Napalm Flesh: Warbringer Interview

Posted October 27, 2011 in

Welcome to this week’s edition of Napalm Flesh. We have an interview with vocalist John Kevill of L.A. thrashers Warbringer (who will be in town on November 1) as well as blog exclusive reviews of new albums from Einherjer, Giant Squid and Junius and, as always, this week’s rundown of metal events in Utah.

On Friday, October 28, Cavalera Conspiracy will hit the Complex with support from Otep and Earth Crisis. Cavalera Conspiracy will also be playing songs from the Sepultura and Soulfy catalogues. Doors open at 6:30, and this 21+ event costs $22 in advance or $25 at the door.

On Tuesday, November 1, Warbringer will be at The Complex with Lazarus AD, Landmine Marathon and Diamond Plate. Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 at the door, and doors for this 21+ event open at 7 PM.

Looking ahead to next Thursday, November 3, hardcore crew Trapped Under Ice will be at Mojo’s in Ogden with Hundredth, Betrayal, Backtrack, and Take Offense. The show starts at $7, and tickets are $10 in advance, $12 day of.

Warbringer Interview.
“Thrash Revival?” Who cares what the bloggers say. Hot on the take of their new barn-burner Worlds Torn Asunder, premier L.A. thrashers Warbringer are hitting the pavement and inciting circle pits in every city along the way. I got a chance to talk with vocalist John Kevill, who was chilling in Diamond Plate’s van during a heavy spate of Baltimore rush hour traffic.

SLUG: Let’s talk about Warbringer’s new drummer. There was some inactivity due to Nic Ritter’s departure…will this be a stable lineup for you guys?
John Kevill: I think so. Everybody gets along well and does their job. There aren’t really any problems. This is actually the first time in the band’s history that we’ve had a lineup that’s worked this way. Before there was always instability and problems and shit.

SLUG: How did you find Carlos Cruz?
Kevill: We knew him from the local scene. He was in a band called Hexen that kind of became inactive around the time Nic left. He’s a serious musician who wants to do music full time for his life and he knew and liked us already. We considered him the only guy in the L.A. scene who could really do it to the level we wanted it done and I thought he was the best drummer in the scene, so it worked out pretty quick. He already knew a lot of our songs and we spent a month or so playing old songs with him, just because we wanted to get him into the feel of actually being the drummer for Warbringer before we started writing the new record.

SLUG: I know that in thrash history it’s often been an ‘L.A. sucks, the Bay Area rules’ kind of thing. How’s the L.A. scene now?
Kevill: There’s a ton of bands from L.A. I think there are more new thrash bands coming from L.A. than anywhere, especially within the last couple years. The frenzy has died down a bit, and Warbringer’s about six years old, but we’re a part of the initial emergence of new bands from there. There are tons of bands and metal fans in L.A.

SLUG: Definitely. I got exposed to Warbringer through Dark Realm Records in Downey.
Kevill: Yeah man, I get a lot of my shirts from there!

SLUG: Gary Holt did production for Walking Into Nightmares (2009) which makes sense because of his experience in Exodus. Why did you guys decide to go with Steve Evetts for Worlds Torn Asunder? I don’t know if he has a big thrash background.
Kevill: He hasn’t produced a ton a thrash records but he did a Whiplash record, a Demolition Hammer record and an Incantation record…that’s death metal, but still cool. The guy’s attitude was that he’ll work with any band he thinks is good. He knew how to push us and get really good performances out of us and when we talked to him beforehand, our ideas were kind of the same. We didn’t want a “trigger” or artificial sounding metal record. We want it to sound big and clear, but also natural and like humans are making it. He was totally on board with that because that’s what he likes as well. It worked out really well and I think he did a great job on the record altogether. I’m not that familiar with producers, and wasn’t too familiar with him before we did the record, as is often the case (laughs). But the guy’s definitely an extremely skilled producer and I had a lot of fun working with him. He has a quirky sense of humor that went along well with my own. Any time he’d work with anyone it’d be total one-on-one isolation most of the time. When I was doing the vocals it was just me and Steve all day every day.

SLUG: I think that he succeeded, because Worlds Torn Asunder does sound really huge and crisp. Sometimes it’s cool when recordings are a little muddier, but I really think thrash benefits from having crisp and clean production. Everything on the new record just sounds gigantic.
Kevill: Cool. That’s what we wanted, man. A lot of thrash bands make clean and over-produced records. You’ll see a band get a nice studio and make a sellout record or lose their aggressive soul. I feel like you can actually get that aggression out there in a bigger way as long as you go about it properly. You can make a really produced record without gutting the intensity.

SLUG: I’ve read a bit about the concept of Worlds Torn Asunder—human society destroying the planet. Did you set out with this concept in mind, or did you write all the songs and realize they had a thematic tie?
Kevill: The latter. We’ve never named a record before it was done. Never. We just write a bunch of songs, try to make them as good as we can and then find a title that fits both them and the cover artwork. Carlos came up with the name and that’s how it came to be.

