Goodbye is Forever

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Hangin’ tough at the crossroads can be interesting. You either make a deal with the devil, move on, and rock the F out or you go home with the same crappy guitar and poor playin’ aptitude. For Arsis, it seems they’ve finally made a deal with the devil. No, not Nuclear Blast. The devil gave […]

Hangin’ tough at the crossroads can be interesting. You either make a deal with the devil, move on, and rock the F out or you go home with the same crappy guitar and poor playin’ aptitude. For Arsis, it seems they’ve finally made a deal with the devil. No, not Nuclear Blast. The devil gave them the bird when they put out Horde’s Hellig Usvart in ’94. What I mean is for the first time, Arisis plays, sounds, and looks like a real band. And on album number three, We Are the Nightmare, the East Coastal (members hail from New York, Connecticut, and Georgia) group are rockin’ the F out. They’ve always promised good things, but nothing in Arsis’s back catalog compares to We Are the Nightmare’s technical death. We’re talking real technical. And real melodic. As if someone harnessed Necrophagist, took out the Suffocation caveman stuff, added At the Gates, and then a little Malmsteen (circa Marching Out) for good measure. Guitarist/vocalist James Malone speaks with us and we like it.

Does We Are the Nightmare represent you better as an artist?
James Malone: Definitely, but the thing with United in Regret was the recording was a little out of whack. The drums were recorded in one month, the rhythm guitars were laid down a month later, and we went back six months later to finish up the vocals and leads. We mixed the album while we were on tour. We didn’t have as much time to work on it that we needed.

I hear a little bit of Death, Euchartist, Dissection, and At the Gates. Do you think you transcended those influences?
Malone:
I’d like to think I’ve transcended my influences a little bit. In all honesty, I don’t listen to a lot of metal right now. I’m kind of stuck on ‘80s New Wave. I don’t listen to metal at all for personal enjoyment. When I do listen to metal it’s on tour. I watch the bands we tour with. I didn’t have the mindset when writing this album that I wanted to sound like something I had just heard an hour earlier. I like to think I’ve transcended my influences to a degree.

So, what New Wave bands are you into?
Malone: I love Duran Duran. They had a side project called Arcadia. The album was So Red The Rose. It’s a very pretentious Duran Duran. But it’s amazing. Great songwriting. There’s hooks all over the place. It’s amazing. We had a Depeche Mode cover on United in Regret. That was fun. I also like New Order, Electronic, The Cure. All that stuff.

Do you think New Wave bands could directly influence Arsis?
Malone: I would like to. If I find a proper or clever way of doing it I most certainly will. That’ll be my next project.

What metal albums have impressed you over the last few years?
Malone: I haven’t heard too many things come out in the last five years that have piqued my interest. Maybe Vital Remains’ Dechristianize. I thought Dimmu Borgir’s Puritanical… album was pretty amazing when it first came out. I was impressed with that. I stick to my staples [laughs].

There are a ton of split Carcass-styled vocals on We Are the Nightmare. Why did you end up having Derron [Cesca] split the vocals?
Malone: For more diversity in the vocals. The attack. In the past, especially on the Arsis demos, I felt more confident in my guttural vocals. As of late, I don’t know if cigarettes or poor health in general, but I don’t feel super-confident in my lower or guttural voice. Derron has a great low vocal, so I didn’t see why I shouldn’t include him in the vocal performance. He adds another dimension to the vocals. We try not to overdo it, as doubling is a terrible idea. We really tried to take our time to make sure where we’re doing it was effective and the vocals made sense. We weren’t doing just because. I felt the sections where we incorporated that technique had a purpose.

How did you find Derron? I don’t remember the story.
Malone: We had just played a show with his old band Burn in Silence a couple of weeks before our old drummer Mike VanDyne quit. I hit him up on Myspace and the rest was history. I think he was looking to do something more along the lines of Arsis, as far as music goes. We figured we might as well give it a try.

Derron plays four different snare drums. What was the recording set-up like?
Malone: In the studio they tried to pan the snare drums, as if you were standing in front of the kit. The middle snare, which is his main snare, comes out of both speakers. And the left and right snare, which are piccolo and popcorn snares, only come out of the left and right speakers. There’s a deeper snare is off to one side. It’s all panned as if you were standing in front of him. I remember, the last weekend we were recording, we went to see Firewind in New Hampshire. Gus and I had spent some time together at Berklee—we’ve known each other since we were 17. I remember playing the rough mixes for Gus and he’d be like, “Where’d the snare go?” I had to explain to him how the four snares were used and recorded. Once he understood what was going on, he thought it was pretty cool.

