By Peter Atkinson
All photos from www.facebook.com/ShrapnelOfficial
If you haven’t heard much about English thrashers Shrapnel – not to be confused with the dozen or so former or active metal/hard rock bands around the world who also bear that name – fear not. Because chances are you soon will – like, for instance, here! After forming on 2009, the Norwich-based quintet have flown somewhat under the radar, playing sporadic shows – though with such higher-profile bands as Sepultura, Death Angel, Chthonic, Turisas and Exodus – around England and self-releasing a pair of EPs.
With the second EP, 2010’s The Devastation To Come, however, the band hooked up with acclaimed producer Russ Russell and took a big step forward. On the strength of that, they signed on with Candlelight Records last year and recorded their proper debut full-length, The Virus Conspires, which was released in February.
Despite their obvious old-school thrash proclivities and youthful exuberance, Shrapnel boasts a mature, viciously infectious sound on the debut that is bolstered once again by Russell’s smart, brash production. The album has been earning raves since its release, and rightfully so, and bigger and better things could certainly be ahead for the band.
In an e-mail interview, guitarist Chris Martin offered the following about one of England’s most promising new metal bands.
Hi Chris. Greetings from Washington, D.C., where winter doesn’t seem to want to end. Hope things are better where you are, although sounds like it’s been a pretty crappy winter in England, too. Thanks for taking the time to answer these and nice to “speak” with you.
Chris Martin: No problem! Yeah sounds like the weather has been pretty harsh almost everywhere this year! We’ve avoided a lot of the flooding, storms and snow this year thankfully.
First off, since it’s right around the corner – or perhaps just over depending on when you have time to answer these – you’ve got to be excited about playing Hammerfest and then those dates you have with Overkill. Not a bad way to give the new album a launch?
Chris: Absolutely, it’s going to be a lot of fun playing these songs live now the album is out! Getting to jump on the extra dates with Overkill is amazing for us, it came just at the right time and it’s a nice first run while we sort out a slightly larger tour later this year.
Do you have any more gigs coming up or a tour set up to keep things rolling from there?
Chris: We’re going to be pretty busy, we have some plans in the pipeline I can’t really talk about just yet, we’re sorting out getting over to mainland Europe ASAP and we have the odd show around the U.K. to keep us active in between. We’ve just started working with a new booking agent so things should get pretty full on as we go through this year.
Have you guys done a whole lot of touring and gigging to this point? I’ve seen a few show, short tour and festival posters on your Facebook page, but they seem pretty sporadic for a band that’s been around since 2009?
Chris: Not really, we don’t have a lot of money so we have had to be selective and strict with what we play up to now. There’s only so many times you can skip work before you can’t pay your bills or record, etc., but we also want to get out as much as possible so we try to get a balance there. We were fortunate enough to get some great support slots throughout the last few years which has been majorly beneficial for us and amazing in terms of us being able to support some of our idols!
Even if you haven’t played a lot of shows, you’ve opened for quite a few high-profile bands, so that’s got to be great way to get exposure and hone your chops?
Chris: Definitely, not only have we been able to support some of our favourite bands but those shows have always been at the bigger venues where people maybe haven’t heard of us before. It’s been awesome to get a rush of people after the shows after merch, etc., and be like “where the fuck did you guys come from?” Every show now seems to get a little easier and being able to get used to playing the bigger stages, etc., is something we almost didn’t expect to get to do. There’s a little less worrying and a little more time to enjoy ourselves and let loose live now.
Are you hoping to hit the road hard now that the album is out?
Chris: As hard as we can! Like I said, we have a new booking agent with Factory Music now and with the album having received the great press that it has we are booking up the rest of this year to spread as far as we can and play as much as possible!
Anyone in particular you’d like to tour with, anyone you feel you’d match up well with?
Chris: Slayer would be the top of our list, any of our influences would be killer though. Overkill will be a nice start this week and we’ve already been able to support a lot of our idols at one of shows, being able to do full runs would be awesome. It’d be awesome to get on the road with bands that rung or two out ahead of us as well, like Vektor and Gama Bomb, I can imagine they would be a lot of fun.
Any ambitions to come to the states?
Chris: We’d love to! Hopefully the demand is high enough that we get to come over, it’s early days with the release still but first chance we get we will be over for sure.
Sorry to ask this, but since you are relatively unknown in the states, could you offer a little background about how the band came together and how your sound has developed over the past few years?
