Tales from the man with the bass, in the States, and Behind the Iron.
Words by Jake Sanders (@themetalscholar):
Long shadows creep down the southern lawn of White Oak Music Hall. For many, exhaustion has started setting in as the second day of Hell's Heroes IV begins to draw to a close. Fans rest in the grass between food trucks, listening to the vicarious sounds of familiar music booming just meters away. At the opposite end of the yard, more are stacked in merch lines, waiting to snag a last souvenir before the final few bands climb to the stage, a level of palpable anticipation steadily building.
At once, our attentions are drawn to our devices, be they phone, or watch. It takes only a second to understand that if one isn't quick, they may miss the start of the next set, and the next one is important. The looming entrance of Calgary's Traveler is seconds away, and as the realization sets in, a hurried pace sets in motion a domino effect of people abandoning food, spirits, and merch in an effort not to miss a single second.
People stream into the upstairs chamber of WOMH, a modest venue for a band that has already filled more than half the room. Three gentlemen busily ready their equipment, taking a moment of peace to reflect and prepare before they begin. From my vantage point on the far side of the stage, I'm able to tell people are excited. The rail is crammed, and the sound of crowds funneling out from the large theater next door are approaching rapidly, as an ocean of black shirts and battle jackets stream through a door too small for their level of excitement. Within moments, the tiny venue is packed to capacity, and loud enough to feel a bit claustrophobic.
As they exit the small green room at edge of the stage, and saunter to their positions, Nolan Benedetti gives his pedals a playful kick. He's the psycho behind the kit, and has no illusions about how important his role is. Traveler is only as fast as their hectic heartbeat gallop, and scanning the crowd, he grins with all his teeth. They're ready.
I lean into the rail, spotting Dave Arnold squirm his way across the stage, and sling his bass across him. He's been feeling this one all day, and as he glances sidelong at the array of weirdos who are rabid for his set to start, I throw him the encouraging horns.
Minutes earlier, the two of us had ventured into the stairwell, where Dave was kind enough grant me a spur of the moment sidebar so I could harass him with several of the questions that have been burning a hole in my proverbial pocket.
Jake: Okay, now that we're here at Hell's Heroes — I'm gonna trap ya with a really terrible choice. Last time you boys were interviewed by my friend Ryan Tysinger (Last Rites), he decided he was gonna drop a bomb-shell on you. The choice was Running Wild's early years, or their pirate years. We're gonna make you pick now, man!
Dave: Pirate. Pirate years.
J: FUCKING THANK YOU.
D: Yes — I'm a Pirate Guy. I love Running Wild.
J: Me too. First time I heard ‘Port Royal’, I was like, "That's it. That's all I need." So it's clear that you guys are video-game fans, and you can appreciate the value of Lo-Fi sound composition that transcribes to metal, but what other unsung soundtracks deserve their day on the stage?
D: OOF. Hell. If we could somehow find a way to make John Williams' music metal, that would be pretty cool!
J: That's a dream, man. Which John Williams soundtrack do you like the most?
D: *shaking head* That's impossible to choose which one.
J: Gun to your head, even with all three Star Wars — there's three hard choices, there already.
D: There's so much to Star Wars. There was one I was listening to the other day, but he's got a few I could definitely see as metal.
J: I always get hung up on his one-offs. For some reason, those are magic. Some of his best work just feels like John was like, *imitates smoking* "Let's go write some cartoon shit."
J: As a follow-up to that, when people discuss their favorite formats of art; you've got books, music, visual arts, of course. They're typically the go-to. Why do you think video-games are the last ones on peoples' minds, though, for their favorite form of art?
D: I don't know — It's a tough one to say. I'm personally not a big video-game guy, myself. Matt is, a bit more.
I think it's a bit more creative nowadays, and you can get more artsy and interactive with it, now. I feel like it should be more.
J: I'm starting to notice people picking up on Elden Ring, in both lore, and gameplay. People who don't play it are like, "what is this phenomenon? I like the spooky stuff in this..."
Y'all have stepped knee-deep into the land of ballads with your newest album. Which, by the way — good choice. If there's any facet of the genre that deserves more love, you've hit it. It's precisely that. What are the best recent metal ballads, for you?
D: Best recent metal ballads? Aw shit.
J: I say recent — but I'd forgive thirty years back, too.
D: If recent means anything, 2000 onward even, *thinking* ...Wow.
