Asylum – Eliminate the TyrantTuesday, 13th September 2022
Ripping it up from Australia, Asylum delivers blistering thrash with plenty of gallop, punch, and chops through their steady stream of EP’s released over the past decade. Recently issuing their debut album Tyrannicide, listeners can expect a tightly woven record that fuses influences from the Bay Area (think Dark Angel, Exodus) as much as the European scene (Kreator, Destruction), riffs that propel bodies upward, cause neck-straining movement and rhythmic backdrops perfect for aggressive pit action. We reached out to guitarist Rob Armstrong who filled us in on the band’s development, the distinctive playing styles between fellow guitarist Shane Robins and Rob, the ever-changing thrash scene across Australia, his passion for classic cars, and social/political discussion regarding fear-based attitudes plus possible solutions to make things better.
Dead Rhetoric: What are some of your earliest memories surrounding music growing up in childhood? At what point did you discover heavy metal music, and then make the progression to want to pick up an instrument and start performing in bands?
Rob Armstrong: My earliest memory of music was in video games. Especially Grand Theft Auto Vice City and San Andreas. I used to listen to the V Rock radio station on Vice City and it had songs like “Raining Blood” by Slayer, “2 Minutes to Midnight” by Iron Maiden and “Peace Sells” by Megadeth. I didn’t know it at the time that I liked metal, but I remember one day at school when I lived in England, I had “Peace Sells” stuck in my head, but I would just make up the lyrics because I didn’t know them at the time (in music class too actually). Around the same time, I had been playing San Andreas and I became obsessed with “Welcome to the Jungle”. My mate showed me Guns ‘n’ Roses and was absolutely fascinated by Slash and that’s when I decided I wanted to learn how to play guitar. My guitar teacher showed me Metallica and I was listening to “The Four Horseman” and that’s when it hit me and I realized I liked thrash metal. After I had moved to Australia, I discovered Megadeth and heard “Peace Sells” and it all seemed to click (going back to my earlier memory of having it stuck in my head). From then on, thrash metal was my world, and it became everything to me.
Dead Rhetoric: Asylum started in 2012 – what can you tell us regarding the early rehearsals and formation of the group? Did you know straight away the qualities you wanted to go for in developing your brand of thrash metal?
Armstrong: Like most bands, Asylum started in my parents’ garage. My best mate and I had been trying to start a band for about two years. I was 16 when I started looking for a band but 18 when Asylum started. I had met our original drummer online. He came to jam, and the band started soon after. At the time, I was in a thrash band called Servant – it didn’t go anywhere or do anything so what became Asylum was kind of like a side project. Servant broke up and that’s when I knew I wanted Asylum to be a thrash band. I didn’t have any sort of qualities in mind, I just wanted to play guitar! Our sound developed more after Levi had joined and we wrote the Concealed Death EP, and then furthermore writing Tyrannicide.
Dead Rhetoric: Tyrannicide is the band’s first full-length album. How did the songwriting and recording sessions go for this record? Were there any specific surprises, obstacles, or setbacks that had to be worked through – and how do you feel about the final outcome?
Armstrong: After Concealed Death came out, we knew the next step was an album. Songwriting got serious in 2020 when Covid-19 hit, and we couldn’t play gigs. We already had songs like “Eternal Violence”, “Victim Complex” and “Tyrannicide” that we were playing live back then. Covid hit and it gave us the time we needed to write the rest of the album. The songs came together quite quickly. However, we did hit quite a big obstacle when we had to part ways with our old front man Jimmy. He’d been in the band since 2012 but we realized things weren’t working out anymore. So, we lost a vocalist and bass player in one. Both Shane and I tried out for the vocalist slot but ultimately, it was Shane who proved that he was the voice of Asylum. I’m absolutely blown away by the outcome, I’m so proud to have worked with two of my best mates and recorded an album together.
Dead Rhetoric: Your riffing and intensity reminds me of latter-day Bay Area thrash from the late 80’s/early 90’s along with some German influences – acts like Dark Angel, Exodus, Kreator, and Destruction come to mind. When it comes to the guitar interplay and techniques used by Rob and Shane, how do you decide who handles what – and what do you consider the specific strengths of each player?
Armstrong: We like to keep it pretty simple between the two of us. Shane plays all the rhythms, and I’ll play all the leads, harmonies and stop/starts etc. Shane’s an amazing rhythm player, his influences are people like James Hetfield and Jon Schaffer. Whereas I’m influenced by people like Marty Friedman and Jeff Loomis. All those bands you mentioned have been a big part in the development of our sound.
Dead Rhetoric: Scottish artist Dan Goldsworthy came up with the cover art for Tyrannicide. How was it work with him, what do you enjoy most about his work, and do you still consider cover art important to give insight into what listeners can expect in a band before pressing play – especially in this more digital-driven music age versus the physical media market that was much more important in the 80’s, 90’s and early 2000’s?
Armstrong: Dan’s eye for art captured our music perfectly for Tyrannicide and he hadn’t even heard the album! Working with him was so easy, definitely the easiest part of making the album! I would still consider artwork to be important, it gives the music a visual aspect. I’ve heard many musicians say they listened to music because of the artwork, especially when they were in the 70s and 80s and I still think that applies today. With today’s technology and the number of bands there are, having the right eye-catching artwork is still very important.
