Artist Interview | Page 2 | Revolver

Artist Interview

royal-blood-2017-jaramillo.jpg, Carlos Jaramillo
photograph by Carlos Jaramillo

In early 2014, James Kurdziel put the first single from U.K. duo Royal Blood into rotation on Buffalo, New York, rock station The Edge, where he serves as program director. That track, "Out of the Black," was instantly reactive. "Immediately the phone calls come in — 'What was that?'" Kurdziel remembers. "What was interesting was: a lot of times when we get those curiosity calls, it's people saying, 'What was that song you played that kind of sounded like Kings of Leon or Smashing Pumpkins?' You didn't get a lot of that with Royal Blood. This was: 'What was that? I don't know what it sounds like, I just know I like it.'"

So it's been for Royal Blood — an English twosome featuring Mike Kerr on bass and vocals and Ben Thatcher on drums — who will touch down stateside this fall in support of their second LP, How Did We Get So Dark?, and play major American venues as the opener for Queens of the Stone Age.

When the duo released their debut album in 2014, they incited the kind of mainstream fervor that has rarely flared for new rock bands in the last decade. The pair quickly racked up populist milestones — Royal Blood went No. 1 in the U.K., and spawned three top five entries on Billboard's Mainstream Rock Songs chart in the U.S. — as well as praise from some of rock's biggest names, new and old: Foo Fighters took them on tour, while Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page described their output as "music of tremendous quality." 

This was a remarkable turn of events for Kerr and Thatcher, who have known each other since the two were teens in South England and have been gigging in a series of going-nowhere-loudly bands for longer than that. Thatcher almost abandoned band life completely — "You'd travel up to Glasgow to play to three people, and they were the bar staff," he lamented in 2015 — but agreed to record with Kerr again after the bassist returned from a sojourn in Australia.

The two write incisive songs, occasionally swiping from the heavy-bore ebb and flow of 1970s blues rock but mostly conjuring a crystalline, brisk, no-frills smack primed for filling arenas with bodies in motion. They love lurching shifts that allow them to move suddenly from chugging and sludgy to vroom-ing and needle-nosed.

Kerr's bass, to everyone's delight, also serves up a guitar sound, pulling double duty as bludgeoning rhythm instrument and a source of squalling leads. "If you get him to play guitar, he just sounds like Jimi Hendrix; if you play it on bass, it sounds like Royal Blood," explains Jolyon Thomas, who co-produced the duo's new album. Few overdubs are added in the studio: Kerr mostly plays songs all the way through on a three-quarter sized bass with two guitar amps, a bass amp and a selection of pedals. "You get a lot more energy out of a smaller thing," Thomas notes, referring to Kerr's choice of instrument.

Add to that Thatcher's drumming: busy, hammering, authoritative. "It isn't all about the bass; there are big beats on there," Thomas says. "Big fills and big drum moments: you know it's coming; you anticipate it; everyone locks in together."

Though listeners took to Royal Blood's music in droves — the duo's first album was the fastest-selling rock debut in the U.K. since Noel Gallagher came out with his High Flying Birds project — Kerr remains modest when assessing his group's impact. The relative scarcity of mainstream rock acts, he reasons, "was working in our favor." "We came along at the right time, certainly in the U.K., as something new and exciting," he continues. "That has happened at different points in the past and will happen at different points in the future."

The band was catapulted into the whirlwind that boosts buzzy acts, touring furiously for two and a half years behind just ten tracks. "They're songs that we love, but we debuted a new one at Reading Festival in 2015 ["Hook, Line and Sinker"] and we were beyond happy to be playing something new," says Kerr. "We weren't ever expecting things to happen so quickly and so fast," he adds.

This set up Royal Blood, like many groups before it, for a second-album letdown. The routine that created the original batch of ear-perking songs had been destroyed by the churn of the next-big-thing machine. And total life upheaval was compounded by the pressure of people like Jimmy Page predicting "they're going to take rock into a new realm."

Aware of this potential pitfall, the duo moved cautiously when they started making How Did We Get So Dark?, trying sessions in England, Nashville and Los Angeles before hitting the studio in Brussels with approximately 50 song ideas. "It probably took a bit longer than we thought or were planning it to take," says Kerr. "But I think it was all the better for it. We needed a bit of a time out."

They recruited Thomas — who has credits on records by M83 and Daughter, and was assisting U2 with new music in 2015 — to help them make small alterations to their sound on How Did We Get So Dark? "We wanted to progress," Kerr says, but not end up making "a kind of weird reggae record." On multiple songs, he serves as his own backing chorus for the first time, stacking harmonies that add a lighthearted call-and-response element to the jarring riffs.

Originally, Royal Blood brought in backup singers with a background in soul and gospel to handle the harmonies, but according to Kerr, "it wasn't quite right."

"We thought about other singers and other textures," acknowledges Thomas, "but [Royal Blood's] just two guys, and as soon you move it away from that, it loses its character. It's like Mick Jagger and Keith Richards — there's a dynamic there, and they play off each other. If you took Jagger away, Richards would be really rough; if you took Richards away, Jagger would be really annoying. It's the same with them."

The other adjustments Royal Blood make to their sound on How Did We Get So Dark? are more subtle. Occasionally the pair augments their ascetic drum and bass setup with a keyboard — a Fender Rhodes bass, according to Thomas, in keeping with the duo's bass-heavy sound. Two collaborators also helped out with songwriting: John Barrett from Bass Drum of Death is credited on two songs, and Patrik Berger, better known for his high-flying forays in the pop songwriting world (Robyn's "Dancing on My Own," Charli XCX's "Boom Clap"), added to album closer "Sleep."

In sum, these changes all add a bright patina to Royal Blood's whomping, cinderblock-dense core. The contrast between sheen and tooth-shaking sound is made more extreme by Kerr's morose vocals, which often dwell on imploding relationships — including his own, which fell apart following the success of Royal Blood — and their aftermath. The records opens "on a sinking ship with a heavy heart." "How did I become a lookalike of someone you used to love?" Kerr wonders. Little has changed on album closer "Sleep," which finds the singer in a jealous frenzy: "I just can't help myself/ Thinking you're with someone else/ Sick to the bone/ I don't wanna sleep." Kerr is not one for parsing lyrics, though he allows that "Sleep" appears to have struck a nerve: "From the minimal feedback I've seen online, it seems to have resonated with a few people."

Royal Blood have managed to achieve an increasingly rare balance, making heavy rock that is palatable to the mainstream. "There's a lack of riff-based music at modern day alternative radio," explains Ross Mahoney, Program Director for Las Vegas' X107.5 "You either go to the left and play a lot of Foster the People or pop stuff, or you go to the right and play more of the Breaking Benjamin or Three Days Grace stuff. [Royal Blood] walk that line." This puts them in a small group of bands — Mahoney also points to Highly Suspect and Deftones — that bring some weight to today's Alternative Rock airwaves. "It sounds so good cutting through," he adds.

Royal Blood's single "Lights Out" reached 1.4 million listeners through radio last week, according to Nielsen Soundscan. Once again, Kurdziel is seeing that the duo's single is causing The Edge's listeners to break their daily routine, call into the station and beg for more information on the band. "Almost the same thing happened [as it did when they released their first album]: you put the song on, and you get the calls, 'What was that?'" Kurdziel says. "You tell people it's the new Royal Blood. They go, 'Oh! Cool!'"

slayer, Andrew Stuart
photograph by Andrew Stuart

As this summer's concert tours go, you won't find one more deliciously dark, devastating and demonic than the triple bill of Slayer, Lamb of God and Behemoth, which makes landfall July 12th at the Sanford Center in Bemidji, Minnesota, and will spend the next six weeks laying waste to arenas and amphitheaters across North America.

Slayer, still the thrashiest of the original "Big Four" American thrash bands that minted the genre back in the 1980s, have already logged over 150 live dates since the release of their most recent album, Repentless, in September 2015. But guitarist and co-founder Kerry King tells Revolver that he can't wait to get out and do it again this summer with their comrades in metal from Virginia and Poland. When we caught up with him at home, a week before the tour, King gave us the lowdown about what we can expect from Slayer's set lists this time out, as well as how he prepares for the shows and what he listens to during his downtime.

REVOLVER Slayer, Lamb of God and Behemoth on the same tour — that's a pretty sick bill, isn't it?
Yeah, I'm excited. We haven't played with Lamb of God since at least 2006, though I may have my year wrong. It's hard to put a good metal tour together; it's hard for everybody to get their time freed up at the same time. So I'm glad this worked out. I can't wait for it to happen — if I was a metal fan, I'd be stoked. I mean, I am a metal fan, but you know what I'm saying! [Laughs]

Will the Slayer set lists for this tour be pretty similar to the shows you guys were recently doing in Europe?
Um, I haven't done much homework on it, yet. I just looked at the set list from the last time we played Vegas, which was roughly a year and a half ago. I want to go back and look at the rest of them, because I know on that particular tour our set list morphed a bit. I just like to make sure we're playing some things that we haven't played the last couple times through; you know, there's a ton of things we have to play every time we come through, so it gets harder to fill the random void, I guess you'd say. I know we're playing a new song off the new record that we haven't played before. That's one cool thing, but there will be some other stuff, some historical stuff that we haven't done in five, six years. Like I said, I'm still researching it.

