The Cover Story

Malevolence: “I speak from the heart. As a community, that’s something we should all try to do”

After more than a decade as uncrowned kings of the Brit-metal underground, Malevolence finally seem poised to break for the big time. Beyond its brilliant bludgeon and bloody-knuckled battle cries, upcoming third album Malicious Intent finds the Sheffield crew channelling their fire to spark a long-overdue conversation on men’s mental health…

Malevolence: “I speak from the heart. As a community, that’s something we should all try to do”
Sam Law
Nat Wood

If someone falls down, you pick them the fuck up. That’s the message Alex Taylor has heard his whole gig-going life, a mosh mantra that encapsulates the finest qualities of the heavy music community: courage, camaraderie, the honour-bound duty to take care of the person standing next to you. Which is why, on June 18, 2021, the Malevolence frontman paused his band’s chaotic post-COVID comeback at Download Pilot for a moment to do something he had never done before: address the audience directly on the subject of men’s mental health.

“I want to get serious for a minute,” he spoke to the rammed tent. “Myself and members of this band, this year alone, have lost a lot of people to addiction and suicide. So I want to send a message out, in particular to all the lads. It’s okay not to be okay. Talk to the people around you. There’s always a better way. You’re all a community, all a family, so look after one another.”

Speaking from the depths of COVID isolation this evening, it’s difficult to discern whether Alex’s sporadic sniffs and reddening eyes are just symptoms of the ongoing plague, but the memory clearly strikes something in the normally stoic Yorkshireman.

“Previously, it felt like it wasn’t necessarily my place to speak,” he begins. “Over time, though, I’ve come to realise that it isn’t a topic to be shied away from. It’s quite the opposite. I will never proclaim to be a preacher or an expert. I’ll only ever talk about my own experiences and those things that I firmly believe. I speak from the heart. As a community, that’s something we should all try to do.”

Aside from fronting one of the most notoriously hard-edged bands in British heavy music, Alex was Head Of Security at the O2 Academy Sheffield for three years prior to the pandemic. Global lockdown not only hit Malevolence’s juggernaut momentum but also robbed him of the purpose and income of full-time employment for the best part of a year. Beginning to suffer from anxiety in those dark months, he became conscious of his own mental health and its effect on the people around him. The constant stream of soul-sucking bad news compounded the pressure, not least the death of I Killed The Prom Queen / Deez Nuts bassist and good friend Sean Kennedy.

“Losing four friends within the space of two months to suicide was a turning point,” he sighs. “It felt like it was coming at us from all angles. Not necessarily just friends in bands, but people close at home. And we’re still losing people to this thing now.”

Knowing that the handful of festival shows for 2021 – Download, Bloodstock, Slam Dunk – would be amongst the biggest they had ever played, Alex instinctively understood it wouldn’t be right to step onstage without acknowledging the loss. Sitting down with guitarist and clean vocalist Konan Hall, his six-string partner Josh Baines, bassist Wilkie Robinson and drummer Charlie Thorpe, the singer laid out the need to take action: “‘Alright, these are people that we all know. We all felt it. We all hurt from it. We can’t carry on like this. Even if it’s a small difference, I need to feel like I’m taking steps towards encouraging positive change.’”

For the uninitiated, the benevolence of such an approach might seem at odds with the does-what-it-says-on-the-tin chaos of the Malevolence live show. Alex gestures that if you need to ask how getting caught in a mosh can help your state of mind, you’re unlikely to ever really understand. Exercise and meditation are two of his most effective tools for managing inner demons, and spending 30 minutes hurling yourself into comrades who’ve turned up to do the same offers its own version of both – plus the primal thrill of potential injury in that most hazardous of safe spaces.

“The element of danger has been what’s drawn me to shows since I was 13 or 14,” he explains through a smash-mouth grin. “That’s what makes our genre of music so amazing and so electrifying. It’s that adrenaline rush and dopamine hit that ingrains this in our heads as something we enjoy. It’s fight or flight. It’s a strange thing, but it’s a beautiful thing!”

Of course, with that aspect of hardcore experience comes an element of macho posturing and unchecked aggression, to which the unbending nature and uncompromising masculinity of Malevolence’s music has traditionally appealed. Alex stops short of suggesting that that (arguably toxic) mentality in itself can be a damaging factor – men are roughly four times more likely than women to die by suicide, but those men come from all walks of life – though he admits that the need to remain on-brand often prevents artists from speaking up.

