FeaturesShrapnel – The State of Gravity

Shrapnel – The State of Gravity

Photo: Andy Ford

Once a group establishes themselves through a specific style, changes in the formula can often bring about apprehension. That may be the case for UK act Shrapnel through their fourth album In Gravity. Featuring a new bassist/vocalist in Daniel Moran, the songwriting and sound takes on a broader, modern set of influences beyond the thrash platform previously explored on the earlier releases. Mammoth grooves as well as numerous clean melodies enter the picture – yet you’ll still hear the heaviness and extreme nuances that were also a part of the quartet’s sound. We reached out to guitarist Chris Martin to learn more about the thought process behind the new album, how Daniel’s entrance enabled more of an expansion for songwriting, the different artwork approach, thoughts on current thrash versus old school thrash and where they sit in the mix as a band, relationships/responsibilities within the group, favorite memories, and hopeful bucket list goals to check off going into 2024-2025.

Dead Rhetoric: In Gravity is the fourth studio album for Shrapnel. How did the band want to come across through this set of material that may have been different than previous records?

Chris Martin: We’ve done three pretty full-on thrash records. We did the really old school inspired one with The Virus Conspires, we did the more technical kind of black/death influenced thrash record with Raised On Decay, and we went back to the old school mixed with traditional heavy metal for the third one Palace for the Insane. With this one, we’ve completely modernized, and we’ve played on the strengths of Dan, the new vocalist. It’s come out as just a modern metal record. I would not say it’s a thrash record at all. In terms of what we want to achieve with it, in terms of where it comes from and where we hope it goes, it’s a lot more modern. It’s pretty different from the first three records.

Dead Rhetoric: You acquired your latest vocalist/bassist Daniel Moran in 2022. How did this lineup shift occur, and where do you see Daniel’s skill sets and abilities compared to previous singers Aarran and Jae?

Martin: Obviously we lost Aarran in 2022. He had to step out due to mental health reasons. He’s doing great now, and we are really happy for him that he’s been able to step away and find a bit of peace with everything. We wish him all the best. When he stepped out, we had tours booked, we had the record already rolling, and we couldn’t really let it stop. We got Dan in to fill in on the Gama Bomb tour that we had. It was really great, the chemistry was really good, so he stepped in at the right time, and he was happy to join.

He put his mark straight away on the new record. We kind of wanted to move to some bigger choruses. There are hints of it on the Palace record with “Future Sight” and on “Might of Cygnus”, the opening track for that last record. Dan came in, we knew he was an amazing vocalist as we’d seen his band, Reaper. We led into that full force; he’s really shown through on the new record.

With the previous records, Jae and Aarran are great vocalists, they are strong vocalists. I think we always tended to try to make the music as impressive and as riff heavy as we could to kind of fill in any blanks. I think they were quite limited in their ranges and things like that. The delivery and the style were amazing, and it fit, but to make the music as interesting as possible I think we let back on the riffs, and I don’t think we had to do that as much on the new (album). The riffs are killer, but we’ve been able to strip back and let Dan do what he does best, which is a huge vocal range that he has, the big choruses and the in-depth knowledge, skills with melody. He absolutely killed it.

Dead Rhetoric: With the shift in styles, did that open up more horizons as far as the lyrics?

Martin: Very much so. Although I would say most of the lyrics on this one have come from the last two to three years being a pretty painful period of time for most of us. With Aarran stepping out and being a part of that as well, we’ve had a divorce, the loss of family members, all of us really have had a tumultuous couple of years. We really used the album writing process and the lyrics as therapy to be honest. Yes, Dan brought in some stuff that he wanted to bring in and latched onto pretty quickly. The theme of coping mechanisms and using that within the process was there from pretty early on.

Dead Rhetoric: How did the collaborations with Scott Kennedy of Bleed From Within on the title track plus modern shred virtuoso Bradley Hall come about on this record? What do you enjoy most about their work that adds to the final output for Shrapnel?

Martin: So, the Scott Kennedy addition was really interesting. We had a part that we wanted a modern, kind of guttural vocal part on. Initially it wasn’t Scott that we had in mind, there was someone else planned for it. But we had a local vocalist Lee Margaillan from this amazing band called Collapse the Sky – if you don’t know them, please check them out. We wanted him to be involved in the project, whether it was just writing or on this vocal. The label had someone else in mind, they had reached out to another person and unfortunately it didn’t work out. We had Lee to write this mid-section vocal part, he demoed it, and it sounded killer. After hearing that, the label went for Scott because it was a very close match. Bleed From Within are killing it at the moment, we very much are inspired by their new record on In Gravity. The Shrine record is amazing. It fit perfectly, and Scott was on tour at the time, so we had to wait a while for them to finish the tour, but he was the right person. He delivered an amazing part.