Is that pretty typical for you before a tour — you'll look at what you played on previous dates in the same region, and construct the new set lists accordingly?
Yeah, and I'll take random cities, too — because sometimes you'll hit 'em on an A tour run, or sometimes you'll hit 'em on a B tour run, so… I put a little effort into it, and hopefully the fans appreciate that. I try to make it as good an experience as they can have.

You guys pulled out "Necrophiliac" [from 1985's Hell Awaits] when you played in Milan, Italy in June…
Did we? We hadn't played that one in a while! [Laughs]

Yeah, and you played "Die by the Sword" [from 1983's Show No Mercy] a handful of times on the European tour. How do you decide to throw something like that into the set? Is it a spur-of-the-moment thing?
It's funny — if you were sitting next to me, you'd see that I've still got my travel bag with me, and it's got thirteen or fourteen papers in there, all my European set list homework. It's a mess, for sure, with all the scribblings, all the set lists I actually wrote down and compared. I probably knew going into Italy that we were going to try "Necrophiliac," and at soundcheck we probably ran through it before we threw it in the set somewhere. It's preconceived, for sure.

What's the unplayed song from Repentless that you'll be doing on this tour?
We should have "Cast the First Stone" in there, which we've rehearsed a number of times. I think Tom's finally prepared to do it live — and we've got a rehearsal day the day before the first show, so I'm pretty sure that'll be in there from day one.

"Repentless," "When the Stillness Comes" and "You Against You" are the Repentless songs you've been playing most often. Do they just feel the best to play live, or are those the ones from the album that have gotten the best crowd response?
"Stillness" is an outstanding live song. The only time we've taken it out of the European set lists was if it was a daytime show, because then the vibe ain't the same. [Laughs] And "You Against You" — those two songs really work well together, because you've got the moodiest song on the record followed by the punkiest song on the record. I might have to separate them, though, because we've been doing it that way for quite a while now. But I'd like to have those songs still in the set; we'll see what happens. We're just trying to make the best set list — not for us. I mean, of course there are songs that I like to play, but fortunately most of the fans seem to like those songs too, so it's not like I'm constructing set lists just for my benefit.

What are some of your absolute favorite songs to play these days?
Absolute favorites to play? You know, I like to play "Raining Blood," I like to play "Hate Worldwide," I like to play "Disciple." [Laughs] I play in a band I would definitely be a fan of!

Does how you prepare for a show differ at all now from the way you'd prepare for one ten, twenty or thirty years ago?
Nah, I probably just stretch more. I've always played guitar for roughly an hour before going onstage. But I make sure my back and my neck are stretched out, because to throw that out at this point in the game would not be good! [Laughs]

What music do you listen to during your downtime on tour?
Basically, there are two times I listen to music on tour. One is in the gym, because when you're doing cardio you've gotta listen to something, or you'll just bore yourself to tears with whatever shit is on TV. In that case, it'll be something that I've known for a long, long time — I've got two Priest go-tos, which are Stained Class and Defenders [of the Faith]. I mean, I might play other ones, but with those, everything on the entire album is good. Could be Long Live Rock 'n' Roll by Rainbow; could be any of the old Sabbath stuff, even the old Sabbath stuff with Dio — that's great stuff. Sometimes I'll throw in Doomsday Machine by Arch Enemy; I love that album.

If we've been out drinking, and I don't want to get caught up in a Netflix series that I've been paying attention to — because if I've been out drinking, I'm not going to remember it — at that point in the night, I go to YouTube and just have rock and roll party night. I pick out videos that I love, or I haven't seen, and check it out.

Are there any plans in place to begin working on a follow-up to Repentless?
Funny thing is, Repentless isn't even two years old yet, though it seems like it is. But from that session, there are six or eight songs that are recorded — some with vocals, some with leads, but all with keeper guitar, drums and bass. So when those songs get finished lyrically, if the lyrics don't change the songs, they'll be ready to be on the next record. So we already have more than half a record complete, if those songs make it. This is actually the most prepared we've ever been for the next record in our history; there's no reason to not do more work, because it's already more than halfway done. Just write four or five new songs, and give the others some attention, and we'll be good to go. If we get a down period of time, which I know is coming at the end of this year, maybe we'll focus on that and get to it.

So it's conceivable that we could see a new Slayer record next year?
It's conceivable — but I'm certainly not gonna promise it, because every time I do, I make a liar of myself! [Laughs]

Trapped Under Ice 2017 OWENS, Angela Owens
photograph by Angela Owens

The Gestalt prayer has been used time and time again as a mantra for the artist — a rallying cry for following your muse and going on instinct. Published close to 70 years ago by psychotherapist Fritz Perls, who knew that words like this could be applicable to a gang of street-tough kids like Trapped Under Ice:

I do my thing and you do your thing.
I am not in this world to live up to your expectations,
And you are not in this world to live up to mine.
You are you, and I am I,
and if by chance we find each other, it's beautiful.
If not, it can't be helped.

Baltimore's favorite hardcore sons manifest these expressions on their new LP, Heatwave, which clocks in at a lean 14 minutes and takes a sharp left turn away from previous efforts. The strictly straining, bulging neck-vein vocals that marked efforts like 2011's Big Kiss Goodnight are gone and replaced by a mix of muscular hardcore and melodic vocals. Madball-style New York hardcore-isms are merged with a wide range of influences: from punk rock and pop to funk and even the Washington, D.C. musical phenomenon go-go. To say that Trapped Under Ice are going their own way with Heatwave is an understatement. But in case you're worried they've gone off the deep end, don't be: it all works in the end.

The group's latest track from Heatwave, "Oblivion" — which you can hear for the first time ever below — is, by their own admission, the closest in style to their approach from yesteryear. That said, it's still wholly indicative of their new direction. Fans will recognize the band's command of the d-beat into the half-speed chorus into the start-stop rhythms of the finale. But the brevity of it all is very much Trapped Under Ice of 2017: immediately hooking you in and leaving you wanting more.

Heatwave is slated to street on July 21 via Pop Wig Records, but you can stream "Oblivion" below now, and read our chat with Trapped Under Ice vocalist Justice Tripp, in which we ask him about the band's new approach, and how he finds the balance between pleasing his fans and following inspiration.

REVOLVER What can you tell us about the single "Oblivion," and how it sits within the rest of the new material on Heatwave
 In my head, "Oblivion" is the most "Trapped Under Ice" song on the record. Maybe I'm wrong, but when I hear it I think, Oh, that sounds like I think what people expect of Trapped Under Ice, which isn't a bad thing at all. I love where Trapped Under Ice comes from and where it is going. It's definitely fun and different, but hints at TUI of the past.

One thing about the record that I immediately noticed is your vocal approach. On those first two LPs, it sounded like you were going to have an embolism at any moment, just screaming your lungs out. Another thing is that this is a hardcore record, but you guys definitely take risks on it. Hardcore isn't suited for a party atmosphere, but this almost feels like a party record: it's fun and ridiculous in the best of ways. Were you trying to make something more fun this time around?
I wouldn't say there was a conscious goal. We definitely didn't sit down to be like, "Let's write a party record," you know? But at the same time, it's like what you said about the first few records and how I sound like I'm about to have an embolism... That's just who I was at that point in my life. Sitting on the edge of a panic attack, just ready to freak out. I have issues with anxiety. At that point in my life I was in a dark place and I still have normal struggles like anybody else. Maybe it's part of getting older.

When you're young, you don't recognize the kind of influence you have on other young people. Being at a show, I would run into someone every night that would say, "If you play this, I'm gonna fucking kill somebody. I'm gonna fuck this whole place up!" I really don't want to see that. I really just don't want to see some small, younger person get spin-kicked in the nose. But people were just feeding off of the way I felt. I get that I created and projected that, and I didn't like it. Don't get me wrong, I love being in a small venue and watching a band while my homies are just beating the shit out of each other. I have that meathead nature in me to go crazy on my friends. But that's with my friends and in an environment where everybody knows everybody and you know what you're getting into. You know it's going to be turnt up. I just wanted to create a less dangerous environment for Trapped Under Ice. It's hard to be that every single night on tour and witness that every single night on tour and not have some kind of regret overall.

Do you harbor guilt about it?
Yeah. It got a little dark for me. It was hard for me to swallow a little bit. It's not anything that I ever anticipated or intended. I'm not hard on myself about it; I just don't love it. I don't love that that was part of what we did, unintentionally.

