Rage and Frustration
Heavy Metal Reviews & Interviews
Broken Hope – Mutilated and Assimilated (Review and Interview)
Band – Broken Hope
Album – Mutilated and Assimilated
Country of Origin – USA
Genre – Death Metal
Release Date – June 23rd, 2017
Label – Century Media Records
Author – Hayduke X
Mutilated and Assimilated crawls forth, lurching and cadaverous, like some swamp demon from ancient times. Though not generally a traditional death metal fan (or at least a picky one), this album caught and held my attention. A particularly good sign is that, the more I listened, the more I discovered about the album. Now, as I write this, I’m listening again for the first time in awhile (other reviews have been calling) and I am finding my attention drawn to different pieces than with previous listens. All of this hints that Broken Hope has created an album that will remain both repugnant and fresh for some time.
The history of the Chicago based death demons has been fraught with line-up changes, and this album is not exception. In their current incarnation, Broken Hope is a quintet, with two members new since their last full length release and only one original member. As you’ll see in the interview below, lone original member Jeremy Wagner believes this to be their best line-up yet, and who am I to argue. Mutilated and Assimilated is certainly their current high point as a band and hold it’s own with this year’s crop of death metal releases. Let’s go through band contributions a bit, starting with the aforementioned Mr. Wagner. He is the primary songwriter, the band’s lyricist, and one half of the one two guitar punch. Along with Matt Szlachta (since 2014), the other axe-wielder, Wagner heads into battle armed with waves of riffs both complex and brutal without ever entering the dangerous (and currently overplayed) water of tech-death. Like a lurking evil beneath the down-tuned duo, Diego Soria (since 2014) lays down meaty bass lines made all the more deadly by how they hit like a ghost in the mix. You don’t know they are there until they pulverize you. Pounding the drums with tightly controlled abandon is Mike Miczek. My complaint here has nothing to do with his choices, but more the choices made behind the board. There are two many moments when the drum tone is parchment paper dry. I wish they were slightly muddier in tone. Finally, Damian Leski brings his traditional death metal vocals, which sound like equal parts the monster under the bed gargling lit gasoline and an ancient chant in a primordial language. Vocals are among the first things that turn me off of death metal. The gargling style has just never sat well with me. Leski, though he is a traditionalist, has grown on me, and I’m not sure why.
Added up, Mutilated and Assimilated is a creature to be reckoned with. Like The Thing of movie fame, whose image we see on the album cover (or at least an interpretation of it), Broken Hope is using this album to begin to take over death metal. There is a malicious streak that shows forth here in ominous riffs, there in embedded grind, and yet again in ambient samples, which all serve to drag the listener by their exposed entrails into the abyss that is this album. For fans of death metal, this one is a must. If, like me, you don’t tend towards this style, give it a listen anyway. You may be surprised.
Recommendation: Probably just outside my top 50 at year’s end, but only probably.
Hayduke X: I appreciate you taking the time to talk with me today.
Jeremy Wagner: Likewise.
HX: Looks like you guys have lots of big things going on. The album just dropped, you just had a big show in L.A., and I just saw an announcement about Bogota, Colombia at the Metal Alliance Fest. How are you feeling about everything?
JW: Really feeling good, man. To start with what you said in the beginning, our new album Mutilated and Assimilated came out one week ago today and it’s been a fantastic week. The album is doing really well. The response has been fantastic. We did a record release concert last Sunday. That went really well. That was a great concert. It was the first time we played L.A. in four years. We’ve got a European tour actually coming up first. That’s what’s next, in September. We’re going to Europe with Cattle Decapitation. Another band called Hideous Divinity is on there too.
HX: Sure. I know them as well.
JW: Oh, ok, cool. Then we get back. Then, October 27th, as you mentioned, we’re doing this festival in Bogota, Colombia with Fleshgod Apocalypse and Septicflesh and a couple other bands. We’re really looking forward to that. We’ve always wanted to perform a concert in Colombia, but we never got the chance. There’s been offers and stuff. I’m talking going back to the ’90’s, but shit always falls through. What’s different this time is the promoter who made the offer actually brought the band Gorgasm down there. If you know our singer Damian is one of the main dudes in Gorgasm. He told us how great this promoter is and that this promoter wants Broken Hope to come down. Just based on Damian’s experience with this promoter, and the guy’s a complete pro, we worked everything out. Now we’re going to Bogota for the first time in our career. We’re really excited about that. Beyond that, maybe we’ll do dates in the US here and there in December or something. Next year, we’ve got Netherlands Death Fest, we’ve got a Maryland Death Fest appearance. That’ll be our second time at Maryland Death Fest. Possibly, it’s just talk right now, there’s a chance we might hit Russia for the first time, and then some Baltic countries while we’re there.
HX: I’ve got to tell you, we’d love to see you here in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
JW: Yeah, I’ve been to Grand Rapids before, but not on tour. I went there once to see a concert. We’d be happy to play Grand Rapids.
HX: For the uninitiated, can you give be a quick breakdown of the history of Broken Hope? Where do you guys come from and where did the name come from? To me, Broken Hope, doesn’t really scream death metal.
