While an inaugural full-length is a group's opening statement, a third album sometimes promises to be a landmark effort. Albums one and two provide an opportunity to explore a band's identity, but a third is sometimes where that identity is found. Take Metallica's "Master Of Puppets" (1986), Iron Maiden's "Number Of The Beast" (1982) or Slayer's "Reign In Blood" (1986) as just some examples. Is "The Black Crown" a landmark album from Suicide Silence?
's third full-length "The Black Crown
" was issued on July 12th, 2011 through Century Media Records, the outfit having previously issued "The Cleansing
" (September 2007) and "No Time To Bleed
" (June 2009). Produced by Steve Evetts
and recorded at The Omen Room Studios in Garden Grove, California, its artwork was designed by Ken Adams
(having previously designed pieces for Lamb Of God and Coheed And Cambria). Mixing, meanwhile, was handled by Chris
at Planet Z Studios in Hadley, Massachusetts. Three vocalists guest on the record; Korn
's Jonathan Davis
("Witness The Addiction"), Suffocation
's Frank Mullen
("Smashed") and Eyes Set To Kill
's Alexia Rodriguez
("Cross-Eyed Catastrophe"). As an iTunes exclusive, Suicide Silence recorded a cover version of Rob Zombie
"The Black Crown" shifted 14,000 copies in its inaugural week of issue in North America, charting at position twenty-eight on the Billboard 200, seven on the Rock Albums chart, six on the Independent Albums chart and three on the Hard Rock Albums chart. Directed by Nathan Cox, a music video was filmed for the track "You Only Live Once".
On August 3rd at 01:00 GMT, Hit The Lights' Robert Gray telephoned Suicide Silence guitarist Mark Heylmun to discuss "The Black Crown".
Mark Heylmun: Yo yo.
UG: Hello. Am I speaking to Mark?
Yes you are.
This is Robert Gray from Ultimate-Guitar.com, calling for the interview.
How are you man?
I'm doing well. How are you Mark?
I'm good dude. Just hanging out on the Mayhem Fest.
Would it be alright if we began the interview?
Yeah. Let's do it man.
Could you talk me through the writing process for 'The Black Crown', and shaping it into what it became?
The writing of the record? In late 2009 we were on tour with Megadeth, and at the end of the second cycle for 'No Time To Bleed' we were ready to write a new record. We were on tour with Megadeth; we sat down, and we started talking about what we wanna do. How we wanted to start writing it, what direction we were going in. We decided we wanted to get a cabin, and go from our home sweet home of Corona. We rented a cabin in Big Bear, California, went up there for a month and built a studio. We lived there for I think it was twenty-nine days - it wasn't a full month but we just jammed, we hung out, we lived as a family and as friends and and we talked it out and we jammed it out. We wrote about seven songs, and honestly a lot of those songs we weren't really happy with. They sounded moreso like something we would've done on 'No Time To Bleed', and we're not the kind of band who wants to sit back and write the same record over and over again. We listened to these songs; we listened to what the good parts were, and we listened to what we were happy about. The conversation that we had while on tour with Megadeth while we were in the cabin was that we wanted to go in a groovier heavy metal direction. We took those seven songs that we wrote in the cabin, and from February 2010 all the way up until January 2011 we revised everything. We took the good parts, we wrote new songs. We just wanted to put it out as something we're proud of, and the way that I've been saying it is if this is the last record that we write - which obviously it's definitely not going to be - we want to be really happy with what we did. We wanted to structure our songs; we wanted to make songs with choruses where it's actual structure and what's going on in the songs makes sense in terms of where our influences come from. We took like fucking Slayer, Pantera, Metallica, Slipknot, Korn, Deftones - third record - and listened the fuck out of every band that we're fans of and how their third records ended up turning up. We went in the same direction as our predecessors, and we took why we're still fans and took all the footsteps. I think the record turned out amazing; it's something that we are happy to show our fans, or the people who think that we're a fake metal band or hate us because of whatever reason. We just wanna show people what we're capable of, and that's what 'The Black Crown' came from.
So the bar was set really high then with 'The Black Crown'?
