Latest release: Five Serpent’s Teeth (Earache/Riot!)
After suffering a similar tragedy to that which hit their idols Metallica twenty-five years ago, Huddersfield quartet Evile have come back as strong – perhaps stronger – than ever on their latest album Five Serpent’s Teeth. With the album released this week, Loud caught up to drummer Ben Carter for a chat about metal.
Q: The new album Five Serpent’s Teeth will be out on September 26th in Europe and October 18th in America via Earache. As well as that, you played your first spot at Donington this year; what’s 2011 been like for Evile?
A: It’s been absolutely manic if I’m completely honest. Ever since we decided to start tracking the new album (I think that was March) it’s been nonstop since then. Everything we’ve done has been focused purely on releasing this new album and it’s just been nonstop; we’ve done festivals, we’ve done gigs, we’ve tried to do a music video, so yeah, it’s been hectic.
Q: Let’s talk about the new album; people are saying that this is your Master of Puppets or your Reign in Blood. In my opinion I think this is really the album where everything’s come together into an amazing collection of tracks. Do you guys feel that way?
A: Definitely. Everyone’s very well aware that the first album was really adolescent and had a certain amateur quality to it which defined us at the time; we were riding the crest of a wave after just getting signed to Earache. But all those songs had been around since we were in our teens, so to go across to Copenhagen and record that with Fleming [Rasmussen, producer] was a dream come true. Second album we tried to do something a little bit different and bring out the technical aspect of what we can play and I think we missed the mark a little bit and maybe too overcomplicated it for some people. So what we’ve done on this third album we’ve just taken the best elements from the first album; the same kind of “fun” element that it had, smashed it together with all the technical stuff from the second one, and I actually do think we’ve created something really special this time.
Q: In one word, I’d describe this album as “savage.” The songs are breakneck and uncompromising; “In Dreams of Terror” stood out for me, it’s just like getting punched in the face by a machine.
A: That’s what we wanted to go for!
Q: Did you guys try and raise the bar from the previous albums as far as speed and technicality were concerned or is that just how it turned out?
A: We were very, very conscious that we had to get into people’s heads a lot quicker this time around; you can’t have three minute intros for tracks and let it meander on for another seven minutes or whatever else. We just wanted to concentrate on riffs, concentrate on power and aggression, concentrate on really, really good vocal hooks and just get to the point more quickly. The golden time of every song is the first ten seconds so if you’re going to dick about, you’re not gonna get into people’s heads quick enough. So we’ve made a conscious effort to strip things back to go forward. We wanted to just simplify things and make it more aggressive and turn it up to 12, never mind 11, you know; just grab people quicker.
Q: As you said, the album is amazingly aggressive; it’s all out classic thrash. That’s until you get to track 8, “In Memoriam,” which is dedicated to Mike Alexander. Was writing a song for him something that you guys knew you would do before you even started writing tracks for the album?
A: Yeah, it was a collective thing. We’ve all been biting our tongues about how we’ve been feeling about what happened with Mike. Obviously, unless you’re in that situation you’ve got no idea about how devastating that can be for a band; we found out the hard way. We all kinda knew we had to do something to pay our respects to Mike on this new album but we didn’t know what context that would take. We’ve said within the band that it isn’t actually “In Memoriam” that’s dedicated to Mike, it’s the faster more aggressive tracks like you said, “In Dreams of Terror” and maybe “Long Live New Flesh” ‘cos I think that’s what Mike would really have loved; if we’d have said to Mike that the ballad was about him, he’d have kicked us all in the balls. It’s not really to Mike, it’s for Mike, and it’s more of a cautionary tale to live your life to the fullest.
Q: So he’s still got a presence on Five Serpent’s Teeth?
A: Definitely. Very much so.
Q: It’s horrible that Mike’s been taken from us so early, but on the flipside of the coin, it’s the first album that you’ve played with Joel Graham taking up the bass duties. What’s it been like playing and writing with him on the album and how well has he fit in with you guys so far?
