The music that just won’t die
Thrash has proven an un-killable genre. Resistant to trends and fads it has remained the preserve of true metal fans worldwide, and in the hands of Battlecross it has been pushed to the next level. Disinterested in simply recycling the ‘classic’ thrash sound, the Canton, MI quintet have consistently brought new fire, energy, and dynamics to their metallic assault, and with Rise To Power they raise the stakes once more. Building on the blistering sounds of sophomore release War Of Will (2013), it is a darker, more aggressive and tighter record, catchy without pandering, packed with face-melting solos and with every track they push their hunger to empower the masses to the forefront. “We’re really proud of War Of Will, and we got to play those songs all over the world, which was an amazing experience. Going into this record we had more freedom in the sense that we were able to say well, people like what we write, so let’s just write what we like,” states bassist Don Slater. “We never really want to do the same thing twice. We want to play the riffs that we want to hear, and we just want to keep building on our experience and raising the bar,” adds guitarist Tony Asta. “No one is handing us anything. We’ve always been about putting the work in, and we couldn’t be prouder of what we’ve achieved with Rise To Power.”
The band truly hit the ground running as they entered into the touring cycle for War Of Will. Kicking the campaign off with a slot at Metallica’s Orion Fest, this was swiftly followed by a stint on the Mayhem Festival alongside Rob Zombie, Mastodon and Amon Amarth, subsequently sharing stages with heavyweights such as Hatebreed, Death Angel and Killswitch Engage, and also racking up a performance at the famed UK Download Festival in June 2014. Retaining this momentum, they locked back into writing mode, and that what came out of these sessions is more aggressive than the music that preceded it was a natural and unforced progression. “I guess we were a little pissed off about some things that had happened over the year coming into it,” says Slater, “and our aggression comes through the music, always. But, we never said we wanted to make a heavier record, it just turned out that way, and it’s very real.” Emphasizing this aggression, the death metal flourishes that lingered at the very edges of their previous releases are more pronounced, most notably on “The Climb” and “Bound By Fear”, and these can be attributed to guitarist Hiran Deraniyagala. “There’s always been some death metal flavor in what I do, and I guess I was listening to a lot of Goatwhore at the time!” he laughs. “But really it was important that every song have its own identity and feel, and it felt natural to take some of them into these heavier places, and this record has a lot more groove to it too, there’s a lot more variety. At the same time, we didn’t want the melodies too in your face, we wanted them to blend into the songs more, and Tony’s really the melodic master.” Indeed, the manner in which Asta’s more melodic approach sparks against Deraniyagala’s aggressive style is where the record really comes to life. “Tony really knows how to get a hook going,” Slater says. “And they really feed off each other, and the culmination of those two guys giving it their best makes for a great thing.” Rise To Power is also the recording debut of twenty-two-year-old drummer Alex Bent, whose age belies his experience pounding the skins. “He brings a lot of talent and shares the same drive as us, and he’s racked up a lot of touring experience already so it’s been great having him play with us,” Slater says, and Bent was certainly fired up to seize the opportunity. “As soon as Tony showed me the demos I immediately started thinking of drum parts and how I was going to try to approach the album, and I just knew that I had to be playing at my best,” he enthuses.
With the record written, the band decamped to Florida and the famed Audiohammer Studios, enlisting producer Jason Suecof (The Black Dahlia Murderer, Job For A Cowboy) to ensure the finished result embodied the best of what the band have to offer. Known for being a hard task-master with a good sense of humor, Suecof pushed the quintet to ensure they gave their best performances, and vocalist Kyle “Gumby” Gunther feels the results speak for themselves. “We all stepped up, and it shows, and I know I really tried to spit some fire when I was in the vocal booth. I really put my experience into it, taking everything I’ve learned over the years we’ve been touring, and I think that’s also going to show when we take these songs out on the road.” Suecof also ensured the ante was upped when it came to the solos, which are an integral facet of Battlecross’ signature sound, and those on Rise To Power don’t disappoint. Working closely with the guitarists, Suecof – who also contributes a solo of his own to “The Path” – pushed them to pull out all the stops, ensuring every solo had its place and a life of its own. “The approach I take to leads is that it’s got to be something that I like, and also something memorable that isn’t over before you know it,” says Asta, who handles the majority of the shredding. “I don’t want it to be too flashy to understand, and we worked really hard to only come up with solos that took the songs to the next level.” Slater expands on this, stating “my favorite part about listening to the solos on the album is that it’s not just the quantity of notes being hit but the quality of them. They go for that triumphant feel, and can you really get that feel off something like thirty seconds of nothing but sweep picking? Probably not, while everything that made the record just sounds so fucking good.”
Taking the tag of ‘blue collar thrash’ seriously, the band have always remained down to earth, foregrounding their work ethic and wanting to speak to people on their own level, disinterested in rock star bullshit. “We’ve always done our own thing and not cared about whatever trends are going on, and whatever crap you’re dealing with in your daily life we think these songs will help you get through it,” states Deraniyagala. This is something that Gunther takes to heart, and through focusing on his own personal experiences he pens lyrics that attempt to turn negatives into positives, wanting their audience to find self-empowerment. “I firmly believe you can overcome any obstacles you want to, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy,” he states. “I wrote the song “Absence” about my son, because he’s four years old and I’ve been away on tour for literally half of his life, and when he won’t talk to me on the phone it’s worse than any of the crappy things I’ve been called in my life, but this is the life I chose.” Elsewhere on the record he takes on those who pose as victims and attempt to manipulate others on “Not Your Slave”, and on “Despised” he faces his “fuck ups” head on, acknowledging that mistakes have been made but refusing to let them destroy him, and it matters to him that he speaks from a place of truth. “You have to be accountable for what you say, and now people are listening to what I say, so I have a social obligation to say something that’s worthwhile. If I didn’t believe 100% in what I put out there or if I felt that maybe I was full of shit then I’d be the first to say that you shouldn’t buy our album, you shouldn’t buy our shirts or come to our shows.”
With the record under their collective belt they’re understandably eager to get out on the road and play these songs in front of as many people as they can. While Asta asserts that the band have “already achieved the greatest goal we could hope for” in garnering an audience who give a damn about them and find their music inspiring, Deraniyagala makes it clear they are remaining grounded while dreaming big. “I’m proud to be part of something that has grown larger than life, and I want to see us climb to the very top. My goal is that everyone who listens to metal will know who Battlecross is, which means playing in every corner of the world, and touring with anyone and everyone who wants us on the same stage as them. We’re never going to change our sound for anyone, we’re going to be exactly who we are, but there are no boundaries for us, and we’re just going to keep on going as far as we can.”
Rise To Power is released on 21st August