You’ve said We Are the Nightmare is your most accomplished album. Why do you think that is?
Malone: The addition of Ryan on guitar. He’s an amazing guitar player. His solos are amazing. Just having someone like that to work with was a great experience.

Are you intimidated by other players? Do you watch what other players are doing?
Malone: I probably used to worry about that when I was younger. I’m pretty confident in myself and my abilities. I know what my limitations are. I realize everybody is going to have strong or weak points. I want to make the most of what I have to offer. I put it out there the way it is and hope people appreciate it.

You’re a properly trained musician, right?
Malone: I started playing violin at age 10. I played all the way through college. Well, the first couple of semesters of college. I went to Berklee College of Music in Boston as well as another university in Virginia. I was studying college-level music theory and composition by the time I was 16.

What made switch from violin to guitar?
Malone: When I was 14 I purchased Mercyful Fate’s Don’t Break the Oath. I was very fascinated by how dark and epic it was. I wanted to create something along those lines.

I realized how much single-note stuff was going on. We Are the Nightmare would sound pretty comfortable on violin.
Malone: Definitely. The violin is a more single-note instrument. The guitar is more chord-based. The violin rubbed off on me, as I’m quite fond of the single-note guitar stuff. I’ve always been more of legato player, with all the tapping. The way I play guitar is probably reminiscent of the way I play violin.

Do you still play violin?
Malone: I do. When I go home my father makes me play duets with him. They sound pretty good. My intonation is pretty good, but probably could be better if I practiced more often. I just haven’t had the time in the past couple of years. We’ll play for my mother if she asks.

What does your dad think of you switching from violin to guitar?
Malone: I saw him last weekend. He reminded me of a promise I made to him that I wouldn’t give up the violin. He’s like, “Well, you’re not dead yet, so you can probably pick it up whenever you want.”

Were your parents a motivator for picking up an instrument?
Malone: I remember in fifth grade when I started playing violin. I probably wanted to play a trumpet or something. Before I decided on violin, my mom said, “Why don’t you play the violin? We have one around the house and there’s a strings class.” They knew I wanted to play an instrument, and it made sense since we had the instrument in the house.

Is your dad a professional musician?
Malone: My dad is a rocket scientist by profession. He has a Ph.D in aerospace engineering. He works for NASA. He still plays in a community orchestra. It’s something he did when he was younger. I think after he got into aerospace engineering, he decided to pick up the violin again.

You’ve been living with the album for a while now. What’s your favorite song?
Malone: I’m really fond of “Servants to the Night,” the last track “Failures Conquest,” or “My Oath to Madness.” I also really like “Sightless Wisdom.” So, one of those four I’m sure is my favorite [laughs].

Noah told me when you were in studio you were drinking cheap beer and it inspired you to include the Frosty the Snowman theme in one of the solos on “Failures Conquest.”
Malone: I did it as a joke. Zeuss thought it was pretty cool, but Ryan knew exactly what I had done. He was on the floor laughing. Half the population that listens to the record won’t even notice it. It’s cleverly disguised. I had Cacophony in mind. They’d do a weird melody or solo from a circus theme every so often. It was the last night I was tracking guitars, so I wanted to have a good time and entertain myself. It’s the main melody. The first five notes. It’s in the second solo, near the end of the songs. I do some whammy bar flutters, so it kind of sounds like Andy La Roque trying to play children’s music. I had probably been drinking some Natural Light at the time, so the cheap beer or box wine probably had something to do with it. I did that for my ex-fiancée’s daughter. She really liked that song.

How personal is the album?
Malone: It’s very personal. I want people to come up with their own interpretations of my lyrics though. I’m not too worried about my lyrics being out there, ‘cause they are open to different explanations. I write in an obscure manner.

You’ve had words like “regret,” “disease,” “nightmare,” and “guilt” in your album titles. Is there a connection there?
Malone: Yes, regret and guilt are emotions I’m most familiar with. I’m not Catholic, but I probably should be. In fact, I used to work for a Catholic church. Some of the lyrics for the first album are a play on words though. But not poking fun at the Catholic faith. A Celebration of Guilt, for example, came from my time as an Assistant Music Minister. Every time I’d go to work on Sunday, I though people were coming to church to celebrate their guilt. That’s where that came from. I’m very familiar with the concept of guilt. It’s a big part of my life. I have a conscience, which is a good thing in this day and age. Could be worse.