JW: The band formed 29 years ago. We’re basically from the northern suburbs of Chicago originally. We’ve got a town called Gurnee, Illinois and there’s a town called Antioch, Illinois. Really, Antioch, Illinois is where the band first formed, so Joe Ptacek, our original singer, Ryan Stanek, our original drummer, and myself. We had been jamming together at the time, the three of us with one other guitar player, and we had a different name at the time. We were called Crypt. Crypt was the name that this other guitar player had come up with. The three of us decided we didn’t want to jam with that guy anymore, so we got away from him. That’s when we decided we had to rename the band. We were just high school kids. We busted out a notebook. We were down in our rehearsal spot, which was down in Ryan Stanek’s parent’s basement. We started writing down band names. One of the names on the list was Broken Hope. That came from a poem that I wrote in high school. I’ve always been a writer, since childhood. By the time I was in high school, I was writing more and more horror short stories. I was already writing lyrics for the bands I was trying to form. I was also writing really dark poetry. There was a line in this poem – I can’t remember the name of it. I probably have it somewhere. This one line had the words broken hope together in it. So, I put that on the list. I didn’t know if it would fly with the other guys or not. This is like 1998. The metal bands that were death metal – and death metal was getting bigger and bigger – they all had sick names. One band that we really loved was the band Paradise Lost. We loved their demos and we loved that first album, Lost Paradise. We always thought, Paradise Lost, it’s not a typical death metal band name, but when you hear their music, you hear that name, it all works together. It’s not typical and it’s fucking super heavy. Joe and Ryan, they liked the name Broken Hope. They had that same mindset. “Hey, this is kind of like Paradise Lost. It’s not a typical band name.” When you hear the music and see the logo, it all tied together. After our first demo came out, the lineup changed right around 1989-90. That’s when we got Brian Griffin in the band. We re-located our rehearsal spot to Gurnee, Illinois. That’s where Brian Griffin worked at a recording studio called Wake Digital. That’s where we did our second demo and our first two albums. Basically, that’s how the band came together, how we named the band, and how we got our start. Broken Hope is still based in the northern ‘burbs. One thing too that hasn’t changed is, we came from the underground, and I like to tell people, we keep one foot in the death metal underground. I never forget where we come from.
HX: That’s great. I’m a big fan of the underground in particular when it comes to heavy music.
JW: Yeah, awesome. Me too, man, me too. I still listen to old demos and all the old original bands that inspired me.
HX: In the early 2000’s, you guys took a hiatus, took a break for awhile, hit the pause button. Can you tell me about that a little bit?
JW: We released our fifth album Grotesque Blessings. Right before we were going to go on a tour of North America and Europe, our original singer Joel abruptly quit. He basically called me on the phone and said, “I’m fucking retiring and I’m not going to do death metal or Broken Hope anymore.” I was shocked and pissed off, because I wasn’t going to cancel the tours. Brian Griffin was in the band at the time. We were like, the last men standing, so when Joe quit abruptly, we got a fill in vocalist and some hired guns and we did all the touring. Now, by the end of all that touring cycle – that was like 1999, 2000 through 2002 – it just wasn’t the same band to me. It was like a bunch of hired guns, and me. The hired guns, I didn’t care for. There’s a lot of problems just with that alone. It just wasn’t the – live, I’m talking live – it just wasn’t the best representation for Broken Hope. I decided to put the band on hiatus until I could get a permanent lineup that really could do Broken Hope full time and where everybody was on the same page. Now, I didn’t expect it to take a decade to bring Broken Hope back. There were a couple of attempts to do so, but they were aborted over those ten years. Even trying to get the band going again with Joe Ptacek. He and I reconnected. We became friends, and then unfortunately, he died tragically. It wasn’t until 2011 that I found our drummer Mike Miczek, who’s still with me, and our singer Damian Leski. Then, in 2011, we had a couple of other guys in the band who are not in the band anymore. For the last three, going on four years now, we’ve had the lineup I have now, which is Damian, Mike, Matt Szlachta on lead guitar, and Diego Soria on bass. So, Mike, Damian, and I have been the core of Broken Hope since 2011. When you think about it, it’s kind of cool, because if you think about how long we were on hiatus. Ten years. We’ve now been, at least a quarter of the band, has been a band for six years. We’ve been quote-unquote, back from the dead, going full-on, not stopping, for five years, since 2012. That’s kind of a cool feeling. When we first came back, we always got hung up on that hiatus thing and catching up after ten years. But now, I mean shit, dude, we’ve been going full blast now for half a decade. In the last six years, we’ve fucking toured the world, we released Omen of Disease, our sixth full length album, we released our first ever live album and live DVD concert package, Live Disease, and now we have our seventh full length album that came out a week ago. It’s a good feeling to be consistently prolific with the songwriting and the record release team. I’m telling you, man, I’ve got the dream lineup. The lineup I wanted in 2012 – I told you I wanted the best lineup to represent Broken Hope – I finally have it now. All the guys in the band are genuine brothers. We’re the best of friends. And that goes a long fucking way, man. There’s no egos, no attitudes. Everybody’s passionate about their instrument, passionate about death metal, period, and passionate about Broken Hope. I couldn’t ask for more. It just makes being in the band fun again and just a joy to be in Broken Hope. Anyway, that’s where we’re at with Broken Hope. It’s like feel-good time. It’s a great time to be in Broken Hope, especially from where I’m standing.
