by Ryan Meehan
Reach Beyond the Sun, the fourth entry in Shai Hulud’s storied catalog, will see its release in February of 2013. The album was produced by current New Found Glory guitarist, Chad Gilbert, and notably, vocalist on Hulud’s debut LP Hearts Once Nourished With Hope And Compassion. In addition to producing, Gilbert also returned to sing on the album – his first offering of recorded vocals with the band in over a decade. Not unlike Shai Hulud’s previous releases, Reach Beyond the Sun was born of several years of toiling before ever entering a studio. The band’s previous effort, Misanthropy Pure, a polished, metallic and frenzied piece of masterwork, is contrasted by the much more visceral, instinctively compositional songs found on Reach Beyond the Sun, an embracement of the raw Hardcore/Punk elements that sit at the cornerstone of the band’s influences. Longtime bass player Mad Matt Fletcher asserts, “Anyone who really knows the band will agree this album is our definitive sound, encompassing all of our different influences and styles.” He conclusively reiterates, “Yep, this sounds like Shai Hulud.” Lyrically, Shai Hulud continues to evoke deeper thought, and a range of true human emotions practically unique to the band as the modern underground often shies away from depth for fear of the vulnerability of inner exposure. Shai Hulud affirms “True strength is inviolate” in the song “Monumental Graves,” and introspectively queries “Is ours, indeed, a sunless path to waiting graves we prepare for ourselves?” and “Will we bring our hearts back to life?” in the songs “I, Saturnine” and “A Human Failing,” respectively, boldly turning their insides out. Regarding “A Human Failing,” a song about a generation willing to turn numb in lieu of a life of pain and feeling, guitar player Matt Fox comments “It’s become ‘cool’ to be cold. No pun intended.” In the interest of challenging misinterpreted notions of pessimism, the song “Think The Adder Benign” professes “No, I do not believe roses only bloom just to conceal the thorns. I merely accept the thorn pricked finger bleeds” while “To Suffer Fools” maintains the band’s active frustration and misanthropy, a trait by which Shai Hulud are notorious: “Pour the salts of acumen straight into the eyes to recondition the mind.” Fox is our guest today in 5 questions.
RM: How have crowds responded to “Reach Beyond the Sun”? since its release back in February? What were some of the main goals that you set out to achieve on that record as opposed to “Misanthropy Pure”?
MF: In reviews and online banter, at least from what I’ve seen, the reviews and responses have been positive, overwhelmingly so. I was taken aback by a lot of what I’ve read. Very flattering to say the least. And humbling to hear how something you have given of yourself could be received so warmly and deeply.
As with all new music, the live crowds usually take a little extra time to physically warm up to the new songs. We’ve seen a great reaction thus far, make no mistake – particularly in Europe where the new songs received a better crowd reaction than the older songs. Here in The States we get requests for the new songs, and the crowds are indeed receptive though it’s obvious the songs have not yet been fully absorbed. With every show the response is greater and greater. There’s not much more we can ask for than that.
With “Reach Beyond The Sun,” as I’ve stated in a good amount of interviews regarding the new album, our main goal was to recapture a rawer and more organic feel. Admittedly, as much as I truly love “Misanthropy Pure,” the overwriting and over-thinking of the material, for lack of a better term, “cerebralized” (how do you like that word? I just made it up!) the songs and sapped them of some of the visceral emotion they had before the excess tinkering. If we had any goal on Reach, it was to let more of our initial ideas shine through; I think that’s where most of the raw emotion breathes. Of course, there is always some reworking in an effort to craft the best music possible. The trick is knowing when you’re going too far.
RM: How did you guys make the decision who was to be moved to bass (yourself or Matt Fletcher) since you’re both guitar players?
MF: Great question! And one we have never been asked. We parted ways with our then bass player when we really started writing some of the material for “That Within Blood Ill-tempered.” At that point, Fletcher spoke right up and said “I’m not good enough to play this stuff on guitar.” Now, I don’t know that that’s true, but he felt strongly about it so he switched to the bass which he plays rather well. He’s got these big ol’ nubby fingers, you see…
RM: You practice the straight-edge lifestyle but do not claim to be straight-edge. Is that because you don’t want to be associated with a movement or because you think it’s a very personal thing involving choices one makes for themselves?
