Rhythm of Fear – Architects of Pain

Thursday, 20th October 2022

It’s exciting to hear younger artists taking a wide range of influences across the thrash, hardcore, crossover spectrum beyond the 80’s to develop newer material with their own twist on things. Florida’s Rhythm of Fear since 2010 have been making steady progress, releasing a demo, two EPs plus their Maze of Confusion album DIY, also pulling together some independently booked touring engagements across the US to spread their music to the masses. Their latest album Fatal Horizons packs a massive wallop – serious aggression, angst, groove, plus memorable melodies/musical hooks that circle back to artists from the early 90’s many considered underrated (but not forgotten).

We reached out to vocalist Jay Santiago to get more of the story behind the band signing to MNRK Heavy, their lyrical outlook, thoughts on artwork with Mario Lopez, plenty of discussion on influences, memorable show moments with Metallica and Slayer, plus what concerns him most coming out of the pandemic and future touring plans.

Dead Rhetoric: What are some of your earliest memories surrounding music growing up in childhood? At what point did you start appreciating heavier forms of music – and eventually want to start performing in your own bands?

Jay Santiago: (laughs). That’s a good one. I think I’ve always kind of been infatuated with playing live music. A lot of it started when I was about in fifth or sixth grade. A friend of mine came to me with a CD, and it was a band called AFI – it was Shut Your Mouth and Open Your Eyes. And that remains to be my favorite AFI record to this day. That is what started the fire. From there, I kept listening to more punk music, and then I really loved the aggressive, heavy, fast music. That made me want to start a band of my own, it was in high school, and I used to play drums in a band. Around the time Rhythm of Fear started, I was asked to do vocals, I jumped at the opportunity. And the rest is history!

Dead Rhetoric: Fatal Horizons is the second full-length for Rhythm of Fear. How did you end up signing with MNRK Heavy, and where do you see the major differences on this record compared to your last EP Ritual Dementia of 2019?

Santiago: We were approached by a record label; I don’t remember what year. Pretty much around the beginning of the pandemic, right around almost three years ago, Good Fight Records. They wanted us to sign with them and put the record out, we were talking to them for a little bit. They decided that it wasn’t exactly what they wanted for the record label, they thought it should be on something else. It just so happened that one of the guys at the label is also an A+R rep for what is now MNRK – it was eOne before the name change. He showed us to the higher ups on the record label, and I guess they were stoked to have us.

As far as the records. Do I think this one is different? Yes – we have matured a little bit more since the last record. The music is more well-rounded now, we fell into our sound a little bit more on this record. It’s a tad bit different, but I still feel that it’s Rhythm of Fear.

Dead Rhetoric: It’s evident within your sound that the band has great knowledge of not just thrash and hardcore, but crossover and many other influences. At this point in the band’s career, are there any essential components or aspects that have to be there to pass the final test of approval for Rhythm of Fear?

Santiago: Not necessarily. We have our influences just as anybody else – the Big Four of thrash, Bad Brains, Cro-Mags, things like that. We tend to dive a little bit deeper than that and find bands that were present back then but never quite broke the barrier. We kind of formed the holy trinity which is three of our favorite bands: Slammer from the UK, Cyclone Temple from Chicago, and Forced Entry from Seattle. Which influences our songwriting a lot. As far as things being present, we put our attention on whatever we think sounds good, and what we would like to hear ourselves. We want to stay true to not only our influences and true to what we like as a band and as artists ourselves. We tend to not let people dictate what we should sound like.

Dead Rhetoric: I definitely heard within the record aspects of Cyclone Temple and Forced Entry. I grew up on that material – I Hate Therefore I Am as well as As Above, So Below are two of my favorite records from that era…

Santiago: Perfect! Then you know exactly where we are coming from.

Dead Rhetoric: And when it comes to your vocals, I heard bits and pieces of influences like Tommy Victor of Prong and Phil Rind from Sacred Reich…

Santiago: Those are both great people that I would love to be compared to, that’s awesome. I get a lot of ‘you sound a lot like the guy (Brian Fair) from Shadows Fall’. In my eyes, weird comparisons that I don’t necessarily think I sound like. I love hearing it all, I think it’s awesome.

