In 2022, there remains no shortage of new bands playing heavy hardcore. Great crossover thrash is showing no signs of slowing down (Mindforce, Drain, Dead Heat, Ekulu, etc. are hotter than ever), moshy shit is everywhere (from Sunami and Pain of Truth to Dying Wish and God's Hate) and with faster groups ranging from Scowl, Ingrown and Spy nudging their way onto chuggier bills, we're likely on the verge of some cross-pollination leading to a genuine grind renaissance. By releasing their debut album, Ascension, on the modern-day hardcore hub Triple B Records, Richmond's Mutually Assured Destruction are planting themselves within this pluralistic girth of heavy hardcore, but they're doing their own thing entirely.
The self-proclaimed "crossover doom" band — fronted by Ace Stallings, the ex-frontman of the straight-edge unit Break Away — are using hardcore's thrashier side as a foundation and building upon it with groove-metal riffage, Sabbathian chord progressions and Stallings' Southern-fried croon, which recalls singers like Corrosion of Conformity's Pepper Keenan, Life of Agony's Mina Caputo and Crowbar's Kirk Windstein.
The album's first single, "Spiritual Liberation," which we're premiering today, would have no trouble blasting out the monitors of a sludge show, which makes the guest feature from fellow Richmond OG Lamb of God's Randy Blythe incredibly apt. Blythe and Stallings trade vocals over a monstrous riff that sounds straight out of LoG's As the Palaces Burn era, but it's played with a hardcore energy that makes it feel fresh and exciting rather than redundant. Take a listen below via Bandcamp and then read our interview with Stallings about Mutually Assured Destruction's unique sonic DNA, his kinship with Blythe, the Richmond underground and much more.
Ascension is out May 18th via Triple B Records and pre-orders are now live over at the label's Bandcamp.
WHAT ARE THE ORIGINS OF MUTUALLY ASSURED DESTRUCTION?
I had previously done a straight forward hardcore band called Break Away for about eight years prior to Mutually Assured Destruction forming. That band had kind of run its course and I didn't plan on doing any more bands after we decided to break up, but I just couldn't stay out of the game. I had done a Misfits cover set with some friends one Halloween around this time and people said that I should sing for a band where the vocals were clean like that. I thought of the most talented musicians that simultaneously didn't have too much on their plate in Richmond and reached out to Tyler Wall, Ryan "Groater" Groat, J.D., Chichoki and Eric Hoyt. M.A.D. was then created in the spring/summer of 2019.
THIS ALBUM HAS A VERY DISTINCT SOUND. I'M CURIOUS TO HEAR YOU DESCRIBE THE MUSICAL IDEA YOU HAD GOING INTO THE BAND, AND HOW THAT IDENTITY HAS/HASN'T CHANGED THROUGH THE MAKING OF THIS LP?
This is a great question because I think the identity has changed a bit since the demo 7-inch and the 10-inch we started with. When the band initially came together the influences were akin to bands like Life of Agony, Only Living Witness, and Corrosion of Conformity; now we take some of those and opt for a more "metal" approach to the sound, adding influence from bands like Black Sabbath, Uncle Acid and the Dead Beats, and Iron Age to name a few.
YOU'VE GOT A SONG ON THE ALBUM, "HAINT BLUE," THAT'S ALMOST A COUNTRY BALLAD. YOU'VE GOT ANOTHER TRACK WITH LAMB OF GOD'S RANDY BLYTHE. YOUR SINGING ON HERE GETS PRETTY SLUDGY AT SOME POINTS. THESE ARE PRETTY BOLD MOVES FOR A BAND COMING OUT OF THE HARDCORE SCENE. WHAT'S YOUR TAKE ON GENRE BOUNDARY LINES?
I can really only speak for myself in the band here, but I love straightforward hardcore. That particular style really is my bread and butter in regards to taste. That being said, I played that for so long that I wanted to do something completely opposite with this band and I knew the guys involved were down to explore new sounds and influences. Is Mutually Assured Destruction a hardcore band? Yes. Is Mutually Assured Destruction a metal band? I like to think so. Are we a rock band? Yeah, you could put us in that lane. We kind of blur the lines on genre on purpose because we want to be able to play any kind of show that wants us. In simpler terms, when people ask what kind of band we are, I just say we are "crossover doom."
HOW'D THE COLLABORATION WITH RANDY COME ABOUT? TELL ME ABOUT WHAT IT WAS LIKE TO WORK WITH HIM.
