War Curse – Prepare for EradicationTuesday, 7th May 2019
While thrash enjoys a second (or third) wave of appeal globally, it’s important to not just praise and savor the tried and true old guard who push new albums or gain prime touring/festival slot chances – as there are younger, newer bands wishing to put their stamp and take on matters. Hailing from the Cincinnati, Ohio, War Curse started in 2013 on a mission to bring a heavy/power aspect to their brand of thrash – still maintaining the proper aggression yet adding a stronger sense of melody throughout the vocal and musical proceedings. They issued their debut EP Final Days in 2015 and have since gone through a couple of member changes – including the addition of Heathen/Exhorder bassist Jason Viebrooks and vocalist Blaine Gordon.
Bringing us to Eradication – the full-length follow up. Signing with European label Svart Records, it’s obvious these gentlemen push a potent, riffy style that also maintains the right musicianship qualities for maximum headbanging ecstasy. Neck snapping while punchy, War Curse can appeal to many sides of the metal spectrum – aiding the sustainable efforts of their work. Reaching out to guitarist Justin Roth, we were able to talk about a host of topics from the lengthy delay between releases, signing with Svart, the broader world is a mess lyrical content for Eradication – as well as thoughts on common errors and insights on the metal scene from local and beyond perspectives.
Dead Rhetoric: It’s been four years between releases for the band – and you’ve had a couple of member changes in the interim. Were these the major reasons that caused a bit of a delay in War Curse releases, and have the new members changed the outlook or style of the band in any way?
Justin Roth: Has it been four years? Member changes contributed a small bit, but we took some time off, did some tours, and spent a lot more time in the studio than we had anticipated. We changed studios a few times. There was a lot of stuff that contributed to it. The major thing though was finding a good record label. We had changed management and we changed labels because the owner of our previous label had passed away. There were a lot of things going on in the time between releases.
I think the most noticeable change that everybody will hear will be Blaine. Changing vocalists – Blaine is a phenomenal musician, great guitar player, great songwriter, just one of those guys who’s good at everything. Blaine brings a lot to the table. I think he was the missing element in our music for sure. Tarek’s ability was very limited. We had to work around the fact that he couldn’t do the things that we wanted him to do, and that’s not an issue with Blaine. It’s a real breath of fresh air to be honest. We finally have the correct lineup. We agree musically and get along personally, and it makes a world of difference.
Dead Rhetoric: Eradication is the latest full-length – where do you see the development of the group in comparison to your debut Final Days? Were there any special challenges, surprises, or interesting aspects that came up in the development of this material and the recording sessions?
Roth: Eradication is our first full length actually. Final Days was a six-song EP. I think that when you look at the two recordings there is quite a bit of a maturity difference. The songs are better constructed and we took a lot more time putting things together. Making sure every riff, every transition was held to a higher standard this time around. There was a lot more scrutiny, internally. We would pick things apart and write things over and over again and throw out things that didn’t one hundred percent work. Things that we didn’t do the first time around. We just sort of slapped things together, threw it against the wall and that was what you got with Final Days. We didn’t self-edit, we weren’t very critical of ourselves because we didn’t think that anybody would ever hear that stuff. This time we knew that we had to step it up in a big way and I think we did.
The biggest challenge in writing Eradication was just knowing when to stop. Someone once said that an album is never finished, you just stop working on it. That was the case here. Right now there are five things that I could probably go back and edit, punch in or fix. But at a certain point you have to call it done – and that was the hardest thing for us. We had a couple of songs that didn’t make the cut, and a couple of the songs got changed in the 23rd hour in the studio. I had re-written lyrics to a handful of songs a couple of times – it was just knowing when it was time to call it. We’re definitely very pleased with the end result.
Dead Rhetoric: One of the things I enjoyed with this release is the fact that you developed a stronger, shorter record than create something that goes on a bit too long. Was that a conscious decision you made as a band?
Roth: Absolutely. That was the mindset- we went in with eleven songs demoed and fleshed out. We took a step back to decide which songs were good enough to make the album, and deciding what we wanted to be remembered for after the fact. What is going to hold up, and will not make us unhappy after we release this and have it out for six months or longer? Everything is cool and new in the beginning but some songs don’t age well because you let a stupid idea grow legs and take off. The eight songs we picked are the eight songs that we felt the strongest about. And the other thing, the reason we kept it on the short side, was to make sure it would fit on vinyl. That was a big thing for us. We knew no matter what we were going to press vinyl, and you can’t make an album too long if you want it to fit. Not that a 45-minute album is super short really. Most people don’t have the attention span to sit through anything much longer than that.
Dead Rhetoric: Can you discuss the special guests you have on this record with Kyle Thomas, Kragen Lum, and Glen Alvelais – did you pick the specific spots for them personally, and will it be more work in the case of Murphy and yourself to learn the specific lead breaks Kragen and Glen laid down?
Roth: We did, yes. We had originally reached out to a couple of people – as far as the guitarists go, Kragen and Glen. It was an either or, let’s see who wants to do it kind of thing. We put the feelers out there, and they both decided to do it, so we had to clear another spot. We really wanted to have both of these guys on our album, and we knew we had a solo spot open at the end of “Asylum”, and it made sense to give that solo to Glen. So he plays the first of the two solos at the end of “Asylum”. Kragen’s spot at the end of “Serpent” was the section that we originally had slated for a guest spot. The Kyle Thomas thing, I had originally sang the vocals there in “Deadly Silence” – we were going to do a back and forth thing and I was going to do it myself. I recorded it and it came out sounding like David from Havok. We are pretty good friends with Havok, so the running joke was to call David up and see if he wanted to do it. David was going to do it, but we lollygagged around getting the files to him and they were leaving for the the Killswitch Engage/ Anthrax tour, so he couldn’t do it. Jason was doing Exhorder stuff with Kyle at the time, mentioned it to Kyle, and he agreed to do it. Having Kyle on there was bad ass, having a legend like him on our album. When he did it, we gave him the parts I sang and the outro verse, and he killed it. It was a happy accident that we ended up with Kyle on the album, and I can’t imagine the song without him now.
