By Andrew Bansal
Greenfield MA-based thrash metal band Lich King recently released their new album “Born Of The Bomb”, a thoroughly impressive effort that’s right up there with any thrash album released this year, in my opinion. With killer tunes such as “We Came To Conquer”, “Wage Slave”, “In The End, Devastation”, “Combat Mosh” and a true salutation to the old-school in the form of the Agent Steel cover “Agents Of Steel”, this album rages hard. Couple of days ago, I had a detailed but fun-filled, light-hearted and candid conversation with vocalist Tom Martin, bassist Dave Hughes and drummer Brian Westbrook. Enjoy the interview, check out “Wage Slave”, “We Came To Conquer” and “Agents Of Steel” using the YouTube embeds, and visit the band’s facebook page for more info.
I was reading your bio, and the first line itself struck me as funny. You said that you’re not named after the video game character. Does that get annoying when people still think you are named after it?
Tom: Yeah, it’s annoying, but it’s more annoying when people think they’re being funny and they joke about it, saying stuff like, ‘Oh I defeated you last night. I’m level 73, hahaha!’ Like, if people make the mistake of thinking we’re named after that character I don’t mind it nearly as much as people joking about it, because the jokes are lame and old. Let’s move past that. Can we stop hearing the gags, please?
Right, exactly. So, it’s clear from your new album and the previous ones that you create music which you enjoy listening to. Does that make your creative process easier because it just comes to you naturally and you don’t have to think about it too much?
Tom: I would say so. It’s all about writing a riff and then feeling what the next riff should be, and writing accordingly. Very rarely there is a point when there’s part which I’d like to sound ‘Slayery’ or ‘Exodusy’. Occasionally that does happen and we like to throw a little bit of some band in.
Dave: Yeah, we’ve had writers block too. Sometimes it happens.
Interesting. Do you guys sit and write together, or is it more individual?
Dave: Well, Tom pretty much writes all of the music. After he comes up with the ideas and everything, we work out all the little kinks and smoothen out the songs. Not together as a band though.
Tom: I think it’s less of a pain in the ass the way we do it, as opposed to doing it in a room and having everybody sit in. I don’t like that, because then everybody gets stymied over one riff, whereas I think you’ve just got to write a bunch of riffs, write everything you’ve got in you at the time and then think over it and decide what needs changing. I don’t honestly know how other bands do it in a room together. Fuck that (laughs).
Dave: Actually I think it’s more of a pain in the ass the way we do it, specially when we’re trying to get the songs down for a live set.
Tom: No it doesn’t. You big baby!
Anyway, talking of the new album, I would say it’s pretty intense and aggressive. It’s not exactly party thrash, although there’s the fun aspect in it as well. Do you guys agree with that?
Tom: Yeah! I like to think that it kind of bridges the 80s Metallica/Exodus thing and the party thrash thing, kind of like one-quarter crossover.
For somebody who’s listening to “Born Of The Bomb” as their first taste of Lich King, and didn’t really go into the back catalog, what would you tell them about what’s different in the previous four albums?
Tom: I would tell them to watch out because I did the production on the first two albums and it’s atrocious. The third one is very good, so people could probably enjoy that, why not. And the fourth one which is really the unofficial fourth one, the 8-bit album, I wouldn’t recommend anybody to listen to that.
The biggest question that I was going through my mind, specially when I heard this album was, how are you still unsigned? How is that even possible?
Tom: Someone else can take this. It’s going to sound cocky if I say it!
Dave: Well, we don’t really send out press kits or anything. It’s not like we’re trying too hard to get signed.
Brian: Yeah, we’re in this weird in-between phase. We’re kind of doing our DIY thing right now. There’s obviously benefits to being signed, but at the same time we’re at the point right now where we can control everything we do. I’m not really complaining, I guess.
Dave: Yeah, all we really need right now is a booking agent and may be a manager.
So, is this satisfying for you? I guess you all have day jobs and you do the band for fun only, not exactly as a career.
Brian: Yeah, I guess so. But obviously we’d like to get out and go on tour more. We’d like to put a bit more time into it, but at the same time, yeah, real life still happens.
Tom: Yeah, and if metal was more of a viable career option I’d be all over this. But your big, successful touring bands, the big-name bands that everybody knows are may be making as much as a white-collar office worker and it’s kind of sad. I’m talking out of my ass here but I’m assuming this is what downloading has done to us. The people who think they’re supporting metal by putting up the blogspots with all the album downloads, they’re just creating an atmosphere where people aren’t making money and bands are still trying to make music. It’s getting harder and harder to treat this as a serious career.
The thing that I like most about you guys is, you admit that you’re inspired by the early thrash movement. A lot of bands don’t admit that and try to come off as original even though they really aren’t. Why do you think people don’t admit it?
