Carnifex – The War WithinSunday, 28th July 2019
One of the biggest names to emerge from the deathcore movement, Carnifex hasn’t been one to stand still. Following a hiatus and signing with Nuclear Blast in 2013 brought about some evolution to the band’s sound. Deathcore still remains, but a shift in more black and death metal influences (along with an emphasis on atmosphere) over the last three albums, most notably with the soon-to-be-released World War X, has brought about a larger variety and maturity to their output. We grabbed vocalist Scott Ian Lewis for a few minutes to talk about World War X, collaborations in metal, as well as his Death Dreamer graphic novel that was released last year.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you feel are the advances that World War X makes?
Scott Ian Lewis: For me, it was really great that we got to spend so much time on the album. We took three years. That was the most time we’ve taken for an album. Being able to have all that time, I think we were able to make a really unique record, not just in the genre, but for the band specifically. I hope people really consume all the layers that are there: Jordan [Lockrey]’s amazing guitar playing, Jason [Suecof]’s great mix, the lyrics…maybe [laughs]. We’ve been starting to get feedback on the album, and it’s exciting to hear that it is being well-received so far.
Dead Rhetoric: What can you say about the increasing amount of black metal that has entered Carnifex’s sound? Was it something that was more intentional?
Lewis: Yeah – everything on the album is intentional. It was less about us saying, “Let’s write a black metal part,” because that’s not how it really comes together. It was more about looking at the tone of each song. “All Roads Lead to Hell” is a little more upbeat and more bouncy, but “This Infernal Darkness” has more minor scale and is more melancholic sounding. It’s more of that – us trying to find the connectivity between the lyrics and Shawn [Cameron], Jordan, and I really working together to see what we want people to feel in a particular part. A black metal riff might be called for more often than not – we are just trying to create an atmosphere, and that tends to draw us towards that black metal sound.
Dead Rhetoric: Is it important that you are making strides forward with each new album?
Lewis: I think it’s everything, honestly. If we weren’t able to write a record that we, as musicians, weren’t excited about or had to work hard to create, then I don’t know if I could do an interview like this with much sincerity [laughs]. It is the next step for us, and we need that as artists. If there is no next step, I don’t know if we could do a record.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s the idea behind the title World War X?
Lewis: It’s all about individual, personal battles that all of us face, through the lens of this epic war for survival. The allegory starts with the cover – it’s you. The world broken up and all of this stuff coming out of it, it’s all your fear, your rage, and your oppression. It’s coming out, and now you have to face it. That’s what the album is all about. Facing these things rather than being reactionary, or being controlled by them. It’s attacking them and being on the front line of confronting these feelings and ultimately defeating them. But through that process, like a war, there’s a price to pay. You don’t win all the time. That’s the thesis for the album.
Dead Rhetoric: How did you wrangle Alissa White Gluz for her guest spot on the album?
Lewis: We had connected with Alissa through a mutual friend, Tommy Jones, a music video director. Before we go into the studio, we do pre-production, which is us as a band recording a very primitive and lo-fi version of each song for our own reference so we decide what we like and don’t like. So we sent that to her, and she knew that it was a work in progress and that we had asked her to collaborate on it.
She liked what we had so far, and we just started working together on it. She brought in so much – that whole big atmospheric intro, and all of those rising and falling melodies that she does, those where totally her original ideas. It was a great collaborative process from the beginning. She was not a rock star by any stretch of the imagination. She just liked the song and wanted to work on it, just like any band member in the room, so it was really fun.
Dead Rhetoric: You have Angel Vivaldi on World War X as well as the Gost remix for “Head like a Hole” last year. Are you actively trying to be more collaborative?
Lewis: Yeah, absolutely. We had tried to have a guest on Slow Death as well, which didn’t work out. We are trying to collaborate actively. Unfortunately, it has been hard in the metal scene. I’m not sure why, but a lot of people are really resistant to it. It’s not just the bands, a lot of managers and labels – I don’t know, I think a lot of people are fighting over the scraps right now in metal. It’s tough.