MF: Another good question. Hopefully I have good answers. First, I’m pretty confident in saying the only lifestyle I practice is my own. I live by my own ethics and preferences – definitely none that are imposed on me, aside from some legal confines I have to live within, you know, like having my car’s yearly emissions inspection. Some would say I practice the Straight-Edge lifestyle while some wouldn’t. I’ll just let those concerned decide for themselves. Here are some facts: I don’t drink alcohol or smoke anything, and I do not take illegal drugs. Conversely, I drink caffeine regularly. I am not vegetarian. I will take drugs if prescribed and recommended by a doctor. I have no issue with casual sex. And I will eat food that’s cooked with alcohol, even if the alcohol isn’t entirely cooked out (providing I enjoy the taste).
Based on the above information, I understand I might be dubbed Straight-Edge by some people’s standards, and staunchly stamped NOT Straight-Edge by others. I don’t know the hard, fast rules so I’ll let others decide ultimately. Either way, my lifestyle won’t change too much. To quote my favorite sailor man, “I yam what I yam and that’s all what I yam.”
When asked directly, I have agreed to being “Straight-Edge” on a number of occasions, thus far to no objections, but I wouldn’t say I fly the flag, as such. That said, I love the representation of the “X” as a symbol of not drinking alcohol, taking drugs, or smoking, and you can find various X’s around my room, and conspicuously emblazoned on my guitar.
RM: So I just interviewed Aaron Melnick and Dwid Hellion of the classic Integrity lineup a couple of weeks back, and I couldn’t help but notice how they were predominantly misclassified as a hardcore band for most of their career. You are credited (from several sources) for coining the popularization of the term “metalcore”, yet you’ve said that you no longer consider Shai Hulud to be metalcore because the term “has lost its original meaning”, adding that the genre produces “trite and shallow music”, and that iut is “made by people who imitate it rather than love it”. What exactly do you mean by those statements? And would you say that as far as a genre that whole movement is pretty much over?
MF: It’s remotely possible I may have assisted in popularizing the term. Maybe. But I certainly didn’t coin it. You can find “Metalcore” documented long before I uttered it. I don’t consider Shai Hulud to be a “Metalcore” band. By simply comparing Hulud to modern Metalcore bands I think it’s pretty obvious that’s not the scene we come from. When we used to joke around by using that term, Deadguy and Earth Crisis were the definitions of “Metalcore.” That scene we definitely come from so the term didn’t bother us at all – in fact, it was appropriate, even if tongue-in-cheek. When I hear us labeled as “Metalcore” now I silently groan a bit the same way I would silently groan if I, myself, were referred to as an iguana. Because, you know, I’m not. It doesn’t really matter to me either way regardless; similar to my answer regarding “Straight Edge,” we’ll be what we are and play what we play despite any label anyone stamps us with.
The statements “trite and shallow” music and “made by people who imitate it rather than love it” apply less now than they did years ago. In the early to mid 2000’s it seemed like the bands playing and touting “Metalcore” were made up of “Hardcore kids” writing “Metal” riffs to be funny, ironic, or kitschy, and / or to attempt to cash in on the trend of sounding like In Flames or other Swedish Metal bands who were gaining notoriety at the time. I hated that. Still do. I genuinely love Metal and I write and play it sincerely when I write and play it, like I do with any type of music. On a positive note, I don’t see a lot of bands taking that ironic route as much anymore. Most of the “Metalcore” bands I see now, at the very least, take it seriously. Whether or not I like the music or the aesthetic, I appreciate music being taken seriously.
It doesn’t seem like “Metalcore” is dead or dying at all. I think in “underground” music it’s bigger now than ever, some of it climbing into mainstream as I understand it. I think the genre is very much alive for better or worse. I’d say for better, actually, because I do think there are some bands referred to as “Metalcore” who are doing cool things. And there’s a great chance that a kid who currently loves “Metalcore” may become a fan of Hardcore and / or Metal soon. It worked that way for me in the 80’s: Motley Crue was my favorite band until I heard Metallica.
RM: What’s your live setup like? Do you still play the standard LTD with the reverse headstock and how many of those guitars do you own? What’s your amplification setup for live performances? Any effects pedals that you’re particularly fond off?
