Interview: Chrome Division ready to head out for the highway with “Booze, Broads And Beelzebub”

 

Chrome Division — Norway’s answer to hellbent-for-leather biker rock ‘n’ roll — began life as a side project of sorts, as individual members broke away from their main bands to bash out some straight-ahead metal.

But the “side project” has now grown into a monster of its own — which suits bassist Bjorn Luna just fine.

“I came to a point where I was getting very tired of slow song-making. It takes a lot of your time and a lot of your strength,” Luna said, during a marathon day of interview calls to promote Chrome Division’s latest high-octane blast, “Booze, Broads And Beelzebub” (Nuclear Blast).

“It’s better to let it all out, that feeling, and hear the result immediately,” Luna said. “I’ve chosen to focus on Chrome Division.”

As the name suggests, “Booze, Broads and Beelzebub” is a full-speed celebration of sex, sin and whiskey shots — which might seem surprising to some, when the lineup includes Shagrath (the corpse-painted, acid-spitting lead singer of symphonic black metal demons Dimmu Borgir) and Luna, who was best known before Chrome Division for his work with gothic, doom-infused “Gregorian metal” of Ashes to Ashes.

Despite the pedigree in blackness, Chrome Division are not dabbling idly in Motorheaded rock ‘n’ roll. Shagrath and Ricky Black slash out the power chords like Angus and Malcolm on speed, Luna and drummer Tony White lay down a speeding beat and vocalist Eddie Guz (of the Carburetors) barks out tales of bad men, wicked women, loud engines and broken bottles of beer, with a voice that sounds permanently coarsened by years of bourbon, cigarettes and shouting over roaring engines.

For Luna, the change from goth metal to grab-em-by-the-throat rock ‘n’ roll was just the switch he wanted when he joined Chrome Division in 2004.

“I think in the beginning when you start a band, you have to try to see if it works out,” Luna said. “This is something we had talked about for a long time when we were out drinking. I said to Shagrath, ‘how about doing something that’s less complicated and more fun?’”

By the time Luna joined the band, Shagrath and drummer Lex Icon had been jamming as Chrome Division for about five years. It was Luna who asked Eddie Guz to lend his throat to the mix. Black signed on as lead guitar, Lex Icon departed and Minas Tirith drummer White climbed aboard, and the band released it’s first gut punch, “Doomsday Rock ‘N Roll” in 2006.

From the opening guitar growl and Guz’s” blistered-throat “Gittup!” on “Doomsday’s” first single “Serial Killer,” it was obvious the boys of Chrome Division meant business.

“We started out as having the goal of a single,” Luna said. “I think the song writing went so well a single was out of the question. I think from then on it was evident we were going to continue on, because it felt so right.”

When asked if the satisfaction he receives from CD is different from what he experienced in Ashes to Ashes, Luna said, “it’s a completely different world.”
 

“It’s another way of thinking about music,” he said. “(With) Ashes to Ashes, there are long songs with complicated structures … and instruments on top of each other. The song structures of Chrome Division are a very simple way of doing it — verse, chorus, verse.”

While the songs are much more stripped down than the music of Ashes to Ashes or Dimmu Borgir, Luna said the apparent simplicity of the structures can be deceiving.

“Even though the music seems very easy to make, we try to make the music as good as possible and the choruses as good as possible,” Luna said. In most cases, the band refines its songs for months before they’re ready for the recording studio.

 “We can jam a song together in one rehearsal … but the song writing takes more time than people have the impression in the beginning.”

“Booze, Broads and Beelzebub” is a fun blast of dirty, sleazy rock, from the hell-raising title track to stompers like “Hate This Town,” “Let’s Hear It” and the mammoth blues-thrash of “Doomsday Rider.” While the Motorhead, ZZ Top and Rev. Horton Heat influences are certainly embedded in the songs, there are also twining melodies that suggest just the faintest cross-pollination with black metal guitar.

The band took a chance on the album, and paid tribute to one of Luna’s idols, by recording their on take on ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man.”

“I’m a big fan of ZZ Top and I’ve always been,” Luna said. “That was my first concert. I went in 1986, the ‘Afterburner’ tour. I was listening to (’Sharp Dressed Man’) in my car one day and I thought, ‘how cool this song could by with a more powerful sound.’”

While the cover song is a homage, Luna said it was important to refashion the song in their own style.

“There’s no reason for making a cover that completely like the original,” Luna said. “I like the original, of course and I like listening to it, but it’s cool to have a (version) that’s different from the original.”

Although Dimmu Borgir is busy on tour, there is some talk of a Chrome Division U.S. sprint some time in the winter, Luna said. But for now, the plans are little more than just talk.

For a band that spins yarns of steel horses, hangovers, beer hall brawls and wild women, the individual members don’t try to constantly live that life, Luna said.

“To be honest, we’re in our 30s and not drinking 24-7,” Luna said. “We like to drink and have a good time, and when the chance comes we try to have that kind of life, but it’s not like when you’re 18 or 20 years old.”

But just because they don’t party every day like there’s no tomorrow, they still want to celebrate all that booze and sin have to offer, Luna said.