Dead Rhetoric: Where does the band like to come across as far as the lyrical content? Do you believe that the words, topics, and vocal melodies have as much importance as the musical ideas you deliver?

Santiago: Yes, I think it’s all instrumental and important. With the lyrical content, we tend to write about what’s real to us, and what affects us in our lives. As well as staying true to Rhythm of Fear – we write about a lot of strange things, alien abductions, the occult, serial killers. And I know there’s a lot of negative connotations when it comes to serial killers, but never in our music are we ever going to glorify the actions of serial killers – nor do we even share the names of who we write about. I don’t think that would be fair to the victims or their families. It’s just interesting diving into the psyche of those people.

We try to stay true to the sound that we want and our interests. The real-world topics of racial injustice and police brutality. I suffer from chronic migraines, so we write about that. Anxiety, depression – things that we hope that we can connect with our listeners.

Dead Rhetoric: Tell us about the video shoot for “Tears of Ecstasy” – and the importance of bands these days using the visual medium to promote themselves through social media platforms?

Santiago: Yes. “Tears of Ecstasy” was a song that we wrote directly inspired by Hellraiser. I think we kind of captured that in this video. The importance of video – with the time that we live in now people think that videos aren’t as instrumental as they were at one point when you had Headbangers Ball and MTV showing videos every hour of the day. I think it’s a chance to give the viewer to see us as a band, to see us perform these songs – not just to hear it. As a listener myself I want to visualize as much as I can the band playing, because that’s my favorite thing. That’s why I go to live shows. If I couldn’t see the bands perform, then I wouldn’t go to live shows either. I think it’s very important to have music videos that go along with the songs for the visual aspects, and lyric videos as well.

Dead Rhetoric: What can you tell us about the cover art this time around – you’ve worked with Mario Lopez previously, what do you enjoy most about his work?

Santiago: He does some very beautiful and detailed work. He hand paints everything with acrylic, and it’s a big size painting. We came up with a general idea for the record, and we wanted it to go hand in hand with some of the sci-fi / horror themes on the record. Which we thought he could nail perfectly. We wanted to fit in the overall theme, there is simulation theory on the record too. This is what we were looking for – within a week or so, he had a draft drawing that pretty much was exactly what we were looking for. He’s the easiest person to work with, a great person, Mario.

Dead Rhetoric: How would you describe Rhythm of Fear when it comes to your live performance outlook – and what have been some of the more memorable shows, festival appearances, or tours the band has done to date?

Santiago: Well, our live performance I feel we try to encompass all of our inspiration in one. A lot of us come from hardcore music, and some of us from the metal world. We try to stay true to the performance aspect of thrash metal. Most memorable performances. There have been so many. One of my favorite shows that we’ve played, a show in Jacksonville, Florida, our hometown, we played with Living Colour. It’s such an off the wall band for us to play with, but in the same sense if you think about it, it makes a ton of sense to play with them. Even if they have this catchy, pop sound – they have the aggressive guitar playing, and fast guitars / drums. Living Colour is a great band. The song “Time’s Up” – it sounds very Bad Brains, you know?

Dead Rhetoric: What would you consider some of the biggest challenges the band currently faces in rising up the ranks for your career aspirations/goals?

Santiago: Oh man. COVID-19 for one was a very big challenge. We were doing our thing, trying to get on a record label, trying to get shows, tour, and then when COVID hit, it put everything at a halt. We had our Canadian tours cancelled, we had our US tours cancelled, pretty much there was nothing even locally. That was a big obstacle for the band to overcome. Of course, we have had member changes and things like that, but naturally we’ve just sucked it up and did what we had to do to make it work. Whereas the whole pandemic was a harder hit to us.

Dead Rhetoric: Can you name three albums that help shape your tastes and fuel your passion for heavy music – plus what’s the most treasured concert memory that you have, purely as a fan attending in the audience, and what made that show stand out to you?

