In the early aughts Bullet for My Valentine became poster children for metalcore colored with romantic disillusionment. But it wasn't until the band's last two studio albums that frontman Matt Tuck became intimately tangled with cognitive dissonance and psychic pain.
In 2017, Tuck's long-running Welsh heavy-metal outfit were fine-tuning songs for their sixth album, Gravity. Back then, the world was in a relative state of normalcy — but the singer/guitarist's personal life was in shambles. He was in the middle of a two-year separation from his wife, and on the verge of quitting the band. Three years later, as Tuck wrote the songs that would make up Gravity's follow-up — this year's Bullet for My Valentine — the coronavirus was ravaging the world. Like most of us, Tuck was in quarantine. Unlike most of us, he was having the time of his life: focused, locked in and blasting through some of his heaviest riffs in years.
"The songs were coming out a lot heavier, but that aggression wasn't from anger," says Tuck a few weeks before the release of the band's new self-titled release. "It was coming from this place of joy that I felt. For a lot of people, the pandemic was a nightmare and a time of unimaginable sorrow. As a father and husband and musician, I enjoyed the downtime. It was the first time in a long time that I was in one place for an extended period and it was great not to be packing my bags to get ready for the next tour."
In context, Tuck's elation at being in quarantine for a year is understandable. Ever since Bullet for My Valentine released their breakthrough metalcore debut, The Poison, in 2005, the band has been on a non-stop regimen of writing, recording, touring. Their catalog includes two more hit albums, 2008's Scream Aim Fire and 2010's Fever, and Bullet were embraced — especially by the British press — as innovators who were taking old sounds to new places. Then, like many groups that begin with a bang and a muzzle flash, Bullet for My Valentine's popularity peaked and their career leveled out for a few albums. For many of the band's old-school fans, Gravity, which emphasized melancholy reflection over kinetic energy, was a head-scratcher — a sign, perhaps, that the band had abandoned their core followers to draw an emo/pop audience. That's why Bullet for My Valentine is an important album for the band — it's proof they can still go for the jugular as well as the heartstrings.
"We think of it as a statement record," Tuck says. "It's very different than Gravity and we feel like it's a fresh start in many ways, which is why it's self-titled. The DNA is there and will always remain. We still love lots of melody in the songs and there are some vulnerable songs in there. But we also love to rock really fuckin' hard and that is something we haven't done in a while."
AFTER PRIORITIZING MELODY AND DOWNPLAYING AGGRESSION FOR A FEW YEARS, WAS IT HARD TO LATCH BACK INTO A HEAVIER, MORE METALLIC SOUND?
MATT TUCK We had a slow start and that was difficult. But once we got going and started writing heavy shit, the whole process — even though it was written and recorded through a global pandemic — was the most enjoyable, fun and creative album we've ever done. We were excited and it just feels like the band has hit another gear.
WHAT WAS THE POINT WHERE YOU HIT YOUR STRIDE?
We experimented and wrote a lot of songs between the summer and winter of 2019. We got in the studio as much as possible in between tours just to get the ball rolling for the new album. After many writing sessions and lots of songs, we finally wrote "Knives," which was the only song from those sessions that made the album, but it was a really pivotal moment.
"KNIVES" IS A LUNGING, LURCHING SONG FILLED WITH ROARING VOCALS, JITTERY DISTORTED GUITARS, HAMMERING DOUBLE-BASS DRUMS, AND A GROOVE-LADEN CHORUS. DID THAT SONG GUIDE YOU ON A HEAVIER PATH?
Doing "Knives" helped us find our mojo again. After we played it, everyone was smiling and the more we stayed on that heavy path, the heavier the music got and the more variations we came up with.
DID YOU WANT TO CONSCIOUSLY MAINTAIN A BALANCE BETWEEN MELODY AND AGGRESSION?
Not at all. The reason it was fun to write was because we had no boundaries. In the past, we put boundaries on what we wrote because we were aware that was what was expected from us a lot of the time. We're a heavy band, but also a melodic band. But this time we didn't really care about that. The whole mantra behind the record was to enjoy the process and have fun — be in the moment rather than stressing out from song to song.
DID THE SONGS COME QUICKLY?
Once "Knives" was written, we were super quick and the songs didn't stop coming. And they're still coming. We kept writing after the album was finished and we're still writing.
WHAT WAS SO MAGICAL ABOUT "KNIVES"? WHY WAS THAT SUCH A TURNING POINT?