A: To start with we all felt kind of guilty because of how easy Joel’s integration in the band was; it just became so normal so quickly and that’s just testament to what a cool guy Joel is. He’s a fantastic bassist, he’s got similar interests to us, similar tastes in music, he can act like a jackass backstage with the rest of us, and he’s a great guy to be around. He’s a really positive guy, there’s no negativity in him at all, and he works his ass off as a member of Evile, so he’s the best person we could have got for the job. In terms of song writing and going into the studio, he’s an absolute workhorse; he’s a Trojan. He brings so many different qualities to the band that we’d never have thought about, he’s got the groove and he’s got that laid-back approach that makes things swing a bit more, and, not to be derogatory to Mike or anything like that, they’re two completely separate bassists. Mike was very old school; he listened to Destruction and Kreator, very much the German thrash stuff, and that came across in his influences towards Evile, whereas Joel’s from a classic rock background. He brings that kind of laid-back approach and more melody and more groove, but obviously his roots are vested in thrash as well, so he’s got that ability to kick it up and speed-pick like a bitch and drive everything forward, and for me that’s brilliant because it means that I can change down gears with him and change up when he decides to change up… It’s just a positive feeling in the band all over again now.
Q: Most importantly, how have the fans reacted to him; not just at gigs and festivals but through things like social networking and fan sites too?
A: Amazing; everyone can see what a cool guy he is and everyone’s been really positive about his integration in the band. He’s very active on Facebook and Twitter and that kind of stuff and the fans really have taken to him. Nobody’s given him a Jason Newsted complex about where he’s always going to be the new guy, because we don’t think of him like that; to us, having Joel in the band now is the most normal thing in the world, so the fans shouldn’t really think any differently.
Q: Now I don’t know if you’ve seen this, but Ol [Drake, guitarist] had a recipe in a book that came out recently; it’s a cookbook called Mosh Potatoes, and he showed us all how to make a fantastic grilled cheese on toast. I followed that recipe down to a T, and it was the most brutal cheese on toast I’ve ever experienced. I read a good point in a review for the book regarding Ol’s recipe though; the point was raised that that’s all you eat on the road when you’re starting out, but have things changed for you now? Are your days of grilled cheese over?
A: Nope; definitely not. We’re such a humble, grounded band that I don’t think we’ll ever be comfortable with mansions and limos and all that kind of stuff ‘cos that just isn’t us; it’s not why we set out to do this in the first place so I don’t think we’d ever become that. What’s happened in and around Evile keeps us grounded; the place we live in England is very, very humble, people talk to us like we’re normal guys and we are normal guys. There’s so many bands that kind of lose sight of why they started in the first place and they throw a tantrum if the wrong kind of band is in the dressing room and if they haven’t got the right kind of water on stage and that kind of stuff. And it makes me laugh because those people, they don’t appreciate that it isn’t a God-given right to be on the road to play music; it’s a privilege. In terms of the money that’s involved around Evile, it’s very, very difficult to keep the band going sometimes, we don’t generate that much income from the band so therefore it’s a struggle to pay our rent on time and all that kind of stuff. People look at us and think that we’re absolutely loaded so when we go out for the night in little local town bars and stuff everyone expects the beers to be on us, and the music industry just doesn’t work like that anymore. Matt [Drake, guitarist/vocalist] still works full-time for the local council, I still do furniture removals from time to time with a friend of mine; we all actively work outside the band to fund the band.
Q: In support of the new album, you’re going to be smashing out a bucketload of shows in Britain. I saw on your site that you have two solid weeks of touring at one stage; there’s not ONE night off from October 13th to October 28th! It’s such an intense and rigorous playing schedule; are you guys used to that?
A: Yeah; last year kind of sorted us out in that respect. We spent five months in the States, and I think in five months we had six or seven days off. And that was just pure touring; the territory over there is huge so you’re travelling maybe 15 hours some nights to get to the next show to play maybe a 15-20 minute set. So that kind of work ethic translates very well to touring back in England ‘cos everything’s in two or three hours’ reach of each other. So it’s not an issue anymore; we’ve grown past that now. There’s nothing worse than going out on the road and travelling around and then having two days off and having nothing to do, and then another three gigs and then another two days off. You’ve just got to bust it out day after day after day and that’s how we look to do it.
