Thursday, December 10, 2009

Portal - Swarth (Profound Lore, 2009)

There's another Portal that opened in 1994, the band formed by 3/4 of Cynic shortly after the release of Focus. That Portal closed shortly after releasing a demo. This Portal is still wide open after its own 1994 birthing, and like the infamous refrigerator from Ghostbusters, it's let some pretty awful things pass between this world and whatever hellish nether-region it connects to. The awfullest are on the Australian band's third full-length album Swarth. Of course this is death metal, so the awfuller the better. But even in a genre in which the words "beastly," "inhuman" and "brutal" are used to express approval, Portal manage to out-nasty pretty much every other band on the planet. WTF, mate?


They do it by holding up a cracked, dusted-over mirror to death metal. Portal's guitars seem to detune themselves as they're played, turning tremolo picking into the revving of broken vacuums. Drums clatter in brief surges, rumbling where they should crash and pummel. Nothing locks; gusts of hoarse bellows from vocalist The Curator howl through like a tornado ravaging a ghost town. The uniqueness of Portal's sound obscures some pretty out there song structures, too. Like Gorguts, whose Obscura is perhaps Swarth's closest spiritual cousin, Portal's abstraction lies in its disorienting vibe. But don't call their willfully esoteric sound and lyrics pretentious. This is primal music, and it disturbs at a deep, physical level. Portal's commitment to unease is total. What could be more metal than that?

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Decibel's Top 100 Greatest Metal Albums of the Decade

Publish a list of the 100 greatest anythings of the any time period and a crowd of howling banshees will come out of the woodwork proclaiming your suckiness and positing at least 100 of said thing that were better than the ones you chose. Credit Decibel, then, for not giving a flying fuck, and publishing a list of the 100 greatest metal albums that panders neither to metal purists nor to posturing beardos. Yes, there are dubious inclusions (Fugazi's The Argument, gobsmackingly brilliant an album as it is, couldn't fit anyone's definition of metal). But there's also a ton of stylistic range, and the fine writing that's long been Decibel's trademark. Plus, it's a way more interesting list than MetalSucks' 21 Best Metal Albums of the 21st Century...So Far debacle.

There's plenty to dispute inside the superslick pages of Decibel's 100 Greatest Metal Albums of the Decade special issue. But beyond dispute is the fact that Decibel is the raddest extreme music mag currently published in America, and worthy of your cash. $5.99 is a bargain for this much food for thought...there are even a couple illuminating, expanded versions of Decibel's awesome Hall of Fame series. You can use it as a conversation piece, a Christmas present, a bathroom reading option or all of the above.

You can pick up your own copy here, or at select indie music retailers. I wrote four blurbs in it, so if you love me, you've already ordered ten copies.

Monday, November 30, 2009

CHAINMAIL: Magnum Carnage - More Unreal Than a Box of Precious Metal and Radioactive Ore (self-released, 2009)

The CHAINMAIL section reviews bands that were proactive enough to contact me directly. Here at Cerebral Metalhead, initiative is rewarded.

Magnum Carnage's More Unreal Than a Box of Precious Metal and Radioactive Ore calls into question the point of reviewing records. So mired in both underproduction and over-ambition is the album that my written opinion is based less on my impression of its value, and more on whether I have the patience to deal with it at the moment I permanently inscribe my thoughts about it in the digital firmament of the interhole. I recoiled in horror the first few times I heard More Unreal, and it still makes me sort of uncomfortable now. But like a lovable puppy that keeps shitting all over your nice throw rug and then licks your face and looks at you with gigantic puppy eyes, I can't possibly hate something this adorable. On a good day, More Unreal itself is easily resistable. Magnum Carnage's charm is not, and at this point (might change as soon as I hit "publish"), I kind of admire its oddness as a supreme middle finger to black metal uptightness. Kind of. Could this band come from anywhere other than Hawaii?

"Divine Comedy Pt. 1 - Damn This Age!"

Self-described as "psychedelic black metal," More Unreal is only psychedelic in that it sounds like a moldy artifact unearthed from lone member Kai Laigo's attic (helping that impression: it came to me in the same package as a cassette tape, a waaaaay DIY live DVD and some Hawaiian candy. Just add in a couple dead cockroaches and it feels like moving day!). And it's only black metal to the extent that Laigo's got some fast guitars and a bit of rasping buried underneath his caveman drum programming, which turns tom rolls into the sped-up click of a broken record, blastbeats into the clinking of glasses before a wedding toast. Laigo proudly claims that he recorded More Unreal using a dinosaur version of Pro Tools LE. But even dinosaurs stomp; the album's cluttered mixes and sunken guitars just drag, where Laigo's colorful palette demands bigness and clarity.

"Temple of Doom"

As easy as it is to dismiss More Unreal for its extreme sonic shortcomings, you gotta admire the cojones of a guy brazen enough to let the gated drums and cheesy synths of 80s pop within ten miles of a death metal riff, or to call one of his songs "Video Games of the Gods," and have it sorta work in an early-Emperor-still-figuring-out-their-gear kind of way. There's no shortage of imagination on More Unreal, no end to the shred-worthiness of Laigo's manic guitar solos. Occasionally a pop hook rises out of the mixing murk and connects big-time ("Demon City Honolulu"). But then Laigo will awkwardly pair a doom metal riff with doo-wop backing vox ("Suitcase Nuke"), and back to the murk we go. Every great riff is offset by an eyebrow-raising production quirk (seriously Kai, AUTOTUNE?!?!) or forced structural aside. Wrapped in the dayglo pinks and purples of a Lisa Frank sticker set, More Unreal demands to be taken on its own silly terms. Yes, it's a near-failure as a metal record. More metal records should fail in such spectacular fashion.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Giving Thanks for My Neck

This past Tuesday night I fell in my new apartment, busted my chin on the hardwood floor and hurt my neck badly enough that it's still painful to move my head too far in any direction. Turns out my neck and spine are fine, and the doctor says I got away with a bit of torn muscle fiber. My mom worried that I was going to be paralyzed. My first thought when I woke up the next morning? "Shit, this is going to make headbanging really difficult."

Perhaps you've heard of the sad case of Evanescence guitarist Terry Balsamo, whose doctors believe that the 2006 stroke that left him partially paralyzed was brought on by excessive headbanging (check out this interview for the whole story). His was of course an extreme case, and the more cynical among us might conclude that he deserved it for making such terrible music. But the truth is that the neck is a complicated, elegant system of bone, muscle, blood vessels and other soft tissue, and while it's built for resilience and flexibility, the kind of physical strain brought on by improper headbanging can result in some nasty disorders, whiplash included. Check out this study, published late last year in the British Medical Journal, which concludes that the faster you bang, and the wider the angle of the banging, the more prone you are to neck injury. Fascinating.

If abstinence is not an option, the best you can do is follow the British Medical Journal's sage advice for minimizing injury:
  • Decrease your range of head and neck motion. (For a bangable song of around 146 bpm, 75º or less is ideal)
  • Headbang to slower tempo songs by replacing heavy metal with adult oriented rock
  • Only head bang to every second beat
  • Use personal protective equipment
As Thanksgiving day draws to a close, I wanted to remind all you metal folks to be appreciative of the fragile strength of your cervical region. Bang safely, my friends.

