Interviews

Arsis Guitarist/Vocalist James Malone: The MetalSucks Interview

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Arsis 2013 Jeremy Saffer

We’ve been big, big Arsis fans here at MetalSucks for some time now, but the band’s new album, Unwelcome (out April 30 on Nuclear Blast — stream the single “Scornstar” here and pre-order album here!) took even us by surprise. The band’s last release, Starve for the Devil, certainly wasn’t bad, but it did seem to missing that little extra oomph that has made Arsis such a noteworthy band in the past. Thank Satan, there’s no such anticlimax to be found on Unwelcome — this album sees the band achieving levels of rabid viciousness and technicality they haven’t displayed since the days of A Celebration of Guilt and the much-lauded A Diamond for Disease EP. It’s also as catchy as a deadly parasite. Seriously, we know it’s not even May yet, but we can’t imagine this thing not ending up on plenty of year-end lists come December.

Arsis guitarist, vocalist, and general mastermind, James Malone, recently indulged some questions for me via e-mail. Below, sees what Mr. Malone has to say about why Unwelcome is superior to Starve, his lyrics, the band’s new members, the Tim Burton classic Beetlejuice, and more.

First thing’s first: why is the album called Unwelcome?

We wanted a simple title for the album; a title that could sum up the album and the mood we were trying create.  We also wanted a title that was abstract enough that people could create their own meanings for the album and make it personal for them.  Plus, it just sounded dark and badass.

Do you think it’s fair to say that you have a renewed vigor on Unwelcome that was maybe missing from Starve for the Devil? And, if so, what do you think caused this renewed vigor?

This is indeed a statement that I can get behind.  With Starve, well, let’s just say I had a lot going on in my personal life that prevented me from focusing on the band the way I should have been.  Mostly, I was just tired (I guess that happens when you don’t eat) and I feel the music reflected this.  While I felt like I had something to prove with Unwelcome, I was also just pissed — mostly with myself.  The music became my outlet for this anger, and I focused 100% on writing this album.

The vast majority of death metal lyrics generally focus on two topics: cartoonish violence, and the ills of organized religion. While there’s obviously some of that on Unwelcome, it also seems like there are a lot more lyrics that deal with personal issues. Is that an accurate assessment? What are some of the lyrical themes on the album? How do you approach writing lyrics in general?

The lyrics, for the most part, were written from personal experiences, but I try to write them in a way that allows the listener to make up their own “story” behind the song.  I feel that if the listener can make it personal, it’s going to make it more interesting for them.   With all lyrics, I try to write from what I know and have experienced firsthand.  I find that this is the only way I can be even halfway convincing.

Semi-related question: the title of the song “Handbook For the Recently Deceased” is, of course, an allusion to Beetlejuice. Are there any other cinematic influences on the record? Also… why Beetlejuice?

I think Beetlejuice is the only cinematic allusion on the record.  The song really has nothing at all to do with Beetlejuice, I was just curious to see how many people would get reference.  I know, it’s cheap thrills, but it entertained me anyway.

How did the decision to cover Corey Hart come about?

Everyone loves Corey Hart, whether or not they admit it.  If you say you don’t like Corey Hart, then I don’t trust you.  It’s that simple.

This was your first time working with producer Mark Lewis, and, if I’m not mistaken, your first time working with Eyal Levi since United in Regret. Can you talk about what they bring to the table? Was there a specific reason you chose to work with them instead, say, Zeuss again?

Brown rice, black beans and grilled chicken, this is what Mark Lewis brings to the table, and he brings more of it than anyone I have ever met.  Seriously, Mark is truly gifted at what he does and is a perfectionist.  He certainly pushed me harder than any producer ever has, and I am stoked on the finished product.  We have been friends for years and it was about time we worked together on a record.

Eyal brings a lot of off color jokes and German Shepherds to the table, and it rules.

How is it going with new members Shawn Priest and Brandon Ellis?

I have never been happier to be in Arsis than I am now.  Not only are Shawn and Brandon absolute beasts at their instruments, we all get along as friends.  I think this is a first in the history of Arsis.

How do you feel when certain unnamed media outlets (okay, us) poke fun of a James Malone-less Arsis? Is it flattering or just irritating/insulting/whatever?

After all the bullshit I have pulled throughout the years, I deserve any jokes that may come my way.  I particularly enjoyed the story about the time I took a job coaching for the NY Mets.  I can’t speak about how my band mates feel about the jokes, but I think they understand.

Mark Riddick is to Arsis as Derek Riggs was to Iron Maiden. What is it that keeps brining you back to him to design your album covers? And what is that collaboration like? Do you give him ideas, or does he pitch concepts to you, or…?

I love working with Mark Riddick and I really couldn’t imagine working with another artist.  We seriously just give him the album title and maybe a few lyrical themes and he creates the most insane imagery to accompany the album.  Plus, Mark Riddick is just a great human being, not to mention a true supporter of underground metal.    

What’s next for Arsis after the album’s release?

With any luck, an ass full of touring.

Funny James should mention it — Arsis kick off a tour with Hypocrisy, Krisiun, and Aborted next week! Get dates here.

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