Napalm Flesh: East of the Wall interview

Posted November 3, 2011 in
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Welcome to another edition of Napalm Flesh. This week we have an interview with New Jersey prog-sludgers East of the Wall, who will be in town this Saturday at Burt’s Tiki Lounge. We also have reviews of new albums from The Body, Charnel House, Heartless, Megadeth, Sick of It All and Speedwolf. And, as always, we have a rundown of this week’s metal events happening in Salt Lake and beyond.

Tonight Burt’s Tiki Lounge hosts Honky and Broxa with locals Dwellers opening up the show. It all goes down tonight at 9:00 for $7 (as long as you’re 21+, of course).

On Friday November 4, The Acacia Strain and Terror roll into In the Venue with support from Stray From the Path and Harm’s Way. Tickets are $15 in advance and $18 day of. Get out there early, because doors open at 6:00.

On Saturday, East of the Wall will be at Burt’s. Their new album The Apologist is one of the best releases of 2011, so expect big things from their live show. Locals I Am the Ocean and Loom will open the show up. $7 gets you in, and the show starts at 9:00.

On Tuesday November 8, Mastodon will perform at The Depot in support of their new album The Hunter (which I promise is way better than you think it is). Along for the ride are the always excellent Dillinger Escape Plan and Red Fang, whose Murder the Mountains is one of the most overlooked albums of the year, in my opinion. Tickets for this 21+ show are $25 in advance and $30 day of and the show starts at 8:00.

Finally, next Wednesday sees Puscifer returning to town at the Capitol Theatre. Tickets range from 29.50 to 49.50, and this show is likely to sell out. Doors open at 6:30 and the show begins at 7:30.

Interview with East of the Wall guitarist Chris Alfano

SLUG: It seems metal fans, critics and even the bands themselves are quick to stick labels on music. Do you classify your music or confine it to any specific genre? Why or why not?
Chris Alfano: Nah, not really. The thing I’ve always liked about metal as a genre is that it’s so vague, almost meaningless by now, and I mean that as a good thing. We just write riffs and put them together as songs. There’s never any discussion about fitting things into a specific mold—just meeting the requirement of “this has to be something that none of us hate” is tough enough.

: East of the Wall is often compared to Mastodon, Baroness and other "proggy" metal bands. Who are some influences (both inside and outside of metal) that might surprise fans?
Alfano: We have a pretty broad rage of influences between the five of us. I love quirky pop stuff like Brian Wilson, They Might Be Giants, Johnathan Coulton, Ween, etc, and Matt and I both have quite a few OSTs from old 16 and 32-bit videogames. Brett will put on some older hip-hop like Slick Rick occasionally, and Conway has quite a few jazz records. It varies. Plus you know, metal.

SLUG: Your track "False Build" was recently premiered online by NPR. What do you think about traditionally non-metal outlets giving exposure to bands like East of the Wall?
Alfano: Well the dude from NPR was named Lars, so he has to be at least kind of metal. I’ve never met him personally, but I like to picture him triumphant atop of the tallest mountain in Norway with a spine around his neck like a medallion.

: Ressentiment garnered quite a bit of positive attention and even made some "Best of" lists at the end of last year. Did the band feel any increased pressure in approaching the apologist because of this?
Alfano: We had most of [The Apologist] written by the time [Ressentiment] came out, and especially by the time people were making year-end lists, so it didn’t factor in too much. I’d say the bigger motivator was that we weren’t totally happy with Ressentiment. There were some sonic experiments and it was a great learning experience, but by the time it came out we had a good grasp on what worked and what didn’t, and that affected some of the choices we made this time around. Probably the three biggest lessons were that we wanted to integrate the vocals into the music more instead of on top of it, to maintain more melody in the heavy sections, and to break up the longest songs into more digestible pieces. Also, after the writing was mostly done we began to talk about the recording process and we realized that we wanted to move to a more natural, live-sounding recording, which is why we went to Andrew Schneider, who I think did an amazing job.

