SLAYER Lamb of God • Amon Amarth • Cannibal Corpse

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Slayer

In the beginning, when there were no blueprints, no set paths, no boundaries or steps to follow, SLAYER assaulted the world with its hybrid of metal and punk.

Vocals and Bass / Tom Araya
Guitars / Kerry King
Guitars / Gary Holt
Drums / Paul Bostaph

Lamb of God

For all its depth, diversity and cross-pollinated ambition, modern metal needs its figureheads, its heroes and its leaders. Lamb of God have been blazing mercilessly away at the forefront of heavy music for the last 15 years, upholding metal’s intrinsic values of honesty, intensity and creativity while also daring to push boundaries and think outside the heavy box. Exploding into view with 2000’s seminal debut New American Gospel, the Virginian quintet inadvertently kick-started the so-called New Wave Of American Metal at the dawn of the 21st century; and have notched up a succession of huge commercial hit albums and remorselessly toured the globe ever since. The combination of vocalist Randy Blythe’s excoriating growls and roars, guitarists Willie Adler and Mark Morton’s precision attack and the bowel-shattering rumble of rhythm section John Campbell (bass) and Chris Adler (drums) has both refined and redefined the notion of aggressive metal in the modern era.

From the raw savagery of 2003’s As The Palaces Burn and its immaculate follow-up Ashes Of The Wake in 2004 to the widescreen pomp and melodic intricacy of Sacrament in 2006, the band’s rise to glory was steady and unstoppable. By the time they released their #2 US Billboard-charting album Wrath in 2009, Lamb of God were simply one of the biggest metal bands on the planet, with a vast army of fans worldwide and a formidable reputation for delivering the goods on stage, with countless headlining tours and festival appearances contributing to their status as standard bearers for heavy music. 2012’s Resolution album marked a startling evolution in the band’s sound, displaying laudable levels of experimental fervor and sonic breadth. It built upon the successes of previous years by smashing into the US Billboard charts at #3 and looked to usher in a new era of acclaim and achievement.

Of course, what happened next is well documented. Vocalist Randy Blythe’s trials and tribulations in the Czech Republic – wherein he stood accused of causing intentional bodily harm to a fan at an LOG show in Prague in 2010 and faced a lengthy prison sentence – momentarily threatened both his freedom and the future of his band. Eventually acquitted on all charges, Randy has spoken at length on his experiences and while it would be inaccurate to state that the new Lamb of God album – VII: Sturm Und Drang – represents the story of those dark days, it undoubtedly had a huge impact on the lyrical direction that he took this time round.

“There’s no way around it, my trip to the gated community in Europe was the starting point for writing this record,” he states. “I wrote the opening track, Still Echoes, almost in its entirety. You’re familiar with the Misfits song London Dungeon, which is about when they got arrested? Well, I’m a huge Misfits fan so I thought I might as well write my own London Dungeon, except for it’s not in London. I also wrote parts of the song 512 while I was there, so I had those two things. But writing in there was an act of preservation for my morale, I suppose. Being creative, whenever I’m going through something rough and I don’t have anything else to turn to, I pick up the pen…”

With such a dramatic entry point for the writing process for Lamb of God’s seventh album, this was never going to be an upbeat affair. Inspired by those initial lyrical ideas, Randy Blythe and guitarist Mark Morton have conjured a collection of dark and menacing but ultimately inspirational lyrics for VII: Sturm Und Drang, an album that deals with extreme real life circumstances and mankind’s ability to weather the most brutal storms in the ongoing quest for peace and happiness.

“It’s a record about how people handle extreme situations,” says Randy. “The literal translation is ‘Storm And Stress’ – it sums up everything on the record, it really does, perfectly. Obviously it started with me being in prison, but this isn’t my prison album. The song 512 is asking ‘How am I handling this?’ Anyone who’s been locked up will probably understand what I’m trying to say. It’s about the brutal psychic shift you undergo when you become incarcerated, because it’s not a normal situation at all. People in prison think and act 100% differently from people on the outside. It’s a different world.”