Oh absolutely. If you look at the way we went from the first record, we were all kids, we had just signed a record deal, we wanted to write a record, we wanted to write something that we could take on tour and play live and that would portray us. I think we did a good job on the first record, but with the second record we wanted to step it up again. We set the bar really high on 'No Time To Bleed' too and I think it turned out really well, but I think we took too many steps forward on the production value of it. We recorded with Machine and Machine is an amazing producer; he's one of the most fun people to be around, but the way I put it is he lives in the future. He's like a sci-fi music producer, and a lot of it just wasn't us. We're an organic band; when we record in the studio - our studio - we record everything pretty much live, and we wanted to do the same thing again on the third one. Just plan it out, and work it out real well. Steve Evetts produced this record. We talked to him, and the reason why we recorded with him was because he had the same vision as we did. Before we even told him our vision, he told us "I wanna work on a record where it doesn't matter if it came out twenty years ago or if it came out twenty years in the future, this will stand on its own. It will be something that people will recognise as what you guys are". With a third record, not a lot of people really understand what a third record is. If you don't write a good third record, you're in trouble; your third record better just destroy those first two, and that's what we wanted to do. We wanted to just completely put to shame our first two records, and write something that was so anthemic, so live oriented. Something that we could take on the road and play whole from the beginning to the end with every song being its own song. Something that everyone can listen to and understand and be stoked about. I definitely took it very seriously; it was an eight hour a day work day every day, just writing and coming up with new ideas and new structural ideas of how we could write songs and how we could take the structures of 'Far Beyond Driven' by Pantera - which was one of the greatest Pantera records, one of the greatest metal records of all time - and put those shoes on and just start walking and do it.
A lot of people say 'Vulgar Display Of Power' is Pantera's greatest album, though I feel 'Far Beyond Driven' blows that album out of the water.
"We took like fucking Slayer, Pantera, Metallica, Slipknot, Korn, Deftones - third record - and listened the fuck out of every band that we're fans of and how their third records ended up turning up."
'Vulgar' is killer, but my favourite Pantera record is 'Great Southern Trendkill'. Really though, the reason why I like 'Great Southern Trendkill' is what I call an anti-riff. The guitar riff on the title track is just two slides and an open note (imitates "Great Southern Trendkill"'s guitar riff), which I call an anti-riff because it's so groovy, so easy, so just jam-oriented. I didn't think about this, but this changed me. This is how I come up with riffs. Dimebag is one of my favourite guitar players, one of my life influences - as a person, and as a guitar player. With this record, I wanted to go with that. It's so much harder to write a simple riff than it is to write something that is just so technical. You can sit there and try to write something that has multiple changes and time signatures moving all over the place. You can sit there and think about it, but nothing is purer than something that you can just go with and something that's 'Oh wow, we just wrote this. What's coming after this? We'll just jam, and see what comes naturally'. We did the most natural things we could possibly do. I call them anti-riffs, where it's just not sitting around and thinking too hard about it. It's just letting it out and letting your influences show, and showing how you play without sitting there and thinking too hard about what you're really doing.
Is that something you learnt ages ago, or through experience in writing Suicide Silence's first two albums?
I think this was just more of a release of influence where with the first record we were a little nervous - we just wanted to write something that we could get out and play. With the second record, we wanted to write something that would impress people where maybe it's a little technical, a little more avante-garde if you may. With this one, it's just like fuck everyone. Who cares what anyone is gonna think? Let's write something that we know when we get onstage and we play this, we're gonna have fun. It's still my opinion that if I get onstage and I'm happy to be playing what I'm playing, then everyone else is gonna be stoked to hear it. It's more just letting our balls show, and letting everyone know that we're writing music for ourselves. We're not worried about who the hell is saying we are this or we are that, or we can't tour with this band or "Why do you tour with that band?". It's more of a release. Like I said before, if this is the last record that we ever write... Again, I'm saying absolutely not - I'm already working on the next record. No matter what, this is something that we're proud of and this is something for us. This is something that we wanna do.
You mentioned Suicide Silence's fourth album. Will that be also issued with Century Media? Will Suicide Silence sign a new record contract with the label?
I'm not sure yet. At this moment in time, Century is still our label. We're still on Century Media, we're on this cycle and everyone at that label is amazing, but right now we don't know what we're doing. We're not in any rush to decide what the next step is. All I know is that the next record is already being worked on, and we're a working band. We won't stop, we're always on tour, we're always writing and we're always talking about what the next step is. At this point though, the next step hasn't been decided in terms of what label that's gonna be on.