There's a couple I've really enjoyed. There's this new band out of Spain called Rave In Fire. They're kind of like Extreme, mixed with Skull Fist, as a kind of sound.
They do this really killer ballad to close out their album (‘The Last Night’). It's a really chilly track that picks up at the end, and gets electrifying, and invigorating.
It's a really cool one. Rave In Fire, and the album is called ‘Sons of a Lie’. We've been cranking them on the tour so far, and they're awesome.
J: Spain is seriously putting out some major hitters, lately. Them, and Greece. I have to watch out for those two countries — everything is coming out of there.
So in terms of mascots, and icons, some of the most well-known groups in the world feature an iconic face, or symbol that expresses them, and their sound. You've got Eddie the Head, Henry, Vic Rattlehead, Snaggletooth. They all sort of cater sound with their presence. Do you believe that fans have taken to Marvin the Starbreaker the same way? Does he have permanent residency?
D: *pause, rubs chin, evil grin*
...We'll see. To be determined.
Album three is gonna be made — but will he be on the cover?! Who knows! But yeah, Marvin — people love him. He's kind of like Eddie with tentacles, in a way. People love that kind of stuff, and it's kind of cool. That comic book kind of Sci-Fi/Horror imagery, people really seem to enjoy it, so we're just gonna roll with it.
Perhaps he'll stick around, but maybe not?
J: Who doesn't love a good Cthulhu guy squeezing your planet to death?!
In writing ‘Mindless Maze’, you've successfully broached a subject matter that people tiptoe around — it's suicide. There's the regurgitated talking points that people constantly spit out:
"suicide isn't the right choice."
"Suicide is selfish."
"Think of your loved ones!"
For many people, though, it is the choice. Suicide becomes a liberation from pain, and agony. What do you think people get wrong about the notion of ‘dying with dignity’?
D: OH WOW. AHHH.
J: You didn't see this question coming in, did ya? It's like "OH SHIT." *laughs*
D: I definitely did not prepare for this one. It's a very slippery slope. Some people are just tormented, beyond recourse.
It's a terrible thing, and we always try to be there for each other, and help each other as much as we can. Our song ‘Foreverman’ is actually about a close friend of Matt's who killed himself. It's at the top of what we feel, and it's very present in our society. It affects us all, and it's terrible to feel there's no other choice.
J: It's hard to know who is next. I never saw Riley Gale going out, and that dude smiled and laughed, but there was another battle going on, on the side, and that was that.
D: That's one of those things — you've gotta check up on your family and friends — even the ones who seem like they're doing great, just check up on 'em.
J: It's a weird thing to be like, "I'm checking to see if you're okay. Don't just tell me you are. Are you?"
This may be a weird question, and I may have to ask Matt, but I'm wondering if you know. He's spoken positively in the past about his guitar teacher when he was younger, and caught him at a few shows, and I'm sure he's seen y'all! Do you care to name drop the guitar teacher?
D: I actually don't know. I'm sure that dude is cool, but definitely ask him.
J: It's cool dude — that's a super personal question. I figured I'd try my luck.
Moving on here, ‘Fallen Heroes’ is strangely nostalgic, and highly emotional, and a little bit mildly caustic, too. There's glimmers of paying homage to those who matter, and simultaneously drawing contempt for those who didn't give a shit that a certain legend even lived in the first place. You appreciate them, of course. But who are your fallen heroes, and why is it important as a community to continue to cry out their names?
D: I didn't realize until it happened — but Eddie Van Halen. Obviously he was huge, but I was never that big of a Van Halen fan. I enjoyed them a lot, but when he died, it hit me way harder than I ever expected.
I remember I was driving home from that work that day, and I blasted ‘Dreams’ driving home, off 5150. It just hit me, Eddie Van Halen was so fucking important to all of music. That was a huge loss.
Alexi Laiho is another guy. He was sort of the last true Rock Star, in a way. He had that personality.
J: Dude had gravitas. I met him once years ago (Unholy Alliance Tour 2006) and my hands shook the whole time.
D: I met him once too, briefly, at the NAMM show. Great dude, a cool guy. Very approachable.
J: Van Halen is weird for me, too. I didn't start feeling nostalgic until his son started talking that humbly about him. I was like, "shit, I didn't realize everyone broached your privacy that hard, man."