SLUG: How did writing and recording The Apologist compare to Ressentiment?
Alfano: The writing process was largely the same. I mean, we had different goals that I mentioned above, but in terms of what was happening in the room it was pretty similar: all of us just hashing things out in the room, and then occasionally bringing things home and emailing each other more ideas for parts or overdubs. The only real difference is that we waited until most of the songs were written before working out a majority of the vocals. Part of the reason why things worked out that way was that we weren’t sure exactly where the vocal and instrumental sections should be until we had a pretty good grasp of the shape of the record as a whole, almost like it was one long song. The other factor was that it took a little longer to settle on an album title and theme. I had a concept that I was pushing for, and I wanted to call the album “Naif,” which actually wound up as the title for the first song. The theme didn’t change much, but the majority of the guys just didn’t like the word as an album title, so we made a slight left turn and went with “The Apologist.” We like to have a loose central theme for our records (see Ressentiment), and my hope was that by settling on that theme before delving into the lyrics Kevin and I could keep our metaphors consistent and more effectively communicate our ideas than we had in the past, when the writing had been scattered over multiple sessions. Unfortunately the downside was that we had a short, high-pressure timeframe in which we had to write a hell of a lot of vocals and lyrics. There were a lot of late nights and frayed tempers involved. Everyone’s pretty happy with the musical composition of all the vocals, but lyrically I think a little more time to step back, stew on things, and revise later would have helped. Ultimately it doesn’t bother me much because we’re not a vocally or lyrically-focused band, but I do take pride in our lyrics and it’s one of the few things I would have changed if given access to a time machine or TARDIS.

SLUG: The balance between intricate and harsh passages is something that I think East of the Wall does really well. Is this hard to achieve, or was it something that came naturally to the band?
Alfano: It’s just something we’ve always done, all the way back to when we were in Postman Syndrome ten years ago. It was more uncommon then but I don’t know if it’s that unique anymore. I guess one thing we try to avoid is having a clear differentiation between the heavy and light moments. Some bands do a good cop/bad cop thing and whenever we venture into that territory someone in the band usually calls us on it and we turn the car around. We just really like having good dynamics in our songs and there’s usually someone who has an idea of a new place to take things. A great compliment that we’ve gotten in two separate reviews of The Apologist was that we had a sense of musical “adventure.” I like that a lot. I hadn’t really though of the band that way before, but it really sums up our methodology pretty well. We just want to always venture to new places, and since we’re all living in New Jersey, I guess it’s musical escapism.

SLUG: Going along with that, how do you maintain this same balance in the live setting? What can people expect from an East of the Wall live show?
Alfano: A lot of loud amplifiers and drums. Part of the advantage of having three guitar players is that it helps us orchestrate our arrangements with more subtlety, so on The Apologist we didn’t have to do much studio trickery or overdubbing. For the most part it’s just three guitars, bass, drums, and a couple vocalists. So live we lose the occasional vocal harmony and textural background chord, but 95% of the song is unchanged live. We’re really excited to be touring as a five-piece this Fall, which is something we hadn’t done before, since Matt only plays local shows. We used to have to arrange our songs for just two guitars for out-of-state shows, which strips some of the detail away. For this tour we have Ray Suhy from Portland, Maine’s The Baltic Sea on tour with us. I can’t wait to finally be able to play all these songs the way they were meant to be played. Ray is such an amazing guitar player: he learned an hour’s worth of material in a month. I think people, especially who’ve seen us as a four-piece, will be really impressed by what that third guitar adds to our sound, and how we’re able to recreate what we achieved on the record.

SLUG: There's some really ambitious stuff in terms of structure and content on The Apologist. Is there anything you guys considered doing that didn't make it onto the album?
Alfano: No, we just wrote and wrote until we ran out of time and then recorded what we had. The final song that we finished before entering the studio, “Nurser Of Small Hurts,” was only completed a couple of days before we started tracking. In fact, there were still a few details that we were working out in the studio, which is something that we rarely do.

