ALL OUT WAR’S MIKE SCORE ON METALCORE, MYSPACE, AND MORE
It might be hard for all you self-righteous, 22 year-old turds and haters to believe, but back in the early 90s, it wasn’t at all cool to be into metal and hardcore. If you never got mocked by your HC/punk friends for listening to Immolation, Obituary and Morbid Angel like I did (let alone Gut, Excruciating Terror or The Meatshits), you probably don’t remember a time when metal and hardcore weren’t virtually synonymous. The fact that the twos genres now go hand-in-hand is thanks to bands like All Out War, who paved the way for the new breed of bad seeds who fill the pages of MetalSucks these days (did you see what I did there?).
It’s hard to believe AOW has been a band for nearly twenty years now — partly because they’ve largely flown under the radar — but they’ve been going strong since 1991. Along with contemporaries like Merauder, Overcast, Starkweather, Candiria, and Mayday, they were one of the very first bands to combine NY-style hardcore with death metal, creating the blueprint for legions of riff-salad deathcore bands today.
I hadn’t talked to AOW singer Mike Score in about ten years, but I was really happy to catch up with him. Aside from being a really nice, smart guy, he’s also one of the few people our age who is able to both fondly remember the old days and respect what the current generation of kids are creating — something that MS readers who can’t read the words “Suicide Silence” without getting worked up into a frothy rage might want to learn from.
Anyway, AOW has a new album, Into the Killing Fields, out now on Victory. You should check it out (buy it on iTunes here). And thanks to Mike for taking the time to talk with me!
First of all, what can you tell me about the new record?
It’s different than the other stuff — it’s more thrash, less Slayer-esque than anything else we’ve done. We’ve been playing with Lou [Medina] from Breakdown [on drums], so that might have something to do with it. I think it’s a solid record, and I enjoyed writing and recording it. It’s a real throwback to Vio-Lence and stuff like that. Lots of crossover, even a little early Napalm Death. It’s faster, there’s only one song that’s midpaced.
Well, I guess most of the other questions I have are about the old days, since that’s what us old guys do, think about old stuff.
That’s great, I love talking about the old days!
I found this awesome clip on YouTube of All Out War playing a show at some skatepark in Newburgh, does that ring a bell?
[laughs] Yeah, I remember that show! It was with Darkside, and Sheer Terror was supposed to play but they canceled — and possibly Life of Agony, one of their first shows. Without A Cause played, who went on to become Fahrenheit.
The first thing that struck me was that you guys sounded really, really great, which was rare for the time. Second, you definitely didn’t look like most bands — the guitarist is wearing a Pearl Jam shirt with a leopard-print Jackson and Chris Chisholm had that headless guitar. How did people react to all that at the beginning?
Well, we were one of the first bands to be more influenced by death metal than hardcore. Actually, I guess our biggest influence was German thrash, but nobody really knew what to think of us. At that time, ’91 or ’92, most of the hardcore bands were doing Quicksand-type stuff. It wasn’t until that explosion a little later on that it became acceptable to combine metal with hardcore. At the time, it was just us, Merauder, Starkweather, Darkside, and a few others — at least, that we knew about.
Merauder’s LP came out in 1996, but most of these songs were written back in 1991 or so — “Master Killer” is one of the hardest songs ever recorded to this day
It wasn’t unheard of, but it wasn’t really cool to be into metal and hardcore back in the late 80s/early 90s. For anyone who wasn’t around then, can you talk a little bit about that?
Like you said, at the time it was definitely not the norm. The CBGB’s matinees were just winding down, and hardcore was in kind of a transitional period. Like I said before, a lot of the bands we grew up with with were going the “post-hardcore” route, so me and Chris, who was in Merauder at the time, were both like, “You know, we want to do a band that has some hardcore elements, but we’re really into this German thrash stuff. We don’t want to do the post-hardcore thing, and we’re definitely not some kind of youth crew band.” For us, it was just what we were into, and we didn’t really care — we didn’t have any real goals, we weren’t out to impress anybody, all we really wanted to do was play a show. That was it, there was no long-term goal or any of that. Believe it or not, we didn’t really even care about being on a label. It was just five friends getting together and playing the kind of music we were into. It was a great time — I miss those days, because there was no blueprint for what we were going to do. We just sat down and played what we played.
It’s hard to explain how different Starkweather sounded from what ANY other band at the time was doing — completely sick
You’re one of the few bands from that era who’s still around, but you’re pretty low-profile. What’s kept you going for so long?
