INTERVIEW: Shrapnel

Guitarist Chris Martin on the band’s new line-up, album and the future of thrash.

In under a month, Norwich thrashers SHRAPNEL will be releasing their most ambitious work to date in the form of their third full-length album, Palace for the Insane. Guitarist Chris Martin takes time out of his lockdown schedule to talk to Metalmance about it all.

“Changing your front man is a scary thing, you don’t know how people are going to react to that.” Martin is referring to the big line-up changes in the SHRAPNEL camp between 2017’s album Raised on Decay and writing the new album, when the band went from a five-piece, to a four-piece. Some fans are instantly against the ‘new guy’ but it seems SHRAPNEL have got nothing to worry about when it comes to new vocalist and bassist Aarran Tucker; “The response so far has been amazing”, continues Martin, “Aarran’s got a great energy. He’s a great front man, live and on record.”

At first, he said no!

The band knew Tucker from his days in former band TEREBOS, also from Norfolk. Back when Martin was living in Austria, Tucker would cover for him if Martin was unable to fly back for a show. When SHRAPNEL’s old vocalist Jae Hadley left the group, Tucker was the obvious choice when it came to Hadley’s replacement; “He knew the songs, he’s a great guitar player, we knew he was a good front man.” However, Tucker wasn’t so convinced at first… “At first, he said no!” remembers Martin, “He didn’t want to play bass, and stepping into what Jae was doing must have been quite nerve-wracking, because Jae was quite a big presence.” After a few trips to the pub and constant persuasion, Tucker finally came round to the idea of becoming SHRAPNEL’s new front man.

In the run-up to releasing Place for the Insane, the band have hinted it shows SHRAPNEL at their most diverse. This can immediately be heard on album opener Might of Cygnus with its more dynamic composition. Asked if choosing this as the opener was intentional, Martin wholeheartedly agrees; “Yes, so with Raised on Decay you had to dig into it, you had to be a fan of that kind of thing. It may not have been as accessible to a lot of people.” Admitting Palace for the Insane is aimed at metal fans whose first choice isn’t thrash, Martin continues with the band’s goal; “Thrash can be really catchy, really hooky so we thought maybe that’s where we should be looking this time. When we finished Cygnus, we thought this is the one that should hook people in.”

“We definitely set out this time to do something we’ve never done before”

Another track which reveals the band’s ambition is Begin Again, marrying blackened thrash riffs with all-out classic rock. Was Begin Again a conscious decision to push genres? “We definitely set out this time to do something we’ve never done before”, Martin explains. “Begin Again was definitely us saying ‘what have we not done yet?’, ‘how can we push other things that we enjoy?’. There’s almost an ALICE IN CHAINS-y vibe to some of it and a ZAKK WYLDE-esque solo, they may be elements we wouldn’t have looked at before the song.” The gamble pays off as Begin Again is a standout track on the album.

With all this chat about pushing their sound further, what propelled SHRAPNEL to do it with Palace for the Insane? “We’d be lying if we said we didn’t want to sell more records.” laughs Martin. The guitarist elaborates, explaining that Raised on Decay was a difficult album; “It wasn’t that successful, mainly because we were in a weird place personally, we were all separate and we didn’t put as much focus into pushing that album as we could have done.” A mixture of not getting shows and their label changing hands, resulted in not receiving as much support as their debut record. Fortunately that support is back in place for Palace for the Insane. “When it came to doing this album we thought we have to do more and get us in front of more people.”

Before the pandemic halted tours and shows around the globe, SHRAPNEL were finally having a stroke of luck. The band were invited to play their first mainland Europe show in February at House of Metal Festival, Sweden. “We got an email from one of the guys who worked at House of Metal and they offered us a show, and of course we bit his hand off!” The invitation was the result of a word of mouth recommendation of SHRAPNEL in the Swedish scene. Asked if another similar experience has occurred, Martin expresses his surprise after discovering renowned artist Costin Chioreanu was a fan after approaching him for artwork; “We always introduce ourselves as if they haven’t heard of us before – and he’d already heard of us and was keen to work with us. Things like that are really cool!”

