Diving deep into the teachings of the latest Australian thrasher.
Words by K-Man (@kmanriffs):
WARTOOTH make me smile. Shit eating grin style. I’ve watched them live on many occasions and I’ve participated in their energy. They’re a very physical band. They embody all that is fun about the style. They get the spirit of Thrash and they get the community of Heavy Metal fans. This was all before the release of their debut album, Programmed Dichotomy, back in April 2020. Since then, things have only doubled down in all aspects of what they do.
The album has been received with positive acclaim by Thrash fans the world over and to my ears, it sits as one of the finest pieces of Thrash Metal to come from these shores. I’m talking MORTAL SIN status, here. I wanted to ensure my belief was engrained just a little stronger before 2020 ended. So, I reached out to the dynamic duo responsible, for a chat – guitarist/vocalist: Ando and his brother, drummer: Wally. What follows is a very lengthy conversation that touches all bases of what they do as a band, the album itself and the genuinely open people that they are. This will take a while….I hope you enjoy our dive into The Red & The Blue:
Welcome lads, great to finally chat with you today! Ready to answer some questions for the readers at Heaviest of Art?
Wartooth: Thanks for the opportunity, KMan! We really love what you and Heaviest of Art are doing for the scene and for local metal!
So it’s been 7 months or so since the release of your debut full length, ‘Programmed Dichotomy’ – I want to dive into the details of it shortly – but as a starter, can you give us your thoughts on how you felt about the finished product as the release date loomed back in April? I mean, since your inception back in 2016, the dream to release a debut album had been reached…a proud moment for you I’m sure?
Wartooth: Absolutely! The feeling was overwhelming: we finally have - in our hands – our very first record! WE DID IT! It was such an amazing and rewarding feeling to listen to the final tracks back in November and begin preparing for release day! We had poured a lot of time, effort and ourselves into the album, both musically, and on the business front, and it was so fulfilling to literally have something in our hands which is a symbol of all of that hard work to us, but also something that captures our sound, our messages and who we are as people so perfectly!
And since its release, the response has been overwhelmingly positive, lads? I know with the work I’ve personally done with it on social media, there’s been tremendous feedback about the strength of the album. Are you surprised by this at all?
Wartooth: We set out to release an album we would be proud of, and one that we think can stand up to our idols and influences. We achieved that in our minds, so before it was released we were already fulfilled. In saying that, the response has been killer! We’ve made so many new passionate fans – not just casual listeners – and our current and previous Warheads have all only had amazing things to say about it!! It's quite surprising to see that people are comparing us to iconic bands like Nuclear Assault and Destruction, though! Social media has been very supportive and encouraging; it's great to know so many folks want to see us rise and become better!
Let’s chat about the step up from 2016’s EP to the debut. What a step up! Every time I’ve seen you guys play since then, I’ve seen the growth, I’ve seen the maturity. But, I must admit I was not expecting such development to be captured on your debut. Yeah, you had 4 years of fine-tuning things, improving as musicians, songwriting props and sorting your line up but ‘PD’ sounds fucking amazing. Care to comment on that aspect of your development since the EP?
Wartooth: Well when it came to 'Programmed Dichotomy', we firmly believed in setting only the best in stone. It was not just about capturing a moment in time, but releasing something in the present day that can stand on its own two feet against any other release in 2020 and years to come.
The EP, on the other hand, was recorded in a bedroom, without click tracks, without professional studio production, and was aimed to capture the band’s early stages as a snapshot; almost a demo if you will. Since then, not only has our song writing and musicianship improved, but more importantly, and more noticeably, we’ve committed to this more, and got the right people involved in the production!
Honestly, we owe so much of the sound of this album to Chris Themelco (Monolith Studios) and to Woody (Nathan Woodrow, Tall Poppy; who recorded the drums in his state of the art facility). The step up is as much due to these blokes as our own growth.
Right on, it’s been great watch! Let’s dive into the album specifics. First of all, Wartooth are a Thrash band and this is a Thrash Metal album. But, it’s not a knockoff product. Any self-respecting Thrash fan can hear the classic 80s influences but it’s not stuck in the era. There’s a modern element to it – courtesy of a spectacular production (which I want to touch on next) – which gives the album a certain energy and uniqueness to the style. Wartooth are not just a case of being ‘Exodus/Overkill Version 4’ if you know what I mean. Were you conscious of getting this right when putting 'PD' together?