Giving thanks for Struck By Lightning's Serpents (Translation Loss, 2009)

On this day of cornbread stuffing and tryptophan delirium (Tim Lambesis should start a Thanksgiving-themed joke band with that name), I thought it prudent to give a shout-out to an album for which I am very thankful this year. Too often I get caught stuck in compartmentalization mode when I review albums, attaching genre descriptors or comparisons for the sake of brevity. It's not that the debut from Struck By Lightning sounds like nothing else -- there's a lot of early Mastodon in the guitar filigree and harmonic motion, plenty of chuffing High on Fire rhythms, and a lot of airtight d-beat punk breaks. That particular combo is pretty unique, but what comes across to this jaded reviewer even more than Struck By Lightning's influence-on-sleeve approach is their transcendent songwriting.

"The Watchful Eye"

Unlike vocalist/guitarist Gregory Lahm's other band, Mouth of the Architect (reviewed here), Struck By Lightning lets nothing get in the way of momentum. The intro to opener to "Silent and Still" portends great things, and boy, does it deliver. A galloping verse riff pushes through to a tension-building pre-chorus which bursts into a ragged, wailing chorus that I want to play again RIGHT NOW. Travis Klein's loose-tom, tumbling drum fills power the "Nothing Sacred" riff juggernaut, heavy and propulsive as anything off Surrounded By Thieves. In the line "Smiling vultures slowly circling," the opening line from "The Watchful Eye," Struck By Lightning have their own version of Mastodon's classic "I think that someone is trying to kill me." The comparison holds up throughout the rest of the song too, making for one of the punchiest one-two-three punches I've ever heard.


As Serpents wears on, the shock of such a fully-formed sound of composite elements wears off, and it's only then that this album really reveals itself. Beyond the perfect execution and terrific songwriting, there's a malevolence that underlies Serpents. You can hear it in the sudden switches between diatonic and chromatic intervals. You can hear it in Struck by Lightning's bottom end, which slithers around in the murk like the album's titular beasts. Mastodon rode that same foreboding musical path to fame. Struck by Lightning are probably a little too punk to ride the dragon that far, but at least they can say they put out one of the year's best albums, and probably the best album that Translation Loss has ever released. Thanks for that.


Monday, November 23, 2009

Marduk 'n Co. Change Venues for Dec. 4 Show in L.A.

Marduk express their delight at the new venue for their Dec. 4th show in L.A.

Changes are afoot in Los Angeles. As reported here, here and here, venues typically kind to metal are folding at an alarming rate. The Knitting Factory shut its doors this Halloween. The Black Castle will have its last show in January. The Relax Bar's booking has stalled to a trickle, and the fate of the Key Club hangs in the balance. With the weekly Metal Mondays at Footsies on an apparent hiatus, L.A. metalheads are left rudderless, without a regular venue for their mournful congregation. Is this really a downstream effect of the economic downturn, as some have suggested? Or is it divine retribution for L.A.'s fickle support of our local metal scene?

Credit Church of the 8th Day for trying to bail us out. The tireless booking/promotion firm is scrambling to reschedule all the shows it had previously booked elsewhere. Sound at the Heathenfest this past weekend was atrocious, but the new Ultra Violet Social Club venue was otherwise ideal -- great sight lines, plentiful outside space for smoking/gabbing, exposed wooden framing that gave the impression of being in the galley of a Viking warship. Very metal.

And what of the Plague Tour, which was set to invite Marduk (whose new album Wormwood is their best in ages), Nachtmystium, Black Anvil (reviewed here), Mantic Ritual and Merrimack to assault the Key Club on December 4th? Church of the 8th Day has moved that monstrous package to The Royal Hall, which previously hosted the Bestial Legion Fest. Quoth Church of the 8th Day's Jordan in a statement about the move:
The Key Club canceled the show about two weeks ago, leaving us just a few weeks to move it. Since we had two stages' worth of bands booked, it was near impossible to move the show to anywhere in Hollywood, at a reputable club, as everything was already booked. We found a place downtown, which is a banquet hall, and we are going to build it into a venue from the ground up, with two full stages and great sound, full bar, and a BBQ...If you purchased tickets through one of the local bands, your tickets will still be valid at the new venue. If you purchased your tickets through Ticketmaster, you should be receiving your refund any day. The Key Club said they will be issuing refunds, but they haven't been responding to us about the progress of it, so if you'd like to call and find out, go ahead. You can now purchase tickets exclusively through our new ticketing website, We're sorry about the confusion, and hope to see everyone there. More information can be found at
The Royal Hall is at 8637 S. Alameda Street, Los Angeles, CA 90002. Parking is provided through the “Steel and Lube” entrance. Which is also very metal.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Shrinebuilder interview

This past Wednesday I witnessed the first ever live gig by Shrinebuilder, the heavy metal supergroup featuring Scott Kelly of Neurosis, Wino of St. Vitus/The Obsessed, Dale Crover of The Melvins and Al Cisneros of Om/Sleep. As if we doubted the integrity of any of those guys, they played a nearly hour-long set at the tiny Viper Room in Hollywood for a way over capacity crowd, then did it again fifteen minutes later for whomever didn't believe they would really begin at 10:45pm. Their self-titled debut, out now on Neurot, nearly fulfills Shrinebuilder's astronomic promise. But live's where it matters. We all know these four can play -- they're each musical figureheads in their other bands. But do they have chemistry? Hell yes. On stage they're four bandmates, riffing off each other, following one another's grooves, soaking it all in. Dale Crover reminded me that he's one of the best drummers in rock music. If I had only been able to hear his cymbal work, it still would have been a great night. He should record an album with just cymbals.

I had the opportunity to interview Scott Kelly and Wino about Shrinebuilder for a short piece in Decibel magazine, published here. Here's the full transcript of what they had to say.



Rumors have been floating around since '07 about Shrinebuilder's existence. Did the expectation ever get to you? Did you think about how mammoth this band could possibly be?

I don’t know what you mean by “get to me.” Not really. I knew before I was a part of it that it was going to be something great. When they asked me to be a part of it, I felt confident that my input would be significant. There’s a real belief and trust in the visions in this band, you know? We’ve all known each other, and known who each other were, forever. And been big fans of each other’s work. So there was never any doubt in my mind that what we would do would be exactly what we wanted to do. And therefore fine, whether people like it or not. I don’t care. Never been a concern of mine whether people like what I do. I just gotta feel satisfied with it, you know? Not to say it’s not nice when people like it, but it doesn’t affect the bottom line at all.

On the blog you kept during the album’s recording process, you described the first night of playing with Shrinebuilder as “immediate thunder.” Can you describe in a little more detail what it was like to all jam in the same room at the same time for the first time?

Well, the expectation and the anticipation of the whole event was pretty strong amongst the four of us. Al and Wino and I had jammed together, Al and Wino and Dale had jammed together, but we hadn’t all four been in the same room. We were wondering, “is this gonna gel? Is the chemistry gonna be there naturally? Is that gonna take time, ‘cuz often times things like that take time?” And it just blew up. The first song that we played was “Solar Benediction,” the first song on the record. And it just…instantly was right there, you know? I dunno man! Water, man. Just flow. Perfect. No hitch. It just happens. And it was strong, you know? It was like we were able to step right into it.

On a personal level, playing with Jason (Roeder, Neurosis drummer) for 25 years, I’ve been basically ruined for playing with any other drummers. I mean every time I play with another drummer I’m sorely missing him. Dale’s really the only guy in the world other than…maybe Dave Lombardo that I would really want to play with. Because I knew that he had that same fire, that same reckless drive that Jason has. So I was really excited about that. In fact I remember calling Jason right before and being like “I get to play with Dale Crover tomorrow.” That was really great, you know?