 “We’re all a little bit settled down, but we’re still attracted by this life,” he said. “When you write rock ‘n’ roll music, the only thing that matters is bringing forth that lifestyle.”

To listen, visit www.myspace.com/chromedivision

Or watch the video for “Serial Killer” from “Doomsday Rock ‘N Roll”

Run, Immortal kids! Run!

Ah, the glory of wasting time on YouTube. You never know what you’ll find.

Take this, for example. Black metal fanatics (or, at least, a bunch of junior high school students with mom’s camcorder, some Halloween make-up and too much time on their hands) decided to create an homage to Immortal’s sinister video “Call of the Wintermoon.” Classic. Good work on the editing too, guys. I can’t tell: It that girl actually breathing fire, or is it just a fancy editing trick?

Metallica vs. The Downloaders

There aren’t many bands in metal more loved – and loathed – than Metallica.

Check any metal site with a comment section, and you’ll find dudes lined up around the block to criticize anything everything Metallica says and does. 

Yeah, old-school fans can argue that the band slipped with “Load” and “Reload” in the 1990s, and I would agree. I didn’t purchase either of those discs, and I couldn’t generate much enthusiasm for the singles that made the radio (the best were “Fuel” and “The Unforgiven II,” while the low point was “Better Than You” IMHO). While I didn’t feel the band had betrayed its metal roots, the “Load/Reload” singles were definitely a letdown for a fan who had come of age with the band’s first four albums.

“St. Anger” generates a lot of wrath, particularly with the posters on Blabbermouth.net, … but I think the album gets an unfairly bad rap. While there certainly were issues with “St. Anger” (many of the songs were unnecessarily long and the production made drummer Lars Ulrich sound like he was playing a drumkit made of metal garbage cans), I appreciated the emotional rawness of the album. James Hetfield was coming to grips with decades of alcoholism, bassist Jason Newsted — who at one time had seemed the most dedicated member of Metallica — had quit after battling Hetfield over creative issues and the band was in danger of falling apart. “St. Anger” was tortured music for a tortured time. While “St. Anger” is hardly my favorite Metallica disc, I give them credit for baring their souls in such a gut-wrenching manner.

I understand the complaints of old-school fans who were bored with “Load/Reload,” and I can at least see the point of view from the crowd who found little to love about the sololess, overly-long “St. Anger,” but the real reason many “fans” hate Metallica can be summed up with a one concise word: Napster.

In July 2000, Ulrich testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about what he saw as Napster’s negative effect on the music industry in general.  The band became aware Napster was offering free downloads of its songs when rough cuts of “I Disappear” began appearing on rock radio. Ulrich’s contention that artists should have the ability to control how they release their music generated just a little bit of irritation among some fans.

“I am a true music fan,” One particularly outraged Blabbermouth poster wrote. ” … I have bought every Metallica album, except St. Anger (I downloaded it), some more than once … I’ve spent nearly $1000 on Metallica myself over the years.

“Enter Napster, I found a site that was fantastic. I was getting exposed to more new music than ever before. And I was contributing to the bands I discovered and really liked. Seeing shows, buying merch, spreading the word, and STILL buying the albums. I had amassed a collection of over 100,000 songs on my computer. People used to come to my house just to listen to music. This was about SHARING. Then Lars opened his big fat mouth. First came the cease and desist order from the RIAA. Then came the hackers who tried to wipe my computer clean on numerous occasions … Then came the ultimate, the federal government at my door to (seize) my computer.

“… It’s not like I was pushing kiddie porn or snuff films. I was sharing music. Rare bootlegs. Obscure rock. Classic (songs). Weird stuff. Unreleased (songs). Was I burning it and selling it? … NO!!! I never made a single cent profit off of it. I had money offered to me constantly for people to burn them discs, and I would refuse. I would tell them to guy buy it, and explain why. And no one ever had a problem with it.”

On the surface, his argument seems reasonable. But what the blabberposter fails to realize is this: If he was downloading 100,000 songs, it’s very likely a lot of other people were grabbing up thousands of free songs, too … and I don’t imagine all of those people felt the same duty to go out and buy songs they’d already ripped from the Web, free of charge. They probably didn’t have any qualms about transferring those songs to others, either.

So, are greedy Lars and the boys guilty of killing their fanbase by not allowing people to freely share their music? Is file sharing any different, really, from the tape trading helped generate such buzz for Metallica in the early years?

Yes, it is different, and the people who are still outraged by Metallica’s attack on Napster miss a rather vital point. Namely, that if they don’t like to work for free, they shouldn’t expect Metallica or any other band to give away their creative product for free, either.

The issue of free downloading was much bigger than Metallica — Ulrich said is his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee:

“Remember too, that my band, Metallica, is fortunate enough to make a great living from what it does. Most artists are barely earning a decent wage and need every source of revenue available to scrape by. Also keep in mind that the primary source of income for most songwriters is from the sale of records. Every time a Napster enthusiast downloads a song, it takes money from the pockets of all these members of the creative community.”