Let's talk about the approach to the new record. One of the things that I'm most curious about is, as much as punk and hardcore comes from a place of progressive ideas, it's pretty conservative. Heatwave is hardcore and it's punk, but it kind of rewrites the rules and does its own thing. What are your thoughts on that? Trying to stay within the "rules."
I genuinely believe that the way I feel and the way that other people in the band feel is like a complete disregard for those rules. Obviously, there are things that we like that like tie us to those titles, being hardcore or punk. But I don't — and I know Brendan [Yates] and Sam [Trapkin] don't — go into it with any goal to stay within a certain lane. Whatever feels good. I genuinely just get off on rubbing people the wrong way.

At the same time, it feels good to be appreciated and when people have a positive response to the record. When we premiered a song, we knew that we would get some kind of backlash because ultimately that's what we want. I wanna hear that. I wanna hear people say "What the fuck is this?" because I think anything that's going to be cool or innovative is never gonna be accepted easily. Anything worth doing that I've done in my life was met with loud resistance.

So, this record is 11 songs in 14 minutes. A lot of people are going to say "14 minutes... Is that an LP?" What's your response to that?
That's a Pop Wig LP. Hardcore records weren't meant to be super long records. I have a short attention span and I think the average human being does too. That's why social media and cell phones and technology is advanced as it is. Heatwave is everything I want in a record. After that 14 minutes is over, I feel like I got everything I need out of it. I don't want to put any bullshit in there to appease the industry standard of what an LP is. Industry standard doesn't really mean anything to us.

Are there any bands that you look up to who have reinvented themselves and made it work?
On a smaller scale, it would be Ceremony. I think they're the coolest band in the world for that reason, whether you like this record or that record. Everybody has their favorite record and it's usually different. It's great watching how they could stay the same band and still recreate themselves every record. I remember when they put out Rohnert Park, I texted Anthony [Anzaldo] from Ceremony and said "You literally just changed the whole way I perceive hardcore and punk music with this record. With the way that your band just stays evolving and changing, without fear of what people are gonna think about it." Very brave and exciting to me.

Did you have any of that mentality when you were doing the record, like just let the chips fall where they may kind of a thing?
Where the chips fall, for sure. I think that's pretty much the same with everybody in the band. You just get older and you become more confident in what you like. Doing something that we thought people would think is cool, never once has that equated to success. Never once has that paid off for Trapped Under Ice or any creative endeavor I've been involved in. I feel like during any era of Trapped Under Ice, that's what separated us and what people valued about us. We're just kind of doing our own thing. And I feel like every release we've done, every era was met with that same resistance and it all just proves to pay off in the end.  So let the chips fall where they will, what feels good. There are certain conscious things that you wanna create, like a more positive atmosphere that isn't welcoming to bullies. But as far as the creative aspect of it, let the chips fall.

Obviously, you're involved in hardcore and punk with Pop Wig, but outside of that is hardcore part of your musical world? You know, when you go home do you put on modern hardcore to chill?
I wouldn't say I chill out with it. [Laughs] Around the house for sure. And I'm always pursuing and listening to new music in any form of punk rock. A band that is pretty cool for me, being from Baltimore and watching them blossom, is Queensway. They just played Sound of Fury with us, and they did an EP or a short LP that I listen to a lot on Spotify. That's something that I listen to, unravel and pick apart. That said, you can't just listen to heavy Baltimore and New York hardcore influenced stuff all day long, but it definitely is something that I visit very frequently.

There are tracks on this record that fly very close to Angel Du$t and Turnstile material. Do you feel like your other bands are creeping into TUI?
I don't think there is anything wrong with that. I think that's cool. I think like me and Brendan stepping away from each other and doing bands separately kind of helps to define what we like as far as writing songs. And the funny thing is a few songs here were originally written as TUI songs around the time we stopped playing shows. There's elements of that when we were starting to write Angel Du$t songs.

In the end though, I'm not trying to hide the fact that I'm the guy from Angel Du$t. I'm Justice, the guy from Pop Wig who plays in all these bands. I don't think there's any need to hide that Brendan is in the band either. If it feels like Turnstile, that's because the guy from Turnstile is in the band.

What's something surprising that you listen to that could have creeped its way onto Heatwave?
I don't think anything should surprise people but sometimes when I'm wearing a band t-shirt, the internet will be like "Oh, why's he wearing this shirt?" I don't know, it's crazy people are still one-dimensional. Do they think I just sit in my room and play my own band all day long? [Laughs] But a lot of stuff very consciously creeps into the record. I think one thing, some of the faster elements and shooting for chaotic elements, that is definitely influenced by Gauze, the Japanese hardcore punk band. I don't think that's something that people would obviously see, and it's not something I'm saying the record sounds like, but it's there in our way.

Pop music is one thing that shines through everything in our circle. In Brendan's band, Sam's band or Brad [Hyra] and Jared [Carman's] band, there is a subtle pop influence. There's songs that we wrote where I remember listening to Prince and being like damn, I can't believe this element of songwriting. This is a feeling that I wanna imitate and recreate in a hardcore song.

Do you attribute the stylistic shift on Heatwave to a long time away and a focus on other projects?
Definitely. Time away is a big factor and I don't think it's a bad thing. I think it's really cool that was partly an effect of the decision to stop playing shows and see the band from a different perspective. And definitely doing other bands, I think we each learned what we want as songwriters individually — doing different projects makes you a better songwriter. If anything, it made the vision for Trapped Under Ice clearer for exactly what we wanted.

arcadea, Jenny Bishop
photograph by Jenny Bishop

When I tell Brann Dailor I'm conducting our phone interview from a couch in an air-conditioned living room, flanked by my two dogs and cat, he groans in envy. "Don't say that to me," he half-jokes. "I'm in Austria! I'm at a festival, and it's way too hot. But I'm fine. I did this to myself."

As drummer, lyricist, co-singer and occasional riff-writer for Mastodon—whose grueling tour schedule has them booked until February 2018—Dailor doesn't have a lot of downtime. So it's somewhat shocking that the musician has found the space in his schedule to cook up a killer side-project.

The roots of Arcadea can be traced back to around three years ago, when Dailor linked up with Zruda guitarist Core Atoms, who was also Dailor's former bandmate in wacky prog-funk act Gaylord. Atoms had been demoing songs for an outlandish sci-fi concept album based around the futuristic tones of his microKorg synth, and Dailor signed on to play drums. Ever the workaholic, Dailor soon expanded his role to singing, writing vocal melodies, generating synth ideas and even recruiting his wife, Tiger! Tiger! bassist Susanne Gibboney, as a guest vocalist on one track.

After adding Withered guitarist Raheem Amlani as a second synth player, the trio whittled away on the material that would eventually become Arcadea: 11 tracks of spiraling psych-metal that sounds a lot like Mastodon binging on Seventies kraut-rock and Nineties electronica.

Dailor spoke to Revolver about his synth vacation, the physical demands of a Mastodon show and why taking a break "sounds boring."

REVOLVER The most recent Mastodon tours have been pretty grueling for you. Not only are you drumming at your usual level of insanity, but you're also singing much more — and in a higher register than ever. You also got sick awhile back on tour. How have you been holding up lately?
BRANN DAILOR I'm better now. Just trying to take all my vitamins and be good and everything. But it's hard to maintain. For me, with all the high singing, I have to be in perfect condition to be able to pull it off. Last tour, I woke up on the first day of the show with a fucking sore throat and a wicked head cold. It was terrible. I just did the best I could. I'd go out and apologize to the crowd after the show. But there's enough other singing going on that it wasn't too bad. We cut a couple songs [from the setlist] and gave me a few days [to rest], and it got better as time went on. But I'm feeling good at the moment.

You've known Core Atoms for a long time and played with him back in the Nineties before you both moved from Rochester, New York to Atlanta. I know one of the things that struck you about him was his left-handed, upside-down guitar playing — was it a tone thing because of how the strings were oriented?
That's what I liked about it. Gaylord's bass player, Jeff [Steverson] was crazy too. I thought they were super talented, and it was different from what I was doing at the time. I was in a really technical, math-y band called Lethargy that was, like, Mr. Bungle death-metal. Gaylord were playing weird funk, also influenced by Mr. Bungle. We had all this different music wrapped up in this one really bizarre package. Core's guitar playing was just different, and that's what I always look for: something artistic and weird. I've been lucky enough to play with some really out-there guitar players, and he's definitely one. Just because of the way he taught himself how to play guitar, power chords sound weird. Every chord he strums sounds different from everything else. That was a huge part of why I wanted to play with him in the first place.

You guys should reissue those Gaylord albums. They're pretty hard to find these days.
[laughs] We've never talked about it. That's never really come up. Maybe. We'll have to talk about that. You never think anybody wants to hear anything, so you never really talk about it. I don't know, maybe you're right. Maybe there are people who want to hear it.

I'm sure there are diehard Mastodon people who'd want to hear it. You should think about it.
I'm gonna!