SLUG: Ressentiment was released on vinyl a while after the CD release, but The Apologist is being released on vinyl at the same time as on CD. Why the change? Do you think vinyl is a valid format, or just a fad aimed at obsessive nerds such as myself?
Alfano: Really the change was just because we found someone who’d be interested in putting out the record right away. We were trying to find a label for Ressentiment on vinyl from day one but it just took us a while. Sean at Antithetic dropped us a line and he was a pleasure to work with. It was great knowing that vinyl was going to happen because we wised up and planned the song sequence to account for it. If you have Ressentiment on wax you know that we had to rearrange the song order so that it would fit on a double LP. I’m really not sure what the vinyl market is, but apparently there’s a demand, so we’re happy to accommodate it. There’s a growing sentiment that even CDs are anachronistic and for collectors only, but I think that depends on your perspective. Most labels will tell you that 80% of their business still comes from physical copies and not digital. I’m sure that’s 80% of a smaller number than it was years ago, but regardless- 80% of the people who are still buying music are buying it as a physical product. If the vinyl numbers are growing then yeah, I guess it makes sense that those people are buying it for the artwork. Also, it just sounds better, or so I’ve been told anyway, since I don’t own a record player. I can say at least that The Apologist’s vinyl master came from 24-bit, 192k masters, and when I compare those WAV files against the 16-bit CD it’s a noticeable difference. So I’m assuming it’s audiophiles and people who like to look through the layout. I’m glad those people are out there: not because I think it’s necessarily better to have a physical product, but because wanting a tangible album is a side-effect of being a real record enthusiast. And that rules.

SLUG: I listen to the Tell 'em Steve Dave podcast and was stoked when I heard an East of the Wall song at the end of an episode a few months ago. Are you guys comic book fans? Kevin Smith fans? Fans of comedy in general?
Alfano: No. I don’t like to smile. I don’t look as cool when I smile.
But really, no I’ve actually never been a comic book guy. Along with table-top games it’s one of the few branches of nerdery that I’ve never ventured into. Matt may have been into comics a bit when he was younger, but not much. I know recently he’s read a few graphic novels like Preacher but I don’t think he’s a big fan. I like a couple Kevin Smith movies well enough I suppose. I used to live (and Brett and Kevin still do) a few blocks away from the store they shot Clerks in. It still looks the same, even though the video store has understandably long-since shut down. I’m pretty sure that the only reason Quick Stop (or whatever it’s called) is still in business is name recognition from the movie. Last I checked they were the only place on Earth that you could still buy Bonkers, but that was years ago, so maybe you can’t anymore.

: Any concrete plans for after the tour wraps up (additional tours, new music, side projects, etc.)?

Alfano: More touring. We have a couple more tours in the works, and I wish I could say what they are, but none are definite yet. But we’ll definitely be on the road again within the next year in the U.S. and probably Europe. And yeah, we’ll also be writing and gigging more with El Drugstore, Argonauts, and some other projects that haven’t been announced yet. If we don’t keep busy as hell we might get distracted by the New Jersey air and choke to death.

CD Reviews

The Body
Corleone Records
Street: 01.01
The Body = Thou + Corrupted + 5ive
Interestingly, this compilation was only recently handed to me after being released in January 2011, and I hadn’t heard of it until it was in my hands. Shows how up-to-date I am, apparently. Not that I’m complaining—I missed the boat on The Body initially, so any chance to have my ears pummeled by them is welcome. Anthology is exactly that: an anthology of tracks from various demos, splits, and tour CDRs that, until earlier this year, were rather difficult to come by. It’s easy to see how the duo came to write and record 2010’s amazing All the Waters of the Earth Turn to Blood after listening to these early tracks—droning guitar and drums mixed with the reverb up to 11 stack beautifully over lunatic asylum, self-torture driven vocals, and create the kind of atmosphere that is only conducive to two things: introspection or mutilation. Definitely worthy of a space on your shelf. –Gavin Hoffman

Charnel House
Sygil Records
Street: 09.27
Charnel House = Bone Awl + Gallhammer + Gnaw Their Tongues
Whoa. No doubt about it, this is one of the better releases I’ve heard in a long time, and from a band I’d never previously heard of, at that. Hailing from Bloomington, Illinois, Charnel House combines the best elements of primitive black metal with seriously ugly noise/drone and off-key (yet strangely hypnotic and mesmerizing) vocals and don’t apologize for being non-traditional. There are barely any drum fills on the entire record, and the guitars only sneak forward to serve as low-tuned, gut-crushing accents, which only helps to consider the entire album as a single piece as opposed to six separate songs. After several listens, it’s a bit difficult to discern where one song ends and another begins because the instrumentation and attack don’t let up, but, in Charnel House’s case, that’s actually a good thing. This is a release best enjoyed in solitude, and Charnel House is a band that is sure to further expand the already great divide between what is “tr00” and what is not. –Gavin Hoffman