“Sometimes, bands can do the whole ‘we’re too cool’ thing where they have an image to uphold on social media. Sometimes we’ve been guilty of that, too. But it’s important to still get these messages across. Everybody is human. Just because we’re in a band making music doesn’t mean that we’re not subject to many of the same things.”

With Malevolence’s incredible third album Malicious Intent (to which we’ll come), the frontman and his bandmates have chosen to pointedly write the importance of openness on psychiatric struggle into their music alongside their more old-school motivational messaging. Key to that, he explains, has been the positive response he’s received from within the heavy music community. Every audience address is greeted with resounding applause, yes, but it’s been the quieter words, and the messages that flow into his inbox long after the volume has faded that are most encouraging.

“I had a close friend whose brother passed away come to see us in Leeds,” he says. “What he said really made me realise that it’s right to keep pushing this message. He wanted me to [keep it up] because even if it gets just one person to change, one person to talk, one person not to do something stupid, then it’s worth it.”

“Just because we’re in a band making music doesn’t mean that we’re not subject to mental health issues”

Hear Alex discuss why he felt the need to share such an important message onstage

The last time Malevolence spread their New Yorkshire Gospel onstage was February 5, 2022. Back at Alex’s old stomping ground, the O2 Academy Sheffield, supporting fellow Steel City heroes While She Sleeps at what was their biggest-ever hometown show, it felt like a full-circle milestone alongside mates who had been there from the very beginning. Although consensus has it that the band ‘officially’ formed with Alex’s joining in 2010, the frontman directs us to a photo on their Facebook that captures the early-teenaged Charlie and Wilkie (sporting waist-length hair and excellent dreadlocks respectively) getting ready to support Sleeps under the Malevolence banner at long-defunct Sheffield nightspot The Boardwalk all the way back in 2006.

A warm grin. “That’s how long it’s been.”

Which begs the question of why, when peers like Sleeps and Bring Me The Horizon have graduated into the upper echelons of heavy music, Malevolence have remained a stubbornly underground concern?

It’s not for lack of quality, for sure, with each of the 22 songs across Malevolence’s two studio albums and EP to date (Malicious Intent will make it 32) being widely-acknowledged bangers. But that low number isn’t exactly the mark of a band hammering down the door. “We’ve never been a band that will churn out an album every 12 months,” Alex shrugs. “We’re very much our own worst critics. We will write an album and go over it and pick at things that we don’t like. That does take us longer than other bands, but it’s about making music that we want to hear.”

Equally, it’s about allowing them to live the lives they want to live. With oldest member Kon still only 30, while youngest Josh is a sprightly 25, for de facto veterans they’re still very much young men. 2013’s acclaimed debut LP Reign Of Suffering saw them thrust from local act obscurity to doing TV and radio interviews almost overnight. Josh was still at high school when they hit the road for their first European tour. All the while, a dedicated “organic” fanbase continued to grow, driven by word of mouth and strength of music rather than any derivative hype machine.

“That three or four years between the first album and the second felt like about six months,” Alex says. “Plus we were working full-time jobs, so we were enjoying everything that came with that record rather than sitting in the practice room getting ready for the next.”

When 2017’s Self Supremacy did arrive, songs like the violently affirmative title-track and sludgecore masterpiece Slave To Satisfaction pushed their horizons figuratively as hard as they did literally. Witnessing the poverty (and purity) of a third-world show at a shrimp restaurant / wedding venue / hardcore stop-off on tour in Cebu, the Philippines, was the sort of experience South Yorkshire lads barely dream of. Touring Australia, too – alongside hardcore overlords Terror, in January 2020 – was another moment Alex relished: “I remember standing on the stage looking at all this carnage going on in front of me, and thinking, ‘Wow, shouting has brought me to the other side of the planet – and there are kids here shouting back.’”

For all their negatives, the last two years have forced Malevolence to stop and take stock. “It does feel sometimes that we don’t get the credit that we deserve,” Alex reasons, bluntly. “We’ve been doing this for 12 years and sometimes that can be disregarded. But I’m not bitter or resentful. In my eyes, we’re paying our dues. We’ve always done things our way, how we want to do it. We’re quite happy to keep going at our own pace and keep grinding away because that’s what we’ve always known.”