We're quite an eclectic band. We can write heavy; we can do melodic. We can write acoustic or electric and it's sometimes difficult for us to find a groove because we love the elements of lots of things we write. With "Knives," I just came into the studio during the day and recorded a part and the other guys got creative and weird with some of it. It was more spontaneous than a lot of the other stuff we'd been doing, and it was simpler, so it was easier for everyone to jump in. We've always loved simplicity in choruses and heaviness in songs and when we added a crushing vocal line it ignited the fire. Even in its raw form, everyone was buzzing and that gave us the confidence to be simple and heavy. We went, "Fuck it. We're jumping in headfirst and we're not looking back." Once we made that decision, we were all in a really good mood. It was like we had starved ourselves of heaviness for five years and as soon as we opened that door we were like a bunch of charging bulls that couldn't be stopped.
SOON AFTER YOU WROTE "KNIVES," THE PANDEMIC HIT AND EVERYONE WENT INTO LOCKDOWN. WAS THAT FRUSTRATING AND WERE YOU AFRAID YOU MIGHT LOSE MOMENTUM DURING THE DOWNTIME?
I was a little impatient, but we stayed at home and wrote as much as possible. We fired around music ideas, and I got to work on the vocals, recording them into my cell phone. We kept our minds active until the summertime when we got back together and we said, "Let's blow this shit up!" And that's exactly what happened from the moment we got back together in the studio in Wales. We went to [guitarist Michael] Padge [Paget's] house and within a week we'd written "Parasite" and "Shatter." Then we wrote "My Reverie." It was a great relief to realize we hadn't lost any creativity. Once the album was finished, I went back into the studio to do some more vocals, and while I was there, I wrote "Rainbow Veins," which is now on the record.
WHEN YOU WERE WORKING ON YOUR LAST ALBUM, GRAVITY, YOU WERE IN A FAR MORE FRAGILE STATE. YOU AND YOUR WIFE SEPARATED AND YOU ALMOST BROKE UP THE BAND.
Back then, I wasn't myself and I didn't know who I was supposed to be. I was experiencing uncertainty about the future, and I wasn't enjoying being in a band. All the big stuff I'd always cared about — my music, my love life — that wasn't giving me joy anymore so I didn't know where my head was at and which direction my life was taking. It felt like the wheels were falling off and I was spinning out of control. My wife and I broke up for a couple of years. Thankfully, as time passed, we managed to get back together and sort out our problems. And that's what Gravity was about.
WHAT CAUSED YOU TO SPIRAL OUT OF CONTROL AND HOW DID YOU STABILIZE YOURSELF?
We had been doing this band for so long and it felt like I was banging my head against a closed door. The band obviously had a great quick ascendancy and that rapid rise kind of stopped after three or four records. When we plateaued, it felt like being in Groundhog Day and I was kind of going through the motions.
GRAVITY WAS MUCH MORE MELODIC, CONTEMPLATIVE, AND POP-ORIENTED THAN YOUR OTHER ALBUMS.
That's just where my head was at the time. Obviously, Gravity was a divisive record for our fanbase, and a lot of people didn't like it. We knew that was going to happen when we were writing it. But it was the album I needed to do to find my footing again. The turning point regarding how I felt about this band and that album came when we were touring. I saw people losing their shit to those songs on that record and I just went, "Yes, they get it! People can still relate to what I'm doing!" That's when I found my mojo a bit more and started enjoying life again. And then, after the last year and a half, I've had the kind of eye-opening experiences that I needed in order to realize what's really valuable in life and to put everything else into perspective.
WOULD YOU SAY THE SONGS ON BULLET FOR MY VALENTINE ARE A REACTION TO THE POPPY VIBE OF GRAVITY?
I wanted Gravity to be the way it was and I'm glad I stuck to my guns. I wouldn't change that record for the world. I think it's a great record. It's not a metal record, which people expected to hear from us at that point coming off of Venom. I think they expected something a lot more like the new album. But the new one isn't a reaction to Gravity, it's more of a reflection of where my head was at. As a songwriter, I put my heart and soul into what I do to capture a specific moment in time. And this was a really energetic exciting moment we've captured with this album.
WHAT'S THE MOST POIGNANT SONG FOR YOU, LYRICALLY, ON THE NEW ALBUM?
"Can't Escape the Waves." It's hard to write slower more emotional songs like that. Screaming songs and faster riffy stuff are easier in a way because you can just go, "The hell with it," and be as nasty and as weird and colorful as you want and it's just part of the landscape. But with "Can't Escape the Waves," you have to give in to your soul and your real experiences so there's a vulnerability there. To do that one I tapped into that side of me that wasn't in a great place a few years ago. I reflected on the way I felt at the time and tried to make the lyrics as poetic, colorful and beautiful as possible, while, at the same time, keeping the song as dark as possible.
WHAT WAS YOUR BIGGEST TAKEAWAY FROM THE CREATION OF THIS ALBUM?
It's weird that it was such a fun record to make considering how awkward and horrible the real world was. And it's interesting that I really tried to reveal myself and cut myself to pieces with Gravity and reflect all the pain I was in. I got it all out and this time, we all just had fun and tried to escape. We shut out the outside world as much as possible and focused on what we were doing and we had the best time.