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Metal mavens Carnifex to headline Agora Ballroom March 12th with new album

Carnifex to play the Cleveland Agora on March 12, 2014.
Carnifex to play the Cleveland Agora on March 12, 2014.
Carnifex / Nuclear Blast

San Diego’s Carnifex has been mining metal for nearly ten years now, casting spells with such sunshine-evoking albums as Dead in My Arms and The Diseased and The Poisoned. Fronted by prodigiously-tattooed vocalist Scott Lewis, the quintet—whose moniker comes from the Latin for “executioner” (or, more bluntly, “meat cutter”)—opened for the likes of Emmure, Unearth, All That Remains, Born of Osiris, Black Dahlia Murder, and Warbringer.

Carnifex's Die Without Hope drops March 4th.
Nuclear Blast

People took notice. A trifecta of albums on the Victory label earned praise enough to win Carnifex coveted slots three years running at Bonecrusher Fest, during which they whipped audiences at Copenhagen, Munster, and Hamburg into frenzies.

The guys took a break in 2012 but came out of hibernation for the Never Say Die Tour with Impericon and began writing for what would become its fifth album, Die Without Hope. The lineup of Lewis (vocals), Shawn Cameron (drums), Cory Arford (guitar), and Fred Calderon (bass) was rounded out when guitarist Jordan Lockrey signed on. As if the fresh blood wasn’t enough to get things pumping at Camp Carnifex, the band then scored a bodacious new record deal with those metal mavens at Nuclear Blast, who issued Die in January.

Produced by Mark Lewis (Whitechapel, Deicide) at Audio Hammer Studios in Sanford, Florida, the disc exploits the same in-your-face doom grooves, banshee wails, and guitar histrionics Carnifex have always promulgated. Cudgel-fashioned cuts like “Dark Days,” “Rotten Souls,” and new single “Dragged Into the Grave” catch Lewis raging—in full-on goblin voice—about vengeance, war, decay, and total petrifaction of the human heart over stuttering beats, galloping rhythms, and shark-tooth serrated guitar licks.

But the monstrous music is once more offset by lilting pianos and subtle orchestral flourishes whose plaintive interludes provide welcome ventilation amid the mayhem and chaos on “Reflection of the Forgetten,” “Last Words,” and “Where the Light Dies.” Heck, you don’t need us telling you about it. The band shot a video diary while making the album:

No strangers to the North Coast, Carnifex will return to Cleveland March 12th top-line a metal show at Agora Ballroom with a half-dozen other skull-crushers on the bill. Even if you’re unfamiliar with Lewis and company (or their tour-mates Betraying the Martyrs, I Declare War, and Here Comes the Kraken), the budget-friendly ticket price ensures maximum metal for your concert dollar. That’s over five hours of bands for less than twenty bucks.

Lewis’ enthusiasm over the new album and road trip was palpable when he phoned last week. So we’ll let Carnifex quarterback take it from here.

CLEVELAND MUSIC EXAMINER: Hello, Scott, and thanks for talking with us! Can you tell us a bit about making your new record? What—if anything—was different for Carnifex this time out, as opposed to previous records like Until I Feel Nothing or Hell Chose Me?

SCOTT LEWIS: Well, Die Without Hope is our fifth full-length record. It’s coming up on just about ten years as band. Really, the biggest thing that I think was different about this album was that, with previous albums, we’d always been pressured into a schedule and had to divide our attention between touring and writing at the same time. A band like us, we tour in a band, we do our own driving, load all our own gear, and don’t have a crew. So when you take all the responsibilities of a tour and try to also find time to write an album, it really doesn’t create the best scenario for writing the album. In the past, we had to write albums under those circumstances, and we did the best we could. Never gave anything less than 100%. But that scenario is difficult. So, with this album we didn’t have that. We didn’t have to divide our time, and we could focus strictly on writing. We took some time—took a hiatus—and came off the road. We haven’t done a U.S. tour in nearly two years. With all that out of the way, we could focus on writing an album and fine-tuning it. We could write and re-write until we were completely satisfied with the songs. To me, that’s the biggest difference you’ll hear with this album.

EXAMINER: Your producer was Mark Lewis, who’s done some commendable work with Whitechapel and Devildriver, among others.