Wartooth: Well I’m honestly glad to hear you say that! We love the old school thrash, but we didn’t want to make a tribute album. We never really considered ourselves to try to emulate a particular 80s thrash band. We really just pulled the best bits from all of our musical influences, both metal and non metal genres, and really wanted to make something that was authentic and true to ourselves.
In saying that, for the period of 2012 through to 2018, when we were writing 'Programmed Dichotomy', thrash was definitely the biggest part of our musical lives. We wanted to bring the old school genre into the 21st Century, and sing about modern topics and issues, with new riffs, new production and new energy! We never really analyzed it thinking we were sounding too old school or not new enough or anything – we just made music that we wanted to make, and it came out the way it came out!
Since that time some other bands and types of music have started to come into play but we both still love playing thrash metal and it's still the biggest influence on us musically.
And that production! Christ, if there was anything that floored me most about 'PD' it is the sound that you have achieved. Boys, it is world class. People can surely hear that! Can you tell us about how this unfolded with the work you did at home and then in Melbourne with Chris Themelco?
Wartooth: I said before that we weren’t really aiming for anything with this album, but I must make one exception: The only thing we aimed for was the production level needed to be on par with Testament’s Dark Roots of Earth, Kreator’s Phantom Antichrist, and In Malice’s Wake‘s Light Upon the Wicked (which actually Chris Themelco recorded and mixed and was a really big reason for choosing to work with him). It was really a case of setting out to get what we want, and then make it fit into a budget as best we can, rather than the other way around. We were not afraid to give each song their greatest opportunity to shine and we believe the production of the recording has a lot to do with that. With so much digital music going around these days on Spotify, YouTube and other places, we didn’t want Wartooth coming on after Testament and sounding like it was recorded on a shoestring budget.
We recorded all the guitars at home, direct input to the software, so we had complete control over the notes, riffs, and getting it as tight as we possibly could BEFORE we ran it thru distorted amps- which also allowed us essentially unlimited time to get it right, rather than paying an arm and a leg to be in the studio for take after take after take.
Drums were incredibly important to get right, and Nathan Woodrow from Tall Poppy was the man for this! He has some amazing technology there, and his knowledge on recording is world class. He had this amazing thing called a DRUMBRELLA, which is essentially a satellite dish upturned, filled with acoustic treatment, and hanging over the drumkit to capture every little tone that bounced around! It's the only one in the southern hemisphere!
The rest was done in the studio with Chris – the only person we wanted to have his hands on this album – and we entrusted him with a lot of the sound in terms of amp tones, mixing, and effects – obviously with our nods of approval!
Speaking of the drum production Wally, your drum sound is amazing – again, Nathan must have had a lot to do with this – but were you after anything specific when laying down your tracks? Who are your influences – I’m hearing the legends like Benante/Lombardo and Hoglan in your work? Correct me if I’m wrong…
Wally: Yes I was lucky. I did my tracking up here in Brisbane at Tall Poppy Studios, with Woody. I planned for this since the release of ‘Thrash Attack’, and I said to myself, “I may as well just buy the best drum kit I can because I didn’t want my tools to be the limiting factor of my music." I really set out to buy the best kit I could find, which is a Tama Starclassic made in Japan. I also invested in a lot of good cymbals and the right drum skins. Sonically, I didn’t really have my heart set in any one direction but as soon as we started warming up on day 1 of tracking, I could tell it was going to sound massive. Thanks to the help of the drum tech and Woody, the 3 of us were able to carve out a fantastic sound that still sounds like I am playing the kit but also allowed for technology to help us to achieve so much more than just a drum kit in a room.
In terms of influences, it is safe to say that Hoglan is number 1, followed by Lombardo. I am absolutely fascinated by the great work they do and I work to emulate their style and apply it to the modern day genre we play in. There are also plenty of younger guys in their 30s and 40s who do a lot on Facebook and YouTube who are really pushing the limits of metal drumming and it is really exciting to try to replicate what they do and apply it to our songs, which for me really helps drive creativity. In terms of modern drummers, Pete Webber of Havok and Chris Adler from Lamb of God are probably another 2 who I really enjoy listening to and trying to replicate.