I do a podcast called Forum of Passion where I interview people involved in hardcore, punk, and metal. When lockdown started I realized Lamb of God wouldn't be on tour and that Randy might be available to talk with me. We didn't know each other, but I took a shot in the dark and messaged him to see if he would be down. Much to my surprise he was and we had a great interview.
We struck up a friendship from that and when it came time to record the LP I thought, "LOG is a big influence on us and on the city, it'd be so cool to have him on this". I sent him a couple tracks to pick from and he was more than happy to work with us. He wrote his own lyrics to his guest spot, came to our studio and busted it out in no more than 15 minutes. He sounds like a legitimate monster on that one. He's a pro. Having him be a part of Ascension is really special.
"SPIRIT LIBERATION" DEFINITELY HAS A LAMB OF GOD FEEL TO THE RIFF AND THE GROOVE, IN MY OPINION. BEING A BAND FROM RICHMOND, I ASSUME THEY HAD SOME SORT OF INFLUENCE ON YOUR MUSICAL IDENTITY (IF NOT DIRECTLY ON THE SOUND OF THIS BAND)?
They really do have a strong impact on M.A.D. I was only a little acquainted with them growing up, but later in life started to dive in. When "Spirit Liberation" was written I got to the practice space with Groater and said, "Yo man let's do a track that sounds like LOG with reference to the end of 'Final Hour' by War Hungry". I like the idea of regional representation and Lamb of God for sure sounds like they are from the south, I wanted us to have that vibe too.
WHO ARE SOME OTHER BANDS THAT INSPIRE THE MUSIC OF MUTUALLY ASSURED DESTRUCTION?
I'd say we collectively reference the following bands: Acid Bath, Alice in Chains, Black Sabbath, Cold World, Corrosion of Conformity, Down, Iron Age, Kyuss, Lamb of God, Life of Agony, Metallica, Only Living Witness, Pantera, Pegasus, War Hungry, White Zombie, and Windhand.
WHAT ASPECT(S) OF THE LP ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF?
The art that Jesse Jacobi did is exquisite. That's an aspect I like physically. Sonically, I think I did a solid job singing. Not a lot of bands related to hardcore have vocals that explore what we are exploring on this record and I'm proud of myself for being able to do so. The song writing between Groater, Eric, and Tyler is top notch to me as well. I'm proud to be in a band with such great composers.
I KNOW YOU'VE GOT THE BIG TAKEOVER FESTIVAL HAPPENING LATER THIS YEAR, WHICH M.A.D. IS PLAYING ALONGSIDE A TON OF OTHER BANDS SPANNING PUNK, HARDCORE, GRIND AND MORE. TELL ME ABOUT THE RICHMOND SCENE RIGHT NOW AND WHERE M.A.D. FITS WITHIN WHAT'S HAPPENING IN THAT REGION.
I crafted Big Takeover with Sam [Yarmuth, Triple B Records owner] after I knew the resident hardcore festival in Richmond (United Blood) was coming to a close. This go-round I/we wanted to put something together that was more representative of the current tastes of the city/region. United Blood was great at showcasing the current best of the best of straight-up hardcore, which during its tenure was the de facto style that was prominent in Richmond. Over the last few years the metal scene which had always been esteemed in Richmond began to bleed over to the hardcore world as well as vice versa, this was/is also occurring on the punk end of the spectrum.
I thought "if everyone is rocking with everything under the sun, why not put it all together?" That's how Big Takeover came together. That festival is my interpretation of what Richmond hardcore/punk/metal/aggressive music is about currently. In keeping with that, M.A.D. seeks to be the band that any fan of harder music in Richmond (or anywhere for that matter) can get into. I could really go on and on about the Richmond scene and how much I love it and how much it's shaped me as a person, but I'll spare everyone.
WHO ARE SOME UP-AND-COMING HARDCORE/HEAVY BANDS THAT YOU THINK PEOPLE NEED TO BE AWARE OF RIGHT NOW?
A couple demos that will be coming out of Richmond you should be on the look for: Killing Pace and Blazing Tomb, also be on the look for the Downfall LP. Otherwise I'll pop it off with my current favorites spanning many genres: C4, Restraining Order, Stormkeep, Dead Heat, Enforced, Division of Mind, Spy, Tempter, Hallas, Age of Apocalypse, Unto Others, Electric Chair, Slant, Gatecreeper, Candy. Too many to list, the culture is strong right now.