Dead But Dreaming: The Famine

Posted March 10, 2011 in
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Ladies and gentlemen, I welcome you to Dead But Dreaming, a humble metal blog broadcast in infamy from the shores of beautiful R’lyeh. In this, our first edition, I interrupt The Famine’s Nick Nowell in the middle of his day job (shockingly, not in the church-burning industry, but at the Dallas-area Habitat For Humanity) to find out how the death metal quintet redeemed themselves from a hellish year with their new album, The Architects of Guilt. I’ve also got two web-exclusive CD reviews to throw on your sacrificial altar: The Hymns of a Broken Man, the long-awaited project from Killswitch Engage’s Jesse Leach and Times of Grace, and Bizzaro World, the latest release from German heavyweights Deadlock.
Don’t forget!

Tohight the Atticus Metal Tour makes its stop at In The Venue. This is an all-ages show, tickets are $20 at Smith’s tix, and with a lineup boasting such names as Born of Osiris, Darkest Hour, The Human Abstract, and Norma Jean, it’s sure to be a night of fury.

Saturday, local favorites Arsenic Addiction will be playing at Five Monkeys in celebration of the birth of their guitarist The Butcher. Only $5 at the door, the show starts at 8, and from personal experience, these delightfully dead debutantes of funeral metal know how to party. Also, Saturday at the Urban Lounge, Subrosa is having their CD release show with INVDRS and Blackhole. This FREE show starts at 9:30, and Subrosa will be selling their new album No Help For the Mighty Ones for only $5!

Looking for something appropriately solemn to do after church this week? From the exotic ports of Singapore, we’ve got Wormrot, joined by Ninth Zealot and Doomed to Extinction, playing at Raunch Records this Sunday at 6 pm. This is an all ages show with a $5 suggested donation for the touring band.

And more good news, our friends at Amazon have declared March the Month of Metal! To celebrate, they’re giving away this excellent 11-song MP3 album including tracks from Deicide, Winds of Plague, the aforementioned Wormrot and Architects. It’s free, people! Free! So download and be grateful. There are kids in Siberia who go to bed without metal every night. You can grab the free download here!

The Famine Interview:

SLUG: In 2010, you guys lost vocalist Kris McCaddon, and you stepped up from bass to take over as front man of The Famine. Was that a change you were excited about, or was it more of a means to an end for the band?
Nick Nowell: You’re probably asking the wrong person, it was really weird for me. I love Kris, Kris is my brother- not literally, of course, but you understand.  I really have a connection with him, he and I, I think, are kindred spirits in a lot of ways, so when the rumblings in the ranks started to take place about maybe Kris not being the right guy for the job stepping into this record, stepping into this new era for the band, I was really quick to recues myself from the entire situation, just because I felt early on that I had a vested interest because my name was probably the first on the list as a potential replacement. I’m not afraid of making hard decisions or being involved with things like that, but I just wanted to be able to sleep at night knowing I wasn’t actively vying to take my friend’s spot at his expense. So that was a decision Mark and Andy came to, and I told them early on, “Listen, I’d love to be the vocalist for The Famine, I’d like to think I could bring something to the table, but I also love playing bass, if you guys demoted me to tin flute I’d still want to be part of The Famine. And I love Kris and I love sharing a stage with Kris, so whatever decision you guys make, I’ll support it, but I just don’t feel comfortable being part of the decision-making process.” Andy made the phone call to Kris to let him know what the situation would be. I think in a lot of ways Kris was kinda pushed before he jumped in his decision. And right after that of course, Kris was really upset—cue righteous indignation, all that stuff. I actually went out of the country, I went on vacation to Mexico. I didn’t have phone or internet access or anything like that. I came back and they had announced that I was the singer for The Famine, which was news to me. But at least I can live with myself knowing that I feel like I came about it honestly. You know, it would be dirty and underhanded for me to have been vying for Kris’s spot from day one, because that wasn’t my agenda. Like I said, I would have played tambourine for these guys, I was just happy to be a part of it. I love the music, I like the guys and I like what they’re doing, I certainly don’t want to sacrifice friendships for my personal gain. If I want to scream into a microphone, I can do that on my own time.