Reflecting this overall theme, VII: Sturm Und Drang features several songs that arose from Randy’s fascination with digging deeper into the horrors of history, the strength of humanity and our never-ending battle against oppressive, dishonest regimes. Closing track Torches was inspired by the story of Jan Palach, a Czech man that set himself alight in Wenceslas Square in protest against the Soviet Union’s invasion of Czechoslovakia. The furious Engage The Fear Machine deals with the manipulation of mass media to control the masses, using scare tactics and outright lies to spread fear and paranoia, as with the recent worldwide Ebola scare and its exploitation by unscrupulous broadcasters. Meanwhile, the hair-raising brutality of Anthropoid was inspired by the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the ‘Butcher Of Prague’ and architect of the Nazis’ final solution, in 1942. His assassins were “ratted out” and found themselves holed up in a local church crypt, with 800 Nazi stormtroopers out for their blood.

“They held the Nazis off for eight hours,” Randy explains. “These guys fought ‘em until they ran out of bullets and then they killed themselves so they wouldn’t be taken prisoner. So you can go into that crypt in Prague, and I did, and you can see where these guys were trying to dig through the wall into the sewer. It’s extremely heavy. These were superior men. That’s about as high level as you can get, in terms of character and doing the right thing. Situations don’t get much more extreme than that.”

To match the jarring intensity of the lyrics, the music on Lamb of God’s seventh album had to be both powerful and emotionally shrewd. In keeping with their previous works, VII: Sturm und Drang contains all the cherished LOG trademarks, but as with its predecessor Resolution, this is not a record that sits comfortably within a cozy formula. Instead, from the flailing muscularity of Erase This to the startling melodic vocals and surging crescendos of Overlord, from the skull-rattling grooves of Still Echoes to Embers’ heart-rending mixture of fragility and grandeur, this is both a consolidation of the values that Lamb of God have long upheld /and/ a bold leap into fresh territory that once again heralds the expansion of this band’s unique vision. With guest appearances from Deftones’ frontman Chino Moreno (on Embers) and Greg Puciato from The Dillinger Escape Plan (on monumental album closer Torches), VII: Sturm und Drang is a cohesive, focused and emotionally devastating piece of work.

“The last few years were definitely a unique period for us and one that doesn’t compare to anything we’ve gone through before,” states Mark Morton. “But for me, the writing process hasn’t changed. I just play the guitar and when something cool comes up and it’s relevant and appropriate to Lamb of God, I’ll document it and get it catalogued for future use. The difference this time was that me and Willie (Adler, LOG guitarist) collaborated a lot more than ever before. It grew from bits and pieces that me and Willie both brought in and we melded them into songs, with great results.”

“We set out to try and make a 10-song record,” Randy notes. “The concept of the album is getting lost nowadays, and one reason I think is that every fucking record is 18 songs long now. Albums used to really just be moments in time and they defined where the band was at that moment. Now I think there’s a lot of overwriting… this concept of more is better, and I think that’s nonsense. So we decided on ten songs, that’s it. Josh really encouraged Mark and Willie, those two write the tunes, instead of bringing in complete compositions on their own – and we’ve done that a lot in the past on records – and he got them to work together more. That happened quite a bit with this album and I think it made it much more cohesive and a stronger record as a result.”

Having lived through times that would have stopped most bands in their tracks, Lamb of God are back in 2015 with a renewed sense of purpose and a fresh perspective. They will embark on a full European Festival tour in the Summer of 2015, and then the Summer’s Last Stand Tour across North America, as direct support for Slipknot, and also featuring Bullet For My Valentine, and Motionless In White. Lamb of God are ready to roll.

“It’ll be cool to get out and tour the world and play this new stuff for the fans”, says Randy.  “As always, I’ll try to see things I haven’t seen before, get out and do some photography and writing as well.”

