Oli Pritchard goes backstage at Rock al Parque and speaks to Sepultura, Black Dahlia Murder, Napalm Death, GBH, Baroness and Deafheaven
A shudder runs through the throng of journos waiting for Sepultura. Derrick Green is leading the band through the crowd. Big enough on stage, he hulks over us in person. Green’s curiously nervous, almost shy as he opens with praise: “Thank you for having us, it’s an honour to be here. It’s really special for us. Bogotá is one of the places we tell people about around the world.”
Founder member, Andreas Kisser (bizarrely wearing a Celtic top), takes the reins for most of the chat. Responding to questions about the style of their later material, he claims that “since Roots was released, there have been many changes”.
“Yes, Max left, but that was a long time ago. We are continuing to do new things, to make new music, new lyrics. We’re very content now with the dynamic of the band.”
He acknowledges the past as he comments that, “Roots was a great album, but that time and that style is our past now. We’re in Colombia to present works from throughout our career”. He’s wrong, of course, few people are going to care about anything after Roots, but fair play for confidence.
Moving on to talk about Latin metal, he recognises that Sepultura have been pivotal in the development of the scene. “30 years ago there weren’t many of us, and not at all big. It’s great to have events like [Rock al Parque], with opportunities for so many bands. South America is a very metal continent and, I don’t know…that’s why it’s so important for us to play here. We’re lucky enough to travel around the world, but South America will always be special”.
The next question concerns the search for the next Sepultura, and Derrick fudges an answer by saying “it’s difficult to pick one band there are so many. It’s hard to keep going, to have the patience to wait for success, to travel, to be away from family. It’s hard to have the heart to do that”.
Black Dahlia Murder
Still pumped from their devastating show, the Black Dahlia boys gather on the sofas. They’re still getting over the biggest audience they’ve ever seen. “That was the most people I’ve seen in my entire human life” says Trevor Strnad, suggesting that he may not be totally human.
“It was insane, I was not ready for that”, he confesses. “This is much bigger than any festival in the US and the Latin people are cool.”
It’s clear the audience has them fired up as he enthuses, “We’re always on the road, but we’ll be back as soon as possible”.
Drummer Alan Cassidy says he’d “like to see Goretrade today, that’d be cool, but I don’t know much about Latin metal bands”. Then they’re quickly whisked away backstage, clearly still knackered from the show.
Barney is the solo representative of Napalm Death today, laying back on the sofa with a nonchalant ease, although crossed legs warn of a coiled energy lurking below the surface. He fields the standard question about expectations of the festival with a straight bat: “I don’t really have any expectations” he states in that distinctive Brummie drawl. “I treat everything the same, then you can’t go wrong and always give 100% application.”
He recounts his experience writing a letter to the (metal-loving) Indonesian president to call for the repeal of the death sentence, “as a human being, I felt I had to write that. It wasn’t successful, but I am calling for him to cancel the death penalty on a wider level. I think it’s one of the marks of a humane group of people, to not inflict those things on other people. It perpetuates a cycle of violence and changes nothing.”
As the father of grindcore, he has advice for younger bands as he says, “It’s probably accurate to say that the most important thing is to do what you want. If people tell you to go in directions you’re not comfortable with, then you shouldn’t. Of course, take advice, but after, if you feel something’s not correct, musically or generally, then don’t do it. One of the reasons, I think, why Napalm has been around so long, is because we always took our own decisions, to do or not do things. Always do what you feel is right, even after consultation with other people”.
I tell Barney I’ve seen them play all around the UK, in small venues and that it must be different to be looking forward to a headline slot in front of 80,000. “Yeah, it does feel different”, he agrees, “you’re correct when you say that we usually play smaller venues, but we do get asked to do festivals.” Sure, say I, but not as main stage headliners.
“Yeah, it’s usually a tent” he concedes, “but my attitude is that whether there’s 50 people or 50,000, you have to treat it the same. It’s that simple, because at the end of the day, it’s about the music, not the money. It’s quite strange sometimes, because people call us a big band, but we play basically underground venues.”
He connects this to the underground movement “you have to remember that 90% of the bands here this weekend, Napalm included, wouldn’t be here without the underground scene, so it’s still really important.”
Final word as we get a cheesy photo of him with the paper: “Brexit? Stupid.” Still angry, still intense, still Napalm Death.
“It’s strange for us to play in the daylight. We’re kind of a midnight club band.” Colin Abrahall of punk pioneers GBH gives his first answer to a question that hasn’t been asked. Anarchy in the DC. It gets political as Brexit is again mentioned and Abrahall’s views are clear, “as always, it’s the people on the bottom that suffer. The politicians, for them it’s the same [as before]”.
Drummer Scott Preece is visibly pleased when I tell him that Farage has resigned “they just played to fear, classic divide and rule stuff. Good news though, he’s a right bastard”.
On the subject of the band’s longevity, he says “we finished on a new song, Momentum, that we haven’t recorded yet, it’s gonna be on the new album. It sums up our life really, always moving, always got momentum. Some of the young bands now, management wrap them in cotton wool (…) they should stick em on a two year tour of the UK and then see if they need personal assistants.”