SLUG: Yeah Dan Seagrave artwork…he’s done other albums for you so you already had the working relationship with him.
Kevill: Yeah. We told him we wanted something different for this record. His typical style, which is awesome, is a lot of surreal landscapes and stuff. We had one like that for our last record cover. For this one we wanted something pretty different. The concept we gave him was basically “the world in the grip of an evil power in the cosmos.” Eventually it became what we have now and I think it’s a pretty crazy looking cover. I’m pretty happy with it and it helped us come up with the title. Worlds Torn Asunder is a very literal interpretation of what’s happening on the cover.

SLUG: Is there any fear that you’re going to exhaust the war, death and destruction lyrical well?
Kevill: No, because we haven’t been writing about that stuff very much since the first album. There’s one song each on the second and third album that’s been war related, but none of the other songs specifically relate to warfare at all. There’s violence and destruction in there, but I wrote liner notes for the whole record for people to see. “Wake Up Destroy” is about a riot and the whole process of a great clash between the people and the law, and then one tyranny replaced by another, that kind of thing—It’s not strictly war themed. It definitely involves some destruction though. I really tried to make all the lyrical themes pretty different on the new record.

SLUG: People make assumptions based on your name though…
Kevill: Of course. Lots of people write reviews based on the first thing they hear and it’s like they don’t listen to the whole thing or don’t pay attention. You can’t do anything about that.

SLUG: Is “thrash revival” a stupid term that bloggers made up, or is there some validity to it? It definitely seems like there’s a crop of new thrash bands that have emerged in the last few years. I know you guys always get lumped into it.
Kevill: We are a thrash band that emerged in the last six years, though we didn’t really become known until the last three or four. It’s not a totally retarded term and it does definitely describe a wave of bands that have come out in the last four to five years but sometimes bloggers and journalists use it without bothering to ask any of the questions that are really important. ‘It’s thrash metal.’ Well, is it good thrash metal? They don’t even try to answer that. Yes, Worlds Torn Asunder is a thrash record that has similarities to thrash metal records released in the early 80’s and 90’s…but a new death metal band doesn’t get that shit, even though new death metal bands sound MORE like old death bands most of the time. I think bands get lumped into “thrash revival” and even if they’ve made really good records, they don’t get full credit for it, just because they’re playing thrash in 2011. I think that thrash metal is a legitimate genre that should always be played because as far as straight-up, aggressive, headbanging music, metal hasn’t come up with a better way to do it than thrash. In my opinion, every other form of aggressive music, music that delivers that high-velocity rush with some catchiness and head-bangin’ fun factor, really falls short. Sure you can play your brutal metal-core, and I guess that’s a “newer” sound, but it’s also a way shittier sound. I’ll take the tried and true awesome thrash (laughs).

SLUG: I think that when people use terms like “thrash revival” it can limit their identity. Municipal Waste was a “buzz” thrash band that everyone used to define thrash. A band like Warbringer definitely has a thrash base, but there are so many different elements at work…you guys both get called thrash bands, but you’re quite different.
Kevill: It’s strange. The comparisons that people make for us are just totally off. I’ve seen reviews of our albums that are like ‘Oh, it’s mid-‘80s Anthrax with Joey Belladonna vocals,’ and I’m like ‘What?!’ Sure, it’s a thrash record, but I mean…ask any fan of the genre. The whole genre doesn’t all sound exactly the same. Different bands in the same genre still have different identities and approaches to writing songs. Thrash just gets glossed over a little unfairly I think. Metal generally has a crisis of ‘where can it go that’s unexplored, and still be fully metal?’ I don’t think anybody’s answered that. There are a few bands that have put a new take on it, but usually when that happens, it’s by going and being less overtly metal. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not gonna make you raise your fucking fist.

SLUG: What were some catalytic records for you? Bands that really made you decide to play thrash music?
Kevill: Bands like Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. Manowar was definitely one of them (laughs).

SLUG: Manowar’s great!
Kevill: Yeah! Especially when I was like fifteen…I hadn’t heard music with that kind of power yet. My introduction to heavy metal was basically just straight, no sub-genre heavy metal. Then I got into power metal and then I kinda started getting into thrash. There was a time when I really hadn’t gotten past some of the different aspects of black and death metal. When you start listening to that, it kinda just sounds like noise because it’s so different from what you’re used to hearing. After going through thrash, I was able to approach that stuff in a different way and got into that stuff too. As far as thrash stuff, definitely Pleasure to Kill, Coma of Souls, Reign in Blood, Darkness Descends, Sacrifice’s Soldiers of Misfortune and Forward to Termination and then the first two Demolition Hammer albums. When we started getting into metal and starting the band, we would be finding these great records every week. John [Laux] would find something and be like ‘You gotta check this out, it’s so heavy! Check out this Artillery record!’