Hell Is Other People
Southern Lord
Street: 11.08
Heartless = All Pigs Must Die + Cursed + Nails
I’m not sure why Southern Lord suddenly decided to sign a bunch of ass-kicking, crusty, evil hardcore bands, but I definitely like it. Hell Is Other People barely cracks the 20 minute mark, but that’s all it needs. This is raw unbridled anger set to a soundtrack of squealing guitars and skull crushing guitars, topped off with some of the most pissed off vocals I’ve heard in a while. Underneath the noisy blasts of violence lays some pretty well structured hardcore (most notable on “Resuscitate Suffocate”) and the band deviates from the straightforward style of some of their peers with slower passages and time changes (“Undulations,” “Deject”). This is a nice move, especially since this style of music, ass-kicking and awesome though it may be, is often overwhelming in its sameness. If you like your music dark, hard, simple and heavy, Heartless is the band for you. Check them out at Raunch Records on December 3 with Full of Hell. –Ricky Vigil

Street: 11.1.11
Megadeth = Countdown to Extinction + Endgame + Rust in Peace
A triumphant return for Ellefson, Mustaine’s patented yowl real high in the mix and fretboard finagling skills still at the forefront, Th1rte3n doesn’t stray too far from the classic Megadeth formula. Sure, it’s notably darker than 2009’s Endgam—it finds the band going back to old and half formed songs from earlier days (shit gets gnarly when you get older) while trying to progress into the post-millennial metal-scape. “Public Enemy no. 1” is an obvious standout, old style NWOBHM riffing and plenty of political furor. Like many ‘Deth releases, it’s a little spotty and lopsided in parts (“Wrecker” sounds a little dopey), but still calls upon the golden age blitzkrieg riffing of Rust era Megadeth to propel itself through the muck (“Never Dead” is proto-thrash done very well). Maybe the dude believes in Christ, markets his own coffee and occasionally makes disparaging remarks about…well everyone….but damn can the dude riff. Nothing to really complain about and a whole heaping lot to enjoy, I’m just stoked we can still talk about Megadeth with a (mostly) straight face here in 2011. Fans won’t be let down, but it won’t win over any naysayers. Who cares. If they’re not on board by now, there’s no hope for ‘em anyway. –Dylan Chadwick

Sick of it All
XXV Nonstop
Century Media
Street: 11.1.11
Sick of it All = Rest in Pieces + Straight Ahead + Agnostic Front
An entire album of re-recorded oldies may seem like a lame cash grab or haggard plea for relevance (cuz let’s face it…it seemed kinda dorky when Suicidal did it too), but then again Sick of it All isn’t really your average hardcore band. They’ve weathered every storm in its shifting mileu for twenty-five years and somehow managed to retain a strong fan base that isn’t comprised entirely of weird Euros…and that’s worthy of celebration in any genre. The selection of cuts is nice, all pre-Century Media material and a few old bangers (cuz “Clobberin’ Time” is still one o’ the best mosh intros in existence. Go walk into moving traffic if you disagree). Thicker production, beefier riffs and a palpable injection of melody, I can’t say I dig these anymore than the originals (clearer production isn’t always better), but I’ll room mosh when I hear “G.I. Joe Head-Stomp” no matter who’s singing it, nahmean? The band and the legacy is done plenty of justice, and twenty-five years seems to have only given them more youthful enthusiasm. Born Against fans need not apply, but all others, you could do much worse. Fressssh fah 2012, you suckazzz. –Dylan Chadwick

Ride With Death
Hell’s Headbangers
Street: 11.22
Speedwolf = Inepsy + Razor + Agent Steel
If your favorite NWOBHM bands were forcibly coerced into an apocalyptic biker rally to the center of oblivion, Ride With Death—all fleeting punk blasts of barely decipherable gravel-gurgling, clattering drums and razor-wire riffin’ all cobbled together like some sordid leather-jacketed, bullet-belted orgy from a Lemmy Kilmister coloring book—would be playing. It’s well-trodden (motörbiked?) territory for sure, but copped with such grease, grit and nihilistic precision and driven by such steady and undulating messiness (“I am the Demon?” Woah!), you’ll forgive ’em for abusing that corny “wolf” moniker. Imagine Zeke, playing Metallica’s “Hit the Lights” (No Life ‘Til Leather version) over and over, except their instruments are melting and they’re high on trucker speed, and a mushroom cloud just choked out the nuclear desert sky and your skin’s bubbling right off the bone cuz Rob Halford tossed your corpse into a pile of burning Metal Massacre LPs. Imagine that. –Dylan Chadwick