The Bradley Hall one as well, we had a bunch of people in mind, he happened to be the quickest to send his solo back. We were blown away by it, straight away. He’s known for being the YouTube personality, he’s an absolutely insane guitar player, and he’s really amazing. We had to include that shred on the record.

Dead Rhetoric: Speaking of guitar work, how are things divided on the records between you and fellow guitarist Nathan Sadd – how would you describe the similarities or differences between your styles?

Martin: I owe a lot of my guitar playing to Nate. When we first started the band back in late 2008, early 2009, I wasn’t even proficient. Nate was really quite accomplished already. I grew up learning songs that Nate was writing for Shrapnel. Most of my guitar playing is very much influenced by this. Now when we are writing things, I can pick up on what he is going for, and what’s he’s trying to do. The songs that I write now are very much influenced by Nate’s playing and what I’ve learned from him. I owe a lot of my playing to him, to be honest.

He grew up with a lot of the thrash stuff, and the late 90s, early 2000’s American modern metal and nu-metal. Chimaira, Slayer, these kinds of bands. I was very much an old school thrash head only – Megadeth was everything. He has led into a lot of that stuff he learned from the early 2000s and I have come in being an old school thrasher who has just recently massively gotten into bands like Gojira. Those are the differences, I would say.

Dead Rhetoric: You worked with Swedish producer Jens Bogren, best known for his work with acts like Amon Amarth, Sepultura, and Soilwork among others. What did you enjoy most about his process and methods, did you feel like he was able to draw different things out of the band to benefit the final product that much more than previously achieved?

Martin: I would say he was able to make everything sound a million times better than we expected. In terms of the actual producing, I would say that we already had it down before. He did a great job in the mix and mastering, and there were a few things that changed around from conversations that we had. We learned a lot about producing and writing a record from working with Russ Russell in the past and Scott Atkins. The writing we nailed down pretty early. In terms of the production and getting things down for the songwriting, it was mostly done before he had it. There were a few changes, the intro to the record we had overcomplicated and layered up too much, he stripped that back. We recorded the record ourselves, then we sent it to Jens, and we were blown away when we got the masters back from him.

Dead Rhetoric: The artwork looks a little different as well, matching the style change of the record. What was the approach you took with this?

Martin: Funny enough the artwork we went with, that was very much our label manager to come up with that. We had an artwork idea that we were playing around with for a really long time, with Dan Goldsworthy who has done a lot of covers as of late. He did our Sodom and Metallica covers when we did those cover songs, he did the artwork that went along with those. We moved onto Costin Chioreanu who did the last record. He’s done loads of modern things, he did a piece for us that we loved, but it didn’t sit right for the label. The label manager wanted an obvious shift in direction, a more photographic based work. I think he was right; I think it does what we needed to do with this.

Dead Rhetoric: During the pandemic you released some special covers of “The Saw Is the Law” from Sodom and “Damage Inc.” by Metallica. What have these two bands meant to members of Shrapnel over the years, and how did it feel to tackle some classic material from these veteran thrash acts?

Martin: Yeah, everything. We grew up with Metallica. Metallica is the gateway band for all of us, I think. To be able to do “Damage Inc.” off Master of Puppets was huge. We did it as well because of the anniversary for that record. Sodom as well, they are a band as well that we grew up with. Our first EP is immensely Sodom-inspired. Aarran was the biggest Sodom fan as well. We were happy to oblige. We went out to Dortmund to hang out with most of the Sodom guys and the band Bonded they moved onto afterwards. On the “Damage Inc.” cover, we were also fortunate to have Kragen Lum of Heathen play guitar on this – another Bay Area hero of ours.

Dead Rhetoric: What are you views on the state of thrash metal and the support that veteran artists receive versus the second (or third) generation of acts striving to move up the ranks? Do you believe Shrapnel has received proper respect and support not only from the younger followers, but also the older people still supporting the thrash scene?

Martin: I’m a bit mixed on this. I think that the way things are now is pretty tricky for thrash bands. It’s one of the reasons why we’ve moved away from it a little bit. There’s a bit of a divide, lots of people want bands to be as good as the old school, that’s held in such high regard. Are you ever going to be as good as Megadeth or Exodus? To name the most obvious ones there. There’s an expectation there that you almost should be as good as those bands, but there’s also that expectation that you are never going to be as good as these old school bands. Where do you sit? You have to do as good as you can do. We’ve done three great thrash records. The first record is really highly regarded and well received. As things have gotten more modern and streaming has come about, bands are a bit more technical and proficient now. It’s got harder and harder.

Our second record had its issues with the record label changing hands at the time, it was dropped between the cracks a bit. We also fell apart a bit, we had a little hiatus at the time. It caused us some issues, but we were able to bring things back on the third record. The response we’ve had from thrash fans globally has been amazing. We are keen not to get pigeonholed and placed in that box you can’t really get rid of, never being as big as the original guys. We are not the niche like Power Trip that started to kick off. It was a bit of an adapt or die thing in there as well.

