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.