SCOTT LEWIS: We have lots of friends who did records with Mark, and we’ve listened to the albums he’s been working on lately with others, and they just sounded great. He did the most recent Whitechapel album, he did the most recent Devildriver and did some previous Black Dahlia records. And everyone had great things to say about him—and those records all sound fantastic—so we took him on. And with Nuclear Blast giving us support, we had a chance to work in some bigger studios. It was pretty much a no-brainer to go with him. I’m glad we did!

EXAMINER: Who are some of your influences? Particularly, who steered you toward metal?

SCOTT LEWIS: Yeah! I think it must’ve been when I was around 14 when I started listening to metal. Some of the first bands I heard were Cradle of Filth and Immortal. So I was kind of exposed to the European metal before I was exposed to, like, Cannibal Corpse or Dying Fetus. I’d heard more of Cradle and Dissection and In Flames, those bands. So I’ve always been drawn to melodic metal, melodic music. And I’d always been in bands in junior high school and high school, and never really gave up on it after high school—when I was just working. Because none of the bands had really gone anywhere. Our drummer, Shawn, he’s the other founding member, and we started this band in 2005. We’d both been in a whole list of bands that never went anywhere previously. We just kind of went into this with no expectations, thinking it would just be fun to jam and write some songs. And that’s how we started writing the first songs we wrote, and it just progressed from there. We never had any expectations or a plan, like “In six months we’ll be here.” We just did what we liked and tried to be the best band we could be. That’s how we’ve gotten as far as we’ve gotten.

EXAMINER: Speaking of stamina and endurance, do you have some kind of regimen for keeping yourself in shape on the road and maintaining your voice? Must be rough after a while, roaring like that night after night.

SCOTT LEWIS: Yeah. I mean, I try to take care of myself as best I can. Get the workouts in whenever possible. I’m not a smoker or drinker—I think that helps, not taxing my voice with that. I just try taking care of my voice so I can give the best show I can to the fans. We rehearse quite a bit, and we’ve been doing this quite a while now, so it’s definitely something I’ve built up endurance for. Like anything, the more you do it, the better you get at it. And we’ve been doing it a while, and we take it pretty seriously. We give it 100% when we’re on the stage.

EXAMINER: I hear background vocals on the record. In the studio, that could be anyone. I mean, it could be you doing some multi-tracking—or it could be someone else in the band. So how do you replicate those layers on the road?

SCOTT LEWIS: Cory helps with that. In the studio it’s not a problem. But live, yeah, anything that’s layered like that, it’s Cory helping me out. We really try to recreate as much of the album as possible—as accurately as we can—with the five-piece band.

Watch Carnifex sign-off on limited edition pre-orders of the new album:

EXAMINER: As with the catalog of any self-respecting metal band, Carnifex has a lot of tunes that center on—shall we say—darker subject matter. A lot of the songs on Die Without Hope focus on betrayal, anger, and revenge. Obviously, most metal singers aren’t writing from experience and don’t act out these violent fantasies. How do you approach your lyrics? Is there a bit of theatricality involved, such as couching personal anger into the words as a sort of sublimation, perhaps?

SCOTT LEWIS: Writing for me, lyrically, it’s obviously not a complete representation of who I am, personally. It just takes from certain parts. I really try to focus on taking a very small moment in time, maybe taking a single emotion or experience that you have in your life, and I try to stretch that across a whole song and really explore it in as detailed a way as possible. So with the songs, these are all genuine feelings I’ve had at one point and things I’ve dealt with—for better or worse—at some point. But they don’t necessarily represent me as a whole, you know? Each song is just one part, with a channel where you try and create something that fits the style we’re doing.

EXAMINER: Makes sense. The guys in Slayer have always quite rightly pointed out that it just wouldn’t make sense to have Tom Araya singing about flowers and candy, given the kind of music they play. So he writes about dark, ugly topics, and sometimes steps in the shoes of serial killers and whatnot. Which usually results in a lot of yelling or scream-singing, because again, it wouldn’t make sense to sing softly. There’s a need to project—loudly!

SCOTT LEWIS: Yeah, of course there is. With music, or in any type of artistic recreation of an emotion, you definitely try to make people feel something. And in order to do that, you have to go to extremes to make that happen. Especially these days, with so much distraction, so much added content coming at you. You have to make a big statement, or you’ll kind of get lost in the mix. So, yes, there’s definitely a theatrical thing to it, and there are boundaries between genuine feelings and those you experience and project as a performer.

Watch the official video for “Dark Days” here:

EXAMINER: Carnifex is a two-guitar band. Who determines which guitarist plays what riffs and solos? Do Cory (Arford) and Jordan (Lockrey) simply hash it out beforehand? Onstage, does it come down to whoever played it on record?