So it's possible Suicide Silence might re-sign with Century Media?
Yeah, it's a possibility.
In the press, it seems as though 'The Black Crown' is being touted as Suicide Silence's final album through Century Media.
As far as the press goes, there was miscommunication in an interview. I don't even know who it was that said it, but they said it was our last record on Century Media. The reason why that came across as being our last release on Century Media was because we signed a three-record contract and we put out three records, so this is our last obligatory record on Century Media - 'The Black Crown'. They haven't given us another offer yet, but maybe when they throw it to us we're willing to do it, and maybe that's what's gonna happen. So far we haven't had offers from anyone though, so who knows what's gonna happen.
What was Steve Evetts like to work with in the studio? How does he go about his business?
He's great man. He's from the old school; he's recorded reel-to-reel, and he's done some of the most amazing, natural sounding records. Metal or pop-punk or rock 'n' roll, or whatever it is, he's just all-round. He knows what band he's working with, and he tries to get the best sounding record out of that band. With us, we told him how with our first record that we recorded to no clicks. We recorded nothing track to track - we recorded everything live but the vocals. We recorded 'The Cleansing' in I wanna say like eighteen days altogether. We recorded it really fast, and we told him how we went from this live record to this completely concise Machine record. Like I said earlier, he lives in the future. It's badass; it's really fun working with him, and it was fun. It's easy to tell when you're working with someone, and they're really feeling what they're recording and what they're working on. It was a pleasure to work with someone that was passionate about what we were working on, and we're just passionate. We had him give us the direction and give us pointers, and just make everything sound so tight. We told him "We want it to have a live feel with the concise recording aspect of it", and there was not one plug-in used on vocals. We recorded Mitch's vocals through an old school, eighties Rat Pedal. We used all the pedals that we used live, we used the same heads that we use live, we used the same cabs we use live and the same guitars we use live. Everything was organic. Everything was just the way it was; we dialled our shit in and just went "Maybe we should try this pedal here and see if we can get a better sound". "What kind of wah do you wanna use on this solo?" Everything he did was always just the pure side of recording, and it was perfect. It was the perfect blend, just what we wanted to do. To me, I listen to it and I'm like "That's me playing guitar, that's Garza on the left, that's me on the right, that's Alex' drumming right there and that's Mitch on vocals". It all just sounds like us, and working with him was amazing.
You referenced Dimebag Darrell as well as groove. So that's what you were looking for in terms of your guitar work?
Yeah. I feel like when I write, I want the riffs to be firstly understandable, secondly memorable and thirdly, when it comes to solos I want it sound like something that I would do. I don't want anyone to listen to it and go "Oh man, he just totally ripped off this guy", or "Man, he sounds like Lynch", or "He sounds like Malmsteen". All my influences I try to combine, and take those and make them my own. It's just something that all of us wanna do; we all wanna be our own musicians and our own entities in this metal scene. I always wanna write the most simple, memorable riffs and for the most part I think I accomplished it on a lot of the songs because the record's out and playing these songs. The new songs are just going over ridiculous live more than the old songs where to us we're trying to play the songs that people wanna hear. We're playing the old songs, and then when we get to a new song it's like "Holy crap". They're reacting out of control to these new songs, and the approach? I don't really know how to explain the approach because it was more just going with what we feel we want to be doing - it's not really like "I wanna get super-low" or super-simple or super this. It's just this is what's coming out right now, and this is what's happening. It sounds good. We ask "Where can we go from here? How can we build on this riff that just came out of nowhere", or say "That riff is awesome. What are we gonna do after it? What other awesome riffs can we put down?" I think with the first two records, I always asked "How do we even write these songs? How did those records get written?" I think we just trimmed the fat, took the marbly beef and just ran with it. We didn't wanna write anything that was transitional and just to go into another riff, where the only reason why one riff goes into another is because of a little piece in-between - we didn't need that little piece. We looked at how we could take this bad-ass riff, and move into something even more bad-ass. We just wanted everything on this to be memorable.