I’ve always found – I’ve found so much between the three of those guys, over the years. I mean it’s really like – I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent listening to Wino’s music. His guitars, the tones and textures, and his really unique voice. I can’t tell you the hours that I’ve spent listening to Al’s music. Om is one of my very favorite bands ever. If I had to choose one, that might be it. It just works with every part of my being. And the Melvins changed the face of everything. They’re one of the deepest, most inspirational influences in music in my life. It’s fucking amazing! I don’t think I could pick three other guys that I’d rather play with than those three.

The cool thing about it for me is that – this is picking up on something you mentioned about Dale – the album has elements of everything you guys have done individually in the past, but there’s something about the synthesis that kicks it up to an even more muscular level than your individual bands. Not better, it’s just such a perfect marriage.

It’s weird man, I know! I don’t think I’m being a conceited, fuckin’ self-absorbed person when I say that, although I am a pretty self-absorbed artist, most artists are, you know. But I agree. It’s there. It’s just there. It’s undeniable. The thing is, everybody in this band has sacrificed everything they have for their music, and given everything they had to their music. There’s not one person in that band that’s put out a shit record, or put out a record that they didn’t back 100%, ever, you know? Everyone has always done what the music demanded of them, and submitted to the sound, you know? And so as a result, when you give that much, when you put the things together like that, you get this result that’s really unique, and really special. And I honestly couldn’t be happier with it, and we’re working on new material now. We’re gonna play new material when we hit the road.

Tell me a little bit about the thematics. There’s this theme of construction and structure in both the band name, and in song titles like “Pyramid of the Moon” and “The Architect.” What are you guys building?

I think we’re just laying more bricks on the foundation that has been laid previously. And I think that our other projects have probably put a few bricks in there as well. But it’s really an homage to sound, to music, and to its infinite wisdom, you know? The power of it. The religion that is sound. The electric church. All of that. I think that that’s been our lives. Now that’s my interpretation. Most of the things you spoke of were straight from Al. If you’ve ever spent time with Al’s lyrics, you know that he constructs these tone poems of imagery and words that weave this unspeakable story. And that’s what it’s about as well. There’s a large part of what we’re doing that’s not something you can put into words, and it’s not supposed to be, not intended to be.

You’ve talked in previous interviews about a psychic space that you reach with Neurosis, and also that you have to be in before you play with Neurosis. Is there a similar sense of place when you’re playing with Shrinebuilder?

Yes, but…if you want to know something about Neurosis I can tell ya. Anything. We’ve been there for the entire time and we’ve performed, you know, 3000 gigs and released multiple albums and all that. That’s an experience that I have deep. The Shrinebuilder experience is yet to be told in many ways. So we’ll see. I’ve wondered what it’s gonna be like live. Am I going to be in the same sort of trance that I’m in with Neurosis, or is it going to be something different? I’m expecting something different. I think the sum total of the lives that we’ve spent together in Neurosis has everything to do with the experience that comes through us when we’re performing. And although Al and I have a lot of shared life experience, Dale and Wino and I don’t have as much of that. I’ve known Dale for a long time, but we’ve never really been on the road together, we’ve never performed together. He has a whole different deal, you know? That’s a whole different animal.

So you have to wait and see what it feels like.

Yeah. I can tell you that the songs definitely take me somewhere. But there’s definitely that feeling of less – I don’t know if you’d call it baggage – there’s a newness to it that’s pretty significant, and that I’m totally looking forward to. We’ll see! I don’t know.

While you were liveblogging during the recording sessions, you wrote that you emerged from the sessions a better person. What do you mean by that?

Did I?

You did! It was probably pretty early in the morning.

Yeah, quite possibly. I think that’s true, man. Anytime you get to experience something that significant in your life it’s going to make a huge difference. I think the chemistry that we had, and realizing the possibilities, and kinda looking forward was pretty significant to me. Yeah. I’m a better person for knowing those guys, honestly.

You wrote also that “plans have already been enacted towards the next move (you wouldn’t believe it if I told you).” Can you please shed some light on what you’re talking about?

No. Yeah…no. Not happening. Not yet. Not until it’s set.

Does it involve tour plans, or recording, or both?

Ah, you’ll just have to see. I dunno man, it’s nothing I would want to say, and I probably should never have said anything about it.

Each of you has such a strong personal style, but the album feels perfectly balanced. Do you have some idea of how you guys achieved the “more than the sum of its parts” scenario instead of what could have been a compromise, or a watered down record?

No, it’s kind of one of those things that I never try to think about too much, because it’s always existed inside Neurosis as well. There’s always something else there, you know? So I just accept that as being whatever the force that drives everything is. I was wondering if it was going to be there, and it was. You know, I didn’t really doubt it. Knowing the guys as I do…I think everyone in the band is aware of that. That there’s always this thing in play, whatever it is. I’m sure people have names for it, but I choose not to put a name on it just ‘cuz – again, it’s kinda beyond words. It’s the sum total of the parts, or whatever the fuck that is. Who the hell knows? Who knows? It could have been anything, I have no idea. But I agree that it’s there. And I was really, really pleased to find it again. It’s a good feeling.

You were next door to the Museum of Death when you practiced and recorded. Did you ever go inside there?

No, I was kinda bummed about that honestly. I didn’t go in there, no. I have no need. I don’t have the desire. I have enough of the real thing in my life. I don’t need to go see the museum exhibit. Maybe when I was 16, but not now. I don’t need to be around shit like that. I thought it was funny and everything…but I don’t want to go down that road anymore. I thought the (sign in the parking lot) “death parking only” was kinda funny.

I’ve been in there once, and it both is exactly what you’d expect but also not what you’d expect. The proprietors have a healthy sense of humor about life and death itself but they’re not just doing it as a joke.

Yeah, maybe I’ll look at it some time. You know I enjoy BodyWorks…I’ve been to see that three times. That stuff fascinates me. But if it’s anything like the movies, Faces of Death shit like that, or just weird ways that people go…I’m aware of a lot of those weird ways. You can pretty much go damn near any way possible.

Okay, well that takes care of my next five questions!



Wino relaxing during the Shrinebuilder sessions

You’re on tour with Clutch right now, right?

Yes we are. Yup!

And how’s the tour gone so far?

Well we’ve only played one show, so…last night was a kind of break-in-the-gear, see-what’s-gonna-happen type show. It was great! Lot of people here to see us, and then the Clutch fans are phenomenal, as usual.

Are you doing mostly stuff from your solo album Punctuated Equilibrium?

We’re doing a little bit of everything. We’re doing Punctuated Equilibrium, we’re doing some old Obsessed stuff. Basically between those two, Punctuated and old Obsessed stuff. We played a Spirit Caravan song too.

Oh fantastic. Looking through the entire back catalog. Tell me, how did recording with Shrinebuilder contrast with recording with The Obsessed, Spirit Caravan, Hidden Hand, etc?

Well, the Shrinebuilder recording was definitely a little bit by the seat of your pants. Because we didn’t really – we put it together, but everybody’s schedules were really busy. So basically what we did was we started sending around musical ideas by the internet, and then I came up with the concrete idea at what point of actually going to a recording studio, and laying down a few guitar tracks with the bass drum kick and I – I think I mailed out a CD to the guys and we did it that way for a bit. And we started getting together, not all together but in little pieces. Me and Al and Dale got together, then Al and Dale get together, then Al and Scott get together, Me and Al and Scott got together which was like the three guitar players, we worked out all the arrangements, but then we’d still never played all together.

