Remembering David McKinney 1987-2019

David McKinney ex Abhorrent Decimation and Brighton metal scene standout dies aged 32.

David McKinney black and white photo

Something you very quickly learn in Brighton is that you can throw a coin in the air and wherever it lands it’s likely to be no more than ten feet away from a musician. Brighton is well known for the British and Irish Modern Music Institute (BIMM) which churns out a very high level of talented musicians, thanks to the staff there who include Orange Goblin‘s Chris Turner.  While talented, the usual music industry rule applies in that the vast majority won’t make it to the big leagues; not everyone will reach the heights of Brighton’s Royal Blood.

In the six years I lived in Brighton I encountered three people with the talent to make it – Ellen Cosgrove, an entrancing singer like Florence and the Machine but with a sad seductive tone and Charley Olson, a born performer who’s songwriting, guitar playing and singing was second to none. Charley would go on to join Sikth singer Mikee W Goodman’s side project Outside The Coma and work on a one off project with Devin Townsend, before settling behind the scenes in the music industry.

Then there was the third – David McKinney.

Dave’s reputation preceded him. For about a year I had heard of him without ever meeting him and it was easy to form a picture of him based on how people talked about him. When I finally met him he was all of those things and a lot more.

David McKinney black and white photo

He reminded me a lot of another Dave – Dave Mustaine. McKinney was the one of three who had the whole package – talent, charisma, drive and an unwavering vision of what he wanted. He was outspoken and not always the easiest of people for other musicians to deal with as he wanted things unwaveringly done his way. That may seem critical, but when you look at the very top talents in music, all of them have that singlemindedness about their brand – Axl Rose, Lars Ulrich, Corey Taylor, Gene Simmons, Marilyn Manson, Mustaine, the list is endless. It was that attention to detail and perfectionism that made him stand out.

Dave seemed to be at 100% all the time, even in his day job as a chef he was a top talent. When I finally met him in 2012 what I was totally not expecting was how friendly and relaxed he was. I had expected this Henry Rollins type of intensity but what I got was a guy who was smiling and happy to chat. He was funny and apologetic that he couldn’t hang out more, something that took me somewhat aback. One thing that did have intensity were his eyes – they had a sadness to them and occasionally a stare like a combat veteran. McKinney had been in a band called Wreckhead since 2005; their bio, which is still online, was very open about his previous struggles with mental health issues and drug addiction. Suddenly those eyes made a lot of sense.

Normally when you see a local band take the stage in a boiling room after three hours of other local bands, the crowd is pretty dead. Before Wreckhead had even taken the stage the crowd swelled forward to fill the ominous gap at the front of the stage and a buzz filled the air. When they started to play the room exploded and after that first song they paused for Dave to coach the crowd on the chorus of the next song, Spite, ordering them to join in. Which they did. The whole set was magical, not just due to McKinney but his charisma was totally undeniable. At the end of their set the crowd chanted the band’s name solidly for several minutes. In twenty years I’d never seen anything like it before from a local band with only two recorded songs and in the seven years since, I haven’t seen it again.

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A year later though and Wreckhead was no more. Dave went off to co-found Abhorrent Decimation in 2013. The Infected Celestial Utopia EP quickly followed and in 2014 the band played The Sophie Lancaster Stage at Bloodstock. 2015 saw the band’s full length album, Miasmic Mutation released which gave them a lot of publicity but not necessarily for the right reasons.

In April 2016, 80 year old Bernie Clifton released an album of covers on the back of his appearance on The Voice. When his CD shipped, the back cover was of Abhorrent Decimation’s Miasmic Mutation leading to coverage from The BBC, The Sun, The Independent and other new media outlets.  Even odder than seeing the ostrich puppet riding Clifton declaring his outrage was seeing Dave McKinney taking the backseat in a band as the guitarist, a role that didn’t seem like one he’d fit in. A few months later that changed as McKinney and Abhorrent Decimation parted ways, with Dave forming his own project – Fresh Atrocity.  Abhorrent Decimation underwent a number of lineup changes but seemed to have their most successful year in 2017 with a new album and another appearance at Bloodstock while Dave carried on working on new music.

Dave McKinney could have been a huge star, if he’d had session musicians to follow his lead – something that would have required a lot of money, via the backing of a label.  Most of all though, I think he needed peace of mind because that stare of his made me think there was something in him that just wouldn’t rest. Under different circumstances I have no doubt he could have conquered the world.

On July 17th 2019 David McKinney passed away at just 32 years of age. A son, a brother, a loving uncle and one of the most talented people I’ve ever met.

David McKinney RIP
7th January 1987 – 17th July 2019

Sometimes I take a look around and think this world’s not made for me
No sense in anything, it seems like everything’s a broken dream
It feels like emptiness has forged my personality
I need to look with different eyes to see what you can see

Wreckhead – Chains of Misery