Oxblood Forge – Fear the DecimatorThursday, 5th August 2021
New England has always had a fervent heavy music base with musicians embracing a multi-genre perspective when it comes to likes and influences. Oxblood Forge hail from the Boston, Massachusetts area, a four-piece outfit that delve into a melting pot of genres that can be stoner and doom-oriented one moment, then straight ahead classic/traditional heavy metal the next. Their latest album Decimator contains loads of ripping riffs, solid rhythm section interplay, and spirited vocals that are metal to the bone.
We reached out to all four members on a Zoom session one evening after work – so prepare to catch up on all things Oxblood Forge with vocalist Ken Mackay, guitarist Robb Lioy, bassist Greg Dellaria, and drummer Erik Fraunfelter. You’ll learn more about the formation of the band, the challenges that came up during the recording of Decimator, the killer artwork for the cover, recording an Angel Witch cover, and great tips regarding young musicians and things to consider when moving up the ranks of the scene.
Dead Rhetoric: Oxblood Forge started in 2016, but it’s not like as musicians you haven’t had experiences in other heavy metal/ rock/ hardcore bands over the years. Tell us how you all came together and where you wanted this act to go as far as style and substance that maybe differed from your previous acts?
Robb Lioy: I started the band with Ken from a previous band. We got Greg on bass, and we had a slight lineup change after that to get Erik on drums. It started off being just heavy music, but after the lineup change and we got Erik on board, the style changed a little bit more to heavy metal. We don’t fit in with the stoner or doom scene, but this is what we are doing now and defines us more.
Greg Dellaria: We wanted to play music that makes us happy.
Ken Mackay: We love an old school metal sound, but we still have the sludgy, stoner, doom kind of thing going on. We just want to play old metal, have fun. Wherever it’s going to go, it’s something that I’ve never actually sang in a straight up metal band. Before it was a little more doom/stoner/sludgy, and there (are) still parts of that in the band. With the lineup change, and the Decimator album, this is what we sound like.
Erik Fraunfelter: I joined the band in 2018 – I am hearing a bunch of different things. It felt like a lot of the playing from the older drummer and guitarist they had, they weren’t getting into full songs for the new album. I’m hearing things from a little more thrash and traditional heavy metal side. For me, that’s where my background is. It was easier for me to come together in that style. It didn’t take as much time to mesh, I knew where they were going. I listened, paid attention to what was going on, and dissecting it was the best thing I could do with them. I wanted the drumming to have that thrash and traditional aspect without being too crazy or overplaying. Playing appropriately for the style of this music.
Dead Rhetoric: Decimator is the latest release for the group. How do you believe the songwriting and recording sessions went for this set of material? Were there any surprises, obstacles, struggles, or challenges that had to be worked through, and how do you feel about the final product in comparison to your previous output?
Lioy: The songwriting ended up being pretty easy. The four of us all get along really well, we can come in with a riff and Greg or Erik would help put things together or put in something extra. A lot of the initial parts for the songs I already had. Recording, that was a different story because of COVID-19. We got part of the way through it, I was able to get a lot of my guitars done beforehand, but Greg and Erik had challenges.
Mackay: As far as songwriting with the old lineup compared to the new lineup, things are much smoother now. We are all involved, sharing ideas – where before, someone may not have been allowed to use their idea. Now we all chip into the songs. When Erik joined the band, he had some cool ideas – he can also play guitar, he can play keyboards, on top of being a drummer. We had these different things we could use. Going forward, I can see the various backgrounds we can pull from helping us.
The recording – it didn’t go to bad. We had a two or three month break because of COVID in the middle of recording, then we got back to it. We started in February of 2020, at Red Devil Studios. He had to shut down for a couple of months, but we slowly got back in there. We tried to stay out of the way- we are happy with the sound. There was one song we messed up on that we had to go back and re-record the whole thing – it came out better in the end. “Into the Abyss”. We added more to it.
Dellaria: I had to wait a month to get in there and record after the guitars were done. It was smooth, we had piles and piles of recordings. If we went into the studio now, we could track even more material, we had to stop at some point. We were all very ecstatic to get back into the studio. At the end of it all, you can’t stop the music.
Fraunfelter: The drum parts I spent maybe two days recording them. The thing that happened during COVID, I had some down time where I could work with Ken when he got out of his job, we got in the studio to work on his vocal parts, editing them, backup vocals. That took two to two and a half months to do that. We added some keyboard elements for “Sorcerers”, and then the beginning to “Into the Abyss” and the ending parts to “Ironbound”. I spent time on my own to get the sounds, but not overshadow what the band was doing. We were rolling pretty hard when COVID came around. We were hands on with the process, we made sure with Joel the engineer that we were happy with what we were doing. The mixing process, going back and forth, making sure we got what we wanted. It’s very democratic, we wanted common ground for the best interest of the songs.