If you’re into metal in general, that [Salt of the Earth] would be a song where you would find something that you would enjoy.

With more to prove this time round, choosing a suitable lead single was pivotal. Martin admits it was a difficult decision, “I wouldn’t say it was a heated debate, but it was a topic of conversation for a very long time.” Salt the Earth was eventually selected and it seems to have been a wise decision. With enough of a thrash leaning to please SHRAPNEL fans, while also offering something new to entice new listeners, the track embodies what the new SHRAPNEL are all about. “There’s a familiarity about it.” Martin suggests, “I think if you’re into metal in general, that would be a song where you would find something that you would enjoy.”

Listening to Palace for the Insane, some lyrical content also links with the title. When asked if there is an underlying concept of madness and insanity, Martin confesses there’s more of a personal approach to the album; “We’ve done the war and death albums that every thrash metal band does. This one we’ve definitely thought more internally and looked at mental health issues.” Losing a good friend to suicide saw the band deal with some of that through writing the record. “It wasn’t so intentional to have a theme running through the whole thing, but the more we wrote, the more things started to connect.” Martin goes on to add, “I really hope this will be one of those albums where people will want to read through the booklet.”

As SHRAPNEL aim to diversify their sound, what direction does Martin see thrash heading? “That’s a tough question, it comes in waves”. Observing that most thrash fans have now had hair cuts and swapped battle jackets for plaid shirts, Martin thinks proper thrash metal hasn’t changed all that much, “I don’t think it’s going very far, because I don’t think it’s gone very far in the past 35 years.” Variations of thrash on the other hand are continuing to grow, with sci-fi and technical bands like VEKTOR and CRYPTIC SHIFT gaining momentum. Hardcore thrash is also enjoying a heyday, “POWER TRIP are very popular right now, and for good reason.” Martin continues, “You look at them and it’s really refreshing because they’re one of the first bands with no gimmick. It’s just…good heavy music.”

We’ve got the hooks and we’ve got the riffs

When it comes to good heavy music, how would Martin persuade a non-thrash fan to listen to SHRAPNEL? “With this new album, I think we’ve got the hooks and we’ve got the riffs. You don’t need to be a thrash fan, but you do need to be a heavy metal fan.” Martin concludes, “If you’re into any form of heavy metal, there is definitely something in there for you.”

Palace for the Insane will be released via Candlelight Records on 15 April 2020.

Q&A: Compounds

Compounds’ Jon and Chris give Metalmance the lowdown on their new single and chapter.

Melodic hardcore troupe COMPOUNDS are about to unleash their new single Survive or Die and it spells the beginning of a new chapter for the band from Reading. Drummer Jon Sugden and bassist Chris Taylor give Metalmance the lowdown on their new single and what the band are all about.

Q. Survive or Die covers the topics of anxiety and depression. How personal is the song to COMPOUNDS?

Jon: Survive or Die’s meaning is having someone there for you when going through negative thought processes. It’s something that each member of COMPOUNDS (as well as most of the human population) have been through and can often relate to. With Survive or Die bringing this negativity into a positive light, we seek to convey a message that it is okay to speak out to others.

Q. You hint that Survive or Die is COMPOUNDS’ most ambitious track to date. Why is this?

Chris: It was the first track that we really wrote as a full band, and developed every session – all the way through to recording it at the studio – so it was the first one where we could really blend together our styles and techniques, and that led to more varied rhythms, structure and dynamics. And all of that ties in with the emotions underlying the theme of the lyrics. It’s set the bar for how we want to write the next EP.

Jon: Yeah, it’s definitely something we feel we have pushed the boat out on in terms of our musical ability as well as lyrical content. Going into writing Survive or Die, we wanted to create something that would challenge us as well as it being different to our older material. We had a vision from day one that it would be something that would stand out live and as we started to introduce this song into our set, our fans that come to see us live now seem to be pretty excited about this one coming out, so I guess this means we’ve achieved that!