So we’re slated to record Friday, Saturday and Sunday. So on Thursday night, Scott flew in real late, we went to a rehearsal space and we all played together as a unit. So we only all played together one night before recording. We had it done, but in the studio, it was totally professional. Everything went flawlessly. We had all our ideas worked out, arrangements worked out. We talked about it a little bit, we played through each tune before we did it, and then we just went ahead and did it. And it was one of those things where it’s just kind of magical, actually.

Each of you is iconic in your own right. Was it at all difficult to manage those four strong musical personalities, or did it all just come together?

Nobody tried to manage it, that’s the thing. There was no management – everybody had something to do, so we were basically left to our own designs, which was totally cool. We all get along great, and it ended up being really good.

Everyone sings, you can hear bits of each of your signature styles, but nobody really dominates, either. Was there a conscious effort to keep the songwriting and recording collaborative, or did that just happen naturally?

Basically, everybody brought musical ideas to the table. The musical ideas that Scott brought to the table – he sings on all his ideas, right? The stuff that I brought to the table, I had some lyrics finished but not all, because lyrics for me are one of the hardest things to write. Lyrics for a song might take me – I might have it all in one night, or it might take me a month to finish it. So basically Scott and Al are both really proficient, lyrically. I mean Al’s got a kind of stream-of-consciousness thing going. And what happened was, I brought a bunch of musical ideas to the table, but not that much lyrics. So that allowed Al and Scott to fill in the holes.

I remember at one point – there’s a lot of serendipity going on, there really was. I dunno what we were channeling, but there’s a lot of that going on. I remember distinctly there was one night, where I brought the first half of “Pyramid of the Moon” to the table. And then I was having trouble with the lyrics, and I remember that very minute, Kelly called me and said “Man you know, I’d really like to write lyrics to ‘Pyramid of the Moon,’ do you mind?” and I was like “No, I don’t mind at all.’” And it just worked out really weird that way.

It’s like you have that psychic connection.

Sort of.

I sorta hear that in the record itself, also. You can hear everybody individually, but it sounds like so much more.

Everybody’s contributing. Al and Dale, especially, they did that chanting thing you know? And that was really amazing. That came together totally off the cuff. And that was just mind-blowing, really.

How did (producer) Toshi Kasai add to the sessions?

Well, he’s just a good engineer. Plus he’s a musician. So he’s able to take our musical ideas and translate them, you know? He’s Japanese, and we were having a good time – there was a little bit of a language thing but not much. At one point in time I asked Dale – Dale finished his drum tracks, we did drum tracks first. So once we got good tracks from Dale, he didn’t have anything to do. So he sat next to Toshi and started making some production comments, you know? Which was actually really great. He was with him for the vocal tracks, and asking for more, pushing for more than what he was hearing. It was really cool, man. He sorta acted like a producer if you will. But it worked out really well actually.

Dale Crover (left) and Toshi Kasai at the mixing board

He helped mix some of it after the fact, too, right?

Yeah, definitely. He was very proactive all the way around.

To my ears, “Blind For All to See” is the sexiest shit any of you have ever recorded. Was that song fully mapped out or did it just evolve from a jam?

It was mapped out, but then…one thing I forgot to tell you is that, when all was said and done after that one weekend, I felt like it needed some more stuff. I felt it needed to be fleshed out a little bit, there should be a few more heavy rhythms on there. So basically I had to fly over to Baltimore, and J. Robbins from Jawbox has a studio in Baltimore. And I went in, laid down a couple more fat rhythms on everything, and that’s when I did the acoustic guitar on “Blind For All to See,” and I did some more e-bow, I did a slide thing there. So basically I did as much as I could over the weekend, whatever else I needed to do I did when I went to Baltimore. The acoustic thing was added, that one chord, you know? I did it on the head of each phrase, I did the slide thing, and I added a couple riffs. The heavier stuff. Kinda fatten it up some, you know?

The promo that I have deliberately left off “Science of Anger.” Can you tell me anything about that track?

Well all I can tell you is that I brought the music and title to the table, and some of the words. Kelly finished off the second half of the lyrics. It’s been kind of…heh…a rough year for me as far as my domestic situation goes, and it was something I was feeling at the time.

What does it sound like?

Angry. It’s a cool song, man. It’s definitely got some…Scott Kelly sings the second half, we actually trade vocals in there. We trade off, which is really cool. At first we wondered whether it was going to work or not. But heh…it’s sorta like the first guy comes in and kneecaps everybody, and then the second guy comes in and bludgeons everybody.

It’s perfect! It’s like you’re two Italian mafia henchmen.

Exactly. It worked out really well. It was cool. I was pretty amazed by the way everything gelled. I mean, Dale famously said, “it was like an experiment that actually worked.”

It’s so true! How many supergroups have you heard about way in advance, and then been extremely disappointed by the results? But this is not one of them. I fall in love with Shrinebuilder every time I listen to it.

Well that’s cool man, I’m very happy. I’m glad it’s getting the response it has, and I’m really glad that people are digging it. The most important thing for me is that people get something out of the music. When I listen to that record, it defies the boundaries for me, you know? I hear all of our forefathers in there, like I hear Pink Floyd, I hear a lil’ Sabbath, but you can really tell that it’s us, but you can also hear our influences a lil’ bit. You know? That’s the way it should be, I think. Being original, but still holding the elements.

You know it’s funny, I talked to Scott right before I spoke with you, and he said that while he’s really happy when people respond to his music, it’s more important to him that he is moved by his own music.

I’m the same way, but it’s kinda like the other way around. It’s more important that – I don’t know, it’s a hard line to define. My philosophy, like I’ve always said, is that I was given a gift, and I believe it’s kinda like my duty to share that for people’s wellbeing, you know? And that includes mine, for sure.

That’s a good way of putting it. Do you have any stories from the studio that you can share?

It was a quick three days. It wasn’t like a tour or anything, so nothing really too crazy happened. When Al and Dale did the chanting thing, that was fucking really intense. I remember they did a couple tracks, and it sounded really good. Then they did a couple more tracks, and more tracks and more tracks, and I was like ‘WOW.” By the end of the day – I didn’t start any of my tracks until late in the day on Sunday. Scott had to leave, So Dale did his stuff, Scott did his stuff, Al punched in his stuff and the very last person to go was me. So I basically sat around in the studio for two and a half days, I re-strung every guitar in the place, went back ‘n forth to the store four million times, you know it was just that way. But that’s the way it worked out, you know? That’s the way it is. It ended up being really great. I was totally happy.

You’ve just announced a few live dates so far. What can we expect from you guys in the near future?

We’re gonna play these last shows, then we’re gonna play Roadburn in Holland, then we’re gonna do a European tour, then I think we’re gonna do a bunch of shows in the US, too. So we’re definitely gonna tour, and then allowing everybody’s schedule, we should be able to hit quite a few cities. So I think people should come out and see us in the flesh, man.


Monday, November 02, 2009

One Track Mind

Cerebral Metalhead readers: I apologize for the month-long gap in posting. This October was one of the most hectic months of my working life thus far and I barely had time to devote to exercise, social obligations or hygiene let alone Cerebral Metalhead. You can expect more frequent posting now that I'm out of the woods. Thanks for sticking with me. Without further ado: One Track Mind!

