Currently hard at work on album number four, British thrash metal band Evile are hoping the follow-up to the stunning Five Serpent’s Teeth will see them fully establish themselves and join the genre’s greats. Frontman Matt Drake is confident his band can deliver the goods.
It’s already been a long journey for the Yorkshiremen having started out as Metal Militia, a metal covers band, before breaking out on their own. Working with a superstar producer kick-started a run of three great thrash albums in Enter The Grave, Infected Nations, and Five Serpent’s Teeth, while the death of a bandmate continues to spur them on.
Geeks of Doom: How’s the new album coming?
Matt Drake: Very good so far … like we’ve always done, we’ve gone Grave, Nations was different to Grave, Serpent’s is different to them two … I’m thinking a bit more ballsy, more to the point, but without losing the melody that we can do and the harmonies we’ve done.
Geeks of Doom: There was a bit of a fuss made about “In Memoriam” [from the Five Serpent’s Teeth album, ‘inspired’ by the death of original bass player Mike Alexander].
Matt Drake: Yes there was because it wasn’t a thrash metal song. Geeks of Doom: Are you going in that sort of direction again?
Matt Drake:Maybe not. Maybe one or two bits but that was like a one-off thing … we couldn’t have got that point across really with a speed [metal] song. It wouldn’t have worked as well. We figured that because of the subject matter of the track it fitted that particular style quite well. If we did repeat that again it wouldn’t be a track, it might be maybe a section of a song … but I can’t imagine another track like that because it might seem like we’re trying to do a sequel to “In Memoriam” and that rarely ever lives up to what’s come before … I don’t think I want to try and repeat it because it worked so well first time that I like it as it is. If a section pops up then, yeah, cool.
Geeks of Doom: Are you working with producer Russ Russell again?
Matt Drake:We are. We’re booked in for February so we know we’ve got a deadline so we’ll be [mock scream] suddenly freaking out trying to get that done! Yeah, a lot of freaking out and arguing! I always say we never write songs, we argue songs!
Geeks of Doom: Is that the sibling rivalry coming out between you and [lead guitarist] Ol?
Matt Drake: Yes! We do a lot of arguing, but it works for the best though because you find a good, I wouldn’t say compromise, you find the ideal, I think. A compromise implies that you’ve lost something where you push and pull and see what gives … If Ol’s written something that’s shit I’ll say, ‘that’s shit!’ … if something’s crap then we have no problem saying, ‘that’s shit’. Ol might be, ‘oh but I like it’. ‘No, that’s shit, you can do better’.
Geeks of Doom: Is it always you two or do the other guys get involved as well?
Matt Drake: Yeah, it’s mostly us that argue about it. They say, ‘oh, it’s them brothers again, arguing’, and stay away and let us do it. That’s the way it usually goes.
Geeks of Doom: Was that the case with “Xaraya”? Ol wrote it, but you thought it was not quite up to standard.
Matt Drake: Yeah, the second half of “Xaraya” was originally shite. It got to the halfway point and it was just crap. It half-timed because it’s a slow song already but the second half just went slower. I remember just going [sighs] ‘I’m bored, bored, bored!’ I said, ‘I know you can write something better than this’.
Geeks of Doom: So you’re pushing each other.
Matt Drake: Exactly, yeah, you push each other to get the best out of each other and it works. Same thing if I had been recording the vocals, if I tried to sing something Ol would just go, ‘that’s rubbish, you can sing better than that’. [So I] try something different and find a better way to do it. It’s like navigation of shite that we try and get through, but it works! It’s painful for a few seconds, but it usually comes out pretty well.
Geeks of Doom: And does Russ help you to get that into shape?
Matt Drake: Yes, massively. Russ is a genius because he gets what we do, he gets what we’re trying to do as well… and he also understands progression of albums as well. Like I’ve never mentioned it to him but I always get the feeling that he’s holding something back for next time to make that next step that bit better. I don’t know why, that might just be me. I’m not saying he’s not doing his job because he’s a genius is Russ, but there’s something else going on and I think he’s got a plan. I really like that, it’s really good. He knows what he’s doing, he’s so good and he gets us sounding right as well. And again he’s no problem saying, ‘that’s shit, you do not need that three seconds of widdling there, get rid of that’. It makes it better.
Geeks of Doom: You’ve had a lot of comparisons to Metallica. Did that come into your decision before working with Russ because on your first album you worked with Metallica producer Fleming Rasmussen [Ride The Lightning, Master of Puppets, ...And Justice For All]?
Matt Drake: When we were doing Grave we were just starting out … it was our first album but we were going for like a couple of years before so it was our first album: ‘Yeah, great, make it fast, thrash, let’s get Fleming Rasmussen!’ Someone just went, ‘why don’t you?’ So we sent him an email and said, ‘Fleming, would you record our album?’ [He said] ‘Yeah, go on then.’ So we just went and did it with him. But like you say the Metallica thing came out and it worked first because it’s like, Oh this band [sounds] a bit like Metallica. It was quite an easy way for people to get into us. Nowadays, the first time you hear a new band the first thing you think is, That sounds like so-and-so. It’s just a natural thing … but after that we needed to step away from it, to become Evile and not just a band that sounds like Metallica. I think we’ve done quite well.