: How did you guys find a replacement bassist for you so quickly?
Nowell: Jon [Richardson] and I had played in several bands together before. When I took Jon on tour the first time he had recently turned 18, he was fresh and green and I think had played in a Primus cover band no less than two years before that. He’s one of those guys I wish everyone could have the opportunity to meet. He’s just a great guy who’s genuinely interested in everything people have to say, even if it’s hypercritical. I’m jealous of him and his composure and the way he handles things. I’m sure we could probably sequester a lot of really talented people into being into the band and  if finding a great bass player was our only priority, we could have a list a day long. But a lot of them are dickheads. You have to think about the fact that this guy, first of all, in becoming a part of the band is going to be a really important part of my life and future, and second of all, I’m going to have to live in a four-by-eight enclosed space with this guy for a month of my life at a time when we’re all at our hungriest and sleepiest and most cranky and furthest from home. I want it to be a guy who I can count on lifting me up instead of just a wild card, and we lucked out with Jon because he’s also an awesome bass player. And we wouldn’t have brought him in the band if he wasn’t a great bass player. I mean, he’s a way better bass player than I could ever hope to be which was just an added bonus. In a lot of ways I feel like Jon coming into the band doesn’t get enough credit for really kind of changing the sound on this record, cause I think he brought a lot into the dynamic. I was always a guitar player before I joined The Famine, and so I kind of approach bass from that mentality, and I liked playing bass and it definitely opened me up to new musical possibilities and kind of set me into a new frame of motion. But Jon has been living it, he’s been recording on tapes in basements and playing punk rock bands and watching people get stabbed and stuff for 10 years-plus, so he came into it with just a great attitude and nimble-but-Star-Wars-loving fingers.

SLUG: Do you think The Famine’s direction or message has changed with you on vocals? Do you see yourself taking the band anywhere that it hasn’t already been, say like Jon is doing with bass?
Nowell: I would love to be able to stand here and take credit for version 2.0 and leading the way, but all I can say regarding that is I know I only have so many tricks in my bag. Back when these guys were in Embodyment, back in the day, I was always so blown away by their technicality and musicianship. Like I said before, I’m yelling into a microphone essentially—there’s nothing too glorious about that and there only so many things you can do with it, so I wanted to try to bring a little of my personality, maybe even a little of my politics, my view to the plate because I felt like that was something that wasn’t necessarily there before. And it makes sense that it wasn’t there before, because Kris didn’t write lyrics, they were written by the band, so it was kind of ‘catch as catch can’. If someone had an idea for the song, then hey, cool, you go write the song. This one’s about your friend that got divorced, this one’s about 9/11, and I look back on that record that I was so fortunate to be a part of, and I’m not ashamed of any of it, I still like that record. But it was, I would say, incongruous. I kinda had the opportunity this time to form more of a united front. I have a background in English and education, and I’m also a turbo-political person, and I didn’t necessarily want to step up on stage, and make a record that’s like, “Oh these guys love Propagandhi!”, which I do, but I could never make a political record like Propagandhi could make a political record. I could never make a record about the culture wars like maybe Craft did, or Nation States, things like that. I guess I just try to bring a little bit of all of that into the realm of death metal which I think is something that probably hasn’t been done regularly since bands like Forsook and early Brutal Truth in the early ‘90s, and those are more grindcore bands. A lot of death meal is about cutting chicks up and eating labia, cartoonish and hokey and I love it, and it is what it is. It helps conjure an image, certainly, but it’s also not really progressing the genre forward at all. I’m certainly no torch bearer for a hard-line liberal agenda. It wasn’t like the band said, “Alright Nick, go ahead and do what you want to do,” I think it probably would have been an entirely different record if they had said, “Yeah, say exactly what it is that you believe.” We all kind of took it on ourselves to make a record that we could all stand behind. It’s a big, important thing for us at this point in the band and our lives just to be honest and real. If someone comes up to a show and asks us about the political implications of a line in a song, I want all four of us to be able to stand behind the answer. All four of us have different views on politics and religion and culture war, just like any four people you put in a room that are freethinking, intelligent individuals would. It’s a more difficult task to find a common thread that runs between everybody and hopefully that is the line I was able to tread on this record.

SLUG: Being on Solid State, you occasionally get labeled a Christian band, which you’ve said before in interviews the band doesn’t appreciate.  Is there a philosophy that The Famine does carry as a whole? What is that common string as a band that you guys carry no matter what?
Nowell:  I understand why people bring those questions and comparisons to the table—Solid State has a history of putting out records that are essentially heavy metal praise albums from time to time. The fact of the matter is I’m not a Christian, I’m an atheist. Jon is Jewish, Mark and Andy both have their own takes on their personal Christian faith. My hope is that it has no bearing on what we do when the four of us come together. It’s really tricky, because it’s more difficult to divorce from it. Like if I say I have no religion whatsoever, people make the logical assumption that I’m the mouthpiece for the band, and therefore, we have no religion as a band, and that therefore, we’re anti-religion, and that therefore we’re grinding that axe. They’re really ready to kinda place that label, and that’s fine, and if that helps them sleep at night, whatever. I mean no disrespect, and if all you want to listen to is Christian music, that’s cool, and if that’s edifying and uplifting to you in your personal life, and those are your convictions, I can support that as long as you feel like you’re doing something for yourself. If the guitar player is awesome, and the drums are great, and you really like the vocals, and you can’t understand what he’s saying anyway, are you so principled that the very idea of consuming something with which you may potentially disagree is just violently disgusting to you? Honestly, that’s important, and that’s what’s wrong with this world.

