Esodic – Overcoming Ignorance

Tuesday, 7th May 2024

Jordan probably is not the most well-known country when it comes to thrash/death metal – as the Middle East continues to deal with religious/government upheaval that has led to constant violence over the years. But that’s where Esodic began – as you’ll discover through the story of drummer Zed Amarin in this interview, he soon grew tired of the political backlash towards musicians and moved to California to pursue his career in safer territory. Recruiting bassist/vocalist Kevin McCombs and vocalist/guitarist Michael Nolasco, they’ve developed their second EP in De Facto De Jure. Incorporating Middle Eastern instrumentation against a solid, aggressive thrash/death attack, the band’s approach is solid, dynamic, and should attract a wide array of people from all walks of life.

We got the opportunity to speak with Zed and Kevin about their musical origins, their on the floor approach to recording this EP, the lyrical content that mirrors Zed’s struggles in Jordan to play music, thoughts on moving to Los Angeles, what it was like playing the MetalDays Festival in Slovenia, how Zed’s day job has opened up opportunities for networking in the industry, and what to expect from Esodic in the next year or two.

Dead Rhetoric: What can you tell us about your earliest memories surrounding music during childhood? At what point did you start listening to heavier forms of music – and eventually wanting to pick up an instrument to play music yourself?

Kevin McCombs: At a very young age I had an uncle who grew up playing blues guitar. He introduced me to the music that he liked which was guitar-based music and a lot of it leaned heavier. Through that I got into virtuosic guitar playing like Yngwie and stuff like that. Eventually I transitioned into being fourteen and discovering Cannibal Corpse basically. The rest they say is history. I grew up playing guitar, and switched to playing bass to play in one of my first bands when I lived in Florida. That was about ten years ago – but bass is my primary instrument for sure.

Zed Amarin: I grew up in the Middle East in Jordan. Getting my hands on music in general was not an easy task. It was easier in the 90s than it started – until it got out of hand from the government finding that there are bands and shows, it was a big problem for them. The first time I came across something, I was in middle school and my English teacher happened to be a grunge fan. She gave us an assignment to go to the music store, buy a Nirvana record, and look for the track “The Man Who Sold the World”, listen to the track and write down the lyrics. It made me fall in love with grunge, and I went back to that same music store called Music Box, found Metallica, Sepultura. Having hand drums in Jordan was something normal, so I was into percussion from the time I was three or four. I didn’t have older siblings; my parents weren’t music fans. I was on the lookout, I would go to my friends places, older siblings that would play instruments, they would copy tapes and I would get into more music. I started learning drums from there.

Dead Rhetoric: Was it a challenge for you to get a quality drum set in Jordan due to the circumstances?

Amarin: Of course. Most of the brands you could find were just off-brands. Very low-quality stuff that you can barely use. Growing up, I loved Lars (Ulrich), so I saw his drums were Tama, and I always loved Tama since I was ten or twelve years old. My dad, he remembered that name so one day he came to me and he saw an ad in the newspaper for a used Tama drum set, let’s go see it. I played the kit, I loved it, so my father bought me my first drum set back then. It was way more than I needed, a huge drum kit – it’s still in Jordan where I used to live, right now.

Dead Rhetoric: De Facto De Jure is the latest EP release for Esodic. Tell us about the recording and songwriting process for this set of material – as well as how you think this EP differs from your previous releases?

Amarin: The process was quite different than how bands are (recording) right now. We wanted to keep it a little more real. We would go to the studio and record a jam session for an hour. We would edit things at the studio, the musicians work professionally. It made everything so much easier. We had these sketches, mix and match and sit to put our heads together. We would make songs out of it, mixing and matching the parts. I would then start conceptualizing the ideas. I grew up in the Middle East, so this song would be about the offspring, discuss and bounce ideas. Since English is not my first language, the other guys are better writers in the lyrics, I would talk, and they would become ideas. We would have a song done within a couple of hours.

Dead Rhetoric: How important has it been to inject your natural Middle Eastern influences into the band’s songwriting and lyrical concepts – what do you hope the listeners are able to gain through your content and personal experiences that may not have been aware of or exposed to previously?

Amarin: That’s actually a very good question, thank you so much for asking. I joined the band, I was one of the early drummers that joined the band, most of the other members took different paths in their lives. I was attracted to the whole concept of the band, the politics, the message, even if they agree or disagree about the politics of the Middle East, mostly. I moved to the US, and a lot of people aren’t aware that Saddam had a son, what the son did, they may know the name, but they are unaware of the politics and what he was trying to do. There is always good in the bad and bad in the good. I wanted to tackle things, talk about and inform people about what is happening. “Consequence” talks about the fact that there were no weapons of mass destruction, and the American people were lied to as much as the Iraqi people were lied to on both sides. The main reason that brought America (into the conflict), there was no truth. The aftermath of that has been what the Middle East has been suffering from for years, those dictators for the most part were communists, and they did not want religion within their government. Anybody that exhibits any signs of extreme religion or fanatic would be thrown in jail. When you take those dictators off their chairs and let the country run itself, all those people that were put away now are free. That’s what made Isis become Isis, because those people were just not able to organize.