That's something I feel some don't realise. Dimebag was a great guitarist, but Pantera had good songs in which to showcase his playing. There's many good guitarists out there, but a lot of them don't seem to realise that they need decent songs in which to showcase their talents.
Yeah, absolutely. I'll tell you this: with all the solos on 'The Black Crown', I didn't have any of them written. I thought "I'm gonna wait - I'm gonna record all this stuff". I had little bits of ideas of what I wanted to do - little things here and there, little licks I had been working on - but I didn't worry about what kind of solo I was gonna play. If there was a solo on a song then it was worked out in the studio, and I recorded all of the solos in one day because it's not something that I'm really worried about. With the way I write and the way everything comes out, the song is more important to me than how ridiculous the solo is. I like my solos to be pretty much.... if I could record a solo that was just one note where the one note was just so meaningful then I would, but that's pretty hard to do. I like to make it just so... I don't know. Lynch dude - George Lynch. Listen to George Lynch; sure he can play a flurry of notes, but really the real thing that you remember is those few notes - one to four notes. He gets those right there, and it's like "Boom". Listen to "Mr. Scary"... (imitates guitar riff)... That's my kinda shit, making it as memorable and simple as possible. It's exactly what you said; it takes a good tune to showcase what you got going on. I think maybe I could've done a better job, but at the same time I'm realising now when I'm playing the solos that I wrote in the studio live that I'm changing them a little bit and just going off. I feel like maybe I could've jammed them better in the studio, but they were pretty much all one take solos. This record is actually the most organic that we've done, a real, true portrayal of Suicide Silence.
How did Korn's Jonathan Davis come to guest on "Witness The Addiction"?
"I think the record turned out amazing; it's something that we are happy to show our fans, or the people who think that we're a fake metal band or hate us because of whatever reason."
We met Jonathan and the Korn guys at the Golden God Awards in 2009 I think it was. He was super-cool, and then after that we played a couple of radio shows with them and Mudvayne and Alice In Chains. Basically we just hit him up, and asked him "Would you be down to do something?". Once we heard that he would do it, we started writing the song and we called it "Epic Fail" because we were like "Fuck, if this song sucks then it'll be really shitty for us to give it to Jonathan and him not be down". He was down; we wrote the song for him, we wrote the parts for him and he flipped it upside down and made it sound even cooler than we could've ever thought.
In writing "Witness The Addiction", was the track consciously written differently due to the fact Suicide Silence knew Jonathan Davis would be guesting?
It was written differently, but it was written more in the vein of trying to get that angst I guess. That feel of an old-school Korn song, trying to get the feel of where the influence of Korn came from. For us, we're big Korn fans, and Steve was there writing that song with us. We wrote that song over the course of maybe a ten-hour day in the studio. It came out just really aggressive, but at the same time sludgy. It was just something that we've never really done before, but you can still hear John's vocals over the chorus part. We just couldn't wait to hear what he would do over it and I guess it was written with him in mind absolutely, so it was written a little differently.
Frank Mullen provides vocals on "Smashed", from the really underrated group Suffocation.
Oh yeah, man. Suffocation is one of our best friends in the fucking metal scene. That band are the coolest dudes in the world; they always come out to our shows, and they're one of the bands that really recognised our Suffocation influence. Not a lot of people really realise that, and they're a very underrated band. We were writing that song, and it was one of the first songs that we started writing our new bass player - he wrote some of the guitar riffs. Once we got to a certain point, we thought "We should do a Suffocation thing right here". Once we realised that we had written a Suffocation bridge, intro and outro, we listened to it and we heard what Mitch was doing vocally, we were like "We should hit up Frank and see if he's down to do it". We thought if we could get Frank on a song singing with Mitch, then it was gonna sound gruesome. For me as a guitar player, when I knew we were gonna have Suffocation on it I made sure that I didn't write a Suffocation-type guitar solo because I didn't want that song to sound like a Suffocation song. I wrote the most bluesy kind of guitar solo on there. Having Jonathan and Frank on the same record is like a dream come true. Actually, I haven't seen Frank since then, but when everyone's hearing all this good shit everyone's like "Man, you should just sing on every fucking metal record just to put it down and show people how fucking badass you are". Dude, he fucking invented guttural. He's the man. It was basically a collaboration with Suffocation without them really being there.
On 'The Black Crown', where does Mitch lyrically venture?
