Vomit, Nudity, Arrests: Inside Tallah's Wild World of Hell-Raising Nu-Core | Revolver

Vomit, Nudity, Arrests: Inside Tallah's Wild World of Hell-Raising Nu-Core

Mike Portnoy's son Max and his cohorts are winning over skeptics with crazy songs and crazier shows
Tallah 2022 1600x900 , Clip Hall
photograph by Clip Hall

The hardcore bros are skeptical. It's March 2022, and Tallah are taking the stage in an old church basement outside of Pittsburgh where they're serving as direct support to the hometown heroes of heavy, Code Orange. From their beanie-clad frontman to a keyboardist dressed like a Tim Burton character, this ragtag group of nu-metal misfits (hailing from across the state in the Lehigh Valley) look like they could each be in five different bands. And none of them are visually in-line with the big guys in Terror shirts who're glaring, arms crossed, in the back of the crowd.

Cut to mid-set — and the place has erupted into gleeful mosh madness. Tallah's ravenous energy and torrential nu-metal-meets-hardcore heaviness have won over the scowling cynics.

"I think if we're in front of any audience, there will be people who like us just from a performance aspect; we're just so fun to watch," proudly declares drummer Max Portnoy. He's talking with Revolver today from a venue in Brooklyn. It's been a half-a-year since that Pittsburgh show, and the musician has logged a lot more time onstage winning over audiences — both with Tallah (at gigs opening for Attila, Drowning Pool and more) and as Code Orange's current touring drummer.

Tallah are here in New York to unleash another off-the-chain set, this time in support of their new sophomore album, The Generation of Danger. The full-length, their second for extreme-metal powerhouse Earache Records, is a jarring level-up from their also-great 2020 debut, Matriphagy. Over 13 songs, the band explore a ferocious fusion of early Slipknot intensity — spitfire vocals and grooves that dig deep like tractor tires on wet sod — and modern hardcore savagery à la Vein.fm and Knocked Loose. It's an explosive album that just might secure their position as the heaviest, most creative unit of the ongoing nu-metal revival.

Portnoy, now 23, formed Tallah back in 2017, but the band's creative vision wasn't solidified until the following year — when he discovered frontman Justin Bonitz, now 32, via the latter's popular YouTube channel Hungry Lights. The same week they met in person, in early 2018, they were onstage together playing Tallah's first show. The pair have been the core songwriting team from those early days, but over the years the band has grown into a collaborative affair between all players — including founding guitarist Derrick Schneider and the more recent additions of rhythm guitarist Alex Snowden and turntable-keyboardist Alizé "Mewzen" Rodriguez.

Portnoy writes all the instrumentation for Tallah, and on The Generation of Danger he really lets his jazz training shine through with proggier, more experimental passages. He comes to the style honestly. His father is Mike Portnoy, the prolific prog-metal drummer known for his many years in Dream Theater. Max grew up hanging with his dad on the road and in studios, and was "always smacking on my dad's drums" even before he began taking lessons at the tender age of five. He always knew he wanted to follow in his father's path, and the elder Portnoy has always been his biggest fan.

"My dad's totally into it," Portnoy says of his father's support for Tallah. "I sent my dad the mixes [of our new album] and he was blown away by it. It's awesome to have his feedback."

Bonitz also brings his full range of talents into Tallah, including his elastic vocal acrobatics, knack for creative world-building and flair for the dramatic. Matriphagy was a concept album about a man escaping from a bunker where his mother held him captive for 20 years. The Generation of Danger is an even knottier sci-fi epic about a crazed genius, featuring nine different characters that Bonitz portrays with a variety of unique vocals. And yes, he pulls them all off live.

"Onstage, I want to be the character delivering the vocals that make people go, like, 'Holy cow, that's awesome,'" Bonitz enthuses.

More than just a multifaceted vocalist, he's also known as wild performer. At one show in 2019, Bonitz scaled a high beam during Tallah's set. When a bouncer came to yank him down, the singer — assuming he was just an overly aggressive fan — booted the guy in the face and kept performing. "It just spiraled out of control after that, and I ended up getting arrested," Bonitz says sheepishly. At another gig, he ended up onstage in just a thong, which he eventually ditched for a full-nude spectacle.

Tallah incorporated their frontman's passion for live stunts into the recording of The Generation of Danger. For "mud_castle," they rigged an audio interface to the back of a van and drove around while Bonitz sprinted behind, clutching a microphone and screaming the lyrics. "He wouldn't slow down," exclaims Bonitz. "When we got back to the producer's house, I just ran into the bathroom and puked." Elsewhere, "For the Recognition" features the actual sounds of Bonitz being water-boarded by his bandmates, as well as the musicians smashing a shit-ton of plates on a driveway. "It took us four hours to sweep up all the glass." Bonitz sighs.

Whether onstage or in the booth, Tallah operate with a relentless commitment to never cut corners and always keep grinding. "I definitely have a bit of the workaholic gene [from] my dad," Portnoy admits when asked about the rigors of performing in both Tallah and Code Orange. "Tell you right now, there's no chance of ever playing with any other bands. Two is more than enough. My dad's in seven and I'm like, What?!"

Scheduling challenges aside, Portnoy is deeply devoted to the project, and promises two things: Tallah will never get put on the backburner — and never get any less heavy. "That's just what we love to do," he says of their commitment to pulverizing breakdowns. "No disrespect to Linkin Park … but how they went, they pretty much ditched the heavy sound. I don't know what I'm going to be thinking when I'm 50 years old — we might do more melodic stuff — but we're not trying to ditch the heaviness, ever."