“I’m really lucky to still be doing this with these guys and tour around the world,” Mark concludes. “That’s an honor and it’s one I don’t take for granted. It’s great to be part of something that’s as cool as Lamb Of God.”

Dom Lawson, June 2015

Amon Amarth

On November 16th, Amon Amarth will release their new documentary and supporting live album(s), The Pursuit Of Vikings: 25 Years In The Eye Of The Storm – which includes a retrospective documentary that features a wealth of live and behind-the-scenes content and extensive band interviews. This film tells the Swedish quintet’s history, through both their own eyes and those of the fans that have supported them along the way. It is a thrilling collection that pays respect to the faithful, as well as making for a detailed and riveting introduction for those new to their inspiring story. Paired with this documentary is the live video/audio, which contains two different sets at 2017’s Summer Breeze Festival in Dinkelsbühl, Germany, capturing the unit at their very best.

Having played the German festival numerous times over the years, and loving the family vibe they have always experienced there, Amon Amarth leapt at the chance to appear twice in the same year. Playing a secret, smaller scale set that focused primarily on older material, and then headlining the main stage with full production – including their giant sea serpent and lots of fire – allowed them to showcase their songs at their best – though putting together setlists from such a mighty catalogue was not the easiest of tasks. “For the first night, we wanted to write a set that the fans would enjoy by wholly diving into our back catalog but also keeping it interesting,” explains guitarist Olavi Mikkonen. “But putting the two shows together also made us realize that we have a lot of songs to choose from!

For the band, producer Alexander Milas (who contributed to Kerrang! and was an award-winning editor-in-chief of Metal Hammer, before starting his own creative solutions company, Twin V Ltd.) and director Phil Wallis, The Pursuit Of Vikings has been a true labor of love. “I think I first became conscious of Amon Amarth around the release of 2002’s ‘Versus the World’,” Milas states. “It was a really transitional time for metal, and it seemed there wasn’t a credible band on the heavier end of the scale that hadn’t in some way responded to or been influenced by the pioneering sounds of the Swedish death metal scene, but I distinctly remember thinking that there was something unique about these guys: the artwork, the thematic underpinnings, even that curiously timeless logo.” While their sound certainly displays strong echoes of the nation that birthed them, Amon Amarth arguably wield a unique aura, a “lusciously crafted escapism” that Milas likens to the classic bands he grew up with: Dio, Iron Maiden, and others who exist on a spectrum of their own making.

Cannibal Corpse

Many words come to mind when you hear the name Cannibal Corpse, but one truly defines the soon-to-be thirty-year death metal veterans: Unstoppable. Returning with their 14th full-length, the monstrous Red Before Black, serves to not only reiterate this but to once more raise the stakes, making it very clear who sets the standard when it comes to always compelling music that is equally brutal and complex. Moreover, the band have pushed themselves again, ensuring that it stands out from their catalog. “Throughout our career we’ve tried to improve the precision of both our musical execution and our album production, while still maintaining full-on aggression. ‘Red Before Black’ continues in that direction, but might go even further on the aggressive side of things. It’s definitely precise, but it has a rawness to it that goes beyond anything we’ve done recently,” asserts bassist Alex Webster. “We really worked super hard crafting these songs, practicing them, and getting them where we wanted to be more so than on any of our previous albums,” adds drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz. “And as Alex said, musically I think it’s the most raw sound we’ve had – and at the same time I think it’s our most focused, tightest and catchiest record.”

