater success in Europe.

Gattis originally started the band Deuce in 1979, but had to change the name to Tension in 1985 when it got a record deal with Roadrunner Records because another band owned a copyright to Deuce.

Twenty-five years after the band’s debut album, “Breaking Point,” Gattis’ music career is getting a boost. Contacted by organizers for the German festival “Keep It True” last year, Gattis and Tension will reunite as one of the headliners of the event in 2012.

“I’d heard that for years people were still listening to the record,” he says during a recent phone interview. “I wasn’t aware how popular we were still in Germany.”

According to Billboard magazine, Tension’s album is still charting in the Top 200 in Germany. Rock Hard, a music magazine in Germany, gave the album a 9.5, and it was rated No. 1 for the year in 1986.

The “Keep It True” festival is a heavy metal festival that has been around for 14 years. It has been held in Germany since 2003. Tension will play the 15th anniversary show on April 27-28 in Frankfurt.

The lineup that will play in Frankfurt will be Billy Giddings on drums, Tim O’Connor on bass, Petio Petev on lead guitar and Gattis on guitar and vocals.

Gattis says when he was asked to play the show the first thing he thought was “How am I going to play?”

“Not only are we not 25 years old anymore, most of us are pushing 50,” he laughs. “The band members are spread out and it’s a tough thing logistically for us to get together for rehearsals.”

But the members have made time to rehearse. On March 19, the band got together in Washington, D.C., for its first rehearsal.

“Just got a DVD of our first rehearsal back in D.C. (after 25 yrs (sic) apart) and it SLAYS!,” Gattis wrote in an email. “No vox on it, but it’s killer!”

Gattis admits that he’s nervous to see how his voice holds up with all of the rehearsal. He says there are tricks like changing the notes in songs to make his voice sound better.

“It’s a trick Bruce Dickinson (from Iron Maiden) often uses,” he says. “I don’t know what to expect from my voice now that I’m 48. I’m sure I’ll find ways around it.”

Gattis says when Tension was really rolling, it toured with Ratt, Overkill, Queensryche and Megadeth.

Megadeth member Marty Friedman was an original member in Deuce and may join the band at the festival for a couple of songs.

After “Breaking Point” was released, Gattis says, he was disappointed with the album.

“It wasn’t the vision we set out to achieve,” he says. “We had no backing from the label at the time, so it was just us doing all the work.”

Gattis is surprised by the life that the band has taken on since it dissolved in the ’90s. He says ending the band was one of the hardest decisions he’s had to make in his life.

“It came to a point where I didn’t want to hate performing,” he says. “I decided to go back to school at New Mexico State after leaving.”

At NMSU, Gattis studied engineering.

He often looks back at his time in the band and says a part of him wanted to make it big.

“But then I think about what I would have had to give up,” he says. “I wouldn’t have the relationships I have today. I would have been on the road constantly and not really have a home life.”

Now that he’s a structural engineer at LANL, Gattis says he’s grateful for all of his experiences. He loves to design and analyze building structures and nonbuilding structures.

“It’s a big difference from music,” he says. “But it’s the best job of my life.”

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