 One of the most common comments bashers make about Metallica is that they’re greedy. A particularly clever blogger even started calling Lars “Lar$,” and the animators at Jib-Jab got some mileage out of the controversy with the (admittedly hilarious) “Money Good, Napster Bad” video. But here’s the question: Who gets to decide when Ulrich and the rest of Metallica is “rich enough”? Is there a point where they should simply give away all of their music for free?

If anyone should make that call, it should be Metallica themselves. They don’t need Napster (or fans who feel they’ve paid enough for Metallica music over the years), taking that choice away from them.

“But Metallica is already rich, so they don’t need the extra dough,” you might say. Well, maybe, but as Ulrich said, not every artist has been as lucky as Metallica. If it’s fine to download Metallica’s music for free, is it also OK to grab up Enslaved MP3s off the Web? Enslaved won’t sell a quarter of the records Metallica has sold over the years. Can I steal all the Agalloch songs I want, even though I know Agalloch will never reach gold or platinum record status? Is it a “Robin Hood” virtue when you steal from Metallica, but theft when you download tracks from Immortal or Grand Magus?

Here’s the simple fact the pro-Napster, anti-Metallica camp never seemed to grasp: No band owes you free music. If any artists chooses to give away music, as Nine Inch Nails recently did by offering free downloads of “The Slip” on its Web site, that’s great. And let’s be fair: Metallica has a large catalogue of complete concerts people can download, free of charge, from the band’s Web site.

The difference is, in both cases, Metallica and NIN’s Trent Reznor decided to release the music themselves. Napster didn’t give bands that choice.

Here’s the part I never understood: If you like a band, why would you steal their music? A lot of metal bands are scraping below the mainstream radar, living off record sales and maybe merch (good luck making money off touring this year in the U.S., with gasoline at $4 a gallon). I particularly love Type O Negative, but what kind of fan would I be if I downloaded “Dead Again” and “Bloody Kisses” for free? If anything, my download would only increase the possibility that Pete and the boys won’t release a new album a year from now. As a fan, isn’t that the last thing I want?

Is there greed in the music industry? Sure. Chain records stores and record labels have created tons of ill will over the years by mercilessly gouging customers (I mean, really: $19 for a new disc at FYE? Are they insane?) — but that’s easily avoided by buying albums from label Web sites or places like Amazon.com. As a rule, I try to buy as little in the record store as possible.

But in general, it’s pretty simple: If you like Metallica — or Opeth or High on Fire or Exodus or Dimmu Borgir or Iron Maiden or any other band — you shouldn’t be offended by the thought of shelling out a few bucks to buy their albums. If you don’t want to do that, I can’t hold a gun to your head … but I would say with “friends” like you, metal music doesn’t need any enemies.

Review: Nachtmystium’s "Worldfall" (Century Media)

 Chicago’s Nachtmystium first appeared on my radar with “Instinct: Decay,” an album that blended the rawness of black metal with stoned-out psychedelica, tripping rhythms and computer gurgles that warbled like Hal from “2001: A Space Odyssey” mating with a Radio Shack calculator. And I mean all of that in a very good way. Even though vocalist/lead guitarist Blake Judd hadn’t dropped his black metal name (“Azentrius”) at that point, it was pretty clear from “Instinct: Decay” that Judd was leaving the winter woods of black metal behind and heading into uncharted territory.

Judd has been distancing himself from black metal (or at least saying he doesn’t intend to be fenced in by the genre’s traditional sound), and “Worldfall” shows the man is serious about pushing his musical boundaries. The title track moves with the stealthy lethargy of a boa constrictor wrapping around your torso as you sleep, without a single double-picked sixteenth guitar note to be found. Judd whispers doom and oblivion, while a backing chorus laments in harmony, like angels at a funeral. Even when the song unleashes its double kickdrum assault, it holds its creepy beauty. Harmony? Beauty? That’s right. “Worldfall” is a real breakthrough — and it’s only the first freakin’ track of the disc.

As if to bring things back to the evil center, track two, “Depravity,” is about as close to traditional black metal as “Wordfall” gets, although the midsection contains a spaced-out synth interlude before rushing back into madness. “Solitary Voyage,” a re-recording from the band’s “Demise” album, is another shift of pace: The track is a slow swan dive into a wave of late 1980s synth-guitar, as if Iron Maiden had cut “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” with a black metal rasper instead of Bruce Dickinson.

“Rose clouds of Holocaust” and “IV” are Death in June and Goatsnake covers, respectively.  “Rose Clouds” is a keyboard heavy pagan dance that owes a larger debt to Bauhaus than black metal. The final track, “IV,” is just a kick, as Judd throws black metal out the window for a blast of lumbering stoner rock. While all the previous tracks included at least some black metal vocals, Judd dumps the rasp on “IV” to sing in clean vocals — well, “clean” if you can ignore the “I’m so baked I can barely stand up, man” vibe in Judd’s delivery.

Black metal traditionalists will much to dislike here, which is fine. That copy of Emperor’s “In the Nightside Eclipse” sounds just as good today as it did when it was released last decade — so if innovation isn’t your cup of blood, stick with the black metal classics. But if you’re looking for an album that pushes the boundaries of black metal without completely severing itself from the genre’s twisted roots, “Wordfall” is worthy or your attention.