The impulse that causes us to listen to most metal is not the same impulse that causes us to seek out a 40-minute song. The former usually involves energy in need of immediate outlet; the latter requires long term, process-oriented listening experience. That's probably why single-track metal albums tend to be so slow, and just as heavy on atmosphere as on, like, heavy (think Sleep's Dopesmoker, Cephalic Carnage's Halls of Amenti and Pig Destroyer's Natasha). Can you imagine a single-track album that's all shredding? Plenty of doom metal bands stretch song lengths to ludicrous extremes, but it takes chutzpah, pretense and absolutely no commercial ambitions to commit to a whole album consisting of one track. Here are a few recent albums by acts within metal's sphere of influence that went the distance.

Jesu - Infinity (Avalanche Recordings, 2009)

Jesu's alchemical transformation from slow-burn doom to blissful synthetics is one of the more fascinating (and transparent, thanks to Justin Broadrick's obsessive documentation of his progress) metal metamorphoses of recent years. Yet I grow increasingly disinterested with Jesu the more deeply Broadrick explores his shoegaze fixation. He's a frequently brilliant producer, but the move towards enveloping warmth coats over his music's disturbing core. Whereas Jesu was pulverizing in its droning atmospherics, the Why Are We Not Perfect? EP (reviewed here) felt lighter than air, even at its deepest moments.

"Infinity" (excerpt)

Broadrick seems well aware of his path on Infinity, a one-track album that references the entirety of Jesu's recorded output -- like a sonic version of the "my whole life flashed before my eyes" scenario that near-death experiencers go through. There's plenty of actual riffing deployed in the first twenty minutes, followed by long stretches of ambience in the middle, some droning metallic crush, and then more than ten minutes of the noodly post-rock cues of recent Jesu to finish it off. For many, the return to the heaviness of Broadrick's earlier years will be enough to recommend Infinity. Me, I need more in exchange for my 50 minutes. This track is nicely produced (pretty much a given with Broadrick) but poorly sculpted. There's nothing driving toward a conclusion here. Segments are pasted together, without much mind paid to momentum. Perhaps this is more a preference than a criticism; music need not be linear to move. But a 50-minute track oughta give you an experience that you couldn't have just by listening to 50 minutes worth of Jesu music in any other context. Infinity doesn't.


MGR y Destructo Swarmbots - Amigos de la Guitarra (Neurot, 2009)

Admittedly, Amigos de la Guitarra isn't a metal record in the slightest. The metal association comes via MGR main (only?) man Mike Gallagher, who plays guitar for Isis (whose recent Wavering Radiant is reviewed here) as his main gig. You'll hear a lot of that group's watery guitar soup-ization on this guitar collaboration with experimental musician Mike Mare, aka Destructo Swarmbots. The disc pits cyclical electric guitar figures against soft washes of ambience and guitar loops manipulated in various ways. It's profoundly meditative stuff, growing and changing incrementally but steadily. It's important that Gallagher is accustomed to destroying speakers with Isis, and that Mare's early work with Destructo Swarmbots amounted to sonic terrorism. Amigos de la Guitarra is the kind of quiescent, patient music that could probably only be made by creators so accustomed to its impatient inverse.

"Amor en el Aire" (excerpt)

While Amigos de la Guitarra involves discrete sections with patches of ambience smoothing their transitions, they scan best as a gestalt. A lot happens over the course of the album but it's mostly on a micro level and only in the long term; guitar patterns fade and are overtaken by others, loops rise and fall like tide waters are lapping at them and eroding them, cycle by cycle (those who have heard Basinki's Disintegration Loops might find a less willful echo of the same idea here). On a surface level, Amigos de la Guitarra is a pretty gorgeous work, and your average post-rock band ought to take cues from the glassy depth of MGR y Destructo Swarmbots' production, captured by Alap Momin, otherwise known as the amazing producer behind Dälek. But beauty alone isn't enough to sustain Amigos de la Guitarra for its 42-minute run time. This one sets the dimmer switch low early on and never raises or lowers it. As a result, there isn't any risk at all, nothing that compelling beyond fodder for a nice long gaze at the navel.

The wind cries "Mike" at MGR and Destructo Swarmbots' MySpace pages

Overmars - Born Again (orig. 2007; reissued Crucial Blast, 2009)

This forty-minute sludge marathon from France's Overmars is exactly the right length. The pain of listening to a single chord for so long, throbbing and bleeding interminably as three vocalists purge their innermost fears, is exactly the point. Like Swans and Godflesh before them, Overmars make vulnerable, uncomfortable music for scraping out those unexplored recesses of the soul. Whatever joy we experience through listening to it is the joy of vicarious catharsis, the knowledge that by album's end, the band has exorcised everything they could and that, if we follow their example, maybe there's some hope for us. That purging process takes a lot of time. Born Again has to as well.

"Born Again" (excerpt)

This is music about process -- if you're in search of tonal variety and chord changes, you'll be bored five minutes in to the harmonically stagnant first half. Stop thinking about it and let those tick-tock dirges take control. Let it own your listening experience instead of vice-versa for a change. Locate the loneliest, most self-critical part of you, the part that might sympathize with Overmars' amazing female vocalist Marion when she screams "I’m close to dying a thousand times/But this time I allowed myself to cry." Only then will you truly feel the payoff of Born Again's second half, a succession of droning Neurosis riffs that gets heavier, denser, more engulfing as it goes on. Overmars couldn't continue to make music this emotionally devastating if it weren't healing in some way. And based on the surprisingly upbeat, but still über-metal final stanza, it is:
Listen to the screams coming out of my wounds, free from the plague
Listen to the screams coming out of the hole, holding the sound of joy and pleasure
Listen to my screams announcing the birth of a new man
I, born again
Until the bell tolls, nothing’s finished, nothing’s done
Until the bell tolls, I am immortal

Amazon (CD)
Amazon (MP3)

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Chris Puma of Candiria - R.I.P.

Chris Puma, an original guitarist for Brooklyn's uncategorizable metal-fusion group Candiria, has died. Puma was a member of Candiria from 1992 and 1997, during which he helped build Candiria's innovative sound. His stuttering guitar riffs, often set against those of second guitarist Eric Matthews in unconventional voicings, can be heard on the band's Deep in the Mental and Surrealistic Madness albums, both from 1995. I discovered the band well after Puma left, but it's clear from listening to his work on Candiria's early records that Candiria continued to employ the guitar sound he helped develop.

Said Candiria via press release: “Chris Puma died on September 20th 2009. The cause is not known to us, as his family did not speak of it. He leaves behind two children, 3 year old Aislinn A'marie and a 4 month old Aidan Todd. Chris was a great friend to the founding members of the band, and a respected musician among his friends and peers. He was a kind and gentle person and he will be missed.”

Here are two tracks with Puma on 'em from Surrealistic Madness:

"Elevate in Madness"


This news comes not long after the announcement of Candiria's Toying With Insanities, a four-volume remix and rarities set drawn from albums on which Puma performed.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Warrel Dane of Nevermore interview

Here is the full transcript of an interview I conducted in late August of '09 with Warrel Dane, lead singer of Nevermore. It's been cleaned up a bit for ease of reading. The shortened version of the interview was published as a studio report in the November '09 issue of Decibel (Baroness cover). At the time of the interview, none of the songs from Nevermore's forthcoming album The Obsidian Conspiracy had been finished. Even so, Dane's delight at how things were going was palpable; he was even excited to tell the same stories that he did in his last Decibel interview. The Obsidian Conspiracy comes out in January of 2010 on Century Media.