MF: My live is set up is pretty basic – mostly because I don’t know much about guitars or gear. I do still play an ESP LTD, though my main guitar does not have a reverse headstock. I don’t think so, anyway. I think I have 4 LTD’s. I find them very comfortable to play, and we are very lucky to be sponsored be ESP. That works out quite well.
Our strings and chords are D’addario and Planet Waves. I have always loved their stuff, and after years of harassing them, they finally gave in and sponsored us, too. I’m extremely happy with their products and will doubtfully ever stop using them.
I have used a Marshall JCM 2000 (sometimes with an Ibanez Tube Screamer, but not often) for over a decade now. I love how it sounds, personally. Most other people do, too, until they find out it’s a JCM 2000. For some reason it seems popular to dislike that amp, not of because of how it sounds, mind you, mostly, probably, because it’s not a JCM 800; at least that’s what I’ve gathered. I’m quite happy with my Marshall, though I do like those Peavey 5150’s (or whatever the number is now) a lot as well. I’d like to try to run both at some point.
For cabs we have been using standard Orange cabs. I LOVE these. I’ve never noticed much of a difference in cab sounds until we got these. Now, I hate not using them. Right now our guitar player and I use one cab each on our respective sides. Soon we will start using full stacks and have both guitar players come out of one cabinet on each side. I like the idea of someone getting the full effect of the two guitar parts interplaying together no matter where anyone stands in the crowd. I recently watched a live set of ours that was recorded from one particular side and it killed me to only hear one guitar part. It felt empty. People on either one side or the other are missing something this way. I’m looking forward to changing that.
I’m not big on pedals, again, mostly because I don’t know much about them. Also, I’m not sure our songs call for the use of them, but it’s definitely something I would like to look into and fiddle with in the future. At this moment I only use a Boss Tuner and Noise Suppressor, and sometimes the Ibanez Tube Screamer.
RM: I know you’re a big Metallica fan, which track out of their body of work is your favorite and why do you personally identify with that song so much?
MF: Metallica is the band that essentially changed my life. They easily had the most profound effect on me, more so than any other band. Picking one song as favorite is extremely difficult, and damn near impossible to pinpoint accurately. There are varying factors that can lead me to fall in love with a particular song, i.e my mood, lyrics, complexity or simplicity of structure, cleverness, emotionality of riffs and so on. I’ll pick a favorite for you, but you’ll please forgive me if you read a different answer elsewhere; it’s truly not something so cut and dried. That said…
I’ll pick “Battery” from their third album “Master Of Puppets.” Even if I was to disregard the absolutely incredible acoustic intro, which just gave me chills again for the 17 zillionth time, “Battery” is probably everything I’ve ever wanted from music. Discussing the acoustic intro briefly, it registers to me as so dark and menacingly evil – not an overt, in your face, Slayer-like, I’ll-kill-you-where-you-stand-in-front-of-your-mother-and-puppy evil, but a deeper, more concealed evil. It gets me every time. And obviously when the song kicks in, we hear one of the hardest, most furious and intelligent riffs Thrash Metal has ever been blessed with – as if the dark, beautiful intro wasn’t enough. Add fine-tuned, harsh vocals, pissed off gang vocals on top of the sheer fury, and yet still returning to emotive musicality deeper within the song, well, shit, I was hooked. I AM hooked. Always and forever.
People have their many views on Metallica. Fair enough. Focusing purely on “Battery,” I cannot comprehend how any one who claims to love Metal can hear this song and not be knocked out. I have yet to hear a lucid argument as to what doesn’t work about “Battery.” If you’re a Metalhead and you’ve got one, send it my way.
RM: What’s up next for you and the rest of Shai Hulud in the remainder of 2013 and into 2014? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
MF: We have a tour with The Overseer and Octaves coming up next month, and perhaps another brief run somewhere. We’re also working on new music for an interesting little release that I shouldn’t talk much about just yet. Keep tuned in the Hulud’s social media sites for information.
2014 is an open slate which we hope to fill with all things big and small. We mean to be as active as possible, and we truly hope to share many nights of music and positive energy with as few or as many people as possible. Like I mentioned, please check in with Shai Hulud on the interwebz. Cool things will be discussed there as details warrant.
Official Website: http://www.hulud.com/
Shai Hulud on Twitter: https://twitter.com/shaihulud
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