There’s this idea that it’s every man for himself rather than strength in numbers. I don’t feel that way at all. To me, it is all about strength in numbers. A good tour isn’t about one band, it’s a good package. I feel the same way for the music itself. So working with Gost, Alissa, and Angel, that’s the stuff we love doing. We love working with other great artists. It just makes us look good [laughs]. All you get out of it is great songs, so why wouldn’t you want to do it?
Dead Rhetoric: Do you think there’s a way to make things more collaborative?
Lewis: Change the mindset of the industry. That’s a big part of it. So I can’t fix that problem [laughs]! Really, it’s about being your own solution. So if people aren’t really working together, that’s a bummer. So you ask people to work together – that’s what we are trying to do. We hope to do more of it in the future.
Doing an album for us is a big deal, so there will likely be some gaps, but we are trying to do another single about a year from now. Will we work with someone who is Carnifex-adjacent? We do always get messages on Facebook about “Get Phil [Bozeman], get CJ [McMahon]” – those guys are sick, but we sound exactly the same! We are trying to get someone different, that’s the point. Phil and I mixed together just sounds like two death metal vocalists. The point is to do something different. We love those guys, and they are homies and friends, but we are trying to work with people that are a little bit different, like Gost or Alissa.
Dead Rhetoric: Jumping off of that, what do you see as the state of metal in 2019?
Lewis: It’s a mixed bag. I think there is a lot of enthusiasm, and there are a lot of great bands out there. That’s a pro. As a con, economically, it is really difficult to be a metal band. The sad truth is that you will get less bands rising to the top, you are going to get less of a scene, and you are going to get bands that aren’t developing to the point where they can get more than $8,000 for a record to actually be able to embrace their musical vision. That was a big thing with this album – Nuclear Blast really enabled us, through financing, to see our vision through. We spent 44 days in the studio, we did a big-budget music video, and got a great cover artist. They enabled us to do those things, not because we didn’t have the ideas before or because other bands don’t have those ideas…you just hit a roadblock financially.
Hopefully that can start to change, and it will be less about this race to the bottom. The “Let’s sign a band and make them to records for $4,000.” Because that has happened. A $4,000 record means that you are doing it in your bedroom. If that’s what you have to do – we spent four days on Dead in My Arms, so I get it. But at some point, it can’t be like that anymore. Bands need to be able to grow. Otherwise our scene is going to hit this glass ceiling of only being able to do 200 or 300 capacity rooms. So like I was saying, it’s a mixed bag. On the fan side, there’s so much enthusiasm, but there are a lot of realities that are on the industry side – they should start supporting artists instead of squeezing them. The fans and the bands are there, the suits have to get their shit together. Nuclear Blast has it figured out, but some other ones need to figure it out too.
Dead Rhetoric: At this point, I would say that Carnifex has moved past a simple deathcore label, but what do you think allowed you to survive as a band when many other ones went by the wayside?
Lewis: We took that hiatus, so it wasn’t always easy for us. When we put out Until I Feel Nothing, that record was a bomb essentially. It wasn’t for lack of trying on our end – we went into it giving it everything we had, just like every other record. But that wasn’t a great time for the scene, and we were having some issues with our previous label. So that break enabled us to sustain in a way. That was that period of time when deathcore bands were getting really pimped-out, and what I mean by that is that it was super-saturated and all of these bands were going out. You were getting asked to do a show for like $250. Bands can’t live on that, bands can’t get to shows on that. They aren’t going to last because people get tired of eating off the dollar menu.
So by taking that break, we didn’t get sucked into that because we had stepped away completely. It was sort of this blessing in disguise in a way. Teaming up with Nuclear Blast, and also working really hard to write Die Without Hope, knowing that Until I Feel Nothing was a turd – we had to get our shit together in order to get the band anyway. That is what turned it around, and really got us back to our roots. We were really clear with Nuclear Blast when we made the deal with them – didn’t want to get a ‘yes’ from anybody. We were going to give them what we wanted, because they signed us. If they didn’t want to put out what we do, then we said not to sign us right now. They said they weren’t even going to ask to see anything – just send it to us [completed]. They’ve done that for us.