Q: Have you guys got any shows planned for after the UK dates; will you be going across Europe and back to America?
A: We’re thinking towards the end of the year we might jump on and piggyback on the back of another big tour for maybe a week or something just around Europe, and then 2012 we’ll fully concentrate maybe on doing some headline shows in Europe, go back to the States, maybe go to South America, hopefully get to Japan, and then hopefully come to Australia, finally.
Q: You read my mind; are you guys setting your sights on Australia for 2012?
A: We’d love to, seriously. The costs involved in getting us to Australia will be astronomical, but there’d be so much worth doing purely because we’ve heard we’ve got a lot of fans over there, so yeah, we’d love to play over in Australia.
Q: You guys have had a few of your songs available for people to play on the Rock Band video game series. Do you think that this has widened your audience all the more and that like Metallica three decades ago, reputation spreads through word of mouth because people see the speed and the technicality and the difficulty involved?
A: Definitely, yeah; anything like that is only a positive thing for any band; it’s getting yourselves out to an audience that you necessarily wouldn’t have exposure to. We’re all massive video game nerds so to have our work in a computer game, it’s the best feeling in the world. In respects of sales and everything it’s brilliant; I don’t know what kind of a return we get on each download we get for Rock Band or anything like that. But for us it’s not about the money, it’s about the exposure.
Q: Are you any good at Rock Band?
A: I am absolutely terrible at it (laughs). I use the excuse that you can’t condense my twenty piece drum kit down into five pads, but that’s just an excuse, it’s purely because I am absolutely rubbish at it!
Q: Themes of the apocalypse have a great prevalence within Evile’s work and in thrash metal in general. On the last album, the song “Infected Nation” dealt with a zombie apocalypse and on Five Serpent’s Teeth I thought that “Origin of Oblivion” was sort of an apocalyptic vision. Is this something that you guys are personally worried about?
A: I think zombies are always in the back of everyone’s mind; there’s nothing worse than a plague of zombies (laughs). But seriously, when we wrote “Infected Nation” we had kind of a negative outlook on life. It was more of a social judgment of the decline that’s happening within everyone’s societies all the time. Definitely within England; it seems that all these youths are taking over with no positivity and no direction basically. It was just a viewpoint from us to say, “Look what’s happening, if we don’t sort this out soon, there’s going to be nothing left,” and that’s only been reinforced recently over here for certain with all the rioting that’s going on. When we started out, on the first album, we were writing about things that we thought were cool, like shark attacks. You know; stupid, immature stuff like that. Then obviously the second was perhaps the cynical album. So the third album, there’s a lot more fun in what we’re doing, and some of the subject matter’s based on dreams that Matt and Ol have had. The title track is based on a book by Alfred Bester called The Demolished Man, so there are some themes of that in there. Matt’s very literary so he takes a lot of influence in song writing and vocal themes from books and films. And that’s where a lot of our influence comes from in song writing. It’s interesting sometimes because I’ve not read the book but I completely get the gist of what must go on in it from the lyrics of the track. Matt’s pretty good at putting what’s in his head onto paper.
Q: And just on the subject of what’s been happening in London recently, regarding the riots; do you think it’ll change the way that bands will write, will it change the subject material and give you new stuff to write about in future based on these events?
A: I mean, there’s a very fine line between becoming a political band and having words to say and just writing music that you enjoy playing. If you put too much influence and too much emphasis on what’s going on in the news and things that are going on around you politically, it changes the entire attack of the band, I think; it changes how you feel in the band, it makes you write songs that you wouldn’t necessarily have written about anyway, and I don’t think we’ll ever turn into that “message” band if you know what I mean. We wanna write music for us and what we feel happy playing and if we don’t feel happy about political situations, it’s not our place to go and preach to other people about that.