The Arcadea album originated from a handful of songs Core Atoms wrote on a microKorg. Did you think at first that this was going to be a Gaylord project, or was it clearly something new?
I knew it was brand new. I was excited because he's an interesting player with an interesting take on music. I've known him for so long, and we have been friends forever. He's always someone I desire to do something with, but not necessarily Gaylord. It was the perfect opportunity to play with him again because he had these three or four songs finished and was like, "Check 'em out!" I didn't have to get too deep into it with my involvement because, honestly, Mastodon takes up a lot of my time. I didn't have to be as intense about it. With Mastodon, I want it to be perfect. I want Arcadea to be great, too, but if there's an opportunity to do something musical that's really cool but have someone else doing the majority of the work, I'm all about it. I don't have the time to devote to another project that's going to take up a lot of my time. I was more than happy to hand over the reigns and then come in, play drums and chime in with vocal ideas and stuff. I got more involved as time went on. After about three years of going in the studio here and there, we had enough for a full album, so it was like, "Might as well just put this thing out!"

When you started the project, you must have made it clear to the other guys early on that this would be a gradual thing. Did they ever get antsy, though, when it started getting close to three years?
We all just stayed in touch. They all knew I was going to leave, and it was gonna be awhile before things happened. It was going to be a lot of waiting. But they have their other bands, too, and they're busy doing other things. And even when I'm home, I can't dedicate that much time to this. When I'm home, I need to be home. I can't be constantly working on something else musically. I need to be as close to 100 percent with my wife as I possibly can. Because I'm gone all the time. I make promises to people, like, "I'm gonna be gone, but when I get back, I'm back."

Your approach was similar to Mastodon's: stockpiling riffs and beats, then gradually working on vocal melodies, then lyrics at the end. At any point, did you ever come up with a great riff or hook and then think to yourself, "Damn, I wish I could save that for Mastodon"?
No, I didn't cross-pollinate like that. I don't think I had anything. If I had something for Mastodon, I would just have it for Mastodon, ya know? I didn't feel like it was taking away from it at all. The things I gave musically would be stuff specifically for Arcadea that I wrote on a keyboard. I have a microKorg at my house, too.

I didn't realize you played keyboards.
I don't really. But with some of those synthesizers, it's easy to build a simple riff.

Mastodon is a guitar band, obviously. Arcadea is distinctly a keyboard band. At the same time, both are very heavy, just from different perspectives. Did you find it refreshing to approach that vibe from a new angle?
That was kind of the point. If I was ever going to be involved in something else, I wanted it to be different from Mastodon. But I also can't escape myself, and my own drumming – that's kind of who I am, and where I feel comfortable is with the Mastodon stuff. I didn't go too far out of my comfort zone. I'd like to in the future, though — do something I'm not comfortable doing and get comfortable with it. That would be a cool experiment. I don't really see that much difference when it came down to the end. It basically sounds like me with guitar riffs played on keyboards.

Mastodon guitarist Bill Kelliher is famously not a fan of using prominent keyboards. Did you feel like this gave you license to indulge a bit, kick out the synth jams?
I don't ever feel like I need to get anything out of my system, but I like synth-based music, and that's a big part of my musical catalog at home: Seventies French electronic stuff, in the realm of Arcadea. Not techno, but electronic music when synthesizers were sort of a new thing and people were playing them alongside a regular band — replacing guitars with synth because it was exciting, like Brian Eno, Stevie Wonder with Fulfillingness' First Finale and Talking Book, when he was experimenting with crazy ARPs and Moogs. Some of my favorite stuff from the bigger prog groups out there, like Genesis, are the synth moments. I wanted to make an album that sounded like those moments. 

The lyrical concept of the Arcadea album is pretty wild. It's set five billion years in the future, after a collision of galaxies creates a new order of planets. In Mastodon, you usually handle most of the lyrics and concepts. But the Arcadea storyline was mainly Core Atoms' idea. Was it weird not being involved?
That's kind of Core's foray into the prog-osphere of the concept album, and he wanted to be in charge of that. I was more than willing because writing lyrics is hard! It's one of the hardest parts of my job: trying to come up with cool lyrics. It takes forever. I was like, "I can't write lyrics for this stuff. Come on, man!" He had the whole thing worked out in his head, where he wanted it to go.

These days, we're constantly bombarded with headlines about Trump scandals and the world falling apart. I feel like there's more utility for fantasy-based conceptual stuff than ever before.
Yeah, yeah. Right, rather than trying to be so literal. I agree.

Your wife sings on "Neptune Moons." How did she get involved?
I don't know. It's not like we needed a female voice on that song. I wanted to involve her, and I thought it would be cool. I like her voice and thought it fit well with the song. It added a little bit of variety to it.

There's a reference on that track to "Cosmik Debris." Are you guys Frank Zappa fans?
Oh, of course. Every band I'm in — the Mastodon guys are huge Zappa fans, and I'm a huge Zappa fan.

Favorite Zappa album?
Ahh, Hot Rats [Zappa's 1969, jazz-fusion-styled solo LP].

You just announced a fall tour with Mastodon that stretches until late October. What's the band's game plan for after that?
Well, I'm in Europe right now, and then we come home, we do the U.S. dates, and we'll probably go to Europe again and headline. And when we get done with that, we'll probably go to Australia, Japan, maybe South America, and the rest of the world, basically, before we come back around maybe do another U.S. run at some point. Basically we're booked up through February of next year. So yeah, good to be gainfully employed. We're booked pretty solid, which is good, man.

Meanwhile, the Mastodon guys can't seem to stop with the side projects: Brent Hinds has Giraffe Tongue Orchestra; Troy Sanders has Gone Is Gone. Do you think you'll ever just straight-up take a break and not make music? Or is that boring?
Nah, that sounds boring to me. I don't know what I'd do with myself. I get anxious, you know? I need to be working on something musical or I don't feel … good. I don't feel good. I feel sickly. I just don't feel emotionally OK with taking a break.

Mastodon always hauls around this gigantic riff bag, so you have material there whenever you need it. Are you still constantly stockpiling riffs?
Yeah, totally. I always have riffs and song ideas and art ideas going on in my head. It's always constantly moving and changing, and you snatch it up when it's ready.

Tombs, Dante Torrieri
photograph by Dante Torrieri

"If you have aspects of your life that aren't working for you, that stuff needs to be taken down and destroyed so you can open up another doorway to walk through and enter a new chapter," says Tombs frontman Mike Hill, explaining the meaning behind his band's new record, The Grand Annihilation.

Reinvention and change have been critical for Hill even before 2008 when he quit his job as a mechanical engineer to devote himself full time to extreme music. In the late Nineties, Hill played in the Boston hardcore bands Otis and 454 Big Block. Then he moved to New York and formed the angular hardcore group Anodyne, which lasted from 1997 to 2005. After that band dissolved, Hill started the short-lived shoegaze-informed outfit Versoma, then in 2007 he formed Tombs. His most sonically diverse project to date, the group explores the gray areas between extreme metal, hardcore and alternative music. The band's recently-released new album, The Grand Annihilation, is its most ambitious: Chainsaw guitars, incisive riffs, searing tremolo licks, feral blast beats and burly barks grapple with moaning melodic vocals, minor-key guitar harmonies and hazy, atmospheric passages.

"The whole essence of being creative is always wanting to incorporate new things," says Hill, who is also a Revolver contributing writer. "I haven't stopped living, so anything I experience in life is going to find its way into the writing, the music or any sort of expression that I do. I'm growing as a creative person so I'm refining the things I do."

Hill's dedication to personal development doesn't stop at recording and touring with Tombs. In 2014, he founded Savage Gold Coffee, a gourmet coffee line that he runs with a hands-on approach, and since 2012, he has hosted the podcast Everything Went Black, on which he has interviewed UFC veteran Josh Barnett, punk icon Henry Rollins and others. 

Not everyone has been onboard with Hill's decisions, and not every move has worked out. In particular, Tombs' lineup has been in a near-constant state of flux since the group's formation as band members have bailed or been dismissed or, in one case, had a panic attack in the recording studio and had to be sent home, leaving Hill to play the unrecorded parts, before splitting permanently with the band. Every step of the way, Hill has adapted and forged ahead.

"If you've ever been punched in the face really hard, you have the choice of losing consciousness, giving up or continuing," he says. "I choose to keep going."

REVOLVER Like your previous albums, The Grand Annihilation draws from numerous styles, including black metal, thrash, avant-metal and even goth, yet the songs are constructed in a way that sounds more direct than those on past records.
MIKE HILL When you gain a certain level of maturity, you stop writing songs to show off what you can do and you try to actually convey more of a real idea. Some of the riffs go for more of a vibe as opposed to being a technical display. In some ways, it's more stripped down and a little less ornamental. It's more of a mode of expression as opposed to the kind of layering that we've done in the past that might obscure the actual intent of some of the songs.

The Grand Annihilation features numerous sung vocals and there's a striking duality between the harsh black metal and the melancholier passages.
I think it's just more introspective. The music, for sure, has an aggro tone to it, but I would say a good 30 percent of the material is a bit more intellectual as opposed to being visceral. One of the overriding themes of the record is balancing the physical world and the intellectual world. I'm very into the exhibition of power and a lot of society tries to denigrate physical, martial energy instead of embracing it. They place more value on the sensitive and intellectual. But that does a disservice to our primal DNA. I need to express both sides of the spectrum.