Dead Rhetoric: What has been like for Asylum when it comes to playing live versus the studio records? And what have been some of your favorite shows or festival appearances the band has made over the years?
Armstrong: Before Covid, we played quite regularly in Brisbane and around Australia. Most of our gigs were supporting international bands that came here to Brisbane such as Destruction, Toxic Holocaust and Girlschool. We were definitely more of a live band than a studio band. I think I speak on behalf of the band and say that our favourite festival appearance was at True Thrash Fest 2017 in Japan. That whole experience really opened our eyes to playing internationally and seeing how fans react in a different country compared to what we were used to in Australia.
Dead Rhetoric: Being together for over a decade, how would you assess the career of Asylum to date? What types of goals or ambitions do you set out to accomplish, both in the short term and long term, with this band?
Armstrong: I think we’ve had a modest career as an Australian thrash metal band so far. Every opportunity has been taken advantage of and we keep good relations with people. Our biggest goal and ambition is to tour Europe and America. We are gaining quite a fan base around the world and a long-term goal would be the ability to see our fans and play the music they have supported us to create. Short term goals are to keep Tyrannicide on its global projection and prepare ourselves to start playing shows again.
Dead Rhetoric: What are your thoughts on the thrash scene within Australia these days? Do you believe there is enough talent and support to make a mark internationally as acts from North America and Europe currently achieve?
Armstrong: I think the scene has taken a bit of a hit over the last few years. We had such a thriving scene here in Brisbane around 2013 to 2019 but seemed to have died down with bands such as Deraign, Kaustic Attack, Malakyte and Wartooth breaking up. Bands such as Harlott, In Malice’s Wake and Mason have held the fort in Melbourne as they have all been working on and releasing albums. Hidden Intent from Adelaide have been absolutely smashing it with their touring cycles and endorsements. All bands are good friends of ours and I can’t wait to see them again. So in saying that, I think we have enough bands between us to make a mark internationally, we all have different sounds and qualities that international fans should be really excited about from the Australian thrash scene.
Dead Rhetoric: How would you assess the metal movement globally in the modern world? What do you enjoy most about things, and what would you like to change (if anything) for the greater good of all parties involved (musicians, venues, promoters, media, fans/followers)?
Armstrong: I think it’s in a great spot at the moment, there’s so many festivals in Europe and America that people from all over the world travel to. Plus, the internet obviously has had a huge impact. I think most of our international fanbase has been from people finding us online through Bandcamp and YouTube. We’re also in an age where most of our heroes are still playing and they’re supporting a new wave of bands by having them on their tours. I enjoy the passion everyone shares for the music we love. It really brings in a sense of belonging to something great. I moved to Australia when I was 14 from England and almost immediately I felt alienated, it was thrash metal that helped me through that time and when I started Asylum and became a part of the scene here, I found a new home and really began to enjoy sharing my passion and began to really enjoy sharing the love for metal everyone had. I think the obvious answer to change anything would be money! Everything has become so expensive and in Australia particularly, we can’t just drive to the next city in a few hours. Sydney is a 12-hour drive from Brisbane and Perth is a 5-hour flight! Rising costs is what I’d like to change, and I think everyone would agree!
Dead Rhetoric: What sort of hobbies, passions, and interests do the members of Asylum like to engage in outside of your musical endeavors when you have the free time to do so?
Armstrong: For me personally, I’m a big fan of cars. I love going to car shows and being around old classic cars. Especially old British Fords! I grew up around cars in England as my dad would take me to car shows and my Grandad owned classic cars. I’m also very spiritual and have a huge interest and passion for that side of things. Shane has become a father over the last few years, he also loves to play video games and work out at home. Levi has a degree in music production, so he likes to spend his time on his recording and mixing skills when he’s not skating or working on his remote-control monster truck.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you view the current social/political climate within your country or the world? If you had the power, energy, and unlimited resources to tackle any specific issues right now, what do you think people need to put the greatest focus on for the greater good of all?
Armstrong: I see a lot of corruption and greediness in the world. The government lies to your face and back stabs you where they can just to keep power and control over you. I don’t support the current government in Australia at the moment nor did I support the last one. Everything seems to be about money and working people down to the bone so much that the only thing they have to look forward to is a day off and getting drunk at the pub. The world is so fear based, and people live in a constant state of fear and they don’t even realize it. They think it’s for the good of the people, but they can’t see what’s actually happening while they’re being conned into conforming and living in their false sense of freedom. I think people need to come together and work as one, I see so much segregation and so many labels put onto people. We’re all the same underneath and we all want to be happy. Opinions seem to mean more than fact these days and it’s tearing us apart.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for Asylum over the next twelve months to support this record? Are you interested in your next release being on a label, or is the band content to continue going down the independent, DIY route for the foreseeable future?
Armstrong: We want to play shows anywhere and everywhere we can. However, we are on the search for a new bass player to become the equal fourth quarter of Asylum. We are extremely interested in our next release being on a label. We’re competent in the studio to self-produce as we have proved on Concealed Death and Tyrannicide, but the label support would be a massive opportunity we’d love to jump on.