Many years ago when Headbanger’s Ball went off the air it seemed to slip off the radar. I don’t remember anyone really getting up in arms or writing angry letters. People (including myself) just shrugged their shoulders and said, “that sucks, man.” As time went by it became painfully apparent how much a show that featured up and coming metal bands was needed. During that fairly dark period in hard rock, the mainstream became flooded with post-grunge wannabes, clowns with guitars, and watered nu-metal that seemed more like 1980s butt-rock than raw and powerful music. The underground began to flourish during that time as an antithesis to what was getting played on the radio. It was getting angrier and percolating much like hardcore punk did in the early 80s.
Fans began to see the hole that was left when MTV canceled its only outlet for heavy bands. An uproar grew as a growing need to give this new group of talented bands a forum to be seen. Eventually the execs at MTV brought the show back with the same name as before and put on their all music station, MTV2. The programmers for the show now have a cornucopia of lean, hard-hitting and innovative bands to play on the show. In fact, there are so many that Headbanger’s Ball has just released a double disc of metal on Roadrunner Records. Along with the CD they also have launched a tour featuring four groups that are on that disc. The bill has Killswitch Engage, Lamb of God, and Shadows Fall co-headlining and Unearth opening the first half of the tour. It comes to the Ogden Theater in Denver November 11th. I had the chance to talk with members of the co-headliners before the tour came through Denver.
Killswitch Engage is a Massachusetts five-piece that started in 1999, and recently released their new album, Alive or Just Breathing?, on Roadrunner Records. The current line-up is Mike D’Antonio, Joel Stroetzel, Jesse Leach, Tom Gomes and Adam Dutkiewics on bass, guitar, vocals, drums, and guitar respectively. Adam not only plays guitar for Killswitch Engage, but also produces the band’s album AND is currently filling in on drums for Unearth. To Adam, playing two sets a night is what he lives for, “twice the high jinx” he says. He called from a Wendy’s in West Virginia and the first question he asked me was if I had ever been to the state. “I can’t say that I have” and he replies with “it’s an experience…” He didn’t seem to want to elaborate.
Adam has produced other bands aside from his own, most notably From Autumn To Ashes and Unearth. While discussing what it was like to manage the dials in the studio for Killswitch Engage, he told me that “it was the most difficult thing in my life. I was wearing three hats at once; the next album will be easier. I’ll have more people helping me.” It was around that point in the conversation that he stopped and quietly said, “Oh my God, this crazy homeless, creepy guy is trying to talk to us. You should see him; he has the dirtiest clothes I’ve ever seen. It’s like he slept in a… in a dirt heap or something.” If a touring metal band says his clothes are filthy, I can’t imagine what they looked like.
I was trying to catch up on my notes when he asks, “Did you ask a question? I’m sorry, this guy is really creepy. Do you hear that?” Unfortunately all I could hear was noise and voices but I couldn’t make out any words. He finally had to go and I understood.
The next call was with Mark Morton from Lamb Of God, the ferocious five piece from Richmond, VA. The first track “Ruin” from their new release titled As the Palaces Burn on Prosthetic Records is an exercise in brutality. It starts with immense, chugging guitars over drums that sound like the murder of three hundred pound crows. Then come the deep, cutting vocals that personify a schizophrenic voice that you can’t ignore. After dueling guitar solos, a cacophonic drum solo segues into breakneck syncopation the whole band revels in. The song slides into a slow jab-and-dodge part that recalls images of lead fisted boxers.
Mark explained their songwriting philosophy, “We’ve always made records for ourselves…at the end of the day we make music that we like.” He continued to explain that when all is said and done, they’ll probably be in a shed still writing music they like. The song style on As the Palaces Burn is more developed and complex than on their previous release New American Gospel. Mark attributes this to the bands desire not to be stagnant, so can only expect Lamb Of God to constantly change and evolve. To the old fans that think about accusing the band of selling out, Mark was very specific with his thoughts, “…a little while ago someone wrote on the message board that the new album sounded like Mudvayne or Korn, which it doesn’t at all. We’re always going to change. The next album will sound different than Palaces. Just ‘cause you can tell what Randy [the singer] is saying doesn’t mean we’re selling out.” Mark, Randy, John and Brothers Will and Chris mean what they play and say. I believe they’re going to try their best to peel the paint off the wall at the Ogden.
Shadows Fall is another five piece on the tour and hails from the east-coast. Jonathan Donais, Matthew Bachand, Paul Romanko, Jason Bittner and Brian Fair make up this hard hitting band. Brian used to be in a cult status band called Overcast with Mike from Killswitch Engage. Sometimes, when a vocalist sings in other bands, the comparisons are easily tossed around by fans. Asking Brian if they’ve run into this problem he said, “A little bit, but if everyone liked Overcast so much, why didn’t come out to the shows? Where were they when we were together? That is just silly.”
Shadows Fall’s track on the Headbanger’s Ball compilation is “Destroyer of Senses”, which is also on their new full-length The Art of Balance, is an assailing no nonsense two minutes and fifty-four seconds of pure force. The pummeling track is clean and uniform, just like the stroke of a butcher’s blade.
Adam’s predicament with the homeless guy in W. Virginia happened to come up in my interview with Brian. Before I finished the story he began laughing, “That’s great! Usually Adam is the guy creeping people out…. Yeah, Adam’s my favorite press target.”
I saw hints of it before, but at that moment I realized that this isn’t just some tour thrown together by a TV show or a record label. All of these bands are friends and would have probably booked each other to play with them on their own tours. At the end of my third and final phoner, Adam’s last words were, “I usually end interviews with ‘See you on the next tour, but we’re taking some time off to write and record our next album.”
I guess that until Shadows Fall come back through town, their fans can get their fix by reading Matt and John’s new column in Guitar World magazine. The first one is already on newsstands in the December issue.
I will definitely be at the Ogden Theater November 11th to help these bands trumpet in the new movement of American metal. I can’t think of anything better than spraining my neck, ruining my still healing tattoos and leaving a show cleansed and bruised.