Dead Rhetoric: How did you come up with the cover art concept for the EP?

Amarin: The cover is a recreation of an incident that we tried so hard to find, but there was nobody that had pictures of it. It was a guy named Tarik El-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi who is a street vendor in Tunisia. The people were so poor, and for him to show the government how much he’s suffering he just lit himself on fire in the city center. That sparked a whole revolution in that country, Libya, Egypt. I wanted to have him be the personification of that cover, lighting himself on fire. We called Rudy my friend, an artist, and mixed and matched the pictures to have this recreation. And that was our cover.

Dead Rhetoric: How would you assess where the band is at this point in your career? What do you think are some of the biggest obstacles or challenges to overcome in making more of an impact with your music or moving up the ladder in terms of a bigger following?

McCombs: I would say especially in heavier genres there is more music that is being released every single day than ever before. It’s harder to cut through the noise than it ever has been. Anytime I show someone this music, they are taken aback by the traditional Eastern elements, and it’s stuff that wasn’t made in a computer. Zed is playing the percussion, a friend of his in Jordan played the kanoon on these tracks to give this a sense of identity. The fact that it’s about political messaging, centered around topics that have been important to Zed’s life and his perspective, it is our intention that this will resonate with people and allow us to be seen.

Dead Rhetoric: How would you compare Esodic live versus what people hear on record? What was it like to be able to play the 2019 edition of the MetalDays Festival in Slovenia, any specific highlights from that festival you’d like to share?

Amarin: The festival was a great experience. It was the first time for Esodic to play outside of the Middle East. I was lucky and fortunate to have people in the organizational team there that invited us to play the festival. It was challenging having everyone get their visas in time, especially because most of the band was all around the world. I was in the US, the old guitarists were both in Dubai, our singer was in Manchester. We had to have friends help and fill in for us to make the festival. The good thing is we played, it was awesome, we made lots of fans, the sound was awesome. It put more fire under our behinds to just go and try to do more and more.

Sadly, right after that show, six months later the pandemic started. We were about to play the Milwaukee Metalfest, and that went out the door because of the pandemic. We are hoping with this release that things will just move ahead, go on stage more. Our version of playing live will be different than what was heard at the MetalDays Festival, we want more production live. We want to incorporate live percussion with the band, as much of the sound on the recording we want people to experience through the live show. In the past we had more of a raw sound.

Dead Rhetoric: What has it been like for you Zed moving to Los Angeles from Jordan? Can you also discuss the challenges you had to go through as a musician playing in a metal genre that is generally suppressed and often legislated negatively by religious groups and the government?

Amarin: In Jordan it was a struggle from day one, consistently. Playing a show, you could end up being in handcuffs with you being in the back of a cop car for no reason. You may not even have a drink, you just go and play a show and at the end of the show you get detained, you get questions, fingers pointed at you, you are considered a Satanist, having long hair, tattoos. That’s basically what ignorance is, they don’t understand what is going on, so they just condemn it. That was how it was dealt with in the past. In the 90s, those things weren’t put under the microscope as much so for a good decade we had more shows. Then they cracked down at the end of the 90s, finding out who organized the shows, throwing them in jail, losing all this money, catching guys from the bands and beat the hell out of them, as if they were doing something bad. They thought these bands were a threat to the national security, it was struggle after struggle.

As a very active person who is also very driven by the things that I love, I tried even when they stopped the shows, I would organize gatherings in parks and public places so we at least as a community still stick together and be friends. It’s very hard being in a city where no one understands why I love a band, what I look like, why are you wearing black shirts, it feels intimate and beautiful when you can hang out with friends. We had a raid on one of our gatherings where we literally just sat in a park and talked. It got to the point that it was time for me to move on.

Since I was a kid, I always wanted to move to Los Angeles. All the thrash scene was here, I knew things would move ahead faster. I tried to create my own Los Angeles in Jordan in many ways, so I had to move on and live the life I wanted to live. When I came here, it was so easy. It’s beautiful, you go to shows, you talk to people and meet people, start working with musicians and get better and better. The only thing that’s different is the musicians here are really good compared to where I was raised. There were three metal guys that played drums in Jordan, but everybody here kicks ass. I had to put my ego outside the door, find a teacher, and relearn my drums over the past eight years just to keep my skills to a certain level where I can actually showcase my skills in a town like this.

Dead Rhetoric: What do you enjoy most about the three-piece lineup for the band? Do you sense specific advantages to your style that you would like to expand upon in this format?