I do it because I have a great time being in the band, I have fun playing shows, and seeing old friends. When it started getting boring for me, and I didn’t like being in the band, is when things like Soundscan started coming into play and people cared you sold and stuff like that. There was nothing more dull to me than to sit around with other bands and have them be like, “So, what did you Soundscan last week??” That’s when it started to become ridiculous, when bands were trying to become popular and become less focused on what we originally started the bands for, which was to have a release, an outlet. Kids my age — back then — what did they do? They hung out, went to the movies, got drunk, or whatever. And now that I’m in my 30s, they golf or whatever they do, but I do hardcore on the weekends.
Do you know anything about the newer deathcore bands? Suicide Silence, Whitechapel, all that? They’re basically playing early 90s-style death metal, but they’re huge with Hot Topic kids.
No. I am totally unfamiliar with any of them. [laughs] I do know what you mean, though. Being a teacher, I see kids with shirts on and I talk music with them, and they’re into a lot of bands I’ve never heard of. When I start throwing out bands, I don’t really get into hardcore because they have no way of knowing about any of the bands I was into at their age, so I talk metal with them. Bands that I think they would know, they don’t, and on the flipside, I’ve never heard of any of the stuff they throw at me.
Yeah, I’m not one to be the old guy who gets mad at kids these days because they don’t know about old bands.
Actually, I’m glad you said that. I started to think about that a few years ago, and I realized that music is just a point in time, and you really can’t expect a kid to know about or appreciate your point in time. It’s kind of ridiculous when people are like, “You know should know about this or that, you don’t know your roots,” and all that. It’s like when I was coming up, and someone being like, “I can’t believe you’re not into The Rolling Stones! Why don’t you like Pink Floyd?!” I didn’t want to hear any of that stuff! I started going to shows in ’86 or ’87. Asking a kid today to know about the bands I grew up on is like asking me to know about the late 60s.
Like when I was getting into hardcore in ’89 or ’90, and people would tell me I should be into Television, X, and all those other bands that I hated — they just sounded like boring rock to me, and I wanted to hear hardcore.
Exactly. Even if they’re great bands, sometimes we expect young kids to have an appreciation for things that are from our era.
You were around for the peak of the New York hard and death metal scenes. What do you see as the differences between then and now?
I can’t speak too much about today, but it seems like things are alive and well in New York. Black and Blue does the Superbowl of Hardcore every year, and those shows are always packed. They’re few and far between I guess, but when they have them, a lot of people come out. I think there’s still a big appreciation of that era, but I’m not sure what it’s like in the rest of the country.
What about the Long Island scene?
I love Pyrexia, great band. Suffocation, all those bands were great. They still play, which is cool. Are Internal Bleeding done? Seems like they come and go. But yeah, all that Long Island death metal stuff was really good.
What are your thoughts when you listen to your older stuff these days? Personally, I think it still sounds really tight and current.
As far as writing goes, I think that early material was the best stuff we’ve ever done. For us, it was the perfect storm: we were all on the same page as far as what we were into, and that first demo we did stands the test of time. I still listen to that and I’m like, “Damn, that really holds up after all these years.” The first record, Truth In The Age Of Lies, most of that stuff was written in like ’91 or’ 92, and I think it really holds up — at least for me, personally [laughs]. With music, I think that’s all that really matters, what you think of it as the creator, and I think it’s great stuff.
Sheer Terror’s Just Can’t Hate Enough is basically the Celtic Frost LP with hardcore vocals (and Hatebreed is basically Sheer Terror with a few coats of polish)
I think it holds up, and not much from that era does. If someone younger likes what All Out War is doing, what older, underrated bands should they check out who were along the same lines?
Darkside was a great band. They’re releasing some new stuff, I don’t know what it’s going to sound like, but the original stuff they did with Blake from Sheer Terror was awesome! Blake had that Celtic Frost sound, and nobody in New York had the sound he did. It was totally unique and incredible how he captured that when you listen to the first Sheer Terror record. If anybody is unfamiliar with Darkside and wants to know what they sound like, just listen to the first Sheer Terror album, Just Can’t Hate Enough. It’s unbelievable how great that Darkside is, and that they didn’t get more popular. Even now, they’re not really a cult band, which I can’t believe. Even when they were around, they didn’t really get the recognition they should have.
You grew up with tape trading, flyers, and all that DIY stuff that doesn’t really exist now. Do you feel like kids now are missing out on anything from that whole scene?
I don’t want to pass judgment here, but I think it was more sincere in the tape-trading days, because you really had to earn it. You really had to seek out bands, you had to work and find it. You couldn’t even just go to the record store and pick it up, you had to find stuff. Tape-trading was awesome, I remember doing that through the mail. I discovered so many bands that way. Actually, and I think a lot of people can back me up on this, we found a lot bands through thanks lists [laughs]. You’d go through your favorite band’s thank-you list, and search out bands you saw on there. You’d find someone who had it, or just read up on it and did your homework. Or even discovered them by accident — I remember discovering the Cro-Mags because I went to see Anthrax!