HX: Does this feel like this is the lineup now for the long haul?
JW: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. I don’t ever want this lineup to change. Never! This is it for me, man. If this changes, I don’t know. I just can’t picture it getting better than this. Especially with everybody being so tight. Not to sound cheesy, but as friends, brothers, band mates, it’s such a tight unit. That chemistry is too fucking perfect. I never want to see that change.
HX: I mean to me, even just as a fan – I can’t carry a tune and I don’t play a lick on any instrument – but even just as a fan, that’s what metal feels like to me, you know. The scene. Just real quick, you don’t have to go into a lot of detail on this, but during the hiatus, you had another band called Lupara. Can you just give a brief run-down on that?
JW: Lupara goes back to me, when I was on hiatus, it goes back to basically, I still wanted to do music. During that hiatus, two things were going on. I was basically, writing Broken Hope music still. Some of that material was still intact. Actually, some of it showed up on Omen of Disease. When you hear songs like Predacious Poltergeist, and the song Ghastly, and The Flesh Mechanic, those are songs and material that I wrote back around, you know, 2002 to 2005. Around 2005, that’s when I put this band Lupara together. I was itching to do a band. It wasn’t going to be Broken Hope. My sights were high. What I wanted for Broken Hope was high, that bar was set high. Not that Lupara’s bar wasn’t set high, but I just figured I could do something different with some people I knew. It was still going to be heavy, and for fun. As it turned out, we got a record deal. We did one album. We did an MTV video that did pretty well actually. Right around the time that video came out, the song was called No Pity On The Ants, we were on the newly resurrected Headbanger’s Ball. That video got nominated for the Best Metal Video of that year. At the end of the year, they did a top ten videos for the number one video of the year. We made it to that top ten. We didn’t win the number one spot, but we still got played, and got a lot of traction out of it. It was pretty cool. That was really the gist of how everything happened with Lupara. And then it just went right down the tubes again. Band member changes, attitudes, I don’t know… I knew when to pull the trigger on that one. I didn’t wait too long. After a couple of singers came and went with Lupara, I just said, ok, I can’t do this anymore. I know you mentioned that you’re not in a band. It’s not easy being in a band sometimes. People have different personalities and they don’t always try. That’s the ting with a band. You’ve got five guys, four guys, three guys, nine guys if you’re Slipknot, and man, that’s a bunch of different personalities, and people who have a bunch of different expectations sometimes, of what the band should do, what the image should be, how to manage the band, business, I mean on and on. That was something that actually plagued Broken Hope for years in the 90’s. But, you know, in all fairness too, the thing with Broken Hope versus Lupara, in Lupara, I’d already been through paying my dues and had experience in the music business and all this stuff. The thing with Broken Hope in the 90’s, you’ve got guys in their late teens and twenties. They’d never done tours or had a record deal before. There’s a lot of naivete. People bump heads and shit. As I got older, when people had delusions of grandeur, like Lupara with certain people, I just couldn’t tolerate it. People don’t want to hear what I have to say, no matter how much experience I have. So, you throw your hands up in the air and go, “alright, I’m done.” But I don’t have that problem anymore. We’re back with Broken Hope and everyone’s – except for our drummer, whose the youngest guy – he’s learned a lot and his attitude is so positive – and everybody else has had so much experience being bands for so long. We’re all older. That helps too I think.
HX: Sure. A little bit more maturity and you’ve been down the road before.
HX: Let’s jump back to Mutilated and Assimilated. Can you tell me about the writing process? How does that work for you guys? And how has it changed since the early days?
JW: Well, with Mutilated and Assimilated, the songwriting for me, personally, changed. For years, I would always write a lot of riffs by myself. I would write a riff and a riff would turn into another riff and connect and become a whole song. Most of the time, like with all the previous Broken Hope albums, I’d have all this stuff ready to go on my end, and I would bring it to the drummer. I’d say, ‘Here, I’ve got this song.’ [recording is garbled here] …wrote on the spot with our drummer Mike Miczek. One song after another that I wrote: The Meek Shall Inherit Shit, Mutilated and Assimilated, Blast Frozen, The Necropants, Outback Incest Clan, on and on. All those songs that I wrote were done with Mike our drummer on the spot. I had this new level of inspiration that I felt. It was just a different way of approaching my music writing. I’ll tell you, when I did it that way, one song after another flowed and flowed and flowed. It was pretty cool, man. Again, everything you hear was written on the spot with Mike and I. It was really cool experience. Damian, I think, – because he wrote a few songs for the album as well – I believe he wrote his songs with Mike and at home himself. If he was here, he could tell you more about his process. That’s how I wrote my music. Now, the lyrics, I write all the lyrics for Broken Hope. Always have. That’s a solitary thing like with any of my writing in general. I write fiction full time outside of Broken Hope anyway, so being a novelist and a short story writer, it’s a solitary job. It’s a solitary passion. I love it. What’s great versus being in a band, I just answer mostly to myself. I just wrote the lyrics like I do a story, by myself, in my office. I turn them into Damian and he places the lyrics to whatever music he wants to. That’s at his discretion. Moving on to the recording process, what was cool was we did everything at my new home studio, which I didn’t have on the last album. We had to go to some other places. I think having our own studio here benefited us tremendously, because we weren’t under pressure to hammer the songs out and watch the clock and pay by the hour. We didn’t have to worry about that. We didn’t have any stress. We had such a wealth of time on our side that we were able to hammer out a bunch of ideas that we hadn’t made before when we wrote the songs. We hammered out new ideas during the recording process. We made new arrangements and riffs. It was great, man, that whole thing. That was also a different way to record, simply because, again, we had our own studio and we had the luxury of time. I think when you hear the album, you are hearing the absolute best material Broken Hope could offer. There’s no questions, no gray areas, no filler or anything. Every song is to our satisfaction. Quality control, first and foremost. It really aided in the production, again, taking that time to really track, and do every song right, and take time mixing and mastering. I’m telling you, bro, it just benefited the sonic quality of the album and the songwriting. That’s really truly how I feel. I’m just really proud and happy with how we were able to do it, you know.