Hey Warrel! How are you doing sir?

I’m fucking fantastic.

Are you in North Carolina right now?

I am, yes.

What does it feel like to be back in the studio with Nevermore for the first time in – what must be almost five years now?

This feels like the family’s back together. We’ve been together a long time, and people are gonna be pleased with what they hear. I don’t want to overstate anything, really, but obviously, I’m in a very good mood, because I’m very excited about these songs. We’re in a beautiful place, and we’re creating something that I think is going to surprise people. Maybe not shock people. But definitely, if somebody’s disappointed with it, I’ll be shocked.

So then I’m hearing there must be some kind of change of direction.

No no no, not really.

So what kind of surprises are you talking about?

I think there’s no change in direction, but it’s more of a progression of where we have been going over the years. It’s finally come to a place where…it’s just brutal dude. I mean last night I was listening back with Peter (Wichers, producer) to some of the tracks Jeff (Loomis, Nevermore guitarist) was doing, and I’m like “Oh my god. This riff is so fucking brutal!” and he’s like “What are you gonna sing over this?” and I said “…something really melodic?” And I’m like “NOBODY DOES THAT!!!”

You know it’s funny, I was reading some of the interviews with Jeff, just the little blurbs on Blabbermouth, where Jeff says it’s a more wide-open album musically, and that will let you be more vocally free. Can you talk more about that? What does he mean by that?

You know what the funny part about that is? After I read that, or after I heard that he said that, I had a talk with him. I’m like, “Dude, this is some of the most vicious, complicated, brutal stuff you’ve ever written.” “Oh, but the choruses are big!”

So there’s a little bit of that brutal verse, big chorus switching dynamic.

That’s where that came from. I think.

Are you doing more overdubs than usual? What’s changed about your vocal approach for this album, if anything?

Uh, nothing, so far. Well I actually haven’t started singing yet. Jeff is still doing guitar tracks. Our drummer, he did the tracks in Seattle, and then we moved to this beautiful, beautiful place in North Carolina called Lake Norman, and we rented a house, and basically just turned it into a recording studio. Which I think is the wave of the future for the recording industry, because it’s much more cost effective for the band. I mean you can rent a house, bring in equipment, and you don’t have to spend as much money as if you went to a high-level studio in a major city. We’re in this gorgeous, gorgeous fucking setting that’s so inspiring. It’s allowing us to be so creative, and really expand…I don’t know how else to describe that but that’s what it is.

The view outside Nevermore's studio
Lake Norman, NC

So this is not Peter’s actual studio. This is more…you brought him in and rented equipment.

Well it’s all his stuff, but we just kind of moved it into this house that he found. If you go on to my Twitter page, you can see all the pictures of this place.

Man, making some of the most vicious music of your career in the most gorgeous setting possible?

Isn’t that kind of ironic? But at the same time…Dead Heart in a Dead World. That record that we did, a lot of people view that s our best record, a lot of people view that as our shittiest record. That’s what’s funny to me, that there’s that wide gap of opinion about it. But we were listening to some tracks back last night, and Peter said to me, “You know, coming form a fan viewpoint, Dead Heart in a Dead World is my favorite Nevermore record, and this is as good.” So I don’t know what to say about that, but these are really good songs. And obviously, we’ve had a few years to work on them. So I think that’s showing in the end result.

You mentioned that you don’t have vocal lines worked out. Have you written lyrics for any of these songs yet?

Oh, of course. All the songs are written.

Since the last album, there’ve been a lot of setbacks with various illnesses, band members dropping out…but obviously you’ve rebounded, you guys are back together, both you and Jeff put out solo albums last year. Did any of that turmoil feed into what you’re writing for this album?

I don’t feel that was really turmoil for us. I think that (recording a solo record) was something that we both had to do to get something out of our system. Jeff has always wanted to do an instrumental record, and I have always encouraged him to do that, because I knew when he did one that it was going to be amazing. I’m so proud of what he did with Zero Order Phase. And at the same time, I always wanted to do something that was a little more rock-based. And you know, we were lucky enough that we both got to do what we wanted to do. And we got that out of the way, everything’s…

Hunky dory?

Well yeah, I guess, that’s kind of a funny thing to say, but it’s true.

I guess I meant more the medical things that a few of you went through in 2006. I know with your diabetes, there was a complication or two that resulted in some show cancellations?

That’s all managed now, I’m doing very well. It’s a difficult thing to go through, but I’m lucky enough that it was caught early on I guess. But you know, the booze – this is my favorite quote right now, “Satan lives in a bottle, you can find him at every 7-11.” I basically drank myself into Type 2 Diabetes.

I understand it ran in your family as well? Or a predisposition to it?

It does, yes. And my sister recently just this past month was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes as well.

I’m sorry to hear that.

So I probably woulda got it anyway, but I just…kickstarted it.

You might as well get it over with.

Yeah well, I think I’m a better person for the whole experience of going through that. Trying to be sober is a day-to-day thing. I used to mock people that went to AA, and these bumper stickers “One day at a time.” But seriously, it’s true, that’s all you can do. And I’m not a perfect person, and I never will be, and I’m okay with that. So I relapse sometimes, but now, I am much, much better than I was when I was a fat, bloated fucking idiot that could barely fucking sing on stage. I look at some of those old videos and I’m like, “Oh my god. And we still have fans?” I don’t want to preach to people and say “alcohol is bad,” but you know, everybody has to make their own decisions.

So then you are going to AA now, but I understand from the last article that Decibel did with you that it’s a non-religious AA?

Yes, exactly. Because I did not want the god crap. So I found an agnostic AA meeting. Of course it was in a church. Which is ironic, as well. But I have a great story about that. This girl I know, that’s a friend of mine, who is also in AA, she came out to visit from New York, and she wanted to go to a meeting. So I took her to this place, but it was on the wrong day, and we ended up going to a sex addict meeting. And of course she thought it was some kind of evil plan to get in her pants. It was one of the most surreal moments I’ve ever had. It was funny as hell. But eventually I convinced her, “No, I didn’t do this on purpose.”

It definitely tells you that church holds a lot of “A” meetings…any kind of addiction you got, we’ll take care of it!

Yeah well, I’m a victim of multiple addictions.

Tell me a little bit more about the musical addiction that’s going on here – you actually sound kind of high on the experience of recording this new thing. I mean, you’re so happy, but the name of the album, The Obsidian Conspiracy, just sounds black and paranoid to me. So what’s behind it?

If I told you what it means, you would probably want me to be institutionalized.

Please. Try me.

I’m not sure I can yet. It’s still evolving. The way I approach songwriting and recording, is everything evolves up until the moment it comes out of my mouth. And is permanent on tape – well there’s no tape anymore. But it’s evolving. And it’s something very, very intense. I don’t know how else to say it, actually. But when I’m done recording all this stuff, and we’re done writing – because we’re still working on music, lyrics, everything on a day-to-day basis, and it’s changing, and morphing, and becoming something different, even sometimes within minutes. And that’s so exciting to me. I mean that’s probably why I sound like I’m high on something. But I’m not. I’m high on life right now. And that can be the best drug ever. “There is no stronger drug than reality.” I said that once (on the Enemies of Reality album) and I meant it.

