Chimaira vocalist Mark Hunter would be the first to tell you that 2011’s Age of Hell was a transitional album for the Cleveland-based band. Longtime members Matt DeVries and Chris Spicuzza had jumped shipped, leaving Hunter to track the disc with guitarist Rob Arnold and drummer Ben Schigel. Arnold bailed soon thereafter, leaving Hunter to carry on Chimaira’s decade-long legacy.
The resilient front man recruited new members and tapped Schigel to produce the brutal new Crown of Phantoms. The album—which features Daath members Emil Werstler (guitar), Jeremy Creamer (bass), and Sean “Z” Zatorsky (keys, samples) with drummer Austin D’amond—honors Chimaira’s past while planting one combat boot firmly in the future.
The band’s current U.S. tour will wrap up with a homecoming show at Peabody’s Down Under on August 25th. We caught up with Hunter by phone in California to discuss the new lineup, fresh music…and fake blood.
CLEVELAND MUSIC EXAMINER: Hey, Mark! It’s nice to be talking with you in advance of your Cleveland show. Would you mind bringing us up to speed on Chimaira and the new disc, Crown of Phantoms?
MARK HUNTER: Well, Crown of Phantoms is the first album with an entirely different lineup than Age of Hell, and quite a different lineup than from what’s been going on the last few years. So it was an exciting process to get a chance to rebuild everything and take a fresh perspective. The process was pretty simple and effortless in the sense that we weren’t struggling to come up with new material. It was quite the opposite—everyone was really ramped up for it and had a lot they wanted to express, artistically. So it was a very positive experience. We had a great time, and musically I think we were able to create something completely different.
CME: Lyrically, the songs are very topical. There’s stuff taken from the headlines, like war and serial killings—but there are also songs dealing with inner emotions expressed outwardly. Defiance and rebellion aren’t new to Chimaira, but the new tracks seem to have extra bite.
MH: Sure, and there’s also a lot of exploration and ego-depth. A lot of mind-expansion as well as different perspectives on the state of the world. Lots of just…a bit of chest-thumping as well, like “This is our new thing!” Like, Chimaira Part II chest-pounding, if you will [laughs].
CME: Chimaira’s been around for over a decade, and you’re the anchorman. Do you ever feel any pressure on you, being a sort of ambassador to the world for all things metal in Cleveland?
MH: Oh, man. I don’t think of anything like that. I just think it’s amazing our band has done what it has for heavy metal and for Cleveland bands. We get to play all over the world and express art that comes from our area—that’s an amazing experience. I’m proud of where I come from, and we try to do the recordings at home there and have the biggest shows there and everything like that. But I don’t think of myself as ambassador. That’s too crazy and large of a title [laughs]!
CME: I get the sense that you and anyone who’s ever been in Chimaira are hometown heroes of a sort.
MH: I’m definitely grateful that we can do this, and understand and respect that there are many people who think that. But for me, I’m just excited to be from there. Because if I weren’t from there, it’s unlikely I would have been exposed to so many great people and bands coming up, and overall this great scene. So it’s definitely an honor to be able to pay that back with what I create as a product of that.
CME: Tell us a little about the deluxe version of the new album. It was crowd-funded, which is the new thing in music these days. And instead of simply making your goal, you guys raised more than double the amount needed.
MH: Yes. Right. Crowd-funding is becoming a common thing at this point. And when we were first introduced to it, it was suggested by our fan-base. We had a record label and the means to do our latest record, we didn’t really need crowd-funding for that. So we went out of the box a little and did it for multi-media content and production of the special edition of Crown of Phantoms. Now we’re in an era where record labels are better suited to put their marketing funds toward other things, and the actual physical product is at its lowest state. So we’re kind of coming from an old-school perspective in that we still want to make videos, and still want to have a super-cool deluxe edition, and still want to do some things we enjoy and that our fans enjoy—but for which we had no means to do it. So crowd-funding was our way to experiment, by doing something old-school in a new-school manner.
CME: Crown of Phantoms has been promoted very well. I remember months ago seeing stuff online about it, before it even had a name.
Watch video here:
MH: We appreciate that, so that’s why with this album in particular we put special emphasis on having the best possible artwork with it. We went all-out with having multiple versions of it, and there’s hidden artwork—you can put it up to a mirror and see different imagery. We decided if we were going to do that, that we would spend a lot of time into making it the best product that we could.
CME: One of the earlier promotional bits related to the album was a word-search puzzle fans could try to solve to narrow down the title. I tried it myself and came up with a couple possibilities, but a lot of people really went crazy trying to guess.
MH: Yeah! That was awesome. Our manager Jerry is quite the genius when it comes to doing fun things like that. He’s like, “I’ve got an idea!” And the next thing I know I’m on Facebook, and our fans are going nuts there trying to find out all this stuff.
CME: Tell me about the video for “All That’s Left Is Blood.” There are a few sequences in the clip where you and the guys take turns sitting in a bathtub full of blood, and you each slip beneath the surface.
MH: It was real blood. We went to this hospital, and—[laughs] just kidding. Nah, we went the old special effects way with Kayo syrup and chocolate sauce and food coloring, and we mixed it up in big vats. Actually, they were giant garbage cans. And it tasted like being in a giant cappuccino [laughs]! Everyone got it in their noses. It was pretty messy. But what was funny was, we did that scene in my garage, and everyone was running out into the street in the middle of the suburbs looking like they were covered in blood [laughs]! So yeah, that was fun.
CME: Chimaira’s annual Christmas shows are always a big draw each year. You’ve got to be coming up on, what, maybe Chimaira X-Mas XIV or XV, right?
MH: Yep. It’ll be number fourteen this December.
CME: I read that you’re a fan of horror movies, and that some concepts from classic movies sometimes end up in Chimaira lyrics. What are some of your faves?
MH: I’m definitely a movie buff. I’m a fan of Kubrick films like The Shining and A Clockwork Orange. I like the Gaspar Noe films Irreversible and Into the Void. There was this really fantastic sci-fi movie I watched recently—Beyond the Black Rainbow. I really liked that a lot.
CME: Do you have to do anything to either protect or prepare your voice to go out and growl like that long periods of time? I can’t imagine trying that myself, not without shredding my pipes inside five minutes.
MH: I kind of just go out and bust it out at this point. I know my limits and what I’m capable of at this point. I know what works for me. I’ve put in the time and got the experience, so I know how to eat well and rest and not party too much or do stupid things to my voice. That’s key. And I just keep as relaxed a lifestyle as possible, and that seems to help.
CME: With so many albums behind you now, you’ve got a lot to choose from when coming up with a set list. Can fans expect a good mix of Crown of Phantoms songs with classic Chimaira material from Impossibility of Reason, Resurrection, and The Infection?
MH: Oh, for sure. We’re playing in the vicinity of fifteen or sixteen songs, with only like three or four new ones. So there’s definitely going to be quite a few classics in there.
CME: Well, Mark, thanks so much for talking with us. We’ll catch you back home at Peabody’s in a week or so. Where are you heading next, anyway?
MH: We’re doing Los Angeles, Santa Ana. We’re on the West Coast all this week, so it’s going to be extra-relaxing! It’s a great time out here.
Chimaira with Threat Signal, The Browning, and Dark Sermon. Sunday, August 25th at Peabody’s Downunder (2045 E. 21st Street, Cleveland OH). $16.00 / $19.00 DOS. Doors open at 6:00pm.
Tickets available here: http://www.ticketweb.com/t3/sale/SaleEventDetail?dispatch=loadSelectionD...