Dead Rhetoric: What can you tell us about the vibrant cover art – and do you believe that this aspect is still important to the consumers as it may have been say during the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s?
Fraunfelter: My uncle actually Brad Fraunfelter of BF Illustration did the album artwork. We had the idea for this Decimator character with the dragon. One of the things that’s doing really well for our album sales, people are seeing this alone and are saying ‘wow’. Before they hear any of the music, it commands attention. I don’t think it’s always appropriate to judge a book by its cover, but if you have a nice cover it commands attention. The music should be the most important, but if you have some public relations, some kind of artwork, some social media attention, it will draw some people and interest. If none of this mixes together, see you later. It looks like something you would see with Dio, or King Diamond, you will get what you see.
Lioy: I remember when we first started talking about this. Erik had this idea.
Mackay: Erik told me his uncle was a fantasy illustrator. How can we get him to do something for us? I wanted to make this character for the band. I sort of want him to be a mascot for the future for other albums. A Conan-type album art – I knew Brad has one of his inspirations as Frank Frazetta, I definitely wanted that look on our album. It worked out so cool.
Dellaria: You have Iron Maiden with Eddie, Vic Rattlehead for Megadeth, it’s just cool. It’s like a 13 year old who rides his skateboard around town would dig this.
MacKay: This could be our Eddie, we could use him going forward.
Dead Rhetoric: How would you describe Oxblood Forge when it comes to your live outlook and performances? And how has it been getting the chance to open for bands like Conan, Unearthly Trance, and Manilla Road among others beyond the normal local gig shows across New England?
Lioy: It’s been pretty awesome. Opening for Conan was pretty sweet. With this new lineup, and having Erik’s energy in the band, we went from dudes that used to just stand there, to looking like we are really into it. I’ve heard comments in the past about (Greg), he just stands there and attacks his bass (laughs). And it sounds amazing. There have been a lot of shows… I think Conan and Churchburn were on the same bill.
Mackay: I feel like with our music, when you see us live, we are in your face, a little more energetic. The songs are a little faster, and maybe more aggressive. It’s just going to happen naturally, everyone is playing hard. People have fun when they see us. It’s raw, it’s loud – you can hear Erik screaming from the back of the drums.
Lioy: I always wanted us to be the band on the bill where no matter what bill we were on, you can have us be a hidden treasure band. We have played on metalcore bills out in western MA, and it is often refreshing to have an audience hear us and be surprised that we aren’t like that. We can get on a bill, be comfortable, and hold our own by bringing something different.
MacKay: We like throwing the curveballs. We aren’t what you would normally expect.
Fraunfelter: If you see us live now, I heard one of my buddies say it. It sounded like they have been playing all throughout the pandemic for a year and a half, and it shows when you see us live. Not only have we been recording this album, we have been so into it we should know how to play it live. We feel the rush of wanting to play live with people in front of us. It’s relaxing onstage to be in our element, we let the music take over, how the audience is reacting. We do practice all the time, at least once a week. We get to practice, we are very focused, putting a set list together, running through new material, timing the set to be prepared. We can bring in the aggression in the classic 80’s style of metal.
Dead Rhetoric: You chose an old NWOBHM cover for “Sorcerers” from Angel Witch to add to the original material. What made this song the ideal track for Oxblood Forge to pay tribute to, and what has Angel Witch meant to you as musicians?
Dellaria: I remember going to Newbury Comics when I was younger, and they would have all these imports. They had magazines like Kerrang, Metal Maniacs, and a new section of metal albums. One of the albums they had was the very first Angel Witch album. I bought it based on the album cover. I remember “Angel Witch”, “White Witch” and “Sorcerers” standing out. It was a revelation, the NWOBHM. Hearing bands like Metallica – Ride the Lightning for the first time, you could tell they had a love for Tygers of Pan Tang, Diamond Head, Angel Witch. I remember one of my neighbors having a Venom shirt, so I checked them out. You understood what made these newer bands go further and further into the direction they went because of these influences.
Mackay: We felt that song fit what we could do. It’s raw, simple, kinda punky. And we could make it our own. It’s a different song, the mellow in and out intro and then the verses. We don’t have that loud and soft dynamic in any of our songs, so it makes things a little different. It’s something we could do something with.
Fraunfelter: I’m definitely the youngest person in the band at 33. I had no clue who Angel Witch was. You learn something being in this band. It makes me want to dive deeper into this music. It shows you that traditional style, where it came from and how we incorporate it with new elements. I tried to be as accurate to the song as possible while trying to be sure to play the song with our flavor. When we went into the solo section, Ken made sure to do these big screams – I tried to keep things lively and upbeat.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you consider some of the biggest challenges that Oxblood Forge currently face at this point in your career?
Fraunfelter: One of the biggest challenges we face is trying to get this music in front of as many people as possible, and find as many new fans as possible. To link up to people like you, promoters in new places, getting out there is the biggest challenge now. Where do we go from here? We like playing in Rhode Island, we like playing in Connecticut, and we still want to play the same places- but branch out and play as many different places as possible.