“Only two types of music, good and bad”, contributes Preece, before Abrahall butts in “I thought you were going to say rock and roll!”. Old punks never die, and never get boring either, it seems.
Baroness have waited a long time to get to Colombia, and it hasn’t let them down “This is great, we’re really happy to be here. We’re really stoked to be here”, says guitarist John Dyer Baizley.
Fellow guitarist Pete Adams agrees: “It’s weird, we’ve been a band since 2003 and we’ve been drawn since the beginning to come down this way. It seems odd to me that it’s taken us this long to make it here.” Plane tickets must be hard to come by in Virginia.
“This is the first show we’ve played south of [the US]. Everything’s been awesome so far, we’ve had no complaints at all. As far as this festival goes, we’ve only been here 20 minutes, but it’s been great. We’ve always been aware that the Latin heavy metal and hard rock scene has been massive and we’ve always wanted to come. This is has been a really great start. Awesome. This has been one of the biggest and most awesome crowds we’ve ever seen.”
Talking about the bus accident near Bath in England, that left two members unable to continue with the band, Baizley says “we got these two guys [rhythm section]. To keep it light, it’s been positive. Having Nick and Seb join the band has been nothing but positive. Better in every way shape and form. We couldn’t have asked for two better guys to come in.” Pretty conclusive.
They talk about their stage preparations next. “To play music like this, high energy, lots of noise, you have to be able to move. If you were to turn up to a show and just go for it, you would feel it the next day. We’re still relatively young people, and when we perform it’s a physical performance. Therefore, we have to keep our minds and our bodies in shape.”
Bassist Nick Jost chips in “pull ups and lots of basketball. We all have fantastic abs”. It goes a bit weird for a bit as they compare bodies with each other before drummer Sebastian Thomson comments “Siestas! Might sound stupid, but I’m kinda serious. You never know when you’ll be able to sleep, where you have to be, so get that rest when you can. Conserve energy. Like a reptile.”
Baizley laughs, saying “he already took two today. Before and after soundcheck”.
There’s inevitable talk of Mastodon, and Baizley is clear. “I’ve always said, it weren’t for Mastodon coming up, it wouldn’t have allowed any of us to do what we do. Their success allowed us to be heard, and to do what we do. Otherwise, it might have been different. Playing how we did at the start, and having Mastodon become so popular, really helped us out.
“They’re only a couple of years older than us, but they paved the way. Now we do something slightly different, but we’ve developed an awesome relationship with that band, both musically and personally, which is great. The comparisons are drawn because of our shared musical influences: we come from the same region and we started at similar times.”
One word, then, to sum up Baroness? Awesome.
Speaking to us after their show, Deafheaven are sweaty and tired, but clearly excited. They put on one of the weekend’s best performances, and it’s been etched into their faces and goofy grins. Like Baroness before them, it was “awesome”.
“We were lucky enough to play as the sun was setting, and I think that really added to the atmosphere, the experience.”
Singer George Clarke goes on to describe the artistic vision of the band “for us it’s important, just to write music that we care about, to be authentic in what we do, to be honest in it, and to give ourselves to it completely. Our music is very giving, and honesty, on that level, translates to everyone.”
The band recently moved across California, but dismiss the idea that it has affected the writing. “No, not at all. We do the majority of the songwriting in the Bay Area, then we all come together with our different ideas and the songs take shape.”
The black metal tag has always hung awkwardly around the band’s neck, and they have repeatedly disowned it. “We listen to a lot of different forms of music and we try to combine them in a way that makes sense for us and ultimately results in a stronger sound overall. As far as the black metal tag goes, I think it’s obvious that we have a lot black metal influence in our music. I don’t consider us strictly a black metal band but it’s a genre of music we care a lot about and I think that comes through.”
He’s keen to play up the aspect of progression “I think it’s important to do what you wanna do. If you want to play pure black metal, that’s fine, if you wanna do something else, that’s also cool. I think it’s important to have tradition, to an extent, but I think it’s also good to progress and to push the genre somewhere it’s never been. Both sides of the coin are valid.”
Guitarist Kerry McCoy adds “the ultimate goal is to keep ourselves interested and excited. As a band, it’s part of our ethos to tour a lot and to play as many shows as possible. We go to many different festivals, some extreme and some more regular.”
Their image is very different to many extreme metal bands, eschewing leather, studs and corpse paint. “I don’t think that’s an issue at all” insists McCoy “the only people who do take issue with our aesthetic or our look, are not people we care about. They’re not from bands we want to play with or promoters we want to work with. It’s just a lot of internet talk.”
Clarke points out “one thing we are fortunate with is that we are able to play metal festivals but also more traditional festivals and be the token heavy band on the bill. I see those festivals as opportunities, I think it’s neat.”
They’ve certainly impressed a lot of metal purists here today with a scintillating performance full of jagged variations from loud to quiet and back again through deafness. And heaven.