Having played in the region of two hundred shows around the globe in support of the titanic A Skeletal Domain, the quintet – rounded out by guitarists Rob Barrett and Pat O’Brien, and vocalist George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher – settled down to begin writing after completing their successful run on 2016’s Summer Slaughter tour. As has always been the case, there was no blueprint for what they wanted the full-length to be, rather letting it develop naturally with instruments in their hands. “Towards the end of the ‘A Skeletal Domain’ cycle we did talk about having some riffs that breathe a little more, but that was about it. When everybody started writing I believe it actually became a feel thing more than it ever has been with us,” says Mazurkiewicz. “That it wound up being a really raw, mostly straightforward kind of album wasn’t part of a big plan or anything,” Webster asserts. “We just tried to write the best songs we could, and this is how they turned out.” The aforementioned aggression, rawness and catchiness leap out from the speaker as soon as the listener hits play, “Only One Will Die” perhaps the most ruthless yet immediate album opener 2017 has seen. What follows is a relentless barrage of ferocious music that maintains the insanely high standards the unit have long held themselves to, and while there is a great diversity in dynamics there is never a let up in intensity. The devastating “Firestorm Vengeance”, for instance, sounds like the work of men only the most foolhardy would choose to mess with, likewise the title track and ultra-belligerent “Destroyed Without A Trace”. The vile, lurching passages of “Code Of The Slashers” play menacingly off against bloodthirsty thrashings, while “Scavenger Consuming Death” stands out as one of the heaviest additions to one of the weightiest catalogs in extreme music. With “Remaimed” – penned by O’Brien – unleashing some sickening tones that sound wrought from an instrument designed to devastate everything and the eerie droning breaking into “Hideous Ichor”, new flavors have been introduced to their sonic palette this time out. “We’re always looking for ways to move our sound forward while maintaining the style we’ve developed over the years,” Webster states. “I think we managed to do that with ‘Red Before Black’ – it has some new ideas, but you’ll also hear things on this album that would sound at home on our earlier releases. We want to grow as a band while staying true to our roots”.

With 2006’s Kill and the two releases that followed it – 2009’s Evisceration Plague and 2012’s Torture – the band forged a tight bond with renowned producer Erik Rutan (Hate Eternal, Goatwhore), and for Red Before Black they chose to reunite with him. Comfortable and confident in his company, Webster asserts that “he understands death metal better than just about anyone, both as a producer and as a musician”, and with his Mana Studios located not far from their home base in Florida it was also very convenient for one of the hardest touring bands in metal. “We of course love working with Erik and he did an awesome job on the albums he did for us, but we just finished a long tour cycle and then worked extremely hard on writing and practicing these songs, so being close to home for the recording was a compelling factor too,” says Mazurkiewicz. “These days, we don’t all have to be there for the whole process any more, but if one of us was needed at the studio we could get there fairly quick.” Under Rutan’s watchful eye the sessions went smoothly and without a hitch, the only thing slowing them down being the attention to detail exercised by all involved, intent on perfecting their vision. With Vince Locke once more handling the artwork, fans can be assured that it suitably reflects the music lurking behind it. “Vince’s style has been a huge part of our band’s visual image since our very first album. With ‘Red Before Black’ he’s made another killer piece, and this time the viewer has the victim’s perspective, which is a little different for us.”

With 2017 seeing a slew of stunning new releases from death metal’s old guard – including Suffocation, Obituary and Dying Fetus – it’s been a landmark year both for the genre and its early innovators, and with Red Before Black Cannibal Corpse stand strong alongside their peers. “We’re proud to be part of a scene that has great, experienced bands that stick to their guns,” affirms Webster. “Death metal is an established form of underground music that’s here to stay, and the leadership bands like these have shown by staying true to the genre is no doubt part of the reason it has such longevity.” That Cannibal Corpse have carved out a career spanning almost three decades is testament to their work ethic, innovative songwriting, passion and devotion to extreme music – though it still remains an astounding feat to the members, as Webster makes humbly clear. “Who could have imagined this? When we started, even Black Sabbath hadn’t been around for three decades. There simply was no precedent for a lifelong career in metal, of any kind, let alone a relatively new form like death metal. We’ve been unbelievably lucky, and we are so grateful to our fans for making it possible.” In typically grounded fashion, they continue to forge ahead, seeing no end in sight, Webster stating he likes to think they have yet to write their best record, while Mazurkiewicz outlines their goals: “I would say we just want to keep it going, try to better ourselves – and finally open for Slayer!”