"In high school, me and my friends used to pool our money to buy used cars and crash the shit out of them," Suicide Silence frontman Mitch Lucker says with a glint of pride. "We'd bang into each other on the highway and sideswipe parked cars. One time, I was driving fast as fuck towards this dirt jump, and when we landed, the windshield blew out and my chest hit the dashboard real hard."
Unaware he was seriously injured, the reckless teenager partied through the night, but with every hour the pain got worse until it felt like a toothache in his chest, he says. So Lucker asked his friends take him to the emergency room, and while doctors initially told him he was fine, he returned the next day with an inflated chest cavity and aching ribs. "The doctor was like, 'Oh, you have a collapsed lung,'" Lucker recalls. "The accident tore a hole in the corner of my lung, and every time I took a breath my chest filled up with more air."
Doctors inserted a tube into Lucker's chest to let out the air, and the singer felt much better—but he didn't get any wiser. He continued to play demolition derby until he was 18, only stopping after he was arrested for stealing a golf cart and realized that he was no longer a minor and could receive serious jail time. Now 23, the heavily tattooed singer is engaged to be married and has a daughter who's almost a year old; and while he still drinks and smokes weed, he isn't nearly as self-destructive—especially when he's driving somewhere with his little girl.
"Dude, I'm in the slow lane all the way," he says. "Seriously, having her was a life-changing experience. I didn't used to give a fuck about anything, but now whenever I'm in a plane going overseas, I have way bad panic attacks. I'm like, Well, if I die in a crash, I'm leaving someone behind that's a part of me."
While Lucker does still occasionally act irresponsible on tour (like when he recently sprayed a piss-filled supersoaker at a group of belligerent drunks in Chicago), his wilding-out is usually limited to the stage, where the frontman is mesmerizing. He wraps both hands around the mic hard enough to bruise bones, and bobs his torso up and down while he growls. During the high squeals, he contorts his body and swings one arm like a caveman attacking a bear. When the breakdowns hit, he spreads both limbs crucifixion-style and throws his whole body into maniacal headbangs. The rest of the group—guitarists Chris Garza and Mark Heylmun, bassist Mike Bodkins, and drummer Alex Lopez—are almost as exciting to watch, a mass of flailing hair, flying fingers, and violently bowing bodies.
"We've always been 100 percent about the live show," says Lucker as the bandmates drive from San Diego, their final show of a headline tour, to their home in Riverside, California. "We go apeshit every night. The more energy we put out, the more energy the crowd gives back, and the more explosive everything gets."
Suicide Silence's fans don't just headbang or two-step, they scream the words to every song, which requires some careful liner note or Internet lyric-site research, since Lucker's vocals are pretty much indecipherable. And many of his disciples have actually bought the band's debut full-length, The Cleansing, a rushing tsunami of death metal and slow, hardcore breakdowns (some call the sound "deathcore," a tag Lucker loathes): The disc entered Billboard's Hot 200 at No. 94, has shifted 50,000 units to date, and continues to sell, making it Century Media's second-biggest album for a debut artist (the No. 1 belongs to In This Moment). Suicide Silence supported the disc with exhaustive touring, including stretches with Unearth, Nile, Behemoth, and the second stage of the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival. To keep the momentum rolling, they decided not to take any time off after touring, and to head right back into the studio in November to record the follow-up to The Cleansing, much of which was written over the past year during brief periods at home. While their first album was recorded live in the studio, the new album will be tracked in a conventional manner and the musicians will be able to play to click tracks and punch in to fine-tune their parts.
"It'll be way cleaner, but we'll keep it heavy as fuck," insists Lucker. "It's still gonna be ridiculously brutal, just more professional."
It's hard to imagine songs heavier than The Cleansing's "Bludgeoned to Death," which melds roaring death-metal riffs and feral blast beats with downtuned mosh parts and syncopated drumming that harkens to nu-metal, or "The Price of Beauty" a storming combination of Morbid Angel technicality and Deicide ferocity. But Garza insists that the tension that accrued during the two years Suicidal Silence spent mostly away from home has given the songs a new degree of urgency.
"We're even more pissed-off now, and that comes from not being home for a long time," Garza says. "My uncle and my grandma died, and…" After a moment's pause, he continues: "This is gonna sound really cheesy, but I had a cat for 15 years, and then last year I came home from the tour and she died. Before I was touring, I would come home, have a drink, and hang out with my cat all day. Going from that to not being able to see her was the worst thing ever."
Lost family members and pets are surely fodder for pain-stricken songwriting. But all that pales in comparison to the rest of Lucker's emotional baggage. The charismatic singer was born and raised in Riverside, the son of a doctor (mom) and prison guard (dad) who divorced when the boy was young. Like many in that situation, Lucker rebelled. Even so, his behavioral abnormalities weren't limited to childhood tantrums and troublemaking. He was extremely anxious, unusually tidy, and obsessed with counting. "I knew something was up when I started spending all day long in my room making sure all my fucking G.I. Joes were there and standing in my cabinet," he recalls. "There were dust marks around where their feet would go, and I had to make sure all their feet were in the clean spots."