Santiago: I mentioned AFI – Shut Your Mouth and Open Your Eyes. For me that was the beginning of everything. I’d have to say – I Hate Therefore I Am, Cyclone Temple, for sure. I would also say Nightmare Scenario from Slammer.

And then performances I’ve seen, most memorable. One of the most memorable, we were on tour, and we stopped in… I believe it was Rock on the Range up north, or it was Chicago Open Air. Metallica was playing. This is a two-part story, so I have two of them. Metallica was playing, they are a big influence on the band. We wanted to be up front for their performance. We wedged our way through the crowd getting up to the front, and it starts pouring rain. Just imagine being in the middle of this, it’s already 90 degrees, pouring rain. The band strikes the first chord, and the crowd surges all the way to the front. We could not breathe – we lifted our heads up to take any kind of breath we could get. It was one of the coolest moments. The second one was from Chicago Open Air – it was Slayer. I’ve seen Slayer out in the crowd numerous times, but it was the first time I was seeing Slayer playing from backstage, side stage. They play a couple of songs, everyone’s hyped and all that. All of a sudden, they stop – and Tom Araya just stands at the front of the stage, he’s taking in the crowd. The crowd is wild – no music, everyone just starts chanting ‘SLAYER’ over and over. I think that was one of the coolest moments, especially knowing they were on their way out, they’ve changed so many people’s lives.

Dead Rhetoric: What are some of the intangible qualities that you believe help Rhythm of Fear standout amidst the thousands of other bands trying to gain a foothold in the scene?

Santiago: I feel like a lot of bands tend to emulate or copy exactly what they hear. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. With my profession and what I’ve always learned through my work is to develop your own style you take a little bit of inspiration from everyone you love and hear, rather than take exactly what they do, and that will form your own style. It’s what we’ve done over time. The mix between aggressive vocals, singing vocals, and really catchy choruses, really helped the band set us apart.

Dead Rhetoric: What are some of the biggest worries or concerns you have regarding the current state of the world today? And where do you think the focus needs to be from a leadership standpoint to start making headway on solving specific issues for the greater good down the line?

Santiago: Where do I start? We tend to stray away from getting really political in the band. I feel like there needs to be police reform, definitely. I think I’m not going to teeter tot on either side, but I will say within politics it doesn’t matter what side you are on, a lot of issues become political that don’t need to be political. I think that is one of the biggest issues in the United States at least. Everything needs to have some sort of reform there.

Dead Rhetoric: What are some of your hobbies, passions, and interests away from music when you like to pursue them?

Santiago: I collect vintage Ninja Turtles, and a lot of other nostalgic toy lines from around the time when I was a kid. I play disc golf; I wish I could play every day but at this point I play about three times a week. I enjoy bowling – I do a lot of the weird stuff that is different than people who play baseball, basketball. Here I am bowling and playing disc golf.

Dead Rhetoric: How would you describe the personal relationships within the band – do you share good friendships in addition to the music endeavors?

Santiago: Yes, I think we do. We definitely have our moments, when you are stuck in a van with four to five smelly, sweaty guys all the time it tends to get a little thick with tension. We get along – Logan and I, the drummer of the band, have been friends for quite a long time. Especially now that the band has been together for twelve years, I think we’ve dealt with each other enough. We know what makes each other happy, it’s a roller coaster ride for sure.

Dead Rhetoric: What is the scene like in your part of Florida for metal/heavy music?

Santiago: Jacksonville, I feel like when I was growing up in the music scene here, (there) was definitely more going on. More local bands, more of a scene period. We would have local shows here and they would sell out. With the current state of the world, it’s a little more difficult, and Jacksonville isn’t what it used to be, but it doesn’t mean that things can’t be resurrected.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for the next year or so to support this new record?

Santiago: We have a tour here coming up with IAM from Texas and Bodybox from Orlando, that’s going to be in November. We have a couple of shows here and there – we will be playing locally with the Cavalera Conspiracy and after that we will see.

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