The Cover Story “Our music is like a beaten up heart that we’re giving over to people”

One of hardcore’s brightest hopes are back with the most brutal and barbaric album of the year. What it’s all about… well, we’re not so sure, but there’s one thing we do know: are out for blood. “Our music is like a beaten up heart that we’re giving over to people”
James Hickie
Reid Haithcock

Outbreak Fest 2018 was a momentous affair for several reasons. It marked the 10th edition of the annual celebration of DIY punk, hardcore and metalcore. It saw the likes of Code Orange, Turnstile, Cro-Mags, Higher Power and Jesus Piece wreak sonic havoc upon the now-defunct Canal Mills venue in the English city of Leeds. And it was where one of heavy music’s other shining lights,, inadvertently stumbled upon a key component of what would go on to become 2022’s most savage album.

“There’s definitely footage of it somewhere,” drummer Matt Wood teases.

At that time, the Massachusetts band went by the name Vein and were days away from releasing Errorzone, a dizzying debut album that combined elements of hardcore, mathcore, screamo and nu-metal. It garnered critical acclaim, earned comparisons with such luminaries as Converge and The Dillinger Escape Plan, and resulted in tours with everyone from Thursday to While She Sleeps. The best, however, was and is yet to come. The sixth track on Errorzone is called Demise Automation – a writhing anxiety attack of a composition – and soon took on a new significance for its creators, who looped its opening riff, distorted it and began using it during live shows. It was during the set at Outbreak that Matt impulsively decided to play drums over the top of the loop, transforming it into something else entirely.

A first step into oblivion.

“We knew then it was the song we were looking for,” recalls vocalist Anthony DiDio of that pivotal moment. That song would eventually become Welcome Home, the opening track to their second album This World Is Going To Ruin You, which acts as a “welcoming message” to a markedly different offering. Despite the quality of Errorzone and the many positive things it’s done for – they changed name in 2019 to differentiate themselves from the many other acts who also go by that – the band look back on it now as “an isolated thing” (Matt) and “like Vein goes to outer space” (Anthony), which perhaps gave listeners the wrong idea about where they’d go next.

“I think a lot of people were under the impression we were going to do some kind of weird Deftones record,” laughs Matt. “But that’s definitely not what’s happened.”

What has happened is they’ve made a record that turns things up entirely – denser, darker and imbued with the kind of despair that only comes from living through troubling times. “We had friends dying, parents dying, and lost people because of disagreements and shit,” says Matt of the hardships since Errorzone that have informed this new era and a seriously jaded worldview. “We’re living this shit and we’re breathing this shit, so we’re playing this shit.”

It’s an intriguing precis for This World Is Going To Ruin You. Unfortunately it’s not one the band are that keen to elaborate on, believing they’ve said all they need to comprehensively enough on their new album. What follows, then, is something of a grappling match…

It's hard to say which is the trickier proposition – securing a chat with or the conversation itself. This interview was originally scheduled for two days before Christmas, with the whole band keen to participate, underlining their sense of brotherhood. Unsurprisingly, collaring multiple musicians proved akin to sweeping sand in high winds, despite the majority of the band living under the same roof, and that original appointment was postponed by a week. Then, coronavirus struck the camp, infecting all five men and resulting in bed rest and another deferral.

When Kerrang! finally catches up with, two days later on New Year’s Eve, there are audibly blocked noses and hoarse voices. They’re split into two factions. One is made up of four members – with Anthony and Matt joined by bassist Jon Lhaubouet and turntablist Benno Levine – crammed into the same Zoom screen from the apartment they share in Lowell, Massachusetts, sat with their arms crossed and expressions stoic, as if bracing for a moody photoshoot. Guitarist Jeremy Martin lives there too but is with his girlfriend in New York, appearing flanked by cardboard boxes, occasionally coughing into his hoodie. Despite the sense of separation, this collective feels like a gang, making them intimidating interviewees, because, as is the case with gangs, they seem to close ranks, which may be the real reason they’re speaking to K! en masse.