Soon after, Lucker was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder. He developed a phobia of germs and became even more of a neat freak. His more "normal" peers soon noticed his eccentricities and started avoiding him, so Lucker adopted an "I don't give a fuck" attitude. Then he discovered the best coping mechanism of all—heavy metal—his dad brought him and his brother Cliff (who's now serving in Iraq) a Sepultura cassette. Tapes by Korn and Deftones followed, and Lucker loved the music so much, his father took him to see Metallica, then Black Sabbath. The aggressive tones provided relief and release, and before long, Lucker found a community that praised rebellion and sanctified not fitting in. But while he's found kinship in metal, he's still sometimes plagued by his OCD. He doesn't like to touch anything that might be contaminated with germs, so whenever possible, he uses his elbows to open doors, and instead of shaking fans' hands, he tries to bump fists. Also, he says that his mind constantly races and he overthinks everything; then, when he gets to the point where he no longer feels he's in control of the situation, he panics.
"I just always think about everything that I can possibly stress about, and then I stress about it all at the same time," he explains. "That's the exact same thing as having a really bad anxiety attack. I'm sure I could take medicine to make things better, but I'd just rather be what I'm wired to be. It's made me who I am today, so I don't want to change it, because I like the way I'm rolling."
Strangely, Lucker feels most comfortable when he's performing, even if the stage is filthy and flecked with spit, even when he's being splashed by beads of sweat from overheated headbangers. For him, ranting in concert is the ultimate form of primal-scream therapy. Of course, there are exceptions, like when Suicide Silence were in Russia and Lucker was forced to use the same microphone as all the other bands on the bill.
"There were five other bands," he says. "That's five dudes' saliva—whatever fucking STDs they have, whatever sickness—just chilling in the cap of the mic. I had to use it, and as soon as I got offstage, there was shit all over my face and I'm gagging. I can barely breathe. I thought I was gonna die."
As powerful as he is as a frontman, Lucker started kinda late in life. He didn't even pick up a mic until he was 16 and his brother Cliff, who played guitar, invited him to step in on a Hatebreed song he was jamming on with some friends. Stung by the performance bug, Lucker and his brother formed Dying Dream around the same time he was playing demolition derby with his friends. Almost simultaneously, Garza was raising havoc of his own. Once, a girl he barely knew invited him to her house and when he was there, she invited him to trash the place. "I took a bat and golf clubs and destroyed the house," Garza says. "I broke all the windows. I broke everything. Then her mom came home and later I got pulled over and arrested. I guess the girl was mad or something and wanted to piss off her mom."
The two delinquents met at the now-defunct venue The Showcase and decided to form a brutal new band. An old drummer suggested they call themselves Suicide Silence, a term with which both could relate. One of Garza's friends had hanged himself. As for Lucker: "My friend Charles shot himself in the chest on the football field at school," the singer recalls. "The day before, he told me that if he ever killed himself, he was gonna shoot himself in the chest so he could have an open-casket funeral."
The original 2002 Suicide Silence lineup featured one guitarist, no bassist, and two singers, but after one gig, Lucker convinced his bandmates to drop the other vocalist since he could handle both high and low screams. With the addition of Bodkins on bass and second guitarist Rick Ash (who was eventually replaced by Heylmun), Suicide Silence started taking themselves more seriously, but since some off them were still in school, the musicians could only play locally. Fortunately, they were friends with the owners of The Showcase, who booked them with all the major heavy bands that came through town. With the release of their self-titled EP in 2005, Suicide Silence built a buzz, but their big break came after their manager convinced them to post live video on their MySpace page.
"At that time, no one did that," Garza says. "Immediately that video was on every kid's page, and it circulated really fast—to Russia, Sweden, the UK. That's when promoters from everywhere started hitting us up."
Suicide Silence were offered their current deal from Century Media, and the band started their grueling, seemingly endless touring run. Of course, that hasn't all been drudgery. "I had some pretty scandalous encounters before I met my current girlfriend," says the normally silent Lopez of his band's groupies. "Once, I had sex with a girl while her son was on the bed. He was only a year old and we had to be quiet so we wouldn't wake him. It was weird because a month later she said, 'Hey, I'm three weeks late on my period.' But she got it the next day."
"It's so crazy when you're just walking around after a show and you meet someone, and an hour later you're naked with them," adds Garza, who cherishes such opportunities, but likes to keep it clean. As he looks towards Suicide Silence's bright future, he has some ground rules laid out: "There's never any crazy orgies," he says. "That shit scares me. And I don't like bondage or anal. I'll never try that."