"I remember the first time I screamed into a microphone," says Loathe's Kadeem France. "I'd never felt anything like it. All my struggles. Mental health problems. All the shit life spews up. None of it mattered. It was ..."
Kadeem takes a breath.
"It felt like freedom."
France needed to scream. When he lost his grandfather, a surrogate dad for most of his childhood. During subsequent, often messy attempts to connect with his absent father, the subject of his band's standout single "Two-Way Mirror." "It decimated me when my grandfather died," he says. "I think if I hadn't found heavy music at that point, I'm not sure I'd be here today."
Right now, France's scream can be heard ringing loudly out of the U.K. From nowhere — or in geographical terms, Liverpool — Loathe have recently emerged as one of the most exciting new bands in Britain. The group's second full-length, I Let It in and It Took Everything, is responsible for much of said fuss. It arrived in early February like a great lost Deftones album, fusing ethereal shoegaze with unsettling ambience, vivid, expansive soundscapes, kaiju-big choruses, a peppering of industrial noise seared with crunchy, down-tuned modern metal. It sounds positively apocalyptic. It subsequently sounds perfectly 2020.
Live, the band express their songs with disarming intensity. Lots of smoke. Bright, eye-hurting white lights. It's an experience closer to what one might imagine seeing Joy Division in the late Seventies would have felt like than anything offered forth by the heavy-music scene in recent times. At the heart of it all, striding through the fog, his voice alternating from clean, melodic crooning to chest-bursting screams, is France. As an audience member, you can't help feeling like he isn't there to entertain. He's there to confront and purge.
France was 19 years old when he and guitarist Erik Bickerstaffe pieced Loathe together. They'd played together through their teens in a band called Our Imbalance. "We didn't like the name. We didn't like the image" France says of his former group's formulaic metalcore. "We wanted to do something completely different." The singer needed to truly express himself. He desperately wanted art and creativity to be his life. It's all he'd ever known. "My family all made music or performed within the artistic realm," he says. "My grandfather instilled it in us. He knew how important it was for people to have the means to express themselves." France isn't shy in listing a host of fledgling experiences some frontmen in a metal band might try to bury in the past. "I was in plays and I acted, I even did panto!" he admits without shame. "I played Happy, one of the dwarfs in Snow White!"
Displaced members of Liverpool's rock scene fleshed out the ranks of the new project. Guitarist Connor Sweeney. Bassist Feisal El-Khazragi. Drummer Sean Radcliffe, who had a thrashy hardcore project on SoundCloud he never intended the world to hear. It was called Loathe. "It was too good a name to waste," says France. "So we took it." Nobody could believe that the moniker had never been used before. "Actually, there's a band right now in Malta called Loathe," the singer laughs. "Promoters sometimes use their press shot when they're making posters for our shows." That shouldn't be an issue for long.
Now bolted to a new project, the name Loathe took on a significance that France struggles to completely articulate. "It was almost like Loathe became a brand for people in our scene who wanted to exorcise all the shit that was going on it their lives," he explains. "It became a hub for people to come together and express themselves. We were always interested in building community ..." Much of the band's merch and branding — their website URL, in fact — carries the wording "Loathe as one," a phrase that reflects this desire. "Everyone who comes to see Loathe is part of the band," says France today, repeating a sentiment mouthed by many musicians, but that coming from him, rings with unusual sincerity.
The singer wasn't exaggerating when he said that his new outfit would do things differently from how his previous group had done it. Loathe's members initially decided not to use their own names — France took on DRK, the rest of the band went by DRT, SNK, MWL and NIL. Onstage, he would wear a Slipknotian mask (later to appear on the cover of the group's first EP, 2016's Prepare Consume Proceed). "It was that whole thing of trying to let the music speak for itself," he explains. "Then we realized it was a bit of a gimmick and we wanted to be as real as possible." The mask remains in the singer's possession. "I still bring it out from time to time," he laughs. "It reminds us where we came from."
Unsurprisingly, Loathe's esoteric sound was assembled by unconventional means. Their influences are pulled from far and wide. WWE wrestler intros. Tony Hawk's soundtracks. France's favorites: Alpine, California's post-hardcore outfit Being as an Ocean. "The way it works is that someone will write a song," the singer says of his band's creative process. "He'll put it into the group chat, and then we'll chip in and try to mold it into a Loathe song. Loathe songs are all about atmosphere, so sometimes someone will play a clip from the [pioneering survival-horror video game franchise] Silent Hill, or a sample from a David Lynch movie, and they'll say, 'This is what we want to achieve,' and then the target is laid out for what we're pitching for ..."
To date, their records have contained overarching concepts, with 2017 debut album The Cold Sun telling one complete story. "The new one is more a collection of stories than one that sticks to one theme," says France. "We see it as more akin to a film like Pulp Fiction, with lots of different stories connecting into each other. Imagine walking down a corridor and each door leads to a different universe ..." This cinematic approach has resonated with none other than the Deftones' Chino Moreno, who shared the video for "Two-Way Mirror" via Twitter in January.
"Oh man, the day that happened, my SIM card was broken and I was at work, so I was off the internet the whole day," gushes France. "I leave work, start listening to the Deftones on my route home, and when I get home and connect to the internet my phone starts blowing up and I see that Chino has shared 'Two-Way Mirror.' He's screaming in my ears as I'm screaming the house down in excitement ..."
France's joy in that moment was deeper than mere fandom. "I want our band to matter to people like the Deftones did to us," he continues. "I want our music to help people like heavy music helped me. I want Loathe to continue the cycle."