For this new record, they gave us all the money upfront. That is not what happens! Labels just pay whoever they are working with directly, because they don’t trust their artists. But NB trusts us, so it is really letting us get to that next level; it’s really all thanks to them. So our survival has been in part due to our label as well as ourselves, as we worked really hard on Die Without Hope and Slow Death. We toured really hard on those albums.
Dead Rhetoric: You put out a graphic novel, Death Dreamer, out last year. What was the process like, and are you working towards Volume 2 in the near future?
Lewis: Yeah, Volume 2 is on it’s way! I’ve got the whole team back together: Chris DiBari, Simon Gough, Taylor Esposito, and Chris Shehan doing the cover. I’m writing it right now. It’ll come out in March 2020. We are going to be doing a big headline tour in March 2020 and I’ll be selling it on the road. But going back to the process of it, it was a lot like doing a record. You work with a lot of other people, you put things together, you try to meet deadlines, and you hope people get excited about it. In a way, it was a lot of familiar things that I do pretty regularly with the band that I felt pretty comfortable about. But it was also me in a different medium, which was completely different, and it was without the band. There were some question marks and unknowns, but the fans really embraced it. We did $40,000 in four weeks on Kickstarter, and I’m about to sell out of that first edition that we printed. So we are going into Volume 2, so it couldn’t be better.
Dead Rhetoric: What was different about the process for writing the graphic novel compared to Carnifex lyrics?
Lewis: It was freeing in a lot of ways, which was really why I moved towards writing narrative fiction. I love songwriting, I really do, but it’s also very particular. It’s a really specific style. It’s essentially poetry, the way that I write. It’s in a stanza form. So it’s completely different to write for a graphic novel. You have the characters’ thoughts, and they are having interactions and all that sort of stuff. It’s a different sandbox to play in, so to speak, but it’s also really fun to go in between the two. Sometimes having the form of song lyrics takes away option paralysis and you can really focus in on what you need to do. Whereas narrative fiction, you can do anything you want, so figure it out [laughs]! So it’s two very different styles and I love both them.
Dead Rhetoric: You have done Summer Slaughter before, what are you looking forward to about returning to it this year?
Lewis: Summer Slaughter has been a great friend to the band. We’ve been on in 2010 and 2016, and we were asked to be a headliner this year, which is awesome since it’s with a record that we are really proud of. The line-up is really what I think the core of what that tour should be. It’s the anti-tour in a way. It’s the death metal tour. Everyone is going to go to their festival, and it’s going to be a bunch of crazy stuff where everyone is living it up, but this is like the sweaty, death metal tour for the die-hards.
Everyone comes out, and it’s like metal summer school – you see all these friends that you’ve seen throughout the years. This year is no different. The first time we played with The Faceless was in early 2006. Cattle Decapitation are just down the road from us – we rehearse in the same building a few doors from each other. So it’s just friends down the road. I couldn’t be happier for it.
Dead Rhetoric: What plans do you have outside of Summer Slaughter?
Lewis: We are moving away from being a band that just tours always. This album is going to be where we start that shift. You can see us once or twice a year and that’ll be it. You can see us on the Summer Slaughter tour this year, but that’s the only one we are doing for the year. We will be doing a European tour in January, and then back to the US for a headline tour in March/April/May. That will probably be the only US tour we do that year as well. It’s going to be our show – it’ll be a four band bill. It’s more of a theatrical experience – we want to go the other way with it. Most bands, when they come out and support, they give you restrictions. Like no lights, or only two t-shirts, and your sound engineer can only mix you so loud. That’s a really thing that happens pretty regularly.
We want to go a different way with it. I want to invite the bands to bring all their production. Give the people a show. Let’s entertain people with musical theater and performance, not just band practice. That’s our goal with 2020. Bring a really cool show and bring bands without restricting them. Let them express themselves, and give fans a great night of metal with no strings attached. That’s what you can expect from us, and I’ll have that second issue of Death Dreamer as well.