HX: I think you can tell in listening to the album too. One of the things I’ve thought as I’ve listened to it several times over the last week is that it’s really consistent. Another things is, in all honesty, I’m not really a big death metal fan. I’m pretty picky about death metal. I tend to lean towards other genres, but I really like this album.
JW: Thank you. Thank you very much. I love hearing that. I’ll tell you man, I’ve been doing press for weeks. This is probably my fourth week right now. Outside of you, I did one interview – I just want to share this with you – with a gal who writes for a magazine in the Czech Republic. When I got on the phone with her, she introduced herself. The first thing she said to me was, “I’m going to tell you right now, before we get started on this interview, I do not like death metal. I never listen to death metal. I’ve never liked Broken Hope before. Basically, my life is hell. I have to listen to all this death metal,…” – because this is like the year of death metal with fucking a million releases from all the heavy hitters coming out, but she said, “Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I will say you guys did something special, because I cannot stop listening to your new album and it might be the only death metal album I’ve ever liked.” And I was like, “You just made my goddamned day. Thank you for being brutally honest and I’m glad at least, with this release, we won you over.” I appreciate you saying as much. It really means a lot. It really, I think, says a lot about what we delivered this time versus anything before. Thank you for that.
HX: You’re welcome. Let me get you to talk above my head for a minute, because really I don’t know gear, but I know my readers like to hear about gear. Can you tell me what you guys use to create your sound in general, and on this album?
JW: I’ll try to give you a Reader’s Digest overview of the gear. Matt Szlachta, lead guitar, he uses Legator guitars for all his lead work. He’s endorsed by that company. He uses an EVH guitar head and either an EVH cabinet, or one of our back line cabinets that I here at the studio. Like a Marshall 4×12 with Celestia and Greenbacks in it, or sometimes he’ll use a Rectifier cab. Our bass player Diego, he uses ESP basses and he uses an Ampeg, – well, he was using an Ampeg head and cabinet for a long time. Recently, – well, shit, I haven’t really told anyone this. I guess you’re the first. I acquired a huge, huge part of Paul Gray from Slipknot’s estate. His wife sold all of his possessions off, like a couple months ago. I bought, like, I don’t know, 90% of all the stuff she was selling. I got this really kickass Paul Gray bass rig. It’s all, like, a huge rack of gear, and there’s some Peavey bass amps that are hooked up with Ampeg gear and EQs and all this stuff, and then Ampeg cabinets. Diego, lucky him, he gets to use that when he comes to – he lives in Tijuana – so when he comes here to rehearse, he gets to use that rig. Technically, he’s using that rig, but he didn’t use that rig on the recording. He went direct and we did some amp stuff in the console and in pro-tools to get his tone. For me, for years now, I’d say about six years, I’ve been using Fractal Axe-FX for my main amp. I’m using a Fractal Axe-FX II. Now it’s actually the Fractal Axe-FX II XL. I love it. That’s one of the greatest amps, pieces of gear, I’ve ever owned in my life. I’ve always told people in interviews that I’m on an endless quest for the heaviest tone possible. That’s still going on since 1988, since I was a kid. I’m really close to the tone that I think is one of the heaviest tones I’ve ever had. That’s been a great asset to my tone, live, in concert, on tour, and in the studio. I use a Matrix Power Amp, which is the perfect power amp to use with a Fractal. The signal is pure and clean. It’s not a tube amp. It’s sort of a solid state type of amp with a little fan inside. That Matrix, actually I’ve got to give credit to Chris Broderick who at the time was in Megadeth. He’s a friend of mine. And Devin Townsend, actually. Both those guys at a Naam show I was at told me in two separate conversations, when we were talking Fractal. They were like, “What are you using for a power amp?” I was using some tube amp. I wasn’t really…there was something wrong with the tone. I was not happy. They were like, “Dude. Your tone’s screwed up, because you’re not getting a clean signal. Use Matrix.” I bought a Matrix power amp and it was the best thing I could have done. The Matrix and the Fractal Axe-FX go hand in hand. For all the gear heads reading this, if you get a Fractal, get a Matrix power amp. Outside of that, I use a line six relay wireless system. That’s really it for my tone. Then I use ESP guitars with EMG 81 pick-ups in them. That right there, that’s my rig, my sound, what I use across the board, on tour and in the studio.