Yeah, I think I originally discovered DRI from a sticker on Jeff Hanneman’s guitar. I mean, it’s great that you can download anything you want in two minutes, and I do it all the time, but I’ve noticed that I only listen to stuff I download for a minute, I don’t really give it a fair chance like you did when you only had a few records and would really listen to all of them.
Yeah — I look at my CDs now, and think back to the records I had as a kid, and I just have so many more. Like you said, when you only have ten records, you listen to them and learn to appreciate them. It’s oversaturated now, bands just come through over and over again, whereas before a band would tour, write a record, then tour again instead of touring on the same record again and again.
I got this tattoo (from the lyric sheet of Morbid Angel “Altars of Madness”) in some girl’s kitchen in 1998 from AOW/Merauder guitarist Chris Chisholm. Don’t let this fool you, he is an amazing tattooist. Peaking out from the other side is “SMASH YOUR ENEMIES,” and my $400 down comforter.
When bands tour now, it’s always on one of those zillion-band package tours, and they all sound the same. I miss when shows had a bunch of bands who actually sounded different from each other.
That’s why the CBGB’s matinees were so great. There was only four or five bands, and they were all different. Even the metal shows at L’Amour’s were like that. [laughs] Man, I’m gonna sound like I’m condemning new stuff, and I don’t mean to come off like that at all, but I can tell you this: you used to be able to listen to a band and know who it was. In other words, if you put Exodus or Kreator on, you’d know it was them, but a lot of bands now sound so similar. What I really don’t like is the production — they all go for the same sound. There’s not many bands with a unique sound as far as recordings go, they’re all going for the same drum and guitar sound.
All the kids now are so much more technically proficient, too.
A lot of that is because the kids now have so much better equipment. Triggers make a lot of drummers sound like they’re great at double bass when they might not be.
I’m glad to hear that you aren’t hating too much on the new generation of kids, because it’s really the same as what we did when we were there age. Why do you think so many people forget that?
It’s really easy to fall into “back in MY day…” I think we all do it, whether we want to or not, because deep down we all miss our youth, we miss that feeling. And of course, ours has to be better than theirs, right? You can do that with anything, not just music — people always look back and say, “It was so much better back then.” But was it really? Or do you just look at it through rose-colored glasses, because it was yours? Is it really better? I don’t know, because I’m not seventeen, so I can’t tell you what it’s like now. Maybe if you took me, and made me seventeen today, I’d like it better, I don’t know. And also, if you’re thinking the same way now as how you thought when you were seventeen, that’s a problem! [laughs] If you haven’t changed at all, and haven’t progressed, you might want to rethink how you’re living your life.
People always say “Thing X died in year Y,” which always happens to be the year THEY stopped being into it.
It’s amazing — in a good way — that this stuff is still going, that there’s still any kind of underground music — if you can even call it “underground” anymore. But yeah, you hear it all the time: “Hardcore died in this year, metal died in that year,” but I don’t know, it doesn’t look dead to me! There’s still a ton of kids involved, so I guess it’s still going strong.
The largely-forgotten Mayday were one of the few other bands who were as overtly metal as AOW, such as this track from their 1992 split with the incredibly-overrated Integrity
Have you heard of any younger bands who are into All Out War?
We’ve always gotten really positive feedback from younger bands. I don’t really know that a ton of younger bands have heard of us, but the ones who have have good things to say. We just played a local show a few weeks ago, and I was surprised at how many younger kids were giving me CDs, talking to me about setting up shows, and stuff like that. We’ve been a band for nineteen years, and it’s really cool that younger bands acknowledge us. Like if they come up and say, “Hey, you guys were an influence on us,” that’s amazing to me because to me, we’re not a band that’s influential as much as a band who’s been influenced by other bands. It’s always cracked me up when people say what bands they think we’re influenced by, because they’re so off the mark every time.
Like what, Madball or something?
Oh, like when people compare us to modern bands, because we don’t really have any influences outside of the 80s thrash and hardcore scene. At all, really! [laughs]
All Out War might not be the hugest band, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard anybody say anything negative about you guys, which is pretty rare.
That’s great to hear, I really appreciate that. We really only do it because we love doing the band, there’s no other reason. We all have other things going on, and people always want us to play more than what we do, but it’s just not feasible. But I definitely appreciate the kind words from everybody, thanks a lot!