Are people generally too weak or non-confrontational?
People exist inside their heads a little too much. With all the social media connectivity out there, it's like we're preparing ourselves to enter some kind of Matrix where we are connecting to everything virtually. As primates, we need to express the physical as well as the mental.  

You seem to take a positive perspective to ugly, negative situations.
Life and death is a natural process. For example, a wolf tears apart the flesh of its prey and consumes it. Is the wolf an evil creature? No, it's just part of nature. Horrific, negative things happen in nature all the time, but there's no real evil. It's just the way of the wild. I think that any kind of nihilism or Sartre-esqe, existential ennui that people have is all just egotistical, and it's not a very objective or realistic way of seeing things. People try to understand the chaos that surrounds us, but chaos is part of the natural world.

There's a dark, misanthropic vibe to The Grand Annihilation that suggests you're an angry nihilist, but that doesn't seem to be the case?
I don't think any of the lyrics have any hate in them at all … I'm a person who is generally misunderstood, anyways, whether it's because of my personal appearance or something else. People always get the wrong idea about me, so I just stopped caring. 

How do people misunderstand you?
I embrace physical power. Some people find that threatening. I'm not trying to threaten anybody but that is just part of my lifestyle. 

Are you referring to the combat training you do and your interest in mixed martial arts?
Yeah. I think it's important to flesh out and express that. It's important for people to get rid of their anxiety so they can be a part of society. The lifestyle most people lead as individuals in this world is unhealthy. They're sitting at a desk all day and just worrying, and never really being able to flex those primitive muscles that we have, and that leads to a lot of neurotic impulses. I usually spend the day relaxed and at peace with everything and a lot of that has to do with intense physical expression. 

When did you get into physical expression and fighting?
My whole life. I was a wrestler when I was a kid. I've done martial arts throughout my life and I've always been into fitness and physical culture. It's a big part of who I am. 

Do you fight competitively?
You reach a certain age and you can't really — it's a young man's game. I would have to approach it with an all or nothing type of mindset in order to actually be competitive with people because there's a guy out there who's not touring for a month at a time or going to the recording studio for several weeks. He's all in with his combat preparations, so it's just not practical to do that and take making music and being creative seriously. Now I jump rope and I throw kettlebells around sometimes. But usually, I am more in the sitting-around-a-campfire-and-reflecting mode.

Have you taken advantage of your fighting skills on the road or in the band?
No, I never find myself in situations where I have to do anything violent. Everyone pretty much leaves me alone.  

You mentioned how a wolf relies on instinct. There's a song on The Grand Annihilation called "November Wolves."
It speaks about embracing the primal essence of humanity. The lyrics themselves are kind of funny. On the surface, it's about turning into a werewolf, but there's a deeper meaning. If you go into the full folklore of lycanthropy, there's this process of transforming from a human into this primal beast that follows a certain cycle and has to succumb to these uncontrollable impulses. That's one of the more meaningful songs to me because it's good to get a little crazy sometimes, as long as when you're not in that world you can function as a regular person. It's taken me a lot of my life to find a balance between those two, and that's something to live by, I think. 

Any good stories from crazy, primal nights?
I don't really get that crazy. We play the show. The hotel is usually on the outskirts of the city and never in some downtown location. And we just go to bed at night or maybe go to Denny's and get some coffee. I'm always thinking about waking up the next morning. I do most of the driving and morning's gonna come early. That's the governor on my behavior sometimes.

What's the first single "Cold" about?
It's about the idea of a fundamental narrative that might go on throughout our DNA that connects us to our ancestors. DNA is the one physical element that's passed on through generations. I believe that some of the visions that one may have when they're in an altered state of consciousness might be connecting to ancestral memories or a connection to the ancient or prehuman past. That song deals with that and with past lives — but not in the essence of me as an individual having a past life — more the idea of an ancestral connection. We chose it as the first single because it's a pretty straightforward song informed by the Tom G. Warrior/Celtic Frost/Hellhammer pantheon of songwriting. 

You also released "Saturnalian" before the album came out. The song seems more informed by Sisters of Mercy or Bauhaus.
I like so many kinds of music and I really respect artists that try many different things that maybe aren't conventional or traditional. I love Emperor and [their frontman] Ihsahn's solo stuff. "Saturnalian" speaks about following the path of the individual and not being too wrapped up in following cultural norms. Every year in Ancient Rome there was the Saturnalian festival, which corresponded to Christmas. They'd throw caution to the wind and there wouldn't be any laws. They would just follow their desires. The song is about approaching life that way and following your passion and pursuing a path that's obscured intentionally by society. My take on society, at least in this country, is they want to keep you very much in the consciousness of the group, not in the consciousness of the individual. That's something I've wrestled with my whole life. Most people carry on what their parents and their families might have wanted for them. And the conflict arises because of what their true passions are. 

You've been through numerous lineups over the years. Almost everyone you're playing with now is new. You once said that the people you play with in the band are basically hired hands and that Tombs is entirely your creative vision.
Since Andrew Hernandez, the drummer on [2014's] Savage Gold left — he was really primarily my writing partner — it hasn't really been like a band per se. It's not that I want it to have this militant environment of only me expressing my vision. I'm open to collaborating. But lately, people haven't had the desire to contribute on that level. Everyone has outside interests going on, and I'm not gonna stand in anybody's way to fulfill what their own creative ambitions are. But I've got my own things to do, so you gotta keep rolling. That's my attitude. 

You seem like a pragmatic, highly motivated individual.
I have a list of things I have to do. I dream up some goals I want to accomplish and I try to figure out the most efficient way to reach those goals and that's how I've lived my life since I was a kid. 

What are your goals outside of Tombs?
I would like to get a black belt in Jiu-Jitsu at some point. And No. 2, I'd like to get my coffee company Savage Gold off to a productive and profitable place. That's really something I would like to be able to devote more time and energy to. 

How is Savage Gold coffee different from other specialty coffees?
There are two roasts. The Prime is an Ethiopian bean, and that's a medium roast. Then there's the Savage Gold Blue Monday, which is a dark roasted Peruvian bean. That's my favorite of the two. I'm trying to start with a manageable catalog of stuff and expand from there. I'm getting into cold brew now. Like a lot of other things, it's a work in progress. But it's something I'm very serious about and it's available on the internet and at a store [Greenpoint Natural Market] in Brooklyn. 

Have you always been a coffee fiend?
Absolutely. My earliest memories are of being with my family and them drinking espresso. My mother is Italian and coffee was always on the table and always a big part of the family gathering environment. The science behind roasting and the different types of beans and the characteristics of how you roast those beans is really interesting to me. The sourcing of where you get them from and the different elevations they're growing at — all these things inform the flavor profile. These days, coffee has entered the world that craft beer has, where people are really paying attention to it and they're interested in flavor and quality. That kind of criteria applies to me whether we're talking about coffee or Tombs.

MunicipalWaste2017h-(1).jpg, Kip Dawkins
Municipal Waste, 2017
photograph by Kip Dawkins

With a stint booked on this summer's Warped Tour, Municipal Waste were already positioned to gain more mainstream exposure — even before an unexpected mention by comedian Kathy Griffin's attorney at a widely covered press conference.

"That was so crazy," acknowledges vocalist Tony Foresta. "I was on vacation with my girlfriend. I came out of the bathroom after a shower and I saw, like, 100 text messages about the whole thing."

Foresta is referring to the recent controversy around Griffin posing for a photo holding a fake but all-too-real-looking severed head of President Trump. She was subsequently fired by CNN as Anderson Cooper's sidekick on their New Year's Eve special. In an effort to defend Griffin, her lawyer referenced Municipal Waste, Marilyn Manson and Gwar. "The band Municipal Waste has an image of Trump with a bloody gunshot to his head on a band T-shirt," the attorney proclaimed. "They're all just considered bad boys. Unlike these male artists, Kathy apologized."

"I just think it's funny that we got called 'bad boys,'" Foresta says.

As a band best known for playing rapid-fire thrash songs about hard partying and graphically violent sci-fi movies, often featuring pointedly puerile titles (example: "Guilty of Being Tight"), Municipal Waste have never been ones for political correctness. So Foresta and his bandmates — guitarists Ryan Waste and Nick Poulos, bassist Phil "Landphil" Hall and drummer Dave Witte — seem more amused than anything to be dragged into the Griffin scandal. Though the singer does feel bad for the comic.

"Why the fuck is it a big deal that she's doing what Brujeria did [on their 1993 full-length, Matando Güeros, which depicted a purportedly real gangster holding a decapitated head on its cover], you know what I mean?" Foresta says. "Maybe it's because she's mainstream. But I think everyone should have the right to desecrate Donald Trump's body. It's just fucked up that she's being victimized for it."