I was just listening to that album in the car on the way over here today, actually.

Funny, some people regard that as our worst album ever.

Well I think it’s mostly the production. A lot of the songs are fantastic.

Well the songs are great. You know when Andy (Sneap) re-did it, I think it took on a different life. And then I realized, “Wow, those songs really were pretty fucking good.”

Yeah, there’s some fantastic hooks, and then thematically it works really well, references to the reality issue from front to back.

I think a lot of people blame Kelly Gray (original producer of Enemies of Reality) for that record, but it wasn’t him. I mean he had a vision. He thought that metal was going to have a new sound, and apparently that would be it. I guess that vision was of horrible, muddy production, and it didn’t quite work out.

Yeah, that’s the thing. It works out for a lot of bands…

It does! He’s a very good guy, and I would never say a bad thing about him, except that situation didn’t quite work with us.

So take me back to The Obsidian Conspiracy, the story behind the title. You told me you’re constantly changing, up to the minute that this is laid down.

Right. Yeah. When I get in hyper mode and I’m in the vocal booth, I just keep writing and writing and writing and I change things constantly. So sometimes I feel like I don’t even know what some of these songs mean until I’m done, and later, and it’s all permanent. And I sit down and read what I’ve written, and I’m like, “Holy crap, is that what I’m saying? Wow. I think I need mental help.” But that’s kinda always the way that I’ve always worked, since day one. Since the first band that I was ever in. I guess it seems normal to me at this point, but it kinda freaks out my bandmates sometimes.

From talking to a lot of songwriters – I work at ASCAP, so all we do is deal with songwriters – that actually sounds very normal. You’re a creative person, you don’t always have perfect control over what you create. And maybe it’s only in retrospect or when you start matching up what you’ve done with what you’re thinking about right now, or were thinking about when you wrote it – it’s only then that you can make sense of it all.

I think that you put that a lot better than I did. And you’re exactly right.

So does that title The Obsidian Conspiracy relate to that process, would you say?
Probably, yeah. Probably.

Once the title’s actually printed on the album cover, and you look back at it, you’ll have a better idea of what it’s referring to.

My idea for the album cover is like – Wal-Mart will not stock it. That’s all I know. And after I’m off the phone with you, I’m immediately calling Travis Smith and discussing his ideas for the cover. I think Travis is one of the most amazing artists, and he’s done some of my favorite album covers ever, especially stuff with Opeth and Katatonia as well as Nevermore, and it’s gonna be…interesting. That’s all I can say.

You worked with Peter Wichers on your solo album, Praises to the War Machine. Is it any different having the rest of the band there working with him? It’s the first time that Nevermore as a band has worked with him.

Well you know what, I told them all, “Don’t have any fear bout working with Peter, because he has such insight into the psyche of musicians when they’re recording that he’ll work with you so well that you’ll never want to work with someone else.”

Well he’s a musician himself, he was in Soilwork.

Yeah, exactly. And the only difference with this is we’re not writing with him. I was writing with him on that (the solo album). He really is doing such a great job. And one thing that I’ve always said, and this may sound funny because I’m a singer, but Nevermore is a guitar band. And we need a guitarist as a producer. That’s why Andy Sneap worked so well, that’s why Peter’s working so well, Neil Kernon (producer on the early Nevermore records) – he plays guitar as well. And I’ve always said that our main focus should be just vicious, brutal riffing. Vocals to me kinda seem like an afterthought. Obviously they’re a big part of it, but I’m a fan of guitar. I always have been. And I always want a wall of sound. That’s the best way to describe it.

So you feel like so far, what you’ve listened to, Peter has been able to capture that.

Oh yeah. Is the world ready? Maybe that’s being arrogant, but fuck it, I’m the singer!

You gotta have a little arrogance to inspire an audience. I hear you have two cover songs on the album. How did you choose those two?

Well Jeff chose one, he’s a big Doors fan, and I chose one because I’m a huge fan of the Tea Party, a Canadian band that’s now defunct. The Doors song was not my original choice. I really wanted to do this song called “Waiting For the Sun.” When I listen to songs, of course since I’m a lyricist, I gravitate towards cover songs (for which) I admire the lyrics. Jeff being a guitarist, he goes for the guitar stuff that he thinks is really cool. And that’s `how we came on the Doors thing. “Crystal Ship” originally he had taken the approach of making it a little heavy. And I tried to work with it and I said “Jeff, I don’t think this is working. I think maybe what we should try is an all-acoustic approach to the song.” And when we did it, he was like “Dude, you’re totally right.” And he was like doing five layered guitar parts over this – when people hear it – it doesn’t sound like the Doors anymore. I think that’s what people expect when we do cover songs. ‘Cuz we’ve been known to deconstruct and recreate more than one song.

Definitely the “Sound of Silence” cover (from Dead Heart In a Dead World), I wouldn’t have recognized it if it weren’t for the lyrics.

Yeah, well there you go. Those lyrics are brilliant, Paul Simon is one of the best rock lyricists that has ever lived. And if you listen to some of those old Simon & Garfunkel records, holy fuck. I mean they’re so dark and so depressing. I mean “Richard Cory…” you know this song?

I do. It’s such a depressing story.

The end. “Richard Cory went home last night and put a bullet in his head.” ::sings:: “But I / I work in his factory / And I hate the life I’m living…” it’s just fucked up! It’s fucked up shit!

The Simon & Garfunkel song “I Am A Rock,” too – that’s a pretty depressing image to have to deal with, also. “I am an island.”

Every man is an island.

You and John Donne could get into a fight over that one. I mean he’s dead, so you’ve got the upper hand. So what about The Tea Party? I haven’t heard of them before.

Are you kidding? They’re a Canadian power trio, kind of like…we’ve got Rush, we’ve got…well, obviously Rush is the biggest Canadian power trio …Triumph, another Canadian power trio…anyway, this is like my favorite rock band. At the moment. My tastes change, every now and then but…the singer is just so fucking good. I mean he sounds like the bastard child of Mark Lanegan and Jim Morrison. So Screaming Trees meets the Doors.

Nice expressive baritone there.

It’s really, really interesting. And I would hate to say which album is their best, because I can’t pick one. But to start with, I would go with Transmission. It’s different. Definitely. But we all are kind of into this band. I mean we wouldn’t cover a song if we didn’t like the band.

Did you suggest earlier that you’re recording some other tracks as part of these sessions that you might not release on the album?

I don’t know. One of my ideas, because we’re in this absolutely gorgeous, inspiring place, is “Jeff, can we just go out and sit on the dock with your acoustic and just jam? And I’ll hit record on my iPhone and see what happens?” You never know, something might happen. I mean I think that we are in a space right now where we’re being so creative that anything can happen. And I’ve never really experienced that before. So that’s something that’s just – I mean I feel like a 13 year old kid. And I’m over 40, so that’s something.

Are the other two members of the band contributing much to the songwriting this time around?

Well it’s mainly Jeff and I. They do have their contributions, but Jeff and I are the songwriters.

And it’s just Jeff on guitars right? You don’t bring in a rhythm guitarist for any of the recording sessions?