HX: Let’s get back to stuff that I understand. In a prior interview I was reading, I read that some of the tracks are based on real life events. Two of the ones you mentioned are, along with the title track, two of my three favorite tracks from the album. The Bunker and Russian Sleep Experiment. Can you tell me about those two and where those stories come from?
JW: Well, The Bunker, I’m a huge history buff. Huge history nerd, if you will. I’m especially into World War II history. The European campaign specifically. The rise and fall of the Third Reich. That’s all stuff I’m really fascinated with. So, The Bunker is really based on Hitler’s last days when he was in his bunker in Berlin, and the Red Army was closing in on him. When he took the life of his dog Blondie, and he and his mistress-turned-wife in the bunker, Eva Braun, took their lives. Part of the inspiration for that, not just my interest in World War II history, but at the time that I wrote that, I had been watching a documentary series on Adolf Hitler, from the beginning of his life all the way to the end. That started me thinking about his last days. It was such and dark, dark idea in my head. I was kind of putting myself in the shoes of not just Hitler, but everyone in the bunker. Then there’s this awesome movie called Downfall. It’s a German movie. I think it came out in 2005, if I’m not mistaken. Back when Downfall came out, I had started seeing it. I’m also a huge movie and film buff. I love a lot of independent and foreign movies. It was 2004. I just looked it up. So Downfall came out in 2004. It’s got this brilliant actor, a German guy named Bruno Ganz. You couldn’t have cast a better person to play Hitler. He looks exactly like Hitler. You see a lot of movies where actors a cast as famous people. He looked just like him in his portrayal. The actual events that played out were so historically accurate. Even if you’re not a history buff, you can watch the movie, and it played out really well. But as a history nerd about a lot of these facts, about what actually happened in the bunker, the actual movie really portrayed it accurately. So that movie, I’d been watching since it came out. It’s German with English subtitles. It’s actually based on Hitler’s secretary. Her name was Traudle Junge. She was like 24 years old back then. She was a personal secretary to Adolf Hitler. She was in the bunker with them. She wrote a memoir, autobiography, about what happened down there. She survived, you know, the Red Army invasion. She got out of there. She went on to live out the rest of her days as an old woman. All of that was stuff in the back of my mind. Again, this documentary series came out on the history channel, and it just got my gears turning. I’ve never really written anything from an historical war perspective. I felt the time was right. That’s how The Bunker came about lyrically.
Then, the other one was Russian Sleep Experiment, right? That’s the one you were asking about? That song – I’ve got to credit Damian Leski. Damian gave me ideas for three songs this time, for this album, all of which were based on true things or true events. So, Russian Sleep Experiment, Outback Incest Clan, and the song The Necropants. Those are all real things. I had never heard about them. Usually my radar is on for any disturbing or weird shit. I hadn’t heard of them. Damian came to me, “You’ve got to check this out. Here’s a link. Check this out. This would make good lyrics. Check this out.” Sure enough, everything I read about was very crazy and disturbing. That saying ‘truth is stranger then fiction’ is really accurate, because these real events, these real things are so over the top and crazy. That Russian Sleep Experiment, that kind of played into – right around World War II or shortly thereafter, the late 40’s. That got my interest. These Russian researchers in the late 40’s, they got these prisoners of war that they wanted to use for an experiment. There were five or six of these captives that were kept awake for, like, fifteen days. They were kept awake using an experimental gas stimulant in a closed off, confined space. Researchers would monitor the oxygen intake and the gas intake and make sure they didn’t die from this. They put them in this room, where they were sequestered. They had closed circuit cameras, TVs to watch them, microphones, porthole windows with thick glass. The chamber inside was stocked with beds or cots to sleep in. They didn’t have bedding. I know that. They did have running water, I know that. They had books. They had some dried food that was supposed to last them for over a month. They were basically human guinea pigs that were political prisoners. They were enemies of the state from World War II. Anyway, everything was going fine for the first week or something, and then they started going ape-shit crazy, out of their minds. You know, they’re whispering into the microphones, they’re screaming, they’re ripping the books apart, ripping each other apart. The researchers – after awhile, the portholes were smeared with blood and feces so they couldn’t look in and see them. The cameras were ripped up. They were like, “Oh, we’ve got to go in to see what the hell’s going on in there. If anyone’s in there, just behave and comply. We’re going to set you free.” They heard a voice say something really eerie, like, “We don’t want to be free anymore. We want to stay in.” The food rations weren’t even touched. They had been eating each other, ripping each other apart. It was a pure fucking horror show. There’s some speculation as to how factual some of this stuff is. If you Google it, there’s facts versus fiction. Some of it almost seems like urban legend. When I do research for lyrics, just like when I’m writing a novel or a short story, I do a shitload of research to try to get the facts right. I try to get a lot of substance that will connect with the readers. Be interesting, but also – especially if it’s a true thing. I want to try to be as accurate as possible. Long story, short, with everything I looked into, it seems really legit and 100% terrifying. That fits right in with Broken Hope’s mission statement: horror subject matter and death metal. They go hand in hand. Anyway, that’s how I came up with that stuff.
HX: Kind of as an aside, have you ever heard of the Stanford Prison Experiment?