The way that we work is the band writes everything. As far as strings and drums we write all the music, and then we record demos. We give them to Mitch and he sings over them. Usually, he'll come to me with what he's stoked on and what he thinks is good. A lot of it has to do with just appreciating the life that we live. It's not so much what we were doing in the beginning where we just wanted to piss everybody off, and create attention towards us with blasphemous lyrics or singing about fucking chicks getting fucking plastic surgery to try to look perfect. Just knowing the fact that this life is what you make of it, that's what this is about. This life is eventful, and that's what we want. We want everyone to understand that you come to our show, and we want you to forget everything. We don't care if you just got fired from your job. We don't want you to worry about if your fucking girlfriend is gonna break up with you, or if your wife's gonna divorce you. We want you to be at the show and lose your mind, have fun, just let go for a little bit and just know that if you don't live your life one day at a time and have a good time then you're missing out. You've gotta enjoy what you have, and that's pretty much what the album is all about.
That reminds me of something Michael Caine said in an interview with Michael Parkinson. He said how a lot of people live life as if it's a rehearsal, but he feels like approaching them and explaining to them that this isn't a rehearsal - this is the show.
Yeah, man. That's what it is. This isn't the dress rehearsal; when you wake up in the morning, just know that that day is important and fucking get out there. If you have a goal or if you have a fucking crush on a chick and you want to tell her you love her or whatever the fuck you have going on... If you're in a band and you're like "How do I do this?" or "How do I do that?", it doesn't matter how you do it or how you approach doing it. It matters if you do it, and that is if you take the initiative and make sense of what is going on and appreciate the fact that you are here. Just being alive and knowing what being alive is, that's all it is. You have to know what you have. Get to know what goal you want to get to and what you want to do with your life, and that's the hardest thing to figure out - what you want to do with your life. Most of the people probably reading this are guitar players; if you want to play guitar for the rest of your life, but you better sit in your room and play guitar for fucking five to twelve hours a day. Whatever you want to do, you have to have drive and do it. I've been playing shows since I was fourteen years old, and I've been on tours since I was sixteen years old. It doesn't matter if you have a booking agent or a label or any of that shit. If you know that you wanna do it then call your local promoters, call your local venues, book the shows and make it happen. It's all about how you look at what you've got. If you can play guitar and you can write songs and you've got a band and you're stoked, go and do it.
As an iTunes bonus track, Suicide Silence recorded a cover of Rob Zombie's "Superbeast".
It was the most spontaneous thing ever. I actually recorded the whole record with pretty much a sprained wrist, because I got drunk and fucking fell over while I was being stupid. For about three to four days, we took things easy; I couldn't play guitar and I couldn't make a fifth, so it was my left hand. I couldn't play guitar, so I showed up for practice either way. We were expected to continue working on what we were working on the day before, but it was more like "I'm gonna sit back". Garza and Alex were working on what we were working on and that turned into them jamming for a little bit, and they ended up playing "Superbeast". At first I was like "Wait, what are you guys playing? I know what that is, but what is that?". "It's "Superbeast"". "Oh yeah". I was like "Why don't we record that song and put it in a stupidly low tuning?". We picked up one of our seven-strings tuned to low F, recorded it and listened to it back in low F - a dumb, stupid tuning - and we were like "This is too good... Ok, what else can we do with this?". We sat back, produced it ourselves, added a breakdown, added a double-bass in one part. We listened to it, and we were like "This is too good. This would be the most amazing thing to go out and play live in front of fans". It's so anthemic, and goes along the lines of how the whole record sounds. It just came out of nowhere, and we always wanna do a cover with every record - we've done "Engine No. 9" by The Deftones and "Them Bones" by Alice In Chains. With this it was spontaneous, and sounds awesome. We made it happen, and we think it sounds really cool.
A music video was recorded for "You Only Live Once".
Yeah. That one came out of a lunch meeting; we had a lunch meeting with our manager, and we just thought about video ideas. One of the lyrics was "You only get one shot". We thought about that line, like what are we gonna do? We thought about who'd want to knock us off the face of the planet, about all kinds of cliched people who'd wanna shoot us up. We just kind of went with that, and just had a bunch of people shoot us and basically kill us. It was kind of fun and cheesy, but at the same time came out really cool.