Amarin: The coolest thing in my opinion is the fact that Kevin and Mike can sing. I love it when I see bands like Dying Fetus, part of the lineup of Nile, I like when I see more than one singer on stage, and it gives the band so much more power. That is so much technically better than the lineups that we had in the past. It’s definitely much more powerful in my opinion.

McCombs: The dual vocals, because we both play instruments for this kind of material it’s pushed both me and Michael, our skill sets greatly, to be able to keep up with the material. It has made us far better musicians and vocalists. We are hopeful that the shows we have coming up on over the years are going to be the most powerful Esodic has ever played.

Dead Rhetoric: What do you consider three of the most important metal records that helped shape your outlook on the genre?

McCombs: I’m going to say Cannibal Corpse – Bloodthirst has been an important one. Decapitated – Organic Hallucinosis is big for me, and probably Epitaph – Necrophagist are ones I listen to repeatedly. My tastes lean more technical, in reality the whole umbrella of metal has influenced me greatly. I’m probably leaving out some significant players. Those had the biggest impact on my playing.

Amarin: When it comes to Esodic, we are all involved in other projects, but thrash/death metal, one of the first albums that comes to my mind is Enemy of God – Kreator, I really love that. I think about that album when I write. Exodus- Tempo of the Damned. Some of the early Metallica stuff like Kill ‘Em All. German thrash, they took the Bay Area style and just made things a little more aggressive.

Dead Rhetoric: Zed, you work for Axis Percussion as an A+R manager while also running event planning with your own company Amarin Percussion. What does this work entail, and do you feel it’s been beneficial in building relationships for your own music endeavors through Esodic?

Amarin: This has been a very big part of me gaining a lot of my connections. I’m very grateful for this and lucky to have this. I’ve been friends with Axis for many years, I started working with the company and being on the roster as an artist. I was friends with the former owners Chuck and Karen. As a kid I would watch George Kollas’ videos and they played with those pedals. When I moved to Los Angeles, I discovered their factory was down in Carson which is a 45-minute drive from where I am. I took my car and drove down, introduced myself and I hit it off with them. We built a relationship, I would spend time with them at the booths, and when they needed people, I stepped in as an assembly operator. I handled the artists which has been a job, I rarely think I am working as I’m talking to lots of drummers that I have watched their videos for, all day, every day. I take care of them, being a musician I go to shows all the time I know who plays our brand, who needs the support, who is serious about their craft. I’m happy to be able to be in a place where I can push artists that have the potential to take their craft and themselves very seriously.

My company, due to the pandemic, towards the end of the pandemic, lots of people started companies, organized events. We had lots of down time. I started my company to put together more workshops and clinics for metal drumming. Something I felt like we are lacking and having enough of as opposed to many years ago where clinics were a big thing. I started by hosting Riccardo Merlini and George Kollas, and we are approaching a few others that we want to do this year. We started looking into venues, it’s another way to bring the community together, help and be helped as a drummer, getting to know more people.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel about the state of heavy metal globally in the current marketplace? What are some things you enjoy, and what changes (if any) would you like to make for the greater good of all parties involved?

McCombs: On a positive note, I think popular taste in heavy music is more driven. There is more metal influence in pop and rock styles that people would have shied away from ten years ago. That is good for everyone in the genre, trying to make a living off of guitar-based music. That being said, it feels like the pendulum is swinging from the heavily processed, edited music that we’ve been doing for the past fifteen years or so. It feels like people are craving getting back into their roots, channeling the records of the early 90s, playing without a click maybe, using drum samples. Something that feels more authentic feels like it’s coming back. Old school death metal, that revival is happening with bands like Sanguisugabogg or stuff like that. I’m most excited about that side of things, people who may be able to re-innovate things that have already happened. Pushing the boundaries of things that sound a bit rawer.

Amarin: I totally agree about that. That’s one of the reasons why Michael and I wanted to jam the record out in the studio. We wanted to be more authentic, and I’m seeing more people talking about their releases where they did this the old school way without samples, no quantizing, no clicks. It gives the albums more of a real sound versus the triggers. The past decade, most people have been using the same samples from the same sample packs, bands sound the same, it loses the whole meaning. We choose this genre because of the realism; it goes against the norms of society. We want to be ourselves.

Dead Rhetoric: What hobbies or interests do you have outside of music when you have the free time and energy to pursue them?

McCombs: I make records 90 hours a week, left to my own devices. I do enjoy going bowling from time to time. I grew up doing that, bowling in a league and band practice.

Amarin: I like to work out. That’s my other obsession that I do consistently, I work out every day. Outside of that, there’s very little time because of my job. I practice drumming and working out.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for anything related to Esodic over the next twelve months or so?

Amarin: We are trying to organize and have shows booked as much as possible from now until the end of the year. Start working on some festival bookings for next year. We want to have an at home release show in May or June, organize more and more shows. Other than that, we want to get signed and take this EP to make a longer, full-length version of this.

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