True to these words, Foresta's band pulls no punches on its new album, Slime and Punishment; songs like "Shrednecks," "Bourbon Discipline" and "Low Tolerance" charge forward with the kind of classic thrash licks and hilariously sophomoric lyrics that fans have come to expect. But the record is no rehash of Municipal Waste's last LP, 2012's The Fatal Feast (Waste in Space). With Slime and Punishment, Municipal Waste — a band that fans might picture spending less time crafting songs than shotgunning beers — worked hard to challenge themselves musically. They even threw away an entire album's worth of material they weren't happy with and started again from scratch.

"The thing is, everyone had really busy touring schedules with their other bands," explains Foresta, referencing Municipal Waste side projects including Iron Reagan, Cannabis Corpse, Volture and Bat. "Two and a half years ago, when we started working on the new Municipal Waste, we liked what we were coming up with, but when we looked back at it, it wasn't up to the quality that we wanted. We were all scattered and not on the same page at that point. So we ditched, like, 12 songs, and started again."

With second guitarist Nick Poulos (Bat, Volture, ex-Cannabis Corpse) onboard, Municipal Waste were able to expand and diversify their sound. In addition to integrating their newest member, Municipal Waste have strived to balance their side projects from their main gig and taken strides to break the conception some people still have that they're little more than an exceptionally talented comedy band. We recently talked to Foresta about all the above and more.

REVOLVER Slime and Punishment is another fun, furious Municipal Waste album, but it has more diverse riffs and better mosh sections. Did you have a good time making it or was it a struggle?
TONY FORESTA We matured as a band over the past five years. We did a lot of relentless touring the first two years after we did The Fatal Feast. Touring like that was hard, so to mix things up a little, we started writing an album at around the two-and-a-half-year mark of the tour. And that turned out not to be such a good idea. So when we started writing again last year and got Nick in the band, that helped focus us even more to write a great album. The hardest thing is getting everyone on the same page, but once we're all together the good stuff happens. I think this is the best record we've ever done.  

You and Land Phil toured pretty hard for Iron Reagan's last album, The Tyranny of the Will, and Phil toured with Cannabis Corpse, as well. Was it hard to get back into the Municipal Waste mindset after that?
When you're working with different people, everyone has different ways of doing stuff. In Iron Reagan, we write stuff differently, but it's also refreshing to play with people that you haven't seen in a while. The frustrating part is coordinating the schedules and getting everyone to focus at the same time. 

You guys recorded and then scrapped a whole Municipal Waste record.
That was when the Iron Reagan tour schedule started. It got pretty crazy so we wrote every once in a while for Municipal Waste. By the time we got together to do the demo five months later we forgot how we did the songs. So we changed things around and tried to get focused again. It was overwhelming at times. I still have demos of a bunch of the songs. They have lyrics and vocals and everything. But it wasn't clicking. The stuff didn't make us go, "All right, cool. That's a great song."  

You're a crossover-thrash band with a reputation for being goofballs and drinking heavily. It might surprise people that you scrapped a whole album and didn't go, "Yeah, fuck it, that's good enough. Now, where' the bong?"
We're goofy, but we take our music very seriously and we tour really hard. We make sure our instruments are tuned and everything sounds as good as it can. We care about it, and not just for us. We really want to deliver something that people want to listen to. So, we take that shit real seriously — even though we are ridiculous human beings.

Why did you decide to bring Nick Poulos into the band?
I have been trying to get him in for years. I always wanted a second guitar player for live because it pushes the sound and makes it real heavy. There's only a few people in the world that we all get along with and want to be around, so that was always kind of an issue, but everyone agreed Nick was perfect. He helped to inspire everyone to write stuff. Plus, he had some good ideas of his own.

How do you know him?
He's been a friend of mine for over 10 years. We're both from Florida. I got him a gig for playing in D.R.I. five or six years ago when Spike Cassidy was sick. They had to play a show in South America and didn't know what to do. I said, "Look, I know a solid dude that will rip a guitar," and sure enough he learned the songs, flew down there and three days later he was jamming with them. That's the kinda guy he is. He is a stand-up dude.

You released your breakthrough album, The Art of Partying, almost exactly 10 years ago. At the time, you were lumped into a scene of retro thrash revivalists that included bands like Evile, Warbringer, Bonded by Blood and Toxic Holocaust. Did that help push you to the next rung of popularity?
I don't know, but we kinda hated that. The reason we were grouped in with them was because the label we were on [Earache Records] were trying to sign on any thrash band at the time and attach them to us. It was strange. They wanted us to be the flagbearer for them and I was like, "C'mon, dude. I don't even listen to half this shit." I think Toxic Holocaust is great, but a lot of the other bands were forced and weirdly trendy. They were way oversaturated and cheapened everything.

Was that offensive to you as dedicated crossover revivalists?
It just seemed contrived. I mean, every fucking band had a neon green logo. It made us like, "Ugh!" You wouldn't believe the amount of times that our label tried to get us to take out those bands on tour. And if we didn't want to listen to their music or tour with them, then we didn't do it. We stuck to our guns. And that's what we still do today.

Brutus621.jpg, Eva Vlonk
photograph by Eva Vlonk

When people think Belgian exports, their minds often conjure a cornucopia of beer, waffles and chocolates. Music doesn't factor into the feast so much. And indeed, the nation's pantheon of homegrown bands (the prog-pop crew dEUS, the dance-punk outfit Soulwax, the dubiously-named indie band Girls in Hawaii) scans as generally underwhelming compared to the rest of the European rock cosmos.

Enter Brutus, a trio from the humble church town of Leuven who just so happen to be soothsayers. They can't predict the weather or the timing of the apocalypse, but they can perceive the future of hardcore as we know it: a world brimming with ample color and white-hot heat, diametrically opposed to the three-chord, testosterone-fueled orthodoxy often identified with the style. At its center sits drummer-vocalist Stefanie Mannaert, a whirling dervish who juggles otherworldly falsetto hooks with roiling polyrhythms. Her compatriots, bassist Peter Mulders and guitarist Stijn Vanhoegaerden, swaddle her fury with gauzy, shimmering textures; they're partial to crystalline post-rock arpeggios, velvety shoegaze, rubbery basslines and flickering synths.

Brutus' explosive contours are on full display on their debut album, Burst, released in February. Though the LP's frenetic arrangements reflect a sharp collective focus, the band members are quick to bring up their aesthetic differences. Mannaert and Mulders began their musical partnership as Refused Party Program, a cover-to-cover tribute to the Refused's 1998 classic The Shape of Punk to Come, but when asked today if they'd ever attempt a similar project, they burst into laughter. "I think that would be so different for the three of us," Vanhoegaerden chuckles. "Stefanie would probably pick a Slayer album. I would probably pick Bruce Springsteen ..."

"I like Banks and the Weeknd," chirps Mulders, widening the schism. "I can't play any electronic instruments except for bass, but if I was covering the Weekend, I'd do it." His bandmates snicker, ever so softly.  

As these forward-thinking Belgians continue to gain traction in the wake of their debut release, it's only natural that some of Brutus' musical heroes would take notice. Thrice drummer Riley Breckenridge and Dillinger Escape Plan frontman Greg Puciato are fans, but the group's most notable cheerleader is Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich, who played Brutus' single "Drive" on his Apple Music show, before reaching out to voice his support via email. "He asked us to meet up in Antwerp when Metallica come play in Europe [later this year]," Mulders says, a bit incredulously, before addressing the rest of the group: "We have to work that out." (Yeah, guys, you should really get on that.)

Their fans, both famous and not, can likely sense that beneath the bandmates' current musical-taste schisms lies a firm shared foundation. All three members cite Nineties rock as a major influence in their musical upbringing: Vanhoegaerden and Mulder studied NOFX's skate-punk, while Mannaert learned to play drums by banging along to nu-metal. Soon the three of them were razing parallel paths through the local hardcore circuit — jagged lines that were bound to converge, given the scene's modest ranks. Mannaert and Vanhoegaerden spent the latter half of the aughts playing in Starfucker, an emo-tinged hard-rock band. A year or so after the group's 2011 disbandment, Mannaert and Mulders launched the short-lived Refused Party Program. These respective friendships, and the shared sensibilities inherent therein, would ultimately serve as the catalyst for Brutus' first rehearsals in 2013.

With its nuanced arrangements and multi-layered effects, Burst could be a handful for a 10-man band to perform, let alone a trio. When the band cut the album in Vancouver last year with producer Jesse Gander (White Lung, Japandroids), they had no performative plan to speak of. "When we wrote the songs, we hadn't played them live before, so we had to adapt some stuff to be able to play it live," reveals Mulder. Meanwhile, Mannaert — a former drum teacher who works at a music school part-time — found herself in the unfamiliar role of student, taking voice lessons to keep her windpipes intact. "As a child, I always lost my voice really fast," she says. "And singing in the band doesn't make it better."

That's understandable, considering how she never expected to find herself playing frontwoman. "We tried to look for a singer, but it all went well with just the three of us," recalls Mannaert. At her bandmates' urging, she begrudgingly accepted her destiny as Brutus' nexus. "It's still a work in progress," says Mannaert, sounding a little fatigued, but nonetheless determined.