Are there quite a few people who write off Suicide Silence for no reason? You've mentioned people writing off the band throughout the interview.
"If you don't write a good third record, you're in trouble; your third record better just destroy those first two, and that's what we wanted to do."
Really, if it wasn't for people who were hating on us or going online and saying "This band is terrible"... Or going to their neighbour and saying "Hey, have you heard this band? They suck"... If it wasn't for you guys, we wouldn't have people checking us out. If it wasn't for people talking about us, we wouldn't have the fanbase that we have. If you really hate us so much, then stop talking about us (laughs). It's creating the fanbase. A lot of people like us just because they think that we're not a metal band, but if anyone wants to fucking challenge us to a duel on metal or death metal or goregrind or fucking whatever the hell? You have no idea how long we've been listening to metal, and how much we give a shit about what's going on. It's pretty ridiculous, but at the same time it doesn't fucking matter because those kids or those dudes are just sitting behind their computer and typing about how much fucking "Oh, his hair sucks" or "The bitch's pants are too tight" or "These young kids have so many tattoos". I mean, what the fuck? You're not even talking about the fucking music - you have no idea. Where is your band?
As long as it sounds good, who gives a shit what you call it?
Exactly, man. People say "Oh, you guys are deathcore". Well, if we're deathcore then we didn't mean to start anything. If you look back, there was no deathcore before there was Suicide Silence. We're a fucking heavy metal band through and through, and we always have been. It just so happens that the media and whoever else invented this metalcore thing wanted to call it that, they wanted to figure out what we were. We're just a fucking band influenced by death metal and heavy metal and nu metal and thrash metal, and all the shit that has led up to where we are now. It's fucking 2011 man. Shit is going down, and shit happens. I was just talking to Shannon Larkin of Godsmack, and this is the coolest thing I've ever heard anybody say. It's hard for a lot of people understand because they don't really get it, but he goes "It takes bands like Godsmack and Disturbed to show how light it can be for all you guys to be fucking underground". There would be no underground if there wasn't us being on the radio and playing songs where people know the fucking choruses and lyrics and all that shit. If it wasn't for Green Day, there'd be no underground hardcore punk. There'd be no bands doing the opposite of what the mainstream is. We're not a fucking sell out band, we're not a mainstream band and we're not selling millions of records. I don't have fucking three mansions, and I don't have fucking six cars. I've got ten guitars, and I live with my parents and I have a dog. All I care about is playing music; I care about writing good songs, and doing the goddamndest I can to stay in this scene that I've grown up with.
Shannon Larkin is definitely on the money in saying that, because when a band like Disturbed is played on the radio that might be the first time they've heard a metal band.
That's exactly Shannon's point. If it wasn't for someone discovering Godsmack and going "This is heavy, but wait a second... I just heard Job For A Cowboy... Fuck, they're heavy as shit and I really like them"... It takes one band to open up the gates for people to figure out what is going on on the underground. If it wasn't for Slipknot... If it wasn't for basically all these bands... Dude, look at Coal Chamber; if it wasn't for Coal Chamber then DevilDriver wouldn't have the fanbase that they have, and DevilDriver's Dez is one of my fucking best friends dude. A lot of people just don't understand the way that it goes down. The music industry is cutthroat, and it's cutthroat because fans look at it like "Oh, this is old now - I'm over it". They need something new, and everybody needs to find out what the hell is going on and just realise that everyone is out here trying their hardest. Just like maybe you're trying your hardest, or maybe you don't even play an instrument and you're judging all these bands for whatever the hell you think they are.
I'm just a music fan really, the same as everyone else.
It's all a big music family man, and that's what's so great. Every single band on the Mayhem Fest tour gets along. No-one hates anybody. Us, Machine Head, All Shall Perish, Godsmack and Disturbed are all hanging out, and we're all just trying to do what we all want to do.
Thanks for speaking to me Mark, and all the best with Suicide Silence. It sounds as though 'The Black Crown' might take the band to the next level.
I really hope so, but if it doesn't then it doesn't matter because we're still gonna be here. We're still gonna trudge along, and we're still gonna write tunes. We appreciate the fact that we are here where we are.
Have a nice evening.
Interview by Robert Gray
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