So straight away Nations was just a complete step in a different direction so we got Russ. Russ came to us at the Earache [Records] Christmas party when we’d just released the first album and he was smashed off his face! He came walking up to us and went, ‘I like your first album, guitars are too loud, I could do an awesome second album’. We just went, ‘alright Russ, nice to meet you, you’re a bit drunk!’. But it stuck in there, we remembered him and it came to do the second one and we just went, ‘let’s get Russ, we’re trying new songs that are a bit different and Russ could probably bring it out better’. And he did. We tried to step away from sounding like anybody else. There’s always influences, you cannot hide from influences, ever … but we can do our best to make Evile sound like Evile, which I think we’re getting pretty close to doing.
Geeks of Doom: Yes, I agree. In a lot of the Britain heavy metal press you’re seen as the ‘next big thing’. Do you feel like you’re carrying a torch for British metal?
Matt Drake: No. I don’t. No, we don’t have much hype or that kind of thing. We’re established now I think. We’ve done alright, we’ve climbed one or two rungs on the ladder, if the ladder’s a million rungs high we’ve got a couple of steps up. We’ve become established but I don’t think we’re leading a charge or anything. We’ve always just been plugging away in the background. It’s ten years we’ve been going, it’s always just felt like a steady push. Every year things get a little bit better and that might continue over the next ten years … it’s hard to look at it from the inside though. Like I don’t know how good we are live because I can never see us play live … Kerrang! [magazine] said once we’re carrying the genre on our shoulders or something. That’s a bit much too much for four Yorkshire lads from Huddersfield!
Geeks of Doom: So you’ve never thought, ‘yeah, we are!’?
Matt Drake: Not at all … that kind of thing didn’t feel like that to me and it never has. We’re just a band, whatever happens, happens. The shows seem to be getting better and more people showing up, the venues are getting nicer. It feels like we’re heading somewhere good.
We don’t have loads of money being thrown at us and we have no gimmicks to sell, we’re just from Yorkshire. I’ve been saying onstage for the past two nights that we’ve only got through ten years because people keep coming to see us live out of interest. We don’t have any gimmicks, we’re not wearing masks or anything like that, we don’t all wear the same type pants [voice of Ol Drake: ‘we do!’] But not in a gimmicky way. That’s just our normal stage clothes, we don’t all wear like grey urban camo shorts. But I think bands that do have that thing they can sell, people can get behind that and they can sell it.
Geeks of Doom: Does that make things easier for those bands?
Matt Drake: Possibly, but you’ve got to have good music as well. But some of the bands I’ve seen get massive don’t have good music! [laughs] Thrash is my taste so people love different stuff.
Geeks of Doom: You’ve been going for a long time but after Mike [Alexander, original bass player who died from a pulmonary embolism in 2009 while the band was on tour in Sweden] died did you ever think, ‘that’s it now’?
Matt Drake: Yeah. For about a second. There was a flash of, ‘I don’t want to carry on’. But it quickly shot into my brain that the only reason we were doing it was because of Mike. He started with us, so to just suddenly throw that away and not bother anymore because we’ve lost Mike would be insulting. So Mike started it and we’ll carry on, see where we can take it, do the best we can with it try, not to mess it up.
Geeks of Doom: And was Joel [Graham, current bassist] sensitive to that coming in?
Matt Drake: Very. We hadn’t said anything to Joel about, ‘you better be careful you’re not the guy who was here before!’ Joel himself just came and said, ‘you need a bass player, I’ll play bass for you. I won’t get in your way, we’ll just go out and tour and see what happens’ and he was absolutely 100% the right person … he did know Mike before, they’d actually been drinking a couple of times in Dewsbury. It turned out we’d actually played a gig with Joel’s old band Ninedenine. We’d actually met before but never knew.
Geeks of Doom: In a lot of your press photos you’re wearing a jumper with a Stormtrooper on and Five Serpent’s Teeth was named after the Alfred Bester novel The Demolished Man – are you all sci-fi geeks? I know some of you are, Joel is a Star Wars fan.
Matt Drake: Joel’s a massive Star Wars fan, a massive Star Wars geek. He knows far more than I do. We’re quite nerdy in our own way, I like sci-fi and computer games … Ben [Carter, drummer]’s heavily into wrestling, as if you couldn’t tell! [laughs]
Geeks of Doom: He’d make a good wrestler!
Matt Drake: I think that’s his dream, this is just a springboard! Ol’s a South Park dictionary, you can play Ol a five-second clip of South Park from any point, any episode, and he will tell you what episode it is. He’s also a music dictionary, he knows everything about music. He’ll know who was in this band with that guy from that band that year who happened to co-write a song with this guy from that other band who’s been dead twenty years. He knows so much about music … Ol’s also a guitar genius, he knows where notes are that nobody else should know about and he loves just doing silly harmonies that he shouldn’t know about.