Dellaria: A big challenge in the past was finding the right drummer. We went through a bunch of people and Erik came along – and now boom, off to the races.
Mackay: We are still independent, we don’t really have a label, we are still putting this out ourselves. Hopefully going forward we can find someone to help us out, get this out, we would like to have this out on vinyl and have more distribution everywhere. Just need help in that way. In this day and age, you have the internet to help you. We have a PR company helping us out. Just keep going and get further out of that.
Lioy: In that same vein, we are playing a slightly different style than what we had before us. To Erik’s point, now we are a heavy metal band. There are people that love this – if you like what we are doing, other people are going to like this. Getting signed to Metal Blade would be cool.
Fraunfelter: Do you think one of the bigger challenges before I joined was getting labelled as doom or stoner and having those kind of shows? Or how the band gets marketed to playing those types of shows and festivals? To say we are just a stoner metal band is borderline crazy at this point.
Lioy: Now I would say we are just a metal band. The way we play, it’s like getting comfortable in your own skin. That’s the big thing, getting people to listen to this, and once they listen to this they are going to dig it.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you see as some of the most common missteps or mistakes that younger musicians make in the metal scene that you wish they would avoid – or think differently about? And do you believe there have been specific mistakes that you made in your career that in reality proved to be beneficial down the road?
Lioy: One of the biggest mistakes is not keeping plugging away. When I was younger I had opportunities to open up for bigger bands like Weezer, and I didn’t want to do that. You have to chase the dream, that’s the biggest thing. Set realistic expectations, know where you are and know where you stand. Don’t assume you are going to be Metallica but don’t assume you are going to be playing bars the rest of your life. Bring honesty to the table, that’s my big thing.
Dellaria: Stay away from hard drugs. I never did them, but I have been in bands where they were being done and the bands could have gone further without them. Don’t shit talk on the internet. Stay off the message boards unless you have something very nice to say. Don’t burn too many bridges, unless you really need to – and make sure the bridge is no longer there. I’ve been in thirty years worth of bands, and everything in life is a learning experience.
Fraunfelter: As a younger band, you don’t want to be put in these positions where you are being taken advantage of. You are starting out for the first time, and your buddy’s uncle wants you to play at his club for the first time, but you have to sell all these tickets, pay your dues. I don’t think that’s beneficial, what’s been beneficial for me playing in schools or bands, needing to be able to play with as many people and musicians as possible. You become a more well-rounded musician the more you play with other musicians. The more you listen to others around you, it’s very beneficial in that regard. Years and years down the road, we all get along. We feel like we can talk to each other in this band and not have it be a pissing contest. It’s very easy to get along with people – we want to play together, practice, play shows. You have to be open-minded, even going into the studio – be open to the experience. You never know.
Mackay: In previous bands, when people aren’t getting along or are open to other people’s ideas, people clash. Getting along makes it so much easier.
Fraunfelter: One thing I would say to younger bands is, go out to other shows and shake people’s hands. I have been in bands where people would never do that. Don’t sell yourself short, if you are doing things DIY, it’s hard to move forward if you don’t get out and mingle with that community.
Dead Rhetoric: How does the work/life/band balance come into effect for Oxblood Forge? Do you have proper support from friends, family, significant others for your musical pursuits?
Lioy: That’s a tricky one. I work IT for a hospital, so I am on call a lot. We will see how things go forward when we are back to having actual shows. Greg is retired.
Dellaria: I remember I had to take phone calls sometimes at shows when I was working. But now I am out of that.
Mackay: Right now things are moving very smooth as we are older and have settled into our jobs. We have vacation time, so we use it when we need to between work and practice time. We know how to deal with it.
Fraunfelter: We all communicate well. If stuff comes up, we let everybody know about that. We agree that we will make things work. If you get great communication, you get to alleviate a lot of the headaches that can happen. Everything works itself out in this band.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for Oxblood Forge over the next year or so to support this release? What do you think the live music landscape will look like now that we are coming out of this pandemic?
Lioy: I think you will see the live scene thriving like never before. By the end of the summer, more shows will happen and people want to get out there. People are hungry to leave the house. You will see a lot of bands that you don’t normally see touring. A lot of bands playing together and putting together great bills that people will want to attend. Shadows Fall playing the Palladium.
Mackay: Hopefully we can jump on some strong bills going forward to push this album in front of people.
Fraunfelter: With everyone being stuck inside for the last year or so for the pandemic, having some recording studios open, musicians are going to develop even more music. Now with things getting better, people want to hear more music, see live shows, and feel the relief. I don’t know what the future holds for us – we have four or five fully written songs ready. Hopefully we can do some shopping around to test the waters where that can take us.
Mackay: We have never pushed a release before like this. Hopefully it will build on this. We are learning what to do.