SLUG: People often compare you guys to Demolition Hammer…
Kevill: That’s a band that’s like us in that they’re almost “death/thrash” by virtue of the fact that they’re playing really brutal thrash with a death metal bark. It’s an influence on us. I think for sheer heaviness most of us would list them as THE heaviest thrash, or even THE  heaviest band in existence. I’ve worn their shirt in our video and we’ve proudly declared them as an influence on us. It’s our way of saying ‘How did a band like this get forgotten, and people remember so many shitty bands?’ (laughs).

SLUG: I hadn’t really heard of them until I started digging into you guys. It reminds me of how Metallica would always cite Diamond Head. It definitely got me into those guys.
Kevill: Yeah definitely. Demolition Hammer is a worthy band that people into aggressive music should know about…and a lot of them don’t.

SLUG: There’s kind of a cliche that Europeans hold metal in a higher regard. Having played all over, does that seem to the case?
Kevill: I think European folk, for whatever reason, tend to take metal a little more seriously. In the US you’ll run into people who say they like metal and it’ll be like Disturbed and Godsmack you know? (laughs). Usually in Europe when someone says they’re into metal, they’re actually into metal.

SLUG: Do Euro crowds go off like American ones?
Kevill: It depends. I have a theory that the richer a place is, the less they go off at a show. We went to Mexico City and it was just complete insanity. You go to some places that are well off and it’s not like that. Japan went off though—This was before the disaster, at least.

SLUG: Any up-and-comers from your neck of the woods that metal fans should check out?
Kevill: Witch Haven from L.A. is a really good black thrash band, and the stuff they’re writing now incorporates more of a crusty punk influence. Also, Vector from Arizona has gone and done the impossible and created a sub-style of thrash that’s unique to just themselves. Both of those bands could use some more attention.

SLUG: Any last words?
Kevill: Keep listening to metal. Keep going to shows. Support the bands you like. The best possible thing you can do to support a band you like is to keep headbanging in the front row.

Blog Exclusive CD Reviews

Indie Recordings
Street: 09.09
Einherjer = post-Maurdraum Enslaved – Vintersorg
Three years after the band's reformation, Einherjer's new album has abandoned the more shallow symphonic elements of 2003's Blot in favor of a darker, more progressive sound. There's still plenty here for fans of old-school viking metal, and songs like “Malmting” and “Balladen om Bifrost” are virtually untouched by progressive flourishes. Overall production values have taken a quantum leap forward, and the writing on Norrøn is much tighter and more varied than Einherjer's previous material. Altogether, this is a fine album to mark Einherjer's triumphant return. –Henry Glasheen

Giant Squid
Translation Loss
Street: 10.25
Giant Squid = Grayceon + Intronaut + Pelican
The very name of Giant Squid evokes a mysterious, otherworldly quality, which is very fitting for the music this band makes. Giant Squid has always been a very unique force in metal, creating music that sounds as though it truly was created deep under the sea without the trappings of any genre. Giant Squid’s 2009 album The Ichthyologist was definitely ambitious, but something never quite clicked for me—the band had a lot of interesting ideas and unique instrumentation, but things didn't flow in an impactful way. This 5-song EP, however, sees Giant Squid fully realizing their ambitious sound and creating one of the better metal releases of the year. The band’s slow, sludgy intensity is amplified by the cello of Jackie Gratz and the otherworldly yowls of vocalist Aaron Gregory. It’s hard not to compare Gregory to Serj Tankian, but their somewhat similar vocal styles lend their respective musical projects an ancient and exotic appeal. Like many other current bands, Giant Squid’s appeal lies in their ability to balance dark and light in their music, but through the unique vocals, instrumentation, and even their cover art and imagery, they create a certain alien people that is hard to describe and even harder to ignore. –Ricky Vigil 

Reports From the Threshold of Death
Street: 10.25
Junius = City of Ships + Caspian + Isis
Fresh off the release of an excellent split with Rosetta, Reports From the Threshold of Death further showcases Junius’ ability to balance weighty atmosphere with an overwhelming sense of melody. The band continually builds and builds upon a spacey sonic template, invoking a less harsh Isis or a harder version of The Appleseed Cast. The use of keyboards and swelling guitar give Junius’ music a dream-like quality, but the most striking aspect of their music is the vocals of Joseph E. Martinez. Martinez’ voice is incredibly pretty, very clean, but made lush by their constant reverberation, which further adds to the album’s spacey dreaminess.  However, the songs tend to sound rather similarly next to each other, and the album seems quite a bit longer than its 42 minutes. The vocals may turn off some metal fans, but fans of dark post-punk or shoegaze groups such as My Bloody Valentine or the Jesus & Mary Chain will probably dig Junius. –Ricky Vigil