: How do you guys think The Architects of Guilt has been received in comparison to the earlier records?
Nowell: It’s been pretty cool. We’ve gotten a lot of really good reviews coming on, which was awesome. We got good reviews for the last record also, but I think a lot of that was, “Hey this is Embodiment 2.0.” Jesus Christ Magazine was really ready to give us their stamp of approval. I think they thought The Famine was going to be a band who was going out there and really thumping the Bible hard. The record came out and some of the lyrics on that record were written by some of the guys who have very strong faith, very strong religion, and so there were a couple of tracks on there that probably backed up that mentality if that was the way you wanted to interpret it. The reviews for this record were awesome, I think maybe for the opposite reasons, because that was kind of the persona that we were labeled with from pretty early on. We weren’t trying to push back against that as much as we were just trying to create a more cohesive record, but I think in certain circles and the certain most vocal circles, it’s like- please allow me this aside—why is the NRA considered this super-important voting arm, super-important mechanism and politicians kowtow to their wills and desires, when they make up maybe one percent of the voting population? It’s because they’re the most vocal. People who are into the NRA and into the amendment, they really know how to beat the drum. I don’t want to say [we’ve] suffered, cause that’s a strong word, but there has been a little of a backlash with me doing interviews and things like that, coming out and going, “Hey listen, we’re not a Christian band, this isn’t a Christian record, if that’s what you want that’s cool, I have no disrespect for that.”  But me calling Dave Mustaine an asshole has offended some people which By the way, Dave Mustaine, if you ever have the time to listen to anything that I’ve said, I take that back, I apologize.

SLUG: Duly noted!
Nowell: [laughs] I love Megadeth so much! It was an offhanded remark that I didn’t mean, it was disingenuous. You know, or me saying like “piss poor,” for instance, on one of the songs on the record. They’re like “Well why would this band, if their mission is to uplift the lord’s message, why would they feel it necessary to say piss?”

SLUG: You’d think the logical deduction would be, “Well maybe that’s not the goal.”
Nowell: Well, no, because what’s funny about this is there are bands—I can’t remember what band it is, like Impending Doom or something like that, one of the more kind of outspokenly religious of the extreme metal bands—has a song about taking a piss on the devil or something like that. People are way stoked on it, when they’re singing about taking a piss on the devil, getting all victorious, saying, “Yeah, the devil sucks man!”  But when I’m taking about the dragging death of James Byrd Jr., I’m saying we all have a piss-poor excuse for not talking about it or being aware of it, it makes people a bit more uncomfortable.

SLUG: I can see how that would backfire for some people.
Nowell: And I don’t mean that as a knock on Impending Doom, I just saw that as one of the kind of responses that we’re venting about. A big part of the way we’re trying to approach this album and this record and the message we’re trying to put out there is: everyone bears a measure of acceptance. As a Christian nation, it’s really, really easy, especially after September 11th, to vilify the entire Islamic faith as being a bunch of extremists who are hell-bent on our demise. But if you were to give me the task of cherry-picking verses from the Bible to apply the same message, it wouldn’t take me long to do that. We’re all so ready to pull the trigger, and part of my personal belief is we could all do with just a little measure of understanding. If we could spend a little bit less time vilifying other people and a little bit more time understanding, I think we could take some great leaps.

SLUG: What is The Famine listening to right now?

Nowell: Mark and Andy are old as dirt, and outdated, and awful [laughs]. Andy loves Peter Gabriel, and not in an ironic sense. He was a child of the late ‘70s, grew up in the ‘80s, so that was kind of his genre of pop music. That guy is like a storehouse—you could ask him what Kajagoogoo’s second B-side was, and he could tell you immediately. And I don’t know if that’s a vestige of his childhood, or if it’s some deep seated love he still fosters, but I’m the same way for 90s alternative rock. I’m not like, pounding the pavement with my Our Lady Peace records, but if you ever wanted some obscure 90s alternative rock knowledge, I’d be the guy to go to. I think in the world of metal, Death’s albums are all being re-released and re-mastered with bonus tracks, and our bass player Jon is a huge Death fan.  That’s really refreshing because you hear the last Death record and then Necrophagous, who is a band I really love and I feel are on the cutting edge of death metal still and they have been for several years. You go back and you listen to Death’s last record and you go, “Necrophagous would not exist without this album that no one knows about!” cause Chuck Schuldine died 3 years after that record was made. I don’t want to call us consummate historians on death metal or anything like that, but when it comes to extreme music, that’s more of the stuff we’re into, like Carcass’s first albums and we love anything Cannibal Corpse. I think Jon and I are more in the Corpsegrinder field, and Andy and Mark are more in the Chris Barnes field, but that could be because of our age when we got into them. Bands like Suffocation and Napalm Death and Brutal Truth, that’s when it comes to metal. I think we only listen to metal 30 percent of the time. Sometimes it gets to be a little too break-neck. I consider myself to be a heavy metal fan, I’ve got the long hair, a closet full of black T-shirts with pointy logos you can’t read, and yet even I can’t listen to metal too much or it I just get tired—I start taking too many naps [laughs].