Oh yes, Adler has a great reputation! On to you Ando, let’s chat vocals. Where did this voice of yours come from? You have developed a killer style with great conviction and energy in your delivery – the Schmier comparisons get thrown around a lot with your high pitched screams – but wow, Chris has also allowed your vocals to really shine in the mix. Care to comment on your performance? Who are your vocal inspirations?
Ando: I love the Schmier comparisons, though I can't really say I listen to a lot of Destruction, nor am I influenced by him. Someone nailed it on a review of our EP when they said I am a combination of Sebastian Bach and Tom Araya! Haha. I have a soft spot for glam and hard rock (don’t crucify me for that), as well as obviously loving thrash and a whole bunch of other music, and I suppose it has all worked its way into my voice over time. I'm not trained at singing at all – it's just pure passion, emotion, and raw energy in my performance that gets it out – which is why it's probably not all ‘in key’, but that’s thrash metal right?!
Some of my vocal idols include: Sebastian Bach (Skid Row), Bobby Blitz (Overkill), John Connelly (Nuclear Assault), David Lee Roth (Van Halen), ‘Cowboys from Hell’-era Phil Anselmo, Zetro (Exodus), Dee Snider (Twisted Sister) and Matt Barlow (Iced Earth). I also love singing along to country music like Garth Brooks and Lynyrd Skynyrd, as well as Meatloaf, Foreigner, Boston, and a whole host of other stuff, so it's all in there somewhere.
Fair selection of legends listed there, man! Foreigner’s Lou Gramm is a great call by you! On to the theme and lyrical concept around ‘PD’. Congratulations on the social commentary you have made with album, lads. Thrash has always been about questioning the system and rebelling against ingrained indoctrination. From the album title, the artwork, the song titles to the lyrics, your work here is another example of Thrash delivering a message – essentially around the divisions that exist in society and how ‘we’ are conditioned from birth into this type of thinking and behaviour. I assume this was not an overnight decision to write about such an issue – this is something you care about?
Wartooth: It’s definitely something we care about. For those that are not aware, we actually run a monthly video podcast / live stream on Facebook and YouTube where we chat about the messages behind our songs, and delve deeper into some social issues and personal struggles we have existing in the 21st century world. We are not commenting on society per say, but just expressing our own experiences, frustrations, and issues with the world around us.
Some of the songs on the album have been in our repertoire since the garage days of Wartooth, back in 2013 where we were jamming 'Wired to Die' and 'Kingdom of Fear'. As you have noted, the point of thrash is to have something important to say and help people to open their eyes to the traps that so many of us fall into in our society. At no stage are we getting up here directly attacking or blaming others for the world we live in. Generally speaking, we don’t really consider offending people or being controversial with our music, we just write what we feel.
Individually, we have been on journeys of self discovery which have taught us to take responsibility for the world we live in and not be a victim of the life we live. This means making conscious decisions to be better and to help other people be better too! We are all individuals with unique opportunities every day to go out and make a contribution to the world. Unfortunately, a lot of people just subscribe to their upbringing, or society’s pressures and cling to a group identity where they don’t have to think for themselves or take responsibility for their actions. We’ve been there before, but have since grown and realized the errors of living that way.
We believe in living our own lives and thinking for ourselves. And we believe that everyone has the freedom to do the same, but often lack the confidence, awareness, or the tools to do so. Hence, once again the 'Raw Truth' discussions, where we encourage people to tread their own warpath, share their lessons and trials, and support one another on our individual journeys through life. We need not all be heading in the same direction to help each other along and learn from and support one another.
Essentially you are also asking people to stop following the crowd, stop being that cowardly sheep – find your own voice, path, beliefs and self-respect. Be a good person. Stop trying to live up to a socially constructed ideal that’s not even an actual reality. Is this your stance?
Wartooth: It’s not that one path is ‘cowardly’ or even wrong. As you would be aware, growing up in Western culture usually causes us to grow up following the rules and expectations of our parents and what they believe is best for us. Our parents have such a massive impact on our beliefs, ideals, confidence and our self respect. We can’t sit here and say that someone is wrong for following the guidance of their parents because that is all they know; however, we may expect this person to end up in certain groups within society because it is what they have been brought up to believe in and care about.