That enduring DIY ethic has kept Malevolence tied to the grassroots of the British scene. Alex name-checks Sheffield upstarts Rough Justice, Manchester’s Guilt Trip (whose shirt he’s sporting as we speak), Glasgow gruesome twosome Despize and Revulsion, and London veterans Knuckledust during our conversation. “We’re still going to support the bands who’re playing to 50 people down the road. They’re still there, still grinding. That’s very much a scene that we’ve come from and been through and will continue to support.”

Beyond simple cheerleading, though, Alex tells of his ambition to spearhead a “new metal scene” in the UK, bridging old ‘metal vs. hardcore’ divides to hoist those under-appreciated heroes out of semi-obscurity.

Setting up their own record label MLVLTD (pronounced ‘Malevolated’) in late 2019 was the first meaningful indication of that growing desire to be leaders rather than taggers-along. A six-date December 2019 tour as main support for Knocked Loose felt like the lightning rod for a rabid underground enthusiasm that had been building. Writing and recording for their first-ever EP The Other Side confirmed a stylistic range (and a ruthless efficiency) that hadn’t existed before, and the tracks contained within – Remain Unbeaten, Keep Your Distance (featuring KL’s Bryan Garris) – became serendipitous anthems for the lockdown era.

“It’s that slight fear that you might get hurt that draws people in”

Alex on why people are so addicted to the adrenaline rush of heavy music

Crucially, rather than allowing the unemployment and empty schedules of that period to completely stall momentum, the decision was made to roll up sleeves and double-down on ambition by investing in their own warehouse and studio space (merch area, practice room, recording booth) just a few minutes down the road from Sleeps’ HQ. Alex remembers the “piss stains and stink” of the main room that had previously been used as a toilet. Overseen by full-time builder Kon, though, there was something rewarding in mucking the place out and building it up – from plumbing to wiring to walls – all by themselves.

“When Malevolence get our heads set on something that we want to do,” Alex grins, “we’ll move heaven and earth to get it done.”

Indeed, as the world begins to reopen, and schedules start to fill up, there is sweet satisfaction in being able to link all the places the band are finally going to, to those from whence they’ve come. June’s open-air debut at Download, for instance (their fourth appearance at Donington, on the second stage right before Ice Nine Kills and Code Orange) feels like a hard-earned victory for lads whose first showing at the fest was stopped due to excessive crowd violence – by an operative who would, somewhat awkwardly, later become Alex’s boss. Before Download, though, they'll be opening for Architects on May’s UK arena tour, which is a dream come true for Alex, Josh and Charlie, whose first musical collaboration was a cover of the Brighton boys’ Buried At Sea for the drummer’s GCSE music qualification.

Alex smiles warmly at the prospect of digging out the cobwebbed hard drive on which that formative recording is stored to show his soon-to-be tourmates.

“After all of these years grinding and slugging away, it feels like we’re finally starting to reap the rewards.”

Malicious Intent is the weapon with which Malevolence will smash through to the next level. It’s telling that they began this album cycle not with the release of new music, or even an announcement of the title of LP, both of which coincide with their debut Kerrang! cover story, but with the unveiling of Eliran Kantor’s striking artwork, which arrived on social media last Friday, March 18, and a single lyric from the title-track: ‘Rise from ashes, born to land on my feet / Let the world throw what it wants at me.’ Where Eliran’s work for The Other Side illustrated themes of temptation and manipulation, the image here – a fraught figure drowning inside a glass box – evokes isolation, incarceration and, ultimately, dejection. “It’s quite depressing,” Alex reckons, evidently relating to the figure. “He can see his way out, but he can’t get there.” Unequivocally, though, as he explains, it’s about defiance in the face of those seemingly suffocating emotions, rather than surrender to them.

Musically, Malevolence have always had that motivational swing. The key influences that have always driven them – Lamb Of God, Hatebreed, Pantera – are still at play here, but they’ve been honed and stylistically expanded across a more intensive writing and recording process than before. Working over a year-plus span, they demoed extensively in the warehouse space before heading out to Treehouse Studio in Derbyshire to lay down instrumental tracks with trusted co-producer Carl Bown and engineer Jim Pinder. Vocals were added by Alex and Kon back at the band’s facility, allowing the pair to experiment and stretch themselves without the physical and mental stress of a ticking clock.