Last one here, ‘Termination Shock’ is an album that revels in control. It's the discipline
of a group who knows they can play the biggest stages, and write longform in a track-by-track composition. That's one foot in the power metal sphere, and one foot in Trad.
But your eponymous debut, by stark contrast, is so much closer to the chaos of Iron Maiden's Paul DiAnno albums. The chaos of that shreddy rock with punk-influence from the nastiest corners. They're two sides of the same coin, but which do you attach to more often?
Is it a microcosmic symphony for you? Or is heavy metal a wildfire, and you just let the instrument take the wheel?
D: The second, the latter half.
Whatever you're feeling that day in your writing, you've gotta go with it. Like us, we're obviously big Trad guys — surprise. We can sneak a little thrash, and a little power metal in there. Makes it a little more unique.
It's all about how you craft your own sound. My old band —
I used to play in Striker — and that band is all about mixing genres. Check out their stuff; they have hair metal, hardcore, thrash, all combined in one big smorgasbord of metal. They do quite well with it, it's actually pretty cool.
J: Y'all are a beautiful bastard child of that, that's the perfect way to describe that.
On behalf of Heaviest of Art, thanks for taking time for me a few seconds before you've gotta jump on stage here. Have a good set!
D: That's no problem! Thank you! Enjoy the show!
Enjoyment wasn't difficult for anyone in the room.
Containing it to one space, was, though. Those brave enough to search for videos of the set will be met by a band that is steadily being drowned out by their own crowd, swallowed by crowd surfers, and fists that pump like a forest caught in a storm. Loose objects fly through the room, articles of clothing are tossed from wall to wall like an arm trebuchet. Freshly abandoned merch is lost in a sea of rowdy headbangers, along with full glasses of beer, glasses, and virtually anything else that isn't hard-attached to their owners. At multiple points, the sides of the railing leading to the stage fill up so obnoxiously that they've formed a de-facto secondary pit that is a few precious inches from the stage itself.
On my end, Toryin Schadlich's fingers are virtually coming apart at the seams as he frets his way through Deepspace. Even as he is pulled in close for a trifecta of shredding at the precipice of their stage, his hair tosses relentlessly as he pulls a furious solo effortlessly out of his lightning quick hands.
Approaching the end of their set, Jean-Pierre Abboud is clearly enjoying himself. Halfway through their hit Starbreaker, he can't put his hand out in a performative pose without a plethora of hands reactively reaching for his, threatening to swallow him into the chaos they themselves have wrought on this town. The edges of the room aren't any kinder to those seeking refuge. A massive pit has opened in a space not meant to house such atrocities, and through their closing track, Speed Queen, a kinetic maelstrom has made crossing the room virtually impossible without being flogged for one's bravery.
As they wrap it up, I look to the back of the stage. Drenched in sweat, with all the signs of battle damage, is Nolan, who very well could've given Bill Ward a run for his money. All the telltale signs of triumph are plastered across their faces, and as they're met by thunderous applause, they almost can't escape their own victory, as fans swarm the stage to chat, bump fists, and shake hands with the future of the scene.
Taking his earlier advice, I decide to bug Matt Ries with my previous question. As the downstairs venue begins filling to the brim, even he has come to the balcony in excitement to watch Riot V give a long-awaited show that it's no secret — the Traveler guys are massive fans of, too.
"You've spoken positively in the past about your guitar teacher when you were younger, and mentioned you caught him at a few shows, and I'm sure he's seen y'all!
Do you care to name drop your guitar teacher?" I ask.
Matt nods, smiling warmly.
"His name is John Sinclair," he says. "He got me when I was either nine, or ten. He actually introduced me to Iron Maiden. That became everything to me — hearing ‘2 Minutes To Midnight’. He, and they, changed the game for me."
It's a feel-good answer, and I don't pester him further. Everything about the day has been satisfying, and fulfilling. I'm soaked in someone else's liquor, my head is pounding with a serotonin bomb that has kept me up on my feet all day. As me and my friend, and photographer lean into the rail, admiring the set, I recognize the community of exponential growth we're standing in.
We're fans, watching fans, all of whom are as pumped, and supportive as we've always wanted it to be. Two years on from a pandemic that has sucked the life, and soul out of a scene by closing venues by the dozens, and forcing artists to choose between stability and happiness, I look down on a grateful theater that is finally back below the lights, and the speakers. It's alive, and despite our previous months of isolation and depression, this bubble of musical therapy has revitalized us all.