Another learning experience presented itself in the location of the recording process. For these Old World natives, Vancouver represented the New Utopia, a melting pot well removed from Flemish norms. "In Belgium, we have more problems with multiculturalism," Mulders says solemnly. "It's not so easy to adapt to here. Vancouver is way ahead of us on that part."

Which makes it a fitting spot for Brutus to have recorded Burst. Much like the multicultural North American city in which it was birthed, the album breaks down boundaries, not just in terms of composition or style, but European rock writ large: There's room for everyone, and everything.

Deep in Soweto, South Africa, Demogoroth Satanum are making waves as the self-proclaimed first all-black black-metal band, and the group is featured in a new video from Uproxx Reports, which you can watch above. Blasting out extreme metal in a region predominantly known for "a house-music, R&B-ish vibe," the corpse-paint-clad group has faced a hard road, trying to overcome the preconceptions of their community and the label of "fucking Satanists."

But, as the clip shows, they've also faced the challenge of breaking into their new adopted community: the black-metal scene. Racial segregation still lingers in South Africa from the days of apartheid, and as vocalist Sthembiso "Tyrant" Kunene says of the black-metal underground, "That's, like, white people only. That was hard, getting our first performance and shit."

However, Demogoroth Satanum are not only rising above such obstacles, they are also using their music as a tool to bring people together from both sides, integrating more white people into their black community as well as introducing more black people to the extreme-metal scene.

"We're trying to get more black people involved by playing here in Soweto," explains Kunene. "Fuck it, we're tired of going out there. We're trying to get white people to come to Soweto more. In Soweto, that's a very, very weird thing to see. Which is cool, it's working out. They fucking love it. We host some of the best gigs. Apartheid was only, like what, just over 20 years ago. So there's a shitload of tension. We're trying to break that fucking tension. And once our country breaks that racial tension, then we can fucking move on and they won't call us 'white people' for playing 'white people music.'"

For more on Demogoroth Satanum, follow the band on Facebook.

StoneSour621.jpg, Travis Shinn
photograph by Travis Shinn
In the nearly 18 years since the world was introduced to Corey Taylor via Slipknot's self-titled debut, life for the frontman has changed in many ways. But through it all, he says, "The yin and yang of Corey Taylor hasn't changed whatsoever. The darkness of Slipknot is still there and the positivity and sunshine of Stone Sour is still there."
Taylor is currently reveling in the warm glow of the latter band, which is set to release its sixth full-length, Hydrograd, on June 30th via Roadrunner Records. "I'm just stoked for people to hear the music," he enthuses. "I'm looking forward to getting the reactions from people because this album is that fucking good."
But Taylor has also not been shying away from darkness. In a recent appearance on Viceland's The Therapist, he spoke about being, at age 10, the victim of sexual assault by a neighborhood kid. "I didn't tell anybody for a long time because he threatened to hurt me and threatened to hurt my mom," Taylor revealed. "He ended up burning his house down. They fled in the night — it was kind of crazy. It took me a long time to feel safe. I didn't tell anybody until I was, probably, 18. By that time, I had found my tribe, as it were, of misfits."
Both the yin and yang of Corey Taylor are on display in the interview that follows, as the singer engaged us in a wide-ranging conversation touching on fatherhood, interactions with a younger generation of fans, the stigma against therapy and talking openly about mental health, and the dire state of the nation.
REVOLVER When we interviewed you in the studio during the making of Hydrograd, you said that "people have had it wrong about Stone Sour. We're not a metal band that plays hard rock — we are a rock band that plays everything." And Hydrograd is really diverse over its 15 tracks. What are you most excited about?
COREY TAYLOR That's the best part to me — the fact that we have all these different styles and yet it all fits. None of it feels forced. None of it feels stuck in the clog. It's all good. And it's almost like this album is the piece of the puzzle that people were missing this whole time about us. Now we're finally going to be able to reveal the whole picture, or the bigger picture will reveal itself as this piece is being put in.
Even though they have been around for a bit, this is the first full-length to feature guitarist Christian Martucci and bassist Johny Chow. What's it like working with those guys?
It's the same. Those guys are just two of the most down-to-earth, positive guys you could ever imagine. Their whole thing in life is just fucking playing music and having fun and getting in front of an audience and kicking the shit out of them. To me, that's what being in a band is all about. I feel like people forget that sometimes and forget why they enjoy what they do and why they do it in the first place. And these guys are just a constant reminder of that. And like I said man, we had so much fun in the studio. We were all there early every day, we left late every day. I mean we were fucking bummed when we had to move out because we had so much fun. We were even there when we didn't have to be just to be there for everybody's parts to encourage them. We just got to be dorks together.
You've always said that playing with Stone Sour is just fun. It sounds like that hasn't changed at all.
Oh no, not at all ... I think it comes down to the fact that my reasons for doing this have never changed and I think that's why certain people's music changes a lot is because their reasons for doing that change. It gets convoluted, but my reasons haven't changed since I was 13 years old. I do this because I love making music. I love having fun. I love playing music for other people. And that's it, man. That's all you really fucking need in life. So I think because of that I've been able to keep the same reasonings for doing Stone Sour and doing Slipknot, for the most part.

Do you ever encounter a younger generation of fans who don't know it's also you behind the Slipknot mask?
Yeah — and it's pretty interesting. And honestly, I don't have to do that legwork anymore, the fans do. Like they talk about it — "Wait a minute, that's the same guy?" "Yeah, check this out." And they fill them in on the history and shit. It's kind of funny. There are people coming up now who have no idea that I'm one and the same, but then I get this whole new generation of fans getting into both bands. It's a good problem to have.

With you being a father, has your perspective changed at all over the years?
It's funny, because just in the last few years I've started to take a look at how I was and am as a dad. I wanted my son to be very self-sufficient the way I was. But it didn't occur to me that the reason I had to be so self-sufficient was because I didn't have a dad. He had a dad who was expecting him to show him all this shit but wasn't showing him how to do any of it. So a lot of my frustration with my son was because of that and I didn't realize it until a few years ago that it was my fault. How am I supposed to expect my son to do something when I didn't show him how to do it in the first place?

So it was almost like a catch 22 and it made me retrace my steps and look at the way I was raising my kids. I have a son but I also have a two-year-old daughter who's going to be three in September. I really rethought everything and have to start from scratch and lead with that standpoint of forget what I thought I was doing, like what are you doing? That has changed my perspective and my relationship with my son for the better. He's getting up there and now we're probably tighter than we ever were because we're talking, doing stuff together and I'm showing him that it's OK to ask for help. It's OK to ask for help because sometimes you don't know the answer and sitting there silently when you don't have the answer is actually dumber than just asking and getting it done right away. So my approach has softened a little bit because I started understanding that my setbacks weren't the right way to do it, passing it on to my kids.

You've also always been open with your fans about your struggles. Recently on Viceland's The Therapist, you discussed how you were sexually assaulted as a kid. It must be uncomfortable to share that. Why did you do it?
Maybe because of that very reason. There's an unwritten responsibility that comes with this gig, that people, they look to you for inspiration and guidance whether you like it or not. And I know a lot of people that don't like that responsibility. I take it very, very seriously. So in a lot of ways, I try to lead by example. And yeah, it's uncomfortable to open up like that, but at the same time, if you can't talk about an issue, how are you going to fix it? And that's one of the things that people don't understand. If you just don't say anything, that's not going to fix the problem. You fix a problem by working on it, you know?

I also know there's a giant stigma that comes with therapy and dealing with issues, with demons. A lot of people don't want to talk about it or look down at it or tend to make fun of other people for having it or engaging in it. I'm trying to break that down by showing people that, yes, I go to therapy as well and I'm still trying to work out my demons and the things I went through in my life. Will I ever get it all figured out? Probably not. But that's why it's a process. So if me bearing my shit and laying it all out helps people start to work on theirs as well, then where's the negative part of that? I can take criticism, I can take all that shit. But if I'm leading by example, why not? And if me doing that helps people get help and help themselves in their life and make better decisions and do better things for other people, that spreads like wildfire. I would be a fucking asshole not to try to do that.

With Soundgarden's Chris Cornell recently passing, it seems the discussion about mental health is happening more than ever in the music community. You talked about the stigma associated with it. Not that it gets "easy," but is it getting easier to have that conversation?
I'd like to think so. But you can also be very myopic and only see your end of the cultural swimming pool whereas the world, the country, is still a big place. There's still big pockets even in places here in America where that's still looked down upon because of some stoic bullshit where it's like, "Oh, you just sit on your problems, you shouldn't talk about it. Just suck it up, grow up." Nah, that doesn't work for me, fuck you. Growing up and sucking it up is not the same thing. Growing up means owning your shit and if owning your shit means talking to someone, what's the problem? I think it's that tough-guy bullshit that people have bullshitted themselves into, which actually makes you weaker. It makes you more susceptible to negative things in life. Nobody wants to talk about that.