Chris: No problem. Norwich is a pretty small place and we knew each other from the local scene at the time as well as school and friends, etc. It was quite easy once we had all made contact and with a few line-up changes we’ve made it to here [the band now is rounded out by vocalist Jae Hadley, lead guitarist Nathan Sadd, new bassist Darryl Abbot and drummer Simon Jackson]. We released 2 EPs, No Saviours being out first in 2009 and then The Devastation to Come in 2010, which was with Russ Russell. We were lucky enough that he wanted to work with us again on this full length.
What’s the metal scene like in Norwich, England, if there really is one?
Chris: There’s some great bands here but the scene is quiet, it’s cut off from the rest of the country with awful roadway links and it’s a small place as I said before, so it’s a small scene but it’s better right now than it has been in the last few years.
Actually, how is the climate for thrash metal in England these days?
Chris: It comes and goes, there’s definitely a lot of people into it which is great and there’s some amazing underground bands. The ‘revival’ thing seems to have died down a bit but there’s still a lot going on.
Regardless, it’s nice to see something come out of England that isn’t Downton Abbey, which I too seem to have gotten hooked on.
Chris: Haha! I hope that’s not our only highly regarded modern export but I guess it could be worse. Thanks!
How did you come to sign with Candlelight and did you have other labels interested in you?
Chris: We were speaking to a couple but they didn’t work out. Dom Lawson [writer for Metal Hammer, etc., and musician] had been supportive of our 2nd EP and came in to do some backing vocals on the album. He put us in touch with Candlelight who were really keen to pick the album up and it’s been really easy to get everything sorted for the release. They’ve been great to work with.
How did your experience recording your earlier EPs help when it came to do the new album in terms of songwriting and the studio experience?
Chris: The first EP was us having fun, we just wanted to play. After the EP got some good press and we were offered some unbelievable shows we decided to try and step everything up for the second release. Russ was on board and we jumped at the opportunity to go in and learn from him. We didn’t even really have it written when the chance came up but we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to learn, develop and just experience working at that level. We came away with so much from that session and everything we put to use in writing and recording this album.
Since a lot of new bands that are playing a more old-school style of thrash end up sounding a lot like the old-school bands who influenced them, has it been difficult to arrive at a sound you can really call your own?
Chris: I wouldn’t say it’s been difficult; we just play what we love. We’re pretty varied in our individual tastes and when it all comes together it works. We learned from those old-school bands but we also like to throw in structures, lyric ideas, licks and even riffs from our other favourite bands and genres. We stay focused though, a widespread reach of influences could become diluted and confusing but we like to keep that under control and focus while bringing in other ‘flavours’.
For what it’s worth, I think you guys did a great job of incorporating your influences, working within a style that has gotten a bit played out and coming up with something that sounds fresh and distinctive.
Chris: Thank you, it’s something we’re still learning and developing. So far the EPs to the debut have been a progression and something we will be continuing with our next record.
How was working with Russ Russell – again – and how did you hook up with him in the first place?
Chris: It started as a query into costs and what it would take, there was an opportunity at a price we could just about afford and we jumped at it. He’s the hardest working dude on the planet and one if the nicest to boot so it’s easy to work with him, always a pleasure!
Obviously his track record speaks for itself with Napalm Death, Evile, Lockup, etc.?
Chris: It’s why we asked him. We love the sound he gets and the albums he’s done. It was incredible to be able to become part if his CV. We’re actually playing a festival in September comprising of bands he’s recorded which should be awesome.
Virus certainly sounds great, has a retro-y vibe and nice rough edges, but a modern crispness and punch.
Chris: It’s all Russ, he’s amazing at what he does and he knows what he’s after. It came out great. I love the sound of it; it’s a modern sounding album without being over clinical and over produced.
The reviews I’ve seen online have been pretty favorable thus far, so that’s got to make you feel good – or at least feel a sense of relief?
Chris: At first it was relief, yeah, it’s grown into something quite unbelievable. It’s been astounding so far, in fact we’ve not had anything negative, which is rare these days. There seems to be an element of surprise with many of the reviews that it’s come from nowhere as a debut from an unknown band and that’s something we are pretty proud of.
I guess now comes the pressure to follow it up, but since Virus has only been out a little while, you can enjoy the acclaim and worry about later.
Chris: I wish! It’s back to work! Between touring this year we’re getting the next album ready for recording possibly around Christmas time. We will have to see how busy we get but we want to keep the wagon rolling at full speed from here on out so it won’t be long at all.
That’s all I really have, wanted to keep this simple and relatively short and sweet. If there’s anything you’d like to add, the floor is yours.
Chris: Just thanks for the kind words and for taking an interest! Hopefully we get to cross the pond and play around the states very soon! Cheers!