We are going to perform all three songs live that we have guest appearances. Murphy has been tasked with the solos, and he has already learned both of them. I’m doing the vocals that Kyle recorded and I promise you they won’t sound half as good. I wouldn’t say it’s challenging as much as it’s an expectation that you have to live up to. It puts a kind of fun amount of pressure on you to get it right. You don’t want to be the guy who screws up Kragen’s solo on your own song.
Dead Rhetoric: The cover art differs from a typical heavy/thrash metal release as it’s very sparse – how did the idea come about, and was it a collaborative process between artist and band to get to this final vision?
Roth: It totally was. I had worked with Andrej Bartulovic, the Maggot Master at All Things Rotten – he’s the same guy who did Hatchet’s most recent album art and some other cool stuff. He’s a really good artist. Working with him, we had kicked around a couple of ideas- and the Eradication album cover was my idea. I had started designing some stuff- I’m a professional designer as well – and one of the things I had done was a lone crow out in the ocean. I sent it to him, and like most things, I send him an idea and he makes the idea better. That’s how that came to be. But the concept behind it, the visual is a non-cliche’ version of a post-apocalyptic world, where everybody is gone, man is gone – an eradication. The bird was a symbol, a lone survivor sort of thing.
Dead Rhetoric: What did you want to get across lyrically on this record?
Roth: A lot of shit. Lyrically we touched on everything from PTSD, the war in Iraq, the opioid epidemic. We really hit on a lot of different stuff, but it was all humanitarian or global crisis related. It almost felt like we were writing a concept album to a degree. Every song while maybe different in lyrical content was adhering to the overall broader message. The world is a fucking mess – and the song “Eradication” itself is my take on animal abuse. It started in my mind as an animal rights thing and it turned into the way we treat the planet, the way we treat each other. We need to do better, and if we can’t do better we should be gone. That was the bigger picture I guess. We touched on the Edward Snowden thing, that was the inspiration for “Deadly Silence”, just a lot of stuff. North Korea is in there. We definitely need to make some changes as people.
Dead Rhetoric: You signed with Svart Records – when it came to looking for the best deal, what made Svart the best option for War Curse compared to others in the scene?
Roth: The dirty little secret that the average fan doesn’t understand is the level of shitiness buried in these contracts, that people with no shame will slide across the desk. We talked to the household name, bigger thrash labels, and talked face to face with a lot of people who had an interest in the album. Everybody wants to stick you with some god-awful, 360 deal. They want a cut of your merch, a cut of your tours, a cut of this and that- and before you know it you’re in debt to these people for the rest of your lives and they will own the rights to your music forever. And you will almost always get stuck with a two or three album deal, locking you in at the lowest rate possible.
Svart gave us exactly what we wanted. It’s a one-album deal, we maintain the rights to everything. We don’t owe them anything when it’s all said and done. Tomi the owner of the label, he’s a great person- you can tell that he cares about music, cares about the artists on the label. It didn’t feel like we were getting worked over. It was one of those deals where… our old manager, we were managed by Rob Wrong, who plays in The Skull and Witch Mountain. At one point in time when he was managing us he had slid some demos of ours to Svart, and they wanted to sign us for a couple of years before anyone else wanted us. We were on their radar, and I heard nothing but good things from him as far as their experiences with the label. It felt like the right choice, and in the end I believe it was.
Dead Rhetoric: You have added a lot of road work to your personal resume in tour manager/guitar and bass tech duties for acts like Exhorder and Morbid Angel among others. What do you believe you’ve learned the most from these activities that you’ve taken away and hope to apply to gaining War Curse more of a foothold in the scene?
Roth: The nice thing about touring with Exhorder, I got an opportunity to visit Europe a few times, all the big festivals, and see how they operate. Learn the ropes a little bit while tour managing for them. So when we show up we’ll be a little more prepared, we’ll know the lay of the land so we don’t look like a new band that doesn’t know what we’re doing. It’s nice to be able to learn on someone else’s time. Just in working with guys like that, in Exhorder, it’s a lesson in professionalism. Watching guys like Kyle and Jason, how they conduct themselves on the road and how the business is done – that’s helped me grow as a professional and will help War Curse in the long run.
Touring with Morbid Angel teaches you to bite your tongue and stay out of people’s way. It was cool to get those experiences too.
Dead Rhetoric: Does it help you in changing the mindset and outlook of the band from being just a local/regional act to more of an international entity?
Roth: That’s always been our goal. Over the last few years our primary focus has shifted to looking much farther than our region, or even our country- looking outside of these four walls. We wanted to do more than be the hometown hero band that plays the local clubs. That’s the reason why we’ve done so much touring – and why we signed with a European label and management. That’s where we think thrash is thriving and we want to break into that market more this year. Having the experience, me being able to report back to the guys about how things are going abroad, making connections before we leave the house. I think it’s definitely beneficial. Anytime you can put your name in front of guys that are booking festivals like Download or Hellfest, stuff of that magnitude, if they know who you are and you have good conversations with these people, it can’t hurt.
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