Dead Rhetoric: When it comes to the career highlights of Shrapnel, what specific albums, shows, tours, festival appearances, or other activities stand out where you knew you were making a move up the ranks and a bigger impact with your music?

Martin: Opening in the early days for Sepultura within six months of starting this band. It was unreal. When we played Bloodstock Festival, the second time on the second stage quite high up the billing, that was huge for us as well. We didn’t ever expect to play festivals like that, to have a decent billing. Invited out to play House of Metal in Sweden, being able to play alongside bands like Carcass, Nervosa, which was huge. We were able to then, after COVID, get back over to Europe and we had huge turnouts in places like Vienna, Berlin. Playing European cities we’ve never been able to play before, and have people turn up and knowing all the lyrics, air guitaring along to all the riffs, it was surreal.

Dead Rhetoric: How would you describe the relationships between band members – are there specific roles that you feel comfortable handling not just as musicians but also spreading out business / social media related activities so that no one feels overwhelmed?

Martin: That’s a great question. We have swapped roles over time. It used to be that I did almost everything. When I went through some personal issues, I had to step away from stuff, and to keep everything going, Nathan and Chris our drummer, they took over almost everything. I am eternally grateful for this. Since stepping back into this, we are able to share the workload out a lot more. In terms of the management, booking, general contact and emails, I do almost all of that now. Nathan essentially runs all of our social media side of things, asset creation, his part has been super helpful as far as stylistic choices. Chris plays drums for Gama Bomb as well so he’s really busy, but he has great contacts and does a lot of the one-to-one contact, reaching out to industry people as well as to fans. Dan has been a star as well – he put us in touch with Bradley Hall to get the solo on the record. He’s been able to help out a lot, he used to manage bands as well. It’s been very collaborative, much more so than it used to be.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s the worst piece of advice you see younger artists receiving when it comes to the metal scene or industry?

Martin: I would say play as much as possible and don’t worry about what gigs you are playing. I think it’s better to play slightly fewer shows and make sure that they are impactful and important. So often I see bands touring, playing to no one, and bankrupting themselves because they are not selling merchandise, you can’t sell merch to empty rooms, they aren’t getting paid because they’ve agreed to these shows for nothing. It’s all well and good getting the experience, and I do think it’s important, you will have bad and not well-attended shows. But playing for the sake of playing, and not being picky about who you are playing for and where you are playing, I think it’s advice thrown around a lot that bands should really reconsider.

Dead Rhetoric: How would you describe the state of the UK scene at this point – are there specific styles that go over better than others? In the past, Brexit caused a lot of trouble for bands touring across Europe – has that affected you as well?

Martin: The scene in the UK is amazing. The standard of the bands coming out of the underground is insane at the moment in the UK. It varies from city to city. In Norwich, the doom scene is amazing – five or ten years ago I would never have thought that. Great modern metal bands, great doom bands, but I think the thrash scene has disappeared. In Manchester, thrash, black and death metal is big. It varies, every city has their big go to genre. Glasgow has great shows. Modern metal is taking over, the technical stuff is going over. I don’t want to just say djent, but the more modern sound.

In terms of Brexit, we definitely notice less bands come here. You see European dates announced, and maybe one UK show rather than a UK tour for the most part. Getting over to Europe right now is so expensive. We did it last summer after Brexit, and it was nowhere near as bad as we were expecting it to be. It was affordable and doable, not much more challenging than it was before. I hope a lot of this is uncertainty, but with the bigger bands I think there’s so much extra costs involved in terms of visas, taxes, all that stuff.

Dead Rhetoric: If you had unlimited time, resources, and energy to tackle one or two of the biggest challenges humanity is facing today, where would you put the greatest attention to hopefully develop the most sustainable improvement across the globe?

Martin: That’s a really great question. For me, the two things would be – everywhere across every nation you will see huge divides at the moment. Whether that be religion or politics, even race and social issues. If there would be a way to tackle those divides across the board, I guess it would be done. I would love to see people coming together more. People seem to be absolutely divided on everything – whether it’s what you are eating even. Stop seeing and creating conflict would be one of them. The other would be environmental. It’s a huge issue only getting worse. If you have kids, it’s something that you start to consider more and more. Growing up I knew about it but didn’t consider it.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for Shrapnel over the next twelve months to support the record? Any specific bucket list items you want to check off personally or professionally during that time?

Martin: This summer is not going to be as busy as we want it to be, because of logistics. Next summer though we want to be hitting the festivals. We had a couple of cancellations this summer, we had to move some things to next summer. We would really like to play Hellfest and Wacken, and also play Japan. We want to play South America. Between now and over this whole album cycle, play Europe again, as much gigging as we can with some great support slots. We would love to tour with some bigger bands and play some bigger venues.

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