If they are opting for safety in numbers, it’s perhaps because they’re not overly comfortable with the conventions of interviews, with our many requests for explanations, the proffered (usually incorrect) interpretations, and the countless probing ‘hows’, ‘wheres’ and ‘whys’. Ask, for example, whether they relished making something so brutal after Errorzone, which Matt now calls “easy to digest on purpose”, and if any uncompromising follow-up albums inspired them, and you’re met with blank expressions and the reiteration of an earlier answer. “We knew what we were going to do on this second record,” says Anthony. “We knew it would be way fucking darker, more violent and more sad. It wasn’t like a trick up our sleeve.”

“This record taps into way more of the old sound”

Hear Anthony discuss this album’s relationship with its predecessor

There are several reasons why are like this. Firstly, with the exception of Jon (Connecticut) and Benno (Los Angeles), the majority of the band grew up around Merrimack Valley, a region surrounding the Merrimack River that spans Massachusetts and New Hampshire. They hail from the Massachusetts side, close to Haverhill, located 35 miles north of Boston and home to Anchors Up!, the all ages venue where they cut their teeth in a hardcore scene that instilled an aversion to bullshit and pretension.

Or it might be because these five men support and validate each other. At one point Matt, who drummed along to Thursday records growing up and is therefore pumped their frontman Geoff Rickly is on their incendiary new track Fear In Non Fiction, shares rather more insight into what this band means to him. “Before I did this, no-one ever told me what I was doing was worth anything.”

And then there’s the fact that, by their own admission, aren't necessarily the easiest to get along with. Ask them what makes Errorzone and This World Is Going To Ruin You producer Will Putney special, and they’ll suggest he’s one of only three people in the world that has the requisite patience with them (the other two being their manager, Justin Loudon, and their video director, Eric Richter).

“People tend to get upset with us,” suggests Matt. “Especially sound guys at venues who cop an attitude when we ask for anything. When someone has an attitude, we don’t let it hang for even a single second. Before working with Putney, we’d done stuff with other producers in their studios, but shit got kinda weird sometimes.”

How so?

“We just have a way of doing things,” replies Anthony, not necessarily clarifying matters. “We want things to be a particular way or it’s just not right for us.”

“We also speak our own language from hanging out with each other for so long,” adds Matt, confirming as tough nuts to crack. “But Putney understands our flow. He’s down to make it work no matter what. He’s like the sixth member of the band.”

It’s a good thing that are so in step with Will Putney – the man responsible for overseeing records by Body Count, A Day To Remember and Knocked Loose – because when it came time to make This World Is Going To Ruin You, in April of 2020, the world was doing a pretty good job of ruining itself. By way of response, both band and producer decided to batten down the hatches at the latter’s studio, Graphic Nature Audio, in the township of Belleville, New Jersey – further fortifying a bond that was already as solid as concrete.

“This was right when COVID first came out,” explains Anthony. “Days before we were due to leave [for the studio], people were in our ears telling us that if we went and made the album, we were going to end up killing our families and each other. But at the same time, making this record was something we’d been thinking about every second of every day for years, so we decided we had to do it. When we did Errorzone, we were in and out of the studio, but this time everyone was locked inside and couldn’t go anywhere.”

“This album has songs that are very angry, but there are very sombre, hopeful moments too”

Listen to Anthony discuss whether are a hopeful band

He’s not kidding; the band claim that for the entire month they were there, they didn’t step outside once. “It made the few times we saw sunlight kind of special,” recalls Matt of a set-up that sounds more like an apocalyptic last stand than making music.

“It was awesome,” adds Jeremy. “This record is about retreating and blocking out the world – and we literally got to do that.”

“I think [the new] record is the most like us,” says bassist Jon of how the sense of cabin fever complemented an album concerned with purging pent-up emotions. “We were isolated for so long in such extreme conditions, and you can hear that on the record. It’s us in sync.”

And what happens when they’re locked in step like that?

“Carnage,” grins Matt.

In the build-up to speaking to a band about their new album, a music journalist is supplied with a biog, in which the musicians involved have explained their thoughts and motivations behind the release in question. In truth, these documents are generally exercises in playing it safe, setting out a stall of inoffensive events and topics to be picked over in the subsequent weeks, months and years. clearly didn’t get the memo, though. A quick glance at their biog reveals an opening quote, courtesy of Anthony, that distills the philosophy at the core of This World Is Going To Ruin You, and reads as follows: ‘You’re born into the world as a blank canvas. As you meet people and experience things, you’re getting stained and torn up.’

