Correction: In the version of this story that appears in Revolver's Feb / March issue, we misstated that vocalist Sam Fleming quit Chamber. In fact, Chamber decided to part ways with Fleming. We apologize for the inaccuracy.
What do you do when you part ways with your frontman in the middle of a tour? That was the question Nashville hardcore quintet Chamber stared down last year. The band was in the midst of their first tour when some lingering tension came to a head with original vocalist Sam Fleming, and they decided it was time for him to leave — which meant the band was facing a lot of unanswered dates and nobody to scream. Luckily, they had a friend hitching a ride in the van who was more than capable. Jacob Lilly was playing bass with tourmates Orthodox, and overnight, he was initiated into one of the most exciting new heavy acts on the planet.
And so, partway through the tour, at a moment when Chamber's hype was hitting a fever pitch, Lilly found himself listening to the band's inaugural EP, Hatred Softly Spoken, over and over again, doing his best to memorize the lyrics and feel of its five brutal tracks, in order to make a truly auspicious live debut. It didn't work. The 22-year-old musician freely admits that he had no idea what he was doing onstage during the first few sets. It wasn't until his fourth show, back in his hometown of Greensboro, North Carolina, that he finally felt his mojo surging — this, despite pulling double-duty singing with Chamber and playing bass in Orthodox for the duration of the tour.
By the time Chamber eventually made it to Nashville for a homecoming gig during a later trek, the show was filled with friends who were mildly perturbed that Lilly had supplanted a local. But all doubts were quickly put to bed. "There wasn't drama, but people were bummed like, 'What happened?' But then we played, it was sick, and I was like, 'All right, they don't care that much,'" he remembers.
Filling in on vocal duties is never easy, but filling in on vocal duties for Chamber? One of the most technically pugnacious hardcore bands around? That requires an otherworldly dexterity. Their music is a blunderbuss: death-metal crunch, whiz-bang Dillinger Escape Plan logarithms, grindcore that sounds like a kicked beehive, and even some of the serrated, minor-key guitar whines you could find in the '98 nu-metal catalog. (Lilly doesn't run from that influence either. He cites Converge and Slipknot in equal measure.)
This gives Chamber a unique polyglot sound, right on the borderlands of a scene that's often pedantically dogmatic about its genre loyalties. "It's really hard to describe, but I think we're a band that listens to a lot of diverse styles of music, that's where we come in at," says Lilly. "It's weird but we want to be almost a metal-hardcore band." Their first studio release with Lilly, the two-song Final Shape / In Search of Truth, captures that dichotomy perfectly. Opener "Final Shape" is a wonderfully torrential slab of hardcore — a swarm of guitars, bass and set-rattling drum-fills, keen to show off what guitarists Gabe Manuel and Taylor Stephenson can do on the high strings. "In Search of Truth," on the other hand, simmers things down into a churn of breakdowns for the camo-shorts contingency. Chamber have the ability to switch styles with an undaunted fluency and curiosity. It never sounds like pastiche. Instead, it captures a group of millennials with unparalleled access to a collective 40-year history of heavy music, picking and choosing the parts they like.
"With music these days you hear a bunch of 4/4, straightforward stuff — which is sick. I like [that] stuff, it's easy to listen to," says Lilly. "But we want to be weird. I love older stuff like Converge, so I want to be [out there]. But with the new music, I want some parts to be [simpler] because sometimes you get these younger kids that can't comprehend what's happening. They're like, 'Oh this is sick!' and then you just change it."
Currently, Lilly lives in Greensboro, while the rest of Chamber remain in Nashville, and he formally left Orthodox to focus entirely on his new band after that initial joint tour. He also has a day job — serving at a BBQ restaurant — which he's held down for the past three years. ("They're really cool about letting me take time off," he says.) Right now the group is working on a debut full-length for 2019, a process that is making Lilly feel a bit restless. It's frustrating to be far away from his teammates as they're piecing together their next chapter. "I'm not there while they're writing music. Before every tour I go down three or four days before just to rehearse," he explains. "That's definitely challenging, but we're fortunate enough to have enough money saved up so we can travel."
That being said, Lilly isn't sure what's next for him personally. He has found himself caught in a place very familiar to any musician who's garnered a ton of buzz in a short amount of time. It's only been a matter of months since he was thrust into position at the head of a supremely exciting hardcore band, and suddenly, the thing he's been doing casually for years — playing music with his friends — appears more like a job than it ever has before in his life.
At the beginning of 2019, he made the resolution to move to Nashville before the end of the year. After all, he's mastered the twists and turns of Chamber's carnage, and is excited to make a debut full-length statement for a growing bulwark of fans. But already, he admits he's beginning to have some second thoughts. "I want to move but I also play in bands in North Carolina. So it's like, do I want to drop everything and go to Nashville, or do I want to stay here and make everything work, because at this point we have made everything work," he says. "My family is here, I've built a relationship with everyone at my work. Do I want to drop everything, get a new job, and move in with my bandmates?"
It will be an interesting 2019 for Lilly, and an interesting 2019 for Chamber. Eventually, in a world where the band hits their potential, Lilly might look back and laugh about the time in his life where he was afraid of leaving his old job in the dust. But there's not a lot of money in metalcore, especially the smart, techy, multi-act movements that Chamber manage to fit into two-minutes-or-less. Each member has been playing in bands since they were kids. You can understand why they might want to pinch themselves first, to make sure that it's all really happening.