JW: Yeah, my wife and I watched a show on that, I think.
HX: That thing is nuts!
JW: Yeah. That was crazy. I think they made a movie of it called The Stanford Prison Experiment. I think that’s what we saw. Dude, I couldn’t believe that shit.
HX: Mutilated and Assimilated. Where does it fit for you in terms of the pantheon of Broken Hope’s albums and also in the greater death metal scene?
JW: Looking back, I guess there’s what I would call the two lives of Broken Hope. There’s the Broken Hope everyone knows from the 1990’s that put out five solid albums within that famous 90’s decade. I guess the Millennial Broken Hope is the second life of Broken Hope. There’s the 90’s Broken Hope and then there’s the 2010 decade of Broken Hope that’s going on as we speak. Looking back, I think the new Broken Hope is maybe a more professional band. I’m talking among the band members and how we do business. I also think, given the time and the personnel in the band now, I think we’re better musicians now than we’ve ever been as Broken Hope. When I say these things, I really try to choose my words carefully. I, in no way, want to dis the old Broken Hope, the old band members, especially the ones who aren’t with us. Believe me, there’s people from our old neighborhood who really have a hard-on for the new Broken Hope. They feel that, certain people, like Joe and Ryan who are dead, that Broken Hope should have died with them, but they don’t extend me any consideration. They forget that I was one of those three original members and I’m still alive. As long as I’m alive, I’m going to keep Broken Hope going. Not to mention, I’m the chief songwriter and have always been. Broken Hope is ingrained in my DNA, my soul, and my heart. As long as I’m walking the earth, Broken Hope will go on. To that point, I have a lot of respect for our history and our entire discography. However, I feel, given this is what I keep saying is a band of brothers, has made Broken Hope stronger than ever before. All it takes is the chemistry that we have. Five guys with the same visions. Not butting heads. Not arguing. Sum it up as older and wiser. That’s what’s making the new Broken Hope, in our history, the strongest Broken Hope in my experience.
As far as our place in death metal history, we’re not, and never have been, the biggest death metal band. We’re pretty much a small, indie death metal band. We’re not huge, but I’ll tell you this. It’s not about the size of the band or how many albums we’ve sold. It’s about the strength of our music and the production of our new album. I want to be clear, because I don’t fucking have an ego and I’m not an arrogant asshole, but I will boldly say that Mutilated and Assimilated – what we’ve done – I will put it against the greatest death metal albums of all time. That’s how strongly I feel about it. Never, ever have I uttered such a fucking statement, like, ‘this is the best thing ever,’ but I’m so proud of this album and the strength of the songs and the production is why I feel this one holds its weight. As time goes on, it will really continue to shine more and more. When you put an album out – I keep telling journalists this – it’s forever. It’s eternal. Now it’s out of our hands. It’s out there for the world. It’ll always be out there for the world. One person – whether it’s me who’s in love with our album or a fan who thinks it’s the best thing…the next person over could say, ‘Broken Hope fucking suck. You guys have always sucked and you still suck.’ That’s fine. Any band, any genre – I’m a fan, you know. I’m a fucking music fan. So, I know. Music is a great thing. All that matters…music you like, if it hits you right, that’s all that matters. If your in a band, and they don’t like your band…that’s music. That’s the music business and the nature of music in general. You either have an ear for classical, or you have an ear for country, or you have an ear that says that both of those genres suck and your into hip hop. At the end of the day though, in the death metal genre, this is an album for the ages. I don’t know what the future brings after this in whatever we do, but after twenty-nine years, we hit a fucking home run with this one.
HX: I think I can agree with that. I’m one hundred percent behind the idea that music, like any art, is in the eye or the ear of the beholder.
Can you tell me about your fascination with horror? Where does it come from?