Q. How have COMPOUNDS grown as a band between debut EP Once More The Night Turns Black and releasing Survive or Die

Jon: OMTNTB was a collection of material that we developed from the five of us having quite different musical backgrounds and over a long period of time, way before we surfaced as a band, we started to develop what we felt was a good starting point for how we wanted to sound. Fast forward to Survive or Die, and we’ve definitely got more of a perspective as to how the music industry works and what it takes to keep continuing what we love doing. Whether that’s writing, recording, booking gigs or releasing tracks.

Chris: The end of last year was pretty intense for all of us – personal changes for everyone meant we couldn’t just rock up to a rehearsal studio or last minute gig whenever – so that was a learning curve. Sadly Scott made the decision to bow out after putting in a huge amount of effort to make it work, but I think the whole thing has made us stronger as a band and really focused us on writing the next EP. Survive or Die was actually supposed to be the first single for that, but with Scott leaving (and COVID) we decided to do a big release for it now and give ourselves a bit more time to work on new material.

Q. How would you describe the COMPOUNDS’ sound? 

Jon: As a band, we’ve brought a wide range of musical influences and have always had a love for fast punk, and heavy breakdowns. Combining that plus a mix of melodic guitar riffs, and you get COMPOUNDS! We’ve always said from day one that this would be our core ideas and what we want our sound to be, but then continue to develop new and interesting things over the top of that.

Q. What can fans expect from the new EP?

Jon: There will definitely be a few changes to what you’ve heard previously, the new EP will have a slight line-up change with this EP being our first material with a new vocalist.

Chris: It’s also Luke’s first chance to really get involved in the writing, I’m excited for the fans to hear some of the stuff he’s been coming up with. A big part of our process is making sure we balance everything out and still sound like ‘COMPOUNDS’ though, so you can still expect plenty of those fast punk sections that get people hyped up live!

Q. What do you want COMPOUNDS to achieve with the new material?

Jon: We’ll definitely be looking at trying to push our creativity a bit further I think! We are going to try and bring new and exciting things that people may not have heard from us before, but still bring it fast!

Chris: As we said before, we’ve learned a lot about the industry and scene since the last release too. It was luck that got Night’s End on a Spotify playlist – it would be great if something could top the 20,000 odd plays that got, now we know what we’re doing! We’re treating it as the start of a new chapter, so we’ll be going big…

Q. Your reassuring lyrics in Survive or Die are quite empowering. Is this how you want listeners to relate to COMPOUNDS?

Jon: Like I said earlier, I feel like the lyrics have always been quite positive, coming from all of our personal backgrounds, we’ve at times been through quite negative periods in our lives and learning from this, we’d like to send out a message that a positive mental attitude is definitely key to bringing a healthy lifestyle. However angry our music sounds at face value, deep inside, we’d like to ensure our music is something that spreads positivity to our listeners!

Q. The UK hardcore scene seems to be getting stronger year on year. Where does COMPOUNDS fit in the hardcore/metal scene?

Chris: I actually think part of the reason modern hardcore is such a big thing at the moment is because so many bands are embracing those ideas of positive mental health that we’ve mentioned – even though it can sound quite violent, it’s such a supportive scene to be part of (in real life and on social media) and I think that’s really helping it to grow. It’s something we’re proud to be part of. COMPOUNDS is fairly new (our first show was July 2018, with gigging only seriously starting towards the end of that year), but we’ve already had the pleasure of playing with some great up-and-coming bands at a range of melodic/post-hardcore, hardcore and metalcore shows: MTXS, HIGH RISE, GRIEVER, HOLDING ABSENCE, THE CITY IS OURS etc. It’s great to be able to play such a range of shows and see people getting into it who wouldn’t necessarily go for the faster/punkier stuff – our writing is firmly in the melodic hardcore camp, but we like to think that there’s enough variety in our music/live show that hardcore/metalcore (or even metal) fans could enjoy it!

Survive or Die will be independently released 15 April 2020.