No. Jeff is a fucking machine. Every producer that we’ve ever worked with always is amazed by his precision in the studio. So this is basically the same kind of situation we did when we recorded Dead Heart in a Dead World, when we didn’t have a second guitar player at that point so Jeff did everything. And it’s I guess that’s why we’re also thinking in the back of our heads that it’s sounding similar to that. Maybe I’m just being crazy, but maybe it DOES sound like it. But we are definitely doing some stuff that is going to…I think, nobody can change the world of music, but people can make a contribution, at least, with something startling. And I hope at least this is startling.

It’s really fantastic to hear that you’re getting behind this so much. I mean every band is going to be hyped on their new album, I hope…

I’m not gonna lie and say it’s the best shit we’ve ever written, because I don’t think it is…but I think it’s as good as anything we’ve ever written. For a musician, if you’ve got a number of records out in your career, it’s like picking a favorite child. You can’t say “That’s my favorite kid.” Because you have to love everything you do, or create. So it’s kind of like childbirth in a way. I guess that sounds weird, but it’s the only way I can describe it right now.

Are there any ridiculous studio stories that you can share so far?

Heh…nothing that you could print. Wanna hear about toothless redneck hookers?

Dude, you’ve read Decibel before. That’s all we write about.

Yeah, we’re in an interesting area. I’ll just say that much. The people here are so polite! It’s making me be more polite when I’m relating to people. And I think that’s just part of Southern culture, but…you go to the grocery store and people talk to you different. They’re like “How’s your day? How’re you doin’?” And it makes you relate to them in the same way. “Well thank you, thank you very much! I’m havin’ a great day, and I hope you have a great day too!” You know in Seattle (Nevermore’s hometown), people get weird. Sometimes you’re walking down the street and people don’t even look at each other. Same thing in New York. It’s a different world out here and I think that’s also affecting our experience.

It’s funny, some of the metal that comes from the South, especially the New Orleans area, it’s the dirtiest, nastiest, least hospitable metal you could imagine.

::laughs:: That’s cool though!

Maybe it’s just a complete reaction to what you’re talking about. Could you see yourself moving down south? Or even importing some of that vibe up north?

I love Seattle too much. I’m born and raised there and it’s just too much…I mean that’s my home. So I can’t see myself living anywhere but Seattle.

You’re a trained chef. Are you cooking for yourself down there in the studio?

You wanna hear what I’m making tonight?

Yes I do!

Pasta a la puttanesca. The story behind that…

You know you talked about this in the last Decibel interview you did. It’s the whore sauce, right?

Yeah, the prostitute sauce. It was hookers that wanted to cook up something quick that they could eat before they did their next trick. And it’s very easy to make. It’s just fresh garlic, anchovies, capers, crushed red pepper, basic basil sauce, and that’s it. And it’s fucking delicious. One of my favorite pastas, ever. But I have to tell you something. There was this man that affected my life so profoundly. His name was Vince Mottola. And I worked for him for a number of years in Seattle. And he was from Naples. And he immigrated over here, brought his family over, and he opened a chain of restaurants in the greater Seattle area, and I started working for him, as did Jeff and Jim (Sheppard, Nevermore bassist). And we learned so much from this man. And when my father died, he kind of became my second dad. He would scold me for doing bad things, and I’d get so pissed off, then think “Oh my god…he’s totally right. I was being a little shithead.” And I miss that guy so much. I really do.

This is one thing that’s kind of funny. There’s so many musicians that work in the restaurant industry. And people that are playing music, if they’re also cooking, it seems to me that they view food preparation as more of an art form than people that are not musicians. So when we were hiring people at this restaurant, we would hire musicians. Even if they were fucked up, they were always better cooks.

That’s really interesting!

It is, but it’s true.

When you write reviews, one of the go-to metaphors to use to describe music is food. Like “What the band’s got cooking..” or “put ingredients of this and this and this in there,” or “it boils down to…” It goes together with what you’re saying. So did Vince own that restaurant that you were working at in Seattle?

He did, he did.

And then you took it over once he passed?

Yes. Eventually we had to make a decision -- do we wanna do music? Because running a restaurant is 24/7. You have to commit yourself. There was a time around ’97, when we toured for Politics of Ecstasy. We went on tour, and we came back, and there were like 17 kegs missing from the inventory, and the liquor costs were going through the roof, and we figured out that these people were taking advantage of us, our employees, because they thought “Oh, you’re in a band, you’re partyers, and nobody’s going to notice.” But we noticed. And so we kinda had to make a decision, it’s either this or that. And of course music is my passion, and it always will be. But I still cook! And I’m cooking a damn puttanesca tonight for everybody.

You’re making me so hungry. I haven’t had lunch yet.

I made ‘em matriciana the other night.

What’s that?

Matriciana is basically spicy red sauce with bacon and onions. Have you ever had carbonara?

Yes I have.

We used to joke about that and call it heart attack on a plate. Because it’s heavy cream, egg yolks, cheese, butter, bacon, and you don’t drain the fat, and it’s just yummy. And a lot of black pepper. I don’t eat that so much anymore because, you know, that can really affect your cholesterol levels. I try to be healthy. You know, when I was in my twenties, I was a bad guy, I did everything unhealthy, but when you get a little order, you realize that that was your time, and it’s time to grow up, now.

Not that there aren’t plenty of great fat singers, there are…

Don’t make me even go there. Because I have a really bad joke that I cannot tell you.

Come on!

Unless it’s off the record. No, I can’t do it. I can’t do it.

You've had a lot of members come and go over the years. Has Nevermore ever had a band member that you wanted to keep with the band, and they just decided to leave?

We always think that the current one is gonna be the one! And it turns out that something weird happens. I’m not gonna name names, but there was one guy in the band where his wife tried to poison Jeff’s girlfriend by putting shit in one of her booze bottles. Like ammonia or something. And the cops came, and it was a really big thing. And anyway we got rid of him, and his wife was crazy. Yeah. I live Spinal Tap every day. And I think that really, to be a metal band, you have to. Don’t you, really?

I think you’re absolutely right. There needs to be some hilarity to keep you going all this time, too.

Laughter’s the best medicine.

So that’s about all the questions I have, unless there’s anything else you want to tell us about The Obsidian Conspiracy.

It’s rising.

The Obsidian Conspiracy is rising.

That’s my quote.

That and your opening line “fucking fantastic” are competing for the title of this interview. Well great. Thank you so much Warrel.

No, thank you. It’s really cool when you talk to someone…I mean obviously we both do a lot of interviews – when people ask questions that aren’t like the normal dumbass questions. I’ve been asked really stupid things like “So…tell me something of the meaning of the lyrics because we think maybe you do not like Jesus.” I mean that’s just retarded to me. I have nothing against any deity, except I don’t prescribe myself to any organized religion, and everyone needs to make their own decision and take their own path in life.

Now there was something that really made me very angry recently on CNN…where this guy, who is a pastor in some church, and I think it’s here in the south somewhere, and he took his kid to school, this little girl that I think was eight or ten years old, and made her wear a t-shirt that said “Islam is of the devil.” And I was so stunned that there are people that are that fucking ignorant in the world.

It’s both having that opinion and also forcing it upon an eight-year-old that probably doesn’t know well enough to decide for herself.

Exactly. Remember this old song by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young “Teach Your Children Well?” This guy ain’t doin’ it.

That’s probably the hateful underbelly that you might see if you go a little further outside the nice mom ‘n pop places where you’re shopping. There are more gun-toting wackos there than most other places… more hate crime and domestic violence down south.

There’s good people everywhere, there’s bad people everywhere. That’s the way I look at it.