JW: It goes way back. I’m talking my earliest memories as a child. I’ve always been into scary stuff. I’ve asked myself the question a long time ago, when I was younger, ‘What is about me that likes scary shit?’ I would read interviews with some of my heroes like Stephen King and John Carpenter. People that write horror or make horror movies, or even do horror effects. They said, not in so many words, ‘I’m a horror kid. I’ve always been a horror kid. It’s just something that appeals to me.’ I’m talking through the voice of these heroes of mine. They basically said what I’ve always said and believe, which is that there’s just something that appeals to you about scary stuff. I’ve always like the holiday of Halloween and dressing up. Scaring people. Ghosts and goblins and monsters. When I was a kid, I always like the childhood books that had monsters in them. Where The Wild Things Are. Books with witches and stuff. My mom was always into mysteries and Alfred Hitchcock books and horror novels, so, as a little kid, I’d always pull her books out of the bookshelf, just to look at the covers. The covers always had skulls or skeletons, you know, macabre stuff. My mom probably wouldn’t take credit for inspiring me to be the horror guy that I am – it’s kind of an inside joke with us – but, she played a role. Then, TV shows. The Munsters. The Addams Family. Watching horror movies on TV as the years went on. All that stuff just really appealed to me. Magazines were on the news stand too. Famous Monsters of Filmland. Then came Fangoria. I remember I had the first issue of Fangoria right when it came out. I was in grade school. I’ll tell you, I just love horror. Then I started writing my own scary stories as a kid too. That’s how I got into writing more. I was always an avid reader, but writing was something I started really young, like age six. I was writing monster stories, scary stories, and look what I’m doing today. Nothing’s changed. I’ve taken it in all kinds of directions. Also, the first adult novel I ever read, was the paperback version of Jaws, when I was six or seven. That was book – novel – I digested, as a kid. Kirk Hammett of Metallica is a huge horror memorabilia guy, a huge horror fan like me. Stephen King. On and on. I too am a quote-unquote ‘horror kid.’ It’s just something that has appealed to me. There’s a reason Halloween is so fucking popular around the world. People like to be scared. They like to dress up. People like the macabre. I think there’s a fascination with the dark things out there. Maybe it makes you feel more alive to be scared or even see depictions of death, or something. I’m not a shrink, but that might have something to do with it. I don’t know how else to explain it further than that. It’s just something that for as long as I can remember, it hit me, and here we are. Again, look at all of these examples of how popular, not just Halloween is, but horror culture. It’s so huge now. They have huge horror festivals with horror movie stars and celebrities. Horror is a big part of heavy metal music. Horror movies are always evolving and changing. There’s just so many amazing facets, whether it’s horror fiction…you’ve got some of the biggest authors in the world. Stephen King, he’s a horror author, and he’s one of the biggest, if not the biggest writer in the world. That says a lot. People are buying a shitload of horror books. It’s an escape and there’s maybe a fascination and a vibe with the horror culture. It just appealed to me. I’ve always had an over active imagination, so that plays into it too. Horror is also an escape and it’s a fun escape. In real life, outside the escape, the fantasy of horror, you’re talking to a guy who has five 4 week old kittens and two adult cats. I love kittens and rainbows and sunshine. And that’s the reality. That’s the flip side.
HX: Just what you’d expect from a death metal musician who writes horror.
HX: People are funny paradoxes. I’m a metal writer, but that’s just a passion and a hobby. I’m a high school teacher and three kids. Nobody ever expects it. “You listen to metal? Really?” Yeah, I do. It’s funny though, speaking of horror. Really, for me, it’s a little bit like death metal. I’m not a huge fan. I’m pretty picky about it. I was reading an interview you did, I want to say maybe with Decibel, and you mentioned Cabin in the Woods. It’s funny, because that is a horror movie that I’ve seen recently that I really, really liked. What do you think it is about that one that grabbed you?
JW: I actually showed that movie to my wife recently, maybe a few weeks ago. She’d never seen it. I hadn’t since it came out. You stated earlier in the interview how you’re very picky and selective about the type of either death metal or metal you listen to. By the way, I can totally relate, because I’m very, very picky about metal myself. Honestly, for me, there’s usually not a lot of newer metal releases that really blow my hair back. I constantly return to the bands that inspired me and the albums that inspired me. Not that I’m trying to sound like I’m stuck in the past, because I have a pretty open mind. I know if I hear a badass riff and a badass song, I like to think my ears are still relevant enough to identify a song that is kickass and go, ‘Ok, I can appreciate that song.’ Really, that’s few and far between. I go back to the late ’80s, early ’90s releases by Napalm Death, Terrorizer, Morbid Angel, Carcass, Obituary, Slayer, you know, Reign in Blood. I mean classic shit that inspired me and still means a lot to me. I don’t know…it’s hard to hear shit that’s that good. That’s my opinion. Now, movies, I’ve got to say, is the same thing. Few horror movies – as much as I love horror and horror movies – the old-school movies still blow away so many modern horror movies that do jack shit nothing for me. Whether it’s Jaws, The Exorcist, The Omen, The Howling, and my favorite, The Thing. George Romero movies. John Carpenter movies. There’s something about those movies from the ’70s and ’80s that were so fucking good. They’ve done so well, that they’ve been imitated a million times, duplicated a million times, but nothing holds a candle to the originals.
Now, Cabin in the Woods – when that movie came out I didn’t know what to expect, because – I may sound jaded, but I was like, ‘Here we go. Another new horror movie. Nothing’s been blowing my hair back for a long time. I’ll check it out.’ It was fucking good. It had such an original idea. The premise, the way they put that together… I was totally surprised and delighted by being so surprised. I love that movie. That’s definitely up there as far as movies that have come out in, I don’t know, the last ten years – in horror, specifically horror – that have made me go, ‘Ok. There’s still hope for horror movies, the horror movie genre.’ I really enjoyed it. I really enjoyed another one that came out. The re-make of Evil Dead – and I hate re-makes – but, one thing I’m a real fan of is practical effects. I’m a real nerd about horror effects too. When I was a kid, being a horror kid, before I wanted to be a musician or dreamed of being a novelist, I wanted to be the next Tom Savini. I wanted to do horror movie effects. I was so into that. That’s what I loved about Halloween. I would actually do my own latex skin and really fucked up things. I loved doing that. With Evil Dead, the re-make, they didn’t rely on CGI for the whole movie. They did a lot of practical effects. I was really impressed by the job they did with that. That was another one that’s up there. Again, for me though, modern horror movies – Cabin in the Woods came out in 2012 – since the ’90s until now, it’s really, personally, few and far between seeing horror movies that – like I like to say – blows my hair back. Cabin in the Woods, that did it for me. And my wife, she doesn’t even really like horror movies at all, believe it or not. She’s married to a huge horror freak – me – but she doesn’t participate and watch a lot of horror movies with me. When I pitched this to her, and said, ‘This is like one you’ve never seen.’ When that movie was done, she was like, ‘Wow. I’ve got to admit that’s a good fucking movie.’
