Hardcore Progenitors Shai Hulud Are as Pissed-Off As Ever
There was a period of my early 20s when Shai Hulud’s second album, That Within Blood Ill-Tempered (a particularly scathing hardcore-metal hybrid in which the opening seconds of the first song features a brood of super-pissed guys screaming “Rest assured! This is sincere! This is true!”), was jammed in my CD alarm clock, set to 4:15 a.m. every weekday morning. Literally, jammed; the thing was broken, so I kind of didn’t have a choice but to listen to at least part of the album every single day.
That there are people who weren’t forced into listening to Shai Hulud by virtue of the cheapness of a Radio Shack gadget is an easy idea to embrace, however. The band, formed in 1995 in Pompano Beach, Fla.—later moving to Poughkeepsie, N.Y.— represented a fulcrum for what was eventually dubbed metalcore, given their intense blasts of anthemic, thug-like gang-vocal assaults and heavy breakdowns. Released in February of this year, Shai Hulud’s fourth album, Reach Beyond the Sun, marks a convergence of both the hyper-aggressive elements of the band’s somewhat sparse catalog (given their nearly 20-year existence), and a restraint that was virtually nowhere to be found on their brutal 2008 LP, Misanthropy Pure. It’s a bold devolution into cohesiveness for guitarist and main songwriter Matt Fox’s yin-yang diatribes, often quite poetic and always long-titled, full of optimistic, hopeful chants set to music that ever-so-slightly toes the line of a traditional rock structure.
With the temporary return of Chad Gilbert—who manned vocals for Shai Hulud as a teenager before moving on to start New Found Glory, and who produced Reach Beyond the Sun—there’s a lot to be excited for with these hardcore legends. New vocalist Justin Kraus is but the latest addition to a lineup that has seen more shifts than a Daytona racecar.
Fox was all too full of information when he spoke with Submerge in anticipation of Shai Hulud’s Sacramento gig at Old Ironsides July 27, 2013. Here’s how it went down.
Reach Beyond the Sun is your fourth studio album; the band has endured a lot of lineup changes over the years. How do you feel that affects, if at all, creative consistency within the band?
I don’t think that the content has ever lost sight. Since the beginning, I was the one writing most of the songs. That’s not to say that other people involved haven’t contributed, because I would say that everybody that’s ever been in the band has contributed to every album we were working on at the time. I love collaboration and I love to bounce my ideas off someone and have somebody change them.
I think there’s a very strong thread of consistency throughout the music. Especially with the lyrics, because I’ve been the primary lyric writer since our first singer, Damien Moyal. When he joined, he wrote all the lyrics, and once we mutually parted with him, there was no one writing. I said I’d do it, I guess. I didn’t even know if there was anything I really wanted to say. It was kind of cool that I found out that I did. Not that I have anything worthwhile to say, but I found out that I have a lot to say.
It’s cool that it seems like it’s not a parameterbased project; that it’s malleable and you’re willing to fold things in and out.
Yeah it’s definitely malleable, and we always expand our parameters. I think we’ve done that on every album. Reach Beyond the Sun is probably our most emotional and pushes some boundaries into even hard rock. When I was in high school, Metallica was never played on the radio, now it is. “A Human Failing” I could see, maybe when things get a little more extreme on the radio 15 years from now, getting played on the radio. That’s definitely an extension of parameter for us, because we’ve never done that straight-forward of a song with really catchy parts in a rock structure. That said, I don’t think anyone’s ever gonna hear the next Shai Hulud album and say, “Are you kidding? That’s Shai Hulud?!” The flavors are expanded, but not to the point where we’d distort our original core.
You started with you not knowing if you had anything to say, and lo and behold you did. How has that grown for you over the last almost 20 years?
Geez, don’t say that number ever again… Just kidding. I would say the first thing that comes to mind is that now I won’t put anything to paper if it doesn’t mean anything. I developed into having something to say and trying to make a point, but I remember when I first started writing lyrics, as much as I hate to admit it, I could go back and find some lyrics from the Hearts Once Nourished…era and I don’t really know what the hell I was saying. I don’t know that there was really any type of point. I was just kind of putting incendiary words together and hoping that it meant something to someone. They weren’t stupid, but I didn’t think they had the big meaning.
On the new LP, you’d planned on reigning in the aggressiveness and technical aspects from Misanthropy Pure, right? What was the reasoning behind that?
I guess the goal with Misanthropy Pure was we wanted to write the heaviest, angriest, most pissed-off Shai Hulud album that we could. And making it angry had a lot to do with us speeding it up, making it heavier, making it trickier and making it less predictable. Because when something is less predictable, it comes off as chaotic. It was kind of like when Al Gore said in An Inconvenient Truth [paraphrasing] , “If you were to throw a frog into boiling water, the frog’s gonna scream and kick and jump out. But if you put a frog in water and slowly increased the temperature, the frog doesn’t really know.” That’s kind of what happened; we were so immersed in the water of Misanthropy Pure that the songs that started out as being very much like Shai Hulud songs now went, “Hey, what if we changed this part?” OK, sounds great. We’re in the water as it’s boiling, so we don’t even notice the difference. We didn’t realize that we’d taken it to the level that we did. Ultimately I think it’s our most brutal album, but it definitely lacks emotion, which is Shai Hulud’s strongest attribute, in my opinion. That’s what we’ve always gone for, and we lost sight of that. Chad noted that, [bassist Matt] Fletcher noted that, even I noted that after I took a step back with this album.
Can you talk a bit about how the dynamic of yourself, Chad and Fletcher manifested itself during the recording and writing of the new album? Since you’ve had that history together, what was it like to revisit that chemistry?
Chad didn’t come into the full picture until we went into pre-production. Although sometimes, I would send him complete songs and he’d say, “Let’s expand this…” or, “Oh, I like this line, we definitely need to repeat that line.” He’d send over his lines. On a side note, that’s the interesting part about working with a producer. A producer, as far as I’m concerned, can be anybody. It’s just somebody with an opinion. It’s a matter of whose opinion you want to let in. That’s what we let Chad do, for sure. I hadn’t hung out with Chad for years at that point. I had no idea what it would be like working with him again. When we were last in a studio, he was a young kid and he didn’t know what the hell he was doing. So we told him, “do this, do that” and he was 15, so he did what he was told. Now he’s a 32-year-old man…and he’s got opinions and he knows what he wants to do, and when he likes something. Even though I expected that, I never experienced it before. We argued like a family, and there were times when we very much disagreed and it was frustrating, but that’s happened between everybody. We went through it pretty smoothly and the dynamic of our personalities gelled so well that the result was the product that we had both hoped for.
His voice just mashes on the record. It’s an awesome thing for New Found Glory fans, for Chad Gilbert fans and definitely for people who have followed Shai Hulud for whatever amount of time. To hear Chad return is a pretty exciting thing. It worked out better than I anticipated.
Shai Hulud plays Old Ironsides Saturday, July 27, 2013. Opening is Early Graves, Summit and Soma Ras. For more information, please visit Theoldironsides.com.