War Curse – Fighting For Honor

Friday, 20th November 2015

Delineating quality in the metal realm these days isn’t as simple as looking at the cover art or a label name anymore. Thanks to the internet, the power is in the hands of the consumer more than ever to decide who they want to support. Diamonds can appear from all four corners of the globe – the underground serving up lots of prime contenders that live to keep the heavy metal genre alive.

Hailing from the Dayton/Cincinnati Ohio region, War Curse may have begun in 2013 but its musicians have decades of experience under their belts in a number of different punk/hardcore/metal configurations. When taking in their debut album Final Days you’ll hear a mix of power, traditional and thrash influences that are beyond the norm – proving that they wish to play in a style that differentiates from tried and true pathways. Do not expect borrowing from the Bay Area or Teutonic thrash eras – we have lifers writing material that speaks volumes whether you love Grip Inc. or Iced Earth, Metal Church or Saxon.

Shortly after reviewing said debut album, reaching out to guitarist Justin Roth seemed like a logical next step. Through our interview you will learn more about his fortunate parental influence to become metal for life, their realistic take on War Curse for a career path, as well as embracing their diverse backgrounds for the sake of their sound.

Dead Rhetoric: What are some of your early memories of music growing up- and how did you make the journey into discovering heavy metal? At what point did you move up the ranks into picking up an instrument and deciding to form a band?

Justin Roth: I was a kid of the 80’s and 90’s with young parents. My dad played a lot of classic metal, Maiden, Priest, Sabbath, and my mom was more into the glam and hair stuff, so lots of Skid Row, Ratt, and stuff like that. On top of that, their circle of friends were total metalheads. Guys with cool nicknames like “Dead Head” with grim reaper tattoos, that sort of thing. Those were the guys who exposed me to a lot of the heavier stuff. Looking at myself now, playing in bands and covered in tattoos, it’s like I never stood a chance.

I started begging my parents for a guitar in third grade. I guess I finally annoyed them enough and they agreed. I didn’t take it serious, never learned anything really, and eventually discovered punk rock, a genre that didn’t require the technical abilities of metal. In hindsight, taking the easy way out was a horrible idea, but I jammed in little garage bands here and there through school. I’d eventually hang it up, and wouldn’t pick up another guitar for years.

I met Josh Murphy, my co-guitarist in War Curse, in 2003. We started talking music and decided to get something together. We started some hardcore bands together that had regional success and signed with small labels and stuff like that, but the most important thing that came of it was just playing again. I did vocals in those bands, but anytime one of the guitarists would miss practice I’d grab a guitar and fill in. Soon enough I was buying gear and making up for lost time. At some point I got tired of front man responsibilities and decided this was the path.

Dead Rhetoric: War Curse started in 2013 – how long did it take to get the right members in place, and were you familiar with James Goetz’s previous work with Virginia power metal band Division?

Roth: So I responded to a Craigslist ad that James had out in 2013. He was moving back from DC and I guess he was putting out feelers to see what kind of musical opportunities were waiting in Ohio. We talked a little and he showed me Division. I won’t lie, I was intimidated. Division is a great band and James is a killer drummer. But I talked to Murphy and we arranged a jam session in my basement. Right away the chemistry was there. We jammed every Sunday for about two months, just writing and crafting a sound that we were happy with, and then decided it was time to do some recruiting and move out of the basement.

Finding reliable, competent members in this area has always been a bit of a challenge. I’ve got audition stories for days. But after some shirtless dude weirding us out, having to draw a gun on a creepy looking guy who appeared to be planning a break in, and fielding some absurd Craigslist replies, we had a bass player. Death Metal Doug. That’s all I’ll say about Doug. But the real find was our vocalist Tarek Puska.

Keep in mind, Craigslist is full of trolls, and I have a lot of friends who like to prank and mess with each other. So when we got an email from a guy named “Tarek the Great”, mentioning his pro wrestling background, we were certain it was one of our friends screwing with us. They had just messaged us as “The Erlanger Night Banshee” a few days earlier. But Tarek was real, and we saw potential in him. He’s one of the coolest dudes and hardest workers you could ever hope to meet. After one hangout we knew we had our guy.

So we had a full line up, finished some songs, and started playing shows sometime in late 2014. We’d eventually learn that Doug had no idea how to play our songs in the studio and it would force us to go through some changes. We recruited our friend Chris who’s a phenomenal musician to play bass, but his heart wasn’t in it. Needing to fill a spot in a real hurry we reached out to Verment bassist and frontman Eric Payne. Verment is a SICK death metal band (check them out) and they practice across the hall from War Curse. It was convenient and totally worked out. Eric was the missing piece of the puzzle and it is awesome having him in the band.

Dead Rhetoric: Final Days is your first studio album – can you provide details regarding how the songwriting developed and how you feel the overall recording process went? Were there any significant challenges, obstacles, or surprises that took place?

Roth: (Laughs) Well other than figuring out that we needed a bassist, recording went smooth. We recorded with Brian “Bone” Thornburn at Threshold Studios in Indianapolis, and he’s the man to work with. I have recorded with Bone in a few projects over the better part of 10 years and he always nails whatever it is you’re after. We went into the studio with songs pretty much finished and tones in mind. Wasn’t a lot of guess work or improvising outside of a few guitar solos. One of the smoother studio experiences I’ve ever had.

Dead Rhetoric: Some of your influences separate War Curse from the pack – as you don’t usually hear people site Grip Inc. and Iced Earth amidst thrash circles… and I also picked out a lot of qualities that remind me of Metal Church. Do you believe this will help the band differentiate themselves from conventional power/thrash bands- as you describe yourselves through social media as old school thrash with a new school aggression?

Roth: We never really set out to be a “thrash” band. In our eyes, we’re a metal band. It’s easy to get fixated on sub-genre labels and pigeonhole yourself into having to fit a certain mold. I’ll admit that Murphy and I are probably the most thrash oriented guys in the band, and since we are the guys writing the riffs, it makes sense that we have a noticeable thrash element. But aside from thrash, I’m way into the classic stuff. So when you hear the intro to a song like “Drudge”, and you think Metal Church, I’m pulling from stuff like that. I still listen to a ton of hair metal, old Raven albums, and Rainbow is probably my favorite band to study. James is into a bunch of obscure proggy sounding stuff. Eric is a walking encyclopedia of all things metal, but seems to favor the old Florida death stuff. And Tarek is all over the board. I like it that way. If we were 5 dudes sitting around listening to the same 5-10 thrash bands all day we’d sound like every other thrash band doing the same thing. And that’s not a knock on modern thrash at all. I love the thrash resurgence that’s going on right now. We’re all big fans of Havok, Evile and some of the other bands out there killing it. We’re just not worried about what anyone else is doing or what anyone decides to call us. We’re a thrash band when someone needs to know what we sound like, but we’re a heavy metal band, a metal band, or just a band if you want to strip it all the way down.

Photo by Jebenezzer Law

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