Orthodox: Inside Rising Metal Stars' "Love Story About Hatred" | Revolver

Orthodox: Inside Rising Metal Stars' "Love Story About Hatred"

Meet Nashville straightedge crew forged in nu-metal and personal trauma
orthodon_credit_camsmith.jpg, Cam Smith
photograph by Cam Smith

Adam Easterling loves many things about his hometown of Nashville. The pervasive friendliness of Southern hospitality, the bright energy of the city's inhabitants and, most of all, the eclectic music scene that he was literally born into. His grandfather was the late country music bigwig Johnny Slate, a publishing guru who wrote songs for the likes of Dr. Hook, Kenny Rogers and Joe Diffie. Easterling's parents also worked in the country industry, and his father even had an important role on the business end of Sting's 1993 record Ten Summoner's Tales. Now, the 26-year-old Orthodox frontman is proud to be friends with musicians who tour with the likes of Modest Mouse and Family Force 5, have jazz fusion side projects, and perform in virtuosic drum jams.

"You are one degree of separation from anyone," Easterling says of Nashville's diverse and intertwined music scene. Therefore, all of those aforementioned musicians are just one degree of separation from a straight-edge metal band that just made a revenge-fantasy album about getting even with abusers. That's the theme of Orthodox's second full-length, Let It Take Its Course, which is the follow-up to 2017's breakthrough Sounds of Loss LP and was mostly written by Easterling and producer Daniel Colombo, of Mongoloids and Suburban Scum fame. But in true Nashville fashion, a couple instrumental passages on the record were actually performed by Billy Ray Cyrus' guitarist, Chris Condon, who runs the Nashville studio Colombo works out of.

That sort of world-colliding interplay is largely unheard of in the metal multiverse, but contrary to their moniker, Orthodox are far from a traditional heavy band. It just took them some time to find their unique approach. When the group formed in Easterling's senior year of high school back in 2011, they played a straightforward variety of metallic hardcore informed by the scene they were coming up in, which is where Easterling found a community that supported his straight-edge lifestyle.

"Growing up, my mom and my dad both struggled with addiction," Easterling says. "My mom just became very dependent on pills and alcohol when I was growing up. She spent, I don't know how long, but at least half a year of my life throughout different rehab facilities. And then a lot of the record we've been touring off of for a while, Sounds of Loss, is all about anticipated bereavement. Or when you know someone you love is going to die and there's nothing you can do to stop or change it."

Easterlings' lyrics on Sounds of Loss aren't preachy anthems about the sober lifestyle, but rather highly personal introspections about the trauma he endured as the child of addicts. "The fact that you still love someone who is inflicting psychological damage to you, and you're aware that they're doing it, but they're not themselves when they're doing it but they're choosing not to be themselves. That was one of the harder things to intake," he says.

In contrast to the coarse anger of early Orthodox material, Sounds of Loss was an attempt to come to terms with his painful experiences and even instill a ray of hope within the record's relentless barrage of furious mosh riffs. Easterling's mother was always supportive of Orthodox but wished they'd write her a soft song, so he literally included her voice in the album's title track, a twangy yet eerie clean cut à la Type O Negative.

"In the beginning you hear kind of a distorted talking," Easterling explains of the song. "That is actually a voicemail from my mom that she left while we were tracking, and it was the first time that I had heard her voice sober in five or six years." Easterling says that she's been sober ever since.

For the singer, Sounds of Loss was the first Orthodox release that felt true to his formative influences. Easterling was introduced to heavy music as a kid when his older neighbor popped Linkin Park's Hybrid Theory into his mom's car stereo. "My mom turned it off and said it sounded like prison music," he recalls with a laugh. From there, like many millennials, it was the Tony Hawk Pro Skater 4 soundtrack that truly set him on the heavy-music path that he's continued treading to this day.

"Tyler and I didn't grow up listening to hardcore," he says of founding Orthodox member Tyler Williams, who now plays bass in Counterparts. "We didn't grow up idolizing hardcore bands, necessarily. We grew up really loving bands like Korn, System of a Down, Slipknot."

So, instead of cranking out another solid yet unsurprising metallic hardcore record, Orthodox decided to add unsettling nu-metal guitar squeals, Jonathan Davis–esque grunts, and pulverizing Slipknot-like blast beats to their crushing pit-starters. Listening back in 2019, after hardcore-adjacent bands like Vein, Varials and Knocked Loose have fully embraced the late-Nineties nu-metal canon, Sounds of Loss doesn't sound that crazy. But at the time, Easterling was biting his nails.

"I'm not gonna lie, we were scared to put it out," Easterling says. "We were like, 'This might just fuckin' flop.' Because it was so weird for us to write it, we couldn't imagine anyone liking it as much as we did."

Although it surpassed expectations within their hardcore constituency, the record has resonated most with the metalheads Orthodox have been playing to over the last year and change. The positive response encouraged Easterling to push even deeper with Sounds of Loss' follow-up. As the songs for Let It Take Its Course were coming together, he realized that they were a lot darker sounding than anything Orthodox had done before. He felt that he had exhausted singing about his tribulations with sobriety and familial trauma, so he used this opportunity to write about something even more heinous: the moral dilemmas he's been presented with since learning that loved ones have been victims of abuse and/or assault.

"It's about when someone you love has been assaulted, abused, hurt by somebody else in a severe way, and you begin to want to do the same thing to the abuser," Easterling says. "But you're afraid of the person you love being able to see you in the same light, doing the same thing to somebody else. So there's that constant back and forth of I really want to get even with this person for you, I really want to do what I feel needs to be done for them, but I'm terrified that you would see me as capable of that evil."

orthodox_press_2019.jpg, Cam Smith
Orthodox, 2019
photograph by Cam Smith

All of the violence in the lyrics is fantastical, but many of the emotions stem from his own reality. A song like "Cut," which features a muttery speak-singing voice that Easterling utilizes throughout much of the album, is about trying to reassure his loved one that he wants to carry out this unspeakable violence for them, not to them. In the aptly titled "Wrongs" Easterling sings, "I'm terrified of the wrongs I'd do for you/Because there's no wrongs I wouldn't do."

The Orthodox frontman describes the record as "a love story about hatred," and he performs it with a series of vocal approaches — atonal croons, eerie whispers and enraged bellows — that give the record a theatricality that completely removes the band from its hardcore beginnings. Let It Take Its Course is a straight-up bone-chilling metal album that sounds like the music Easterling has always wanted to make, but is presented with the authenticity that his music has always had.

"I'm not gonna try and dig more into my past to dig up more things about what I went through as a kid when things are looking up in that aspect of my life," he says. "It wouldn't feel right to keep trying to write about what happened to me when I've already put that out there and I'm doing OK. But there's people who are going through much worse on a daily basis because of something much worse that's been done to them."

"Nobody deserves to go through that kind of experience," he says of the abuse that lies at heart of Let It Take Its Course. "To meet some people who are so kind and so caring and so giving and they're still having to deal with the evils of the world, it just makes your stomach turn."