Tom: I think people look at the negative fallout of all the thrash revival bands, and there’s some legitimate stuff to them. They feel like they have to wear high-top sneakers. They feel like they have to wear the vests and look the part, they have to make songs about atomic nuclear stuff, and you know, even I’m kind of guilty of that with the second album. But there’s a lot of negativity about it and a lot of it is deserved. I think there’s so much good stuff though that people are overlooking.
So, what are the good things that come with it?
Tom: I guess it just feels honest in saying we’re not trying to break new ground and that really hurts us with a lot of people. They don’t want to listen to you unless you’re trying to create something new in metal, and I think that’s really silly, but I don’t know. May be that’s not my taste.
Brian: Yeah, we do our thing and we do it well, but we’re not trying to do anything new, which is kind of the point (laughs).
But the older thrash bands that you’ve been influenced by, most of them are still around, putting out albums and touring. Do you think they’re doing a good job of it, or should they stop?
Brian: Yeah, I think it depends on the band (laughs).
Dave: There are a couple of bands that should just may be throw in the towel.
Tom: Exumer. There I said it.
Dave & Brian: Ooh! (laughs)
Tom: There’s a lot of bands that have come back and tried to cash in on the revival that was started by the younger bands. They turned out some really crappy albums, they got here and found out there’s no real money to be made anymore. So, you did your crappy cash-in album (Whiplash), and now nobody cares.
Dave: Joke’s on you!
Tom: But I think Exodus is still doing it well. Their formula is a little different but I still think it’s very, very strong. Slayer has shown that they still can do it well. I don’t care how bad their recent stuff’s been, “Psychopathy Red” is a great song. I’d like to hold up Metallica’s “Death Magnetic”, but damn it, Lulu killed everything.
Dave: I am the table.
You mentioned about the particular ways in which thrash bands are supposed to dress. Do you dress up like that when you take the stage?
Brian: Hell no, not at all. Everybody’s giving me shit for wearing straight polo shirts in all of our recent pictures. I don’t really care about looking the part, and I don’t wear black shirts or shorts. To me it’s about what we do on stage, the sound we make. I think sound’s way more important than the image we put out.
Tom: It should be, at least. In the song “We Came To Conquer”,s the whole first verse about that expectation of what a metal band looks like, and the fact that we’re not playing with that look. It’s like, ‘Hey this is awesome, and you can hear it, so shut up.’
You’ve predominantly been a US East Coast band. I don’t think you ever played in LA during the five years I was living there. Why haven’t you played on the West Coast? Is it just because the DIY thing makes it too hard?
Brian: It’s expensive as hell to get to the other side of the country (laughs). There’s a lot of empty space in the middle of the country that you’ve got to get through to reach the other side.
Tom: There’s that booking agent thing again. We’re going to try to get out there booking it ourselves, but if we just had someone who could make this happen and just say, ‘Ok, you show up at this place. Start driving.’ That would be so much easier than what we’re trying to do.
Yeah, but do you think if you get the shows booked you’ll be able to get there driving on your own? Is it just about getting the show, or the cost?
Brian: It’s some of both. Honestly, we’re kind of in the planning stages of getting out there. But gas isn’t cheap anymore. Ten years ago, gas was under 2 bucks a gallon, and you can double that now. So it’s almost a prohibitive cost for bands at our level where we’re meeting all the costs ourselves, to go out and do a full-scale tour because it’s twice as expensive to do so. It’s somewhat of an economic thing, but it’s also to do with the planning part. None of us are from the West Coast, so it’s harder to get shows out there or line up shows across the country to get out there, just simply because we don’t have those contacts yet. But we’re working on that.
Tom: We can get a good show out there. If we can just teleport to San Francisco or something, we can have an awesome show no problem.
Brian: Yeah, but teleporting doesn’t exist, unfortunately. But it will some day (laughs).
Talking of the local scene down there, what do you do? Is it just pay-to-play stuff or do you have your own headline shows as well?
Dave: We headline quite a few shows. We have a lot of smaller shows too.
Tom: Yeah, the local shows are kind of depressing because there’s not a thrash following out here at all.
Brian: It depends on the show, you know. We’ve played some shows that were smaller, but then we jumped on the 3 Inches Of Blood-Municipal Waste show, and that was awesome. Shows out here can be so hit and miss. Our CD release show was pretty solid.
Tom: That was awesome. I don’t know what happened there, but that was good. For the most part though it’s like a deathcore/metalcore crowd out here. A lot of core people, they are nice, they mean well and they get out there and mosh, but unfortunately their moshes are the kicky-punchy elbow stuff. So we do what we can.
What shows do you have coming up?
Dave: Holy shit, we don’t have anything till December 22nd.
Tom: We’re taking November off because one of our lead guitarists Rob is having a baby. So we’re not booking anything for this nice wide block to give him a delivery window. And then in December we’re doing a show in New Paltz NY.
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