: Well thank you sir, this has been a delight. Anything else you want the fans to know?
Nowell: We’re playing South by Southwest on Wednesday March 16th at the 311 Club. It’s a free show and it’s all-ages, we’d love to meet everyone. We’re looking to hit the road pretty substantially this year. We’ve always done limited dates and limited engagements—we toured for seven weeks back to back and it broke our backs. After that, we were kind of soured on the whole thing, but with the new lineup and the new record it’s something we’re all really passionate about, so we really want to take it out there.

: So you’re hopefully going to tour longer than you have in the past?
Nowell: Absolutely. Cause we’re not dealing with people on two coasts anymore. With us being down here and Kris in New York City, anytime we wanted to do anything, we had to clear $700 worth of headway to get Kris down here to even start and now we’re all down here. I think this is a better record, just from my personal tastes anyway, so I feel like we have a stronger product. And I think we’re a better band together just like any band would after playing several more years. So, our goal is definitely to be able to tour and bring it out to people.  And blah blah, it’s sacrifice for us, but you know what?  Paying 15 dollars to get into a show is a lot of a sacrifice for some people when they have to be there till 2 in the morning, and then be at work at 6am at the 7-11. But I hope that we’ll be able to tour, that’s our plan, and I hope that if we do, people are encouraged to come out and check it out, even if you’ve never heard of us before. I’d love to talk to you about the Jonestown Massacre, and Ruby Ridge and things like that. Outside of that, free the West Memphis Three, that’s all I have to say.

Blog Exclusive CD Reviews:

Bizzaro World
Lifeforce Records
Street: 03.15
Deadlock = Lacuna Coil + Caliban + Dark Tranquility
This is my first experience with Deadlock, and right away I have to say: what a surprisingly great record. While the concept of Bizzaro World ’s dystopian pains are meant to feel strange and uncomfortable, this album is so tightly structured in its excellence that chaos is far from mind.  “Virus Jones” opens the album with techno samplings, before they smash your face in with a rough beat and distorted guitars. Sabine Scherer’s voice comes soaring in the pre-chorus, backing Johannes Prem’s thick deep screams, and it’s a shockingly beautiful and catchy moment. She has that clear-as-a-bell sweetness that you rarely find in metal maidens (except maybe Ashley Ellyllon of Abigail Williams), and it adds a serious layer of emotion. “You Left Me Dead” is part love song, part suicide note, blending piano, crashing guitars, and shadowy drumming. “Falling Skywards” and “Brutal Romance” showcase a bit more of the techno sampling, but it never overwhelms the pure metal beneath. “Paranoia Extravaganza” closes with dark strength, and its evocative vocals will crawl under your skin before you can stop it. The imaginative song construction of this band is worth its weight in gold, and they’ve got a new fan in me. - Megan Kennedy

Times Of Grace

The Hymn Of A Broken Man
Roadrunner Records
Street: 01.28
Times Of Grace = Killswitch Engage - Howard Jones + All That Remains
Patience is a virtue, or so I’m inclined to believe now that former Killswitch Engage front man Jesse Leach has finally brought us Times of Grace, his long-incubating project with Adam Dutkiewicz. “Strength In Numbers” opens the album with a one-two punch of sharp military drumming and speedy licks before Jesse’s voice erupts like a prophet addressing his masses . “Where The Spirit Leads Me” sounds like a missing Alive Or Just Breathing? cut with windblown clean over gravel-deep vocals, tricky guitar work and thumping drums; it‘s catchy as hell and lingers in your brain. “The Forgotten One” is a fantastic ballad, and the acoustic guitars and lonesome cowboy feel of it only makes the vocal harmonies stronger.  Mosh pit fiends will love the fist-in-the-air anthem “Fight For Life” and the wicked shredding of “Hope Remains.” “Until The End Of Days” is a forceful dichotomy, beginning with dreamy chords and clean singing before it drops into a death metal hell of thick screams, merciless drums and discordant minor notes. It’s not reinventing metal, but I dare say it is a masterpiece just the same, and it’s right where Jesse Leach belongs. - Megan Kennedy