Latest release: The Age of Hell (3 Wise/Sony)

It would be something of an understatement to say that the last twelve months has been tough for Ohio’s Chimaira. After scoring a US Top 30 hit with The Infection in early 2009, in late 2010 long-serving bassist Jim LaMarca left the band, drummer Andols Herrick was apparently dismissed or resigned a short time later and following the recording of The Age of Hell is was announced that keyboards player Chris Spicuzza had also departed the line-up. Indeed, the album itself was recorded entirely by vocalist Mark Hunter and guitarist Rob Arnold, with producer Ben Siegel on drums. It must have left fans wondering what was to become of a band that had come so close to a true breakthrough. The album, released a few weeks ago to wide acclaim, including a glowing review on this very site, makes it pretty clear they aren’t about to give up and die. Just announced on the line-up for next year’s Soundwave Festival and with a new record label behind them, Mark Hunter talks to Loud Online.

Q: The Age of Hell must almost seem like the story of the last year for Chimaira.
A: Yeah, or our whole career! (laughs).

Q: Really, half the band has changed in the past twelve months.
A: It’s a pretty difficult time for all of us. It’s just one of those things. Some people wanna get married, some people don’t wanna deal with the stress of touring anymore and some people just wanna move on with their lives, you know. And as difficult as that is, my heart is still 100 per cent into it and as difficult as it was to enjoy… the misery? The challenge! I enjoyed the challenge.

Q: It seems like that’s all been chanelled into an extremely heavy and aggressive album.
A: Exactly. That’s all you can do. When you’ve met with adversity, we could have sat there and said, “Well, what the hell are we gonna do?” Or do what we always do, and that’s write great music and get together and hammer it out and channel all that emotion through the music and honour what those guys helped bring into the music as well, and make sure it’s worthy of being called Chimaira.

Q: Does it feel a lot more comfortable having a single label behind you once again?
A: Yeah. It’s definitely good to have record labels, and I have a lot of appreciation to be able to keep doing this. It helps to pay for things like this: the opportunity for me to talk to somebody in Australia. That’s a big deal.

Q: The album is quite surprising considering what the band was going through at the time.
A: Well it’s a testament to the listener that no matter how shitty things are, you can go forward. You can create your own roadshow. And if you want it bad enough, you’ll get it. So I mean we wanted to make the best album we could, we wanted to make it worthy of the name Chimaira and everything that happened sucks but you gotta move forward.

Q: Chimaira seems to be a band that’s always moving forward in any case. Comparing the first couple of albums to the most recent ones, there is definitely a lot of progression there.
A: I think a lot of it comes from playing every night and touring and life experience. I think that we’ve always been one to put our soul into the music and our soul into the live performance. We don’t ever half-ass it. And we might disagree on the bus and have some tiffs and have some bullshit going on, but all that stuff is a distraction. Our eyes are always on the prize of making a great album, play the best concert you can, and the fans will appreciate that. That’s it.

Q: And just how are the new guys (Emil Werstler – bass, Sean Zatorsky – keys, Austin D’Amond – drums) working into the band?
A: Excellent. There’s always going to be a bit of energy to have new faces around. Life is just a series of relationships you know. Male or female you get together, you’ve broken up, you get a new lover and whoa! this is new, this is exciting, I’ve never experienced this before. There’s so many pros to bringing in new people and to us it was important that we brought in guys that were our friends. You gotta live with these people for over a year-and-a-half, so that can be difficult.

Q: You said earlier that your career could be called the age of Hell, but what would you say would be a clear highlight that stands out for you?
A: To be honest, we have accomplished every goal we’ve ever set out for. To look back on that is truly mind-blowing. We have played with every single band we grew up listening to, with the exception of maybe a few that weren’t around anymore. Sharing the stage with Metallica, Maiden, Anthrax, Megadeth… Every band we grew up with. Sabbath, Ozzy, Sabbath with Dio, Sabbath with Ozzy. I’ve seen Robert Plant walking in backstage. I’ve lived the dream you know! Lived the dream and got to see the world.

Q: So is there a goal that Chimaira hasn’t yet acheived?

A: Maybe make money from it! (laughs) Maybe make a living? To be honest with you, I don’t know. I just think to maintain a loyal fanbase and have it increase slow and steady is good for us. The ability to be able to travel and tour and play and create music… to me, like I said, everything else is a distraction and/or icing on the cake. So hey if Metallica calls and says, “Hey, we wanna take you out”, I tell you what, I’ll be jumping up and down and crying and whatever else emotion you wanna put in. But other than that I’m not gonna be too impressed (laughs).

Q: Do you hear from fans in places of the world you haven’t yet played, and where would you like to take Chimaira that you haven’t been yet?
A: Oh I was just thinking about this the other day. It’s kind of a long list, let’s go for it: India, all of Asia, Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, South America… there’s still a lot of territory we haven’t hit yet. South Africa. I love playing the States and Europe, but it seems to be that’s where you go the most, so if we’re gonna go to Europe again, let’s go to some places we haven’t been to. Maybe Croatia… anywhere we haven’t been, I guess.

Q: And you would have to notice now with the Internet that there are people catching up to your music who would have never had access to it before.
A: That’s correct. Exactly. We’re seeing more and more folks from South America demanding we come there. I can’t post anything without somebody saying, “Come to Venezuela!” “Come to Argentina!” We hear that loud and clear, and we’ll get there. I’ll tell you one thing too, Australia has always been, since the beginning, big supporters of our band and there is never going to be a moment where you have to twist my arm to go there.

Q: Well I think I can guess when you’ll be down here next. What have the tours been like when you’ve been here before?
A: Really fun. The first time we came down we were with In Flames, supporting them in 2004, and it was just awesome. We got a chance to see all the sights. Then we came with Korn, and that was just huge! We got to play really cool, big shows in front of thousands of kids. And then we came on our own and headlined, and that was the first time. We had a really, really good time doing that, and our fans were so manic. The first show in… Oh man, they’re gonna kill me – I think it was Perth! I just remember them being on the stage and it was just a real hardcore vibe. Manic. That means the world to us. There’s nothing worse than going and playing in front of crowds that, yeah they’re there to see you, but they stand there like they’re watching… I don’t know, not a heavy metal band! (laughs)

Q: What music are you listening to at the moment?
A: I’m listening to a lot of weird shit, honestly. I listened to the new Machine Head today. It just came out here today. I listened to the new Mastodon, so I try to keep up with our peers and hear what they’re up to. But I’m more into the more instrumental, beat-driven, some weird dark jazz. It’s been like I’ve fallen in love with music and with books these days. I just kinda go through cycles. We had just finished the album and that kinda drained me. When we go back out on tour, that’s when I listen to a lot of music and catch up.

Q: When does the touring cycle begin?
A: Two weeks, and we’ll be out for nine weeks in the States. So pretty much the rest of the year and we’ll have January off and then we may or may not be coming to Australia! (laughs)

Q: You must be really ready to get back out on the road, having been cooped up for so long.
A: Yes, exactly. Been home for a year and kinda being domestic and all of that… it’s nice, lemme tell you. This is the first summer I’ve had off in years. Being able to go to the beach with my girlfriend… well, I’m not complaining. But also, I’ve gotta go put more steaks in the fridge so it’s time to go to work.