Bloody hell.

There is, of course, a broadly relatable idea to be found in those words – that we’re all, ultimately, products of our environment – but the misanthropy and violence in how it’s conveyed is a little startling. “I don’t want to name a specific moment because it’ll involve certain people,” Anthony replies to the request for an example of the kind of experience that has led to this intense pessimism. “It’s not like there was one particular interaction… there were so many interactions.

“It’s no offence to anyone but, personally, I don’t like it at all,” he explains of his band’s reluctance to reveal too much, during a follow-up call that yields more context than it does explanations. “I find a lot of reporters intrusive, and beyond that I’ve noticed through personal experience that if you give people an inch they’ll take a mile, twisting your words away from being completely honest to something that suits other purposes.”

This is, of course, an age-old argument that’ll rumble on as long as bands make records and journalists interview those bands about the making of them. But with so many allusions to sensitive topics on This World Is Going To Ruin You, you can understand Anthony’s insistence on protecting his privacy and that of those close to him.

“I don’t think we have anything to hide, but I want people to find their own meaning in it”

Hear Anthony talk about fans deciphering the meaning of certain songs

Big questions remain for the listener, though. Who, for instance, is the distressed woman at the beginning of Welcome Home, seemingly saying “I can’t sleep now”, heard again in the midst of closing track Funeral Sound? The band consider this far too personal to explain, so choose not to, opting instead to reveal that the track acts as instructions on how to listen to the record, albeit delivered in coarse but cryptic terms. ‘Let go / Lay back like a patient / Let your conscience fuck the pavement / Keep the glass wet / Detonate the telephone.’ “It’s encouraging you to disassociate,” deciphers Anthony.

The Killing Womb, meanwhile, provided the kernel that kickstarted this colossal effort, not just as the first song completed for the record (dating back some five years), but in the lyric ‘We’re all born to wander the seven seas of staged relations / The exit sign for eight billion entrants’ it encapsulates the idea of life as a production line of degradation. Then there’s its disturbing video, featuring a boy surrounded by floating eyeballs and a scissor-wielding giant attacking the house he’s in. “It’s antisocial and angry,” says Anthony of both track and promo. “It’s more or less saying, ‘Fuck off and stay away from me.’ It’s kind of a commentary in a weird way. I almost look at this record as Vein being this unknown thing and getting exposed to the universe, before we board up the house.”

Presumably the eyeballs are an allusion to the artwork for Errorzone, which has come to act as a defining symbol for the band. Does the giant represent everyone else? We hope not, given that he ends up being bloodily decapitated.

“Kind of,” says Anthony of this interpretation. “It’s the people who try to inject themselves heavily into your circle or tightly-knit world, posing as your friend or someone who’s trying to help you, but really they’re trying to hurt you. Once you have something to offer people, they try to get involved and be there for their own reasons.”

As you can probably tell, have little patience for the motivations of others, as well as a shopping list of other bugbears, because they’re too busy being committed to their own shit. The most recent fruits of these endeavours is a boiling cocktail of events (some overt, some covert) and emotions sure to sear its way onto end-of-year best album lists. Not that Anthony much cares what people think of it.

“If we played these songs and no-one gave a flying fuck, I wouldn’t even care. I’d probably be weirded out, but I wouldn’t be asking myself why other people aren’t feeling how I’m feeling. At the end of the day, success to me is when you’re doing things with intent, which for us was completing this album and it coming out as 99.9 per cent of what our original vision was. It came straight from our brains, it came from our hearts, and we feel proud of it. And it’s good. I could shit into a microphone and call it my art, but that wouldn’t be good. This is a really good fucking album. It’s a byproduct of us going through all this crazy shit as a family. Our music is like a beaten up heart that we’re giving over to people.”

Prepare to see our tarnished world through the prism of’s battered heart, via this year’s bloodiest, most brutal and brilliant album.

This World Is Going To Ruin You is released March 4 via Nuclear Blast.

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