While there’s a knee-jerk temptation to refer to the fuller-sounding finished article as the most ‘metal’ of their career to date, Alex contends that technical riffage and tearaway drumming have always been there. The difference, he argues, is that this time they’ve delivered 10 “heavy metal anthems, which you can sing along to – not just the words, the riffs as well”, informed by the hookiness and flow of conventional pop music as well as the melody and melancholy of seminal metalcore works such as Throwdown’s 2009 classic Deathless and alt. legends like Alice In Chains.

Still, many of the most powerful moments are where words are allowed to speak loudest.

High-impact bookends Malicious Intent and Armageddon, for instance, represent opposite ends of what the singer sees as a loose thematic arc. While the aforementioned title-track rails with frustration and aggression, the cataclysmic closer is emotionally situated somewhere between understanding and defiance, dropping curtain with the chest-beating battle cry, ‘Armageddon, rain down on me!’

Rather than a concept album in any traditional sense, over its 38-minute span the record runs a whole gamut of emotions. Harking back to the same scars that informed Keep Your Distance, lead single On Broken Glass and Karma find Alex seething against the naysayers who “will drag you down and suck your energy” in different ways. The singer cautiously steers around the real-life vexation to which the songs refer, but he’s clearly spent time mulling it over, with the earlier track urging caution and consideration (‘Decisions made in anger, will never be undone’) while the latter flares with righteous anger (‘No deed will go unpunished / Karma, bring balance to the scales of justice’).

Melodic centrepiece Higher Place is a powerful rumination on grief and the hereafter that feels like Baroness getting it on with Down, imagining a time, ‘When all that exists, is just an empty shell of myself / Fading away, ’til no reflection remain…’ Above All Else, meanwhile – featuring Matt Honeycut of Texan bruisers Kublai Khan TX – is a direct riposte to the naysayers who’ve taken the piss out of Malevolence’s unconventional fashion and merch choices (windbreakers, fleeces, sportswear) over the years: ‘So quick to judge a book by its cover / Scratch the surface see what’s lying beneath / I walk with a chip on my shoulder / The death of assumption will reset beliefs.’

Of course, the most powerful tracks deal directly with mental health and the struggle for personal well-being. Alex immediately earmarks scathing second track Life Sentence as pivotal in its portrayal of being imprisoned in a self-perpetuating cycle of misery. It is gloriously counterpointed by penultimate highlight Salvation, however. Featuring guest vocals from Trivium’s Matt Heafy, it represents that message Alex started speaking from festival stages last summer whipped up into an uncompromising tornado of sound: ‘I must release and let go / Stop suffering in silence all alone.’

“The music we write is what we want to hear as fans of heavy music”

Hear Alex explain what defines Malevolence as a band

So, what are the goals for this set of songs to achieve? Overflowing with some of the finest metal moments we’re likely to hear in 2022, bearing that profoundly affirmative message, and set to be released as a joint venture between MLVLTD and metal mega-label Nuclear Blast, can it continue to reach hearts and minds while elevating its authors into the metal mainstream?

“Honestly, with the support that we’ve seen over the past year with these festival shows and just the amount of love that we’ve been shown, I feel like we’re in a position now where we could take this bigger,” Alex says, exuding a calculated confidence, while stressing the benefit of broadcasting an urgent message to even more fans. “It’s about continuing to move our way up bills and into bigger venues while keeping that connection with people that support us. If someone writes to me on Instagram, I will try to reply to them. We’ll never be too big for that. At the same time, I would like to see Malevolence playing bigger stages to as many people as possible. And we will 100 per cent give that our best, because there’s nothing we want more.”

Hell, could these grim-faced Northerners, kicked off the stage at Download all those years ago, perhaps even go on to become one of the world’s Monsters Of Rock, ready to step up as field-levelling headliners further down the line?

“I’m not going to put any more limits on this,” Alex smiles boldly as we wave goodbye. “The last time I did, I was wrong. I never thought Malevolence would be a band who would get to the level where we could play an arena. In two months, we’re there. So let’s just see what happens…”

Malicious Intent will be released on May 20, via Nuclear Blast. Pre-order your copy now.

They will play the second stage at Download Festival in Juneget your tickets now.

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