Tell me about the video shoot. How did you find the location?
Malone: I lived in West Virginia for a number of years. West Virginia is a very beautiful state, but it’s also quite strange. There’s a ton of abandoned towns all over the place. They’re old coal mining towns. Somebody would buy the coal mine and eventually it would go out of business. These towns would just dry up and people would move away. The location was shot about 20 minutes where I used to reside in a town called Stotesbury, West Virginia. It’s an abandoned coal camp town. We shot the video in an old church. It was the African-American Baptist Church. I don’t know when it was abandoned, but there’s no running water or restroom facilities. It was a fairly old church. An old co-worker and bandmate of mine showed me the location—he was from West Virginia—, and used to go around looking for old, abandoned buildings to explore. It’s fascinating. This old church in the middle of some hills, completely abandoned. It was pretty fitting to shoot the video there. We had just finished the album, so the shoot was sort of signaled the end of my days in West Virginia. My relationship had ended. It was closure in a sense.

I heard you almost died.
Malone: I fell through the floor. Not sure if I would’ve died, but had the assistant not been there to catch me it might not have been good. I fell up to my crotch. I was also chased by a pack of dogs. I was trying to go talk to the only neighbor to let them know what we were doing. I guess their dogs didn’t like me walking down their driveway, so I was chased.

There’s some other church stories, right?
Malone: There was this girl I was seeing at the time who wasn’t from West Virginia. We were sitting in her vehicle near the location. All of a sudden, a caravan of 4-wheelers pass by us. We locked the doors. I thought of Deliverance. Like what the hell are they doing out here? They had a cooler strapped to one of the 4-wheelers. They just hung out by the church, drank Bud Light, and talked to us as we went back and forth getting supplies for the video shoot. They were nice guys, but at first we were a little scared. We were in the middle-of-nowhere, West Virginia. They said they had ridden for like 20 miles. They obviously had nothing better to do on that Sunday.

Oh, come on. There’s more stories than that.
Malone: [laughs] We were out there checking the location on the first day to see how we’d get the generator out there. You have to go up a mountain to leave the area where the church was, as we looked back down—of course, it was the fall and the leaves were off the trees—and we saw a vehicle near the church. There was no way it could’ve gotten down there without us seeing it or passing us. There were no houses around there where people have vehicles. Maybe there was a dirt path that I’m not aware of. There were some other strange things I’ve seen around that place. The first time I went out there, which was like six months before we shot the video, there was some debris on the ground. Somebody leaned all these boards—which probably came from the church—up against the church in a weird pattern. There definitely was some logic involved. Very Blair Witch. I don’t know how into the supernatural you are, but the still pictures we took there had these orbs in them. I guess people think it’s spectral energy. Who knows if they were dust particles or reflections of something, but they’re in the photos. I was hoping something would happen that nobody could explain, but that didn’t happen.

Mark Riddick did an amazing job on the cover. How much input did you have?
Malone: We may’ve had some input on color or tone choices, but the imagery is all Mark’s. The only album I ever stuck my fingers in was the A Diamond for Disease cover. I had something specific in mind for that album. I just let Mark do his Riddick magic. His brother did the layout and coloring. Mark did the illustrations. I think it came out very good. I’m pleased.

The color palette is cool. Muted, earth tones.
Malone: Had I been my way it would’ve had blues and purples in it. That wouldn’t have worked [laughs].

How was your time with Zeuss?
Malone: He’s got an amazing ear. He’s a Pro Tools wiz. A super-cool dude. At the end of the night, he’d open up a Coors Light and hang out with us. He loves metal to death. He had a lot of good suggestions for vocals and leads. He was never afraid to tell us when we were fucking up. It definitely helped having an extra set of ears that weren’t from the band. He wasn’t worried about hurting people’s feelings. He was just concerned the product was as best as it could be.

How was the time spent with the band? It’s like being on tour for a month in the same city.
Malone: It was like being on tour. We lived together. We had no money whatsoever. It was Ramen noodles, cheap beer and wine every night. We spent time looking up goofy YouTube videos to entertain ourselves. Noah would put on softcore porn and play bass to it every night. The porn bass was awesome. You’ll be able to see it on the DVD that will come with limited edition of the album. It was like a sleepover from middle school gone bad for a month straight.

How did Zeuss come into the picture?
Malone: He was recommended to us by the record label. Gerardo at Nuclear Blast had heard the new Municipal Waste record that Zeuss had worked on. He was impressed by it. After checking into Zeuss’s work, I felt he could help Arsis. His work is very polished and that’s something that was lacking on our previous Arsis records. I always wanted a big, polished sound.

You wanted that?
Malone: Oh yeah. I wanted an extreme metal album that had a Winger or Ratt production. Over-the-top stuff. I was very pleased with the way it came out.

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