Mitch Harris’s Menace – Down in the Zero

Wednesday, 9th April 2014

Strange, but the guitar position in Napalm Death is one of the band’s more underrated facets. Attention is usually diverted the prose of Barney Greenway, or the hair of Shane Embury, or faster-than-fast blast attack of Danny Herrera, but no one wants to harbour on the band’s guitar spot, which since 2006, has been manned solely by Mitch Harris. Harris, who joined Napalm in 1989 after uprooting from Las Vegas to England, has to these ears, an utterly distinguishable guitar tone. Relying heavily on angular, somewhat avant-garde chord movements and elongated strains of precise speed-picking, Harris is grind’s best guitar player, an accomplishment he’s earned after 25 years in the style’s biggest band. And if one is in need of proof, then reference Napalm’s wholly overlooked late 90’s output, specifically Inside the Torn Apart, and Words from the Exit Wound, two bodies of work with Harris’s most creative playing. 

Of course, this ties into Harris’s new project, Menace, which has just released its debut album, Impact Velocity via Season of Mist. Handling all guitar and vocal duties, Harris is joined by extreme drum titan Derek Roddy, and Dragonforce bassist Frédéric Leclercq, providing the band with immediate musical muscle to go along Harris-created compositions that are complex and at their root, quite challenging, nowhere near resembling his main gig, but those unmistakable riffs are certainly there. With that in mind, we grabbed the guitarist for a round of questions the electronic variety. Here’s how he responded in kind…

Dead Rhetoric: This isn’t the first time you struck out on your own, so what makes Menace different from something like Defecation?

Mitch Harris: I suppose Menace is a different display of emotions and passions that evolve over time. Previous efforts were a byproduct of frustrated youth and authority; this is a result of all my mistakes in life, and trying to release and vent emotions that rarely see the light of day.

Dead Rhetoric: So far, what you have found to be the most rewarding aspect of doing Menace? Total creative freedom? The ability to work with many talented musicians?

Harris: Yes, both of them aspects give an uplifting sense of achievement. For me, it’s the vocal aspect that I find most sensitive, with the approach that is taken to create a hybrid of feelings. The lyrics and poetry are the most rewarding aspects for me. The aim is to create a visual storyboard for the listener that takes them on a journey of self discovery, with topics that relate to everyday life. Having some of the most creative minds in music and production that all add to the creative opportunity that needs subtle touches to improvethe presentation.

Dead Rhetoric: Putting Impact Velocity together…were you sitting on a lot of these riffs over the years? And, could any of these made the cut for a new Napalm album?

Harris: “Everything and Nothing,” “I Won’t See The Sun,” and “Malicious Code” were all written in 1997. This was the start of it all. They were the results of self indulgent 4-track sessions when I received my first 12=-string electric guitar. Back then, I knew that it needed some kind of vocal melodies and orchestration to highlight the particular moods of the songs. I evolved from there into creating electronic soundtrack music, and recognized a style evolving into more musical and theatrical compositions.

Years later, I worked with different vocalists, but it never truly represented the underlying aspects of the truth of the stories. I eventually decided to sing, and my priority was to find new vocal melodies inspires from different genres of music. This was the sole thing to link a wide variety of song styles. I also have complete creative freedom in Napalm, but I also have my own vision of what ND would evolve to, and Menace was something completey different. It’s important for my own personal well being to fully explore innovation without disrupting the core, the foundation that was started so many years ago can become interesting, mainly when presented with another option…

Dead Rhetoric: One of the things I like about the album is that you can tell it’s your guitar playing. The tone is instantly recognizable. Was it important that you carried over your signature sound to Menace from Napalm?

Harris: It’s nice that you think that. Well, it’s not that I was trying to carry a signature guitar tone or anything like that. It’s more of a case that each player has a distinctive taste, approach, and attack when they approach guitar and writing styles. I like to hear things a certain way, and I incorporate that into my playing. This time, it was more of a study of discipline, and minimalism, finding chords and adding emphasis splitting riffs and structures into two halves.  Letting the rhythms resonate longer in a way to build, and add some kind of dynamics where the vocals would carry the intended melodies of the underlying framework.

The structures also had to be lengthened to allow the vocals to capitalize on what’s beneath, and try to find open space to construct the key factor, the human connection. At times it was limiting working with a guitar sound with maximum distortion and bass. It interferes with other instruments, it fills the speakers, and makes it difficult for other instruments to come across. The strings were a key factor in highlighting the root notes and harmonies, and the guitar sound puts everything into rock/metal-related territory. Perhaps that’s a comfort to fans familiar with Napalm, but when you mute the guitars, drums and bass, and leave just strings and vocals, then that’s when people would understand how completely removed it actually is, and instead just feel and digest what vision is present.

Dead Rhetoric: Derek Roddy’s performance on the album cannot be understated. For a guy that is known for being so extreme with his playing, he’s rather tasteful in his drumming on the album. What did you enjoy most out of working with a guy like him?

Harris: Derek is a very driven and talented drummer and he really knows how to make the most of the song. His subtle accents and progressive drum fills add to the dynamics and create a hypnotic feel. Again, there is much discipline involved to let the song do the talking, and restrain oneself from showing off, or overplaying to make things more physically demanding. It’s never for the sake of that, and the fact that Derek worked and recorded all of his drums at home, shows that he is a man of true conviction. He has a wide variety of musical tastes and skills, and truly believes in the Menace style, and he did everything to reinforce the most solid base that he could have created. He became a master of building and controlling dynamics, and we’re blessed to have such a creative, focused, driven mind on board for our journey.

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