It's one of the reasons why we have so many soldiers coming back with PTSD who are not getting the help they want because people around them for too long have told them to suck it up or get over it. That's not how you fix a problem. You don't fix a problem by getting over it, you fix a problem by talking about it and leaning on people who have been through it before. By talking to people, maybe you can get the answers that will help you with your problems. I have talked to so many soldiers who deal with PTSD and are so thankful that there's a network of veterans who have been through it before and have helped them get back on their feet. But people don't want to talk about that. I think maybe this is the time to talk about it. And I think maybe the juxtaposition is starting to break down and that conversation is starting to happen in places where maybe that conversation didn't want to happen. But it's a cultural thing as well. It's not just the stigma of getting help but letting go of dogmatic bullshit that has been breaking us down for too fucking long of making the appearance of strength actually seem weak.

Your fourth book, America 51: A Probe Into the Realities That Are Hiding Inside the Greatest Country in the World, is coming out this summer. From what I understand, you changed the direction of it entirely from what it originally was about. What happened?
[Laughs] Well, originally it was supposed to be a much lighter book, it was supposed to be a lot more fun — more of a cultural thing like a love letter that was regional-centric, the stuff I've seen over the years on the road touring through America. It was supposed to be that. And then Trump got nominated. And then Trump started winning. And then Trump won. And I basically had to start from fucking scratch. [Laughs] It was a fucking nightmare and I'm still reeling from it, like you have to be fucking kidding me. So it very much became a book about standing in the middle and trying to get both sides in the middle and talk to each other when there so desperately screaming from the extremes. Whereas, if they came toward the middle, which we all are naturally, and started talking about it, we would realize we have more in common than we think, that we all can agree on a lot more than this rhetoric or politicians are allowing us to agree on. We're whipped into a frenzy. This is bullshit and I've seen what can happen when you come together. Ignore that shit and come to the middle. So, it's changed a lot. [Laughs] But you know, people like when I open my mouth and talk shit.

river black, Samantha Brodek
photograph by Samantha Brodek

The band Burnt by the Sun made a big splash in the late Nineties metallic hardcore world with their thinking man's approach to a genre that oftentimes lacks subtly. Before they broke up in 2009, BBTS shared the stage with luminaries such as Mastodon, Dillinger Escape Plan and Candiria, and their influence can be felt in the pummeling output of groups such as Harm's Way and Pulling Teeth. Even Brann Dailor and Bill Keliher of Mastodon acknowledge BBTS' influence on some of the riff writing on their band's latest album, Emperor of Sand.

Enter River Black, which features three-quarters of Burnt by the Sun: vocalist Mike Olender, guitarist John Adubato and drummer Dave Witte. Their self-titled debut album, out on Season of Mist July 7th, delivers 12 tracks of brutality that continue the tradition of the band members' past endeavor. There are ragers such as "South x South," "Sink," and "Boat" to satisfy the old-school fans, but melody, something often overlooked by Burnt By the Sun, is a territory being newly explored by River Black. Superficially, it may seem like just another reunion, but let's call it a reincarnation: The spirit is intact but there are subtle overtones that have changed, evolved and improved.

"We didn't want it to be Burnt by the Sun," Witte is quick to point out. "If we didn't have Ted, it couldn't be Burnt by the Sun." He's speaking of bassist Ted Patterson, who left BBTS primarily to pursue a more pastoral, suburban life; Brett Bamberger (Revocation, Publicist UK) rounds out River Black's lineup in his stead.

"There were some people asking why we just don't call it Burnt by the Sun," Olender says. "People asked if there was some legal thing. Did Teddy threaten to sue? Was it stuff with Relapse? It's just a different band. It sounds different, Dave's playing and John's playing are different than the earlier stuff and Brett adds a totally different kind of energy and style to it."

The band members also bring the experiences of the years since Burnt by the Sun broke up to their new project. Witte joined Municipal Waste and embarked on several projects such as Brain Tentacles, Publicist UK, Birds of Prey and many others. For Olender, the years have been relatively quiet with his life taking a relatively "un-rock & roll" turn in contrast to Witte.  "When Burnt by the Sun was ending, I was still playing with [his other band] For the Love of…. We did a couple of shows here and there. I was really just focusing on being the best Dad I could be and my work — typical type of suburban situation, you could say."

Witte and Adubato would continue to play together and write music, mostly around Witte's touring schedule. "We wanted to something a little bit different, a little darker, a little heavier with less emphasis on speed and more on grooves, impact, and heaviness," the drummer recalls. "I don't want to use the word 'streamline,' but something more effective in a certain way."

They recruited Bamberger on bass and went through a series of band names — first being known as Argonauts, then as the Glorious Gone — and lead singers. Dimitri Minakakis, the Dillinger Escape Plan's original vocalist, was the first on board. According to Witte, "Everyone did a great job singing. We had Dmitri, then Chris Alfano [East of the Wall] on vocals, then we had Harrison Christie [Psyopus] singing. It just didn't feel right the whole time. Olender was starting to get itchy creatively and was hinting around that he wanted to do something. When Mike hopped on board, everything just popped into place. Even the older stuff, that we thought we had beaten to death, found new life with his ideas." 

"Whenever they would switch singers, Dave or John would reach out to me to see if I was interested in it," Olender recalls. "When they started the band, they really wanted to go out and tour a lot and I was really not interested in that anymore.

"This last time they reached out to me, at the end of 2015, I just happened to be in the right mindset where I was far enough into being a Dad and settled with my work in a way that I could actually be able to have some time to do music again. It was the opportunity plus timing that just came together perfectly."

Despite the time away from the rigors of singing in a metallic hardcore band, Oldender seemed to fall right into line. "When I first jumped on board, they sent me all the songs and over the course of that first weekend I laid down vocals demo tracks for three of them right out of the gate — the creative energies were flowing," he enthuses. "It felt really, really awesome to be able to express myself in ways that I hadn't done in a few years. It was good to exercise some of those creative muscles, to think about some of the things that were on my mind and how my perceptions have changed since becoming a dad.

"Physically, that actually has been a little different. You get older and certain things get harder, especially when you want to jump around on stage. I used to hop all over the stage and be able to give close to 100 percent doing live shows and now it's 'OK man, if you want to sound halfway decent …' There's a big difference between going to the gym and running on a tread mill and being on stage singing the way I do. It's been an interesting challenge doing that. It's good to realize that I'm 42 years old and can still sound as good as I ever have, maybe a little bit better. That has been really awesome because a lot of things disappear with age, certain abilities can atrophy and its been really cool to realize that I can still do most of that stuff."    

Echoes of the band's former incarnation resound in the new group's thematic and lyrical statements. According to Olender, even the band's moniker, River Black, was spun off the title of last Burnt by the Sun record, Heart of Darkness, which was itself a nod to the Joseph Conrad's novel of the same name and the inspiration behind the film Apocalypse Now. "It's about taking a journey, literally up a river, but also up the river of the human spirit," Olender says of the name River Black. "It was the first idea I had when we were throwing around band names. Lyrically, I was looking at human nature more than anything else. Looking at things like principles or aspirations that people have or that humanity has, but at the end of the day it comes down to the fact that human nature ultimately dictates everything that we aspire to be."

The record is filled with demonstrations of River Black's (and Burnt by the Sun's) East Coast metallic hardcore sound: sinister, discordant riffs, burly vocal delivery and knife-strike snare drum attacks. However, the track "Haunt" shows a slight expansion of that sound, incorporating a touch more melody that contrasts with the intense, claustrophobic riffs that comprise the main body of the song.  Also notable on the track is the inclusion of backing vocals by Mastodon's Brann Dailor, a longtime friend of the band members. "I got to meet him through Burnt by the Sun back in 2000," says Olender. "Dave and John, especially John, go way back with him. They have a lot of history with him. Back when we used to play as Burnt by the Sun, we played with Mastodon a bunch of times. They were generous with us as they got to be a bigger and bigger band, asking us to play shows with them.

"When the time came to record, there was one particular song that I was having difficulty with. I was hearing something in my head, but it was not me. That's when the discussion between us opened up. I thought it could be a good guest spot. He didn't take two seconds to say yes. He did an amazing job. His contribution to that song was really fantastic. From what I understand, [Dailor's vocals] were done pretty much in one take. He's an amazing vocalist and added a very different dynamic to the record. Having his personality and spirit on the record, having his sheer talent on the record was really a great gift for us."

With the record complete and about to be unleashed, the next logical step for River Black would be hitting the road, something that unfortunately is not part of the game plan. With everyone's commitments to work, family and other bands, River Black have decided to apply the quality-over-quantity approach to playing live. "There are no plans to tour," Olender reports. "We may go off and do some festivals, but with so much on our plates, we're in a position to be really selective and make it special. For me, what makes it special is if it's a really great festival or something that's going to be worthwhile for us to go out and do, or if it's something that's really small but maybe sentimental, like playing a certain venue with bands that we're friends with and that we get to connect with, or if it's with bands that we maybe don't know personally, but that we really like.

"The days of going out, hopping in a cargo van, and grinding it out show to show are pretty much over," he concludes. "We have the ability to choose what we want to do, because none of us need to do this band. We're doing it because we want to do it."