SCOTT LEWIS: Usually it’s a whoever-wrote-it-plays-it sort of thing. You’d probably be surprised to know that Shawn, our drummer, is the main songwriter. They’ll do their guitar parts, but Shawn and myself do a lot of the writing and arranging. And what’s interesting and works in our favor is that Shawn is great with the drums, he’s great with arrangements, great with rhythms and patterns—all those things. So what he’ll do is, he’ll basically write like, 75% of a track. Then Cory and Jordan will come in and add to it. Shawn’s just really good at developing foundations for the songs. Then the other guys come in, because Shawn’s not the guitar player. He plays guitar pretty good, but he’s not the guitar player. They come in and add all the things guitar players are good at doing. They do all the leads and put the icing on the cake, all the solos and great harmonies and stuff like that. And we’re thankful that we’re pretty collaborative in the writing. It’s not a one man show by any means. But as far as deciding which guy does what, it’s usually just whoever writes it will play it. No one really has an ego in the band, so it’s not something we usually have an issue over.

EXAMINER: Die Without Hope has a lot of orchestration. Not running through the songs, necessarily, but during intros and breakdowns. “Dark Days” features some pretty piano bits and strings. So does the outro in the title track. “Reflection of the Forgotten” also has some nice, quiet piano parts, which I think work quite well.

SCOTT LEWIS: That’s something we always wanted to do. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with our previous albums, but on some of them—like To Let Go of Nothing—we had some of those elements, but to a lesser degree. The album before that was the same. They kind of just worked their way in over the years, but one thing we wanted to do with this record was bring those elements to the front. We really wanted to give them more attention and more space to be heard. So as far as deciding where those parts were going to be, and deciding which arrangements they were going to be in, again, that was Shawn. He wrote a lot of those parts. Then we had a pianist friend of Shawn’s named Kathy come in, who actually plays piano. She would come in and perform the stuff. And I think what’s great is, Shawn builds these foundations with scales and harmony for those instruments, then you have someone who is proficient at that instrument come in and take it to the next level. Same thing there. Shawn would build a nice foundation, and Kathy would come in and do the piano and realize, “I can add this layer or do this harmony thing.” Stuff like that. We really wanted to have those showcased on the album, and I think—as you pointed out—we let the metal lay back a bit when those parts come to the fore. But yeah, that was definitely something we purposely wanted to do, something we were striving for. It’s good to hear that other people besides us recognize that. Sometimes it’s hard to tell, when you’re that close to an album.

Listen to a sample of “Salvation is Dead” by Carnifex:

EXAMINER: You’re starting the tour next week, yes?

SCOTT LEWIS: Yeah, the first show is here in San Diego on February 21st and it concludes on March 29th in Anaheim, which is just up the road from us in Orange County. You’re gonna know the exact date of the Cleveland show—I can’t think of it off the top of my head.

EXAMINER: March 12th at the Agora.

SCOTT LEWIS: Yeah. And I Declare War is also on the tour. We haven’t played with Here Comes the Kraken before. But all the other guys, yeah. Got to know them over the years on the road. It’s a great tour, and we try to keep the ticket price low. We play an hour-long set, and we bring the full production out. We’re playing some of the new tracks, we’ll have the album for sale, and we’ll do some of the classics that everyone wants to hear. So it’ll be good to get back on the road after so much time for us. Whenever we played Cleveland, it’s always been at Peabody’s—so I’m interested in seeing how that goes!

EXAMINER: Peabody’s is gone. It closed, then they actually razed the building. It’s torn down. The owner / promoter guy, Chris, moved his shows to the Agora Ballroom. So it’s probably the same people.

SCOTT LEWIS: Okay, yeah. But it’s not the same building, is it?

EXAMINER: Nah. Peabody’s was on E. 21st, and the Agora is down the same street a few blocks on E. 55th.

SCOTT LEWIS: Yeah, every time we played Cleveland—and we’ve played it a lot since 2006—it’s always been Peabody’s. Without fail! Like, fifteen times, you know [laughs]!

Carnifex (with Die Without Hope, Betraying Martyrs, I Declare War, Here Comes the Kraken, Assassins, Bless the Child). Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at Agora Ballroom (5000 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland OH 44103). Doors at 6:00pm.

Tickets only $13.52 via TicketWeb at the link below:


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