HX: Yeah, it’s like that with music and my wife. We don’t need to talk about what she listens to. Back to death metal. Are there any newer death metal bands that are blowing your hair back? Anything you’ve heard lately in the last couple of years?
JW: This year actually…I really like that new Obituary. That new Immolation is fucking fantastic. I love that album. That’s a good one. I still have yet to check out the full Suffocation album. I’ve only heard a few tracks, but what I’ve heard sounded pretty sick. I’ve heard one or two new Decrepit Birth songs that sounded pretty good. I’m just waiting for the Dying Fetus now, to see what happens there. I’d say that what I’ve heard so far, in the first six months of the year, I’ve been more impressed with death metal than I’ve been in a long time. A lot of great bands are putting out a lot of great albums. I’m really happy.
HX: There’s hope!
JW: There is hope! This is hope bro.
HX: Just a couple more. I know you just finished an album and just started supporting it, but are you already writing new music or do you take a little break from that?
JW: Actually, you know how I told you I took a different approach to songwriting with this album. I was writing stuff in studio with our drummer. Since then, I’ve kind of gone back to my old ways, which is riff writing on my own. It comes down to, I’ve been working more than ever on being a guitar player. I’ve done two things. I’ve got guitars all over the place. Have you ever watched Metalocalypse?
HX: I haven’t actually.
JW: In Metalocalypse, there’s this guitar player in the band Dethklok, and his name is Skwisgaar. He’s the lead guitar player and a lead guitar maniac. He sleeps with his guitars. He has a guitar in the hot tub with him. He has guitars in every room. I actually have guitars all over my house. I have guitars in our studio of course, but I have a guitar on a guitar stand next to my bed with a practice amp. Guitars on pretty much every floor of the house, in every room. To that end, I’ve been playing guitar more than ever. So, say I’m in my bedroom. I pick up my guitar next to my bed. I start doing scales and arpeggios to warm it up. Then I start playing riffs. In the past, when I warm up and practice, just doing the technical shit, not even playing Broken Hope stuff, that eventually leads me to playing – after I’m done doing my exercises – just playing riffs. That’s where new Broken Hope songs come from. To your question, yeah, I’ve been writing new riffs and just making sure I record them on my phone so I don’t forget them. I’ve been writing riffs in my studio on that rig I have down there. Playing exercises. I’ve also been trying to re-learn old Broken Hope songs we haven’t played in ages, so that we can play them live in the future. All that – playing in the studio, re-learning songs, exercises, it all leads to me riffing out and eventually something clicks. Like, ‘Wait a minute. Hey, shit, I like that riff. I think I’ve got something here.’ Then I record it on my phone so I don’t forget it. I’ve slowly been having these riffs pile up and they will end up being Broken Hope songs. I’ve actually started, I guess…I can’t remember writing new material right after an album released like this, or even before during the period of waiting for the album to come out, but I’ve been doing it on my own. Maybe people won’t have to wait four years in between albums like this last time. Maybe we’ll put one out quicker. There’s hope for that too.
HX: Finally, is there anything else we need to know about Broken Hope?
JW: One thing I’d like people to know about Broken Hope is that we are what I like to refer to as one part death metal lifers, one part the most grateful guys you’ll ever meet. I’ll explain. The death metal lifers statement means, this creature called Broken Hope, this creature has never changed it’s spots. This leopard has never changed it’s spots. We have changed band members, whether it was people booted from the band, quitting on their own, or unfortunately some people passed away. One thing we’ve continued to do, I guess under my watch and my determination, and what I like to call my mission statement, is to carry on always writing uncompromising, super heavy, death metal music, with the Broken Hope brand. I’d like people to know that we’re death metal lifers. That’ll never change, as far as our commitment to always writing uncompromising, super sick and heavy death metal. The other thing I like people to know, is that when I say we’re the most grateful guys that you’ll ever meet… It really comes down to being grateful for being at this stage of the game – especially me, man. Twenty-nine years, I’ve been doing Broken Hope, since I was a teenager in high school. The years have gone by. Band members have switched and some have unfortunately passed away. But, we’re grateful, especially me, to still be here. To be alive. To be healthy. Grateful for that. Grateful for having the opportunity to do what we’re passionate about, which is writing death metal and playing it live for people. Really, most of all, we’re grateful for every one of you out there reading this who’s a Broken Hope fan. Whether you’re an old time fan or a new fan. Anyone that has supported our music, digs Broken Hope, and ‘gets us’. I don’t take that for granted. Never. I’m grateful for that, because you and I would not be talking if not for all the people that have sustained this thing we do. That’s all. I just want to say those two things about Broken Hope that I want people to know.
HX: Awesome, man. Thank you so much for such an amazing interview. This was really great.
JW: Thanks, man. I’m really glad to have this opportunity with you. Thanks for letting me bend your ear and give you a good interview, the best I can.