The difficulty, I wouldn’t even say the problem, lies within the structure of our society because we have so much freedom to do, believe and act on a very broad spectrum which is obviously going to end up with people being in a varying degree of groups and classes. The point is that it is ok for all of us to be in different groups and still get along. I have no reason to believe that my group that believes in God or a particular political party is better than your group because you are on the other side. My freedoms allowed me to choose to be in my group, and so your freedoms allow you to choose to be in your group. At the end of the day, we are all on this planet together and if we weren’t all so exclusive, hateful and judgemental towards those who are different from us, we would probably live much happier and more peaceful lives because we are ok with others being different.
The point of the album art essentially is that the person on the other side who looks so different to you, is the same creature simply doing what they think is best for them, just like you are doing for yourself.
Further to this, it’s not something that stops with music and lyrics on the album - Your regular social media work via your Sunday Facebook ‘Raw Truth’ sessions allows you to promote this message and involve fans in the discussion also. It’s the discussions around questioning social media ills, positive affirmations and looking after mental health that is the solution to the societal divisions that you write about, yeah? I applaud your work here, lads. Care to comment on these sessions? I don’t see ANY other bands being so accessible this way.
Wartooth: Thanks, KMan! We’re really glad that you’ve seen some benefits from these chats, as have many of our Warheads and Warriors!
We’re doing it in part to spread the message of our music in another format, to get opinions and open the floor for discussion – We believe open discussion is CRITICAL to living life and learning from it – for without discussion, we tend to just react emotionally to things and pick sides for or against issues. Discussion is the ultimate conflict resolver, and the ultimate learning and teaching experience – and it is something we believe is heavily lost in the social media world of today. So we’re bringing it back – ON SOCIAL MEDIA of all places! That’s using the tool against itself if I ever saw it, haha.
We truly believe that the modern musician has the greatest weapons of all time to talk about their message and really connect with their fans, on a personal level. At the end of the day, we want to connect with people who are up for discussion on some of these topics. The more opportunities have for people to join in and contribute to each others’ lives, the stronger everyone will be.
Ando: As for the mental health and personal development aspects, I have struggled with mental health a lot over the past few years, and I’ve found personal development really beneficial in battling and maintaining my sense of self, my happiness, and emotional stability.
Wally: I’ve gone into personal development from a different standpoint – one of achieving my ultimate goals and living life to the max – and I think we balance these two perspectives (the dichotomy? haha) quite well in the 'Raw Truth'.
Wartooth: Further, we pour a lot of passion into writing music and lyrics about personal issues or greater societal struggles, and it's really going to waste if the only comments your fans have to say is ‘that’s such a sick riff!’. We really enjoy having the opportunity to tell people directly, “this is what this song means and it came from this part of our lives, etc.” ...And it seems that our Warheads really want to hear about it too, and have their own say!
It just comes back to the mission of Wartooth, which is to actually contribute something to the world, learn from our experiences and share the highs and lows with others on similar paths through music and open forum discussion.
And obviously due to fucking Covid, your ability to promote the album in the LIVE setting was totally crushed just before the release of 'PD'. The use of your FB sessions and video track promotion since then has clearly been part of the ‘contingency’ plan? So many albums have been released this year, but the ability to stay relevant has been extremely difficult. It’s been a smart move by you to keep your presence visible, at least via social media?
Wartooth: Social media has been all we’ve had this year. COVID hit Australia THE WEEK OF RELEASE!!! We had planned a launch party gig and were gearing up for a tour to promote the album, and we had to cancel it all a week before the release date ☹ but what can you do when everything is closed and you can’t leave your state with the fear of not being able to get back in!?
So in true Wartooth form, we adapted, improvised, and overcame as best we could – by doubling down on social media, releasing a total of 6 music videos to date, and playing some live stream acoustic shows to keep people entertained, and promote our music as best we could. With the help of social media, we have been able to reach people all across the globe, and our army of Warheads has grown immensely! We’ve managed to distribute CDs to just about every continent, and the streams have been flying in from everywhere, which just shows that there are loads of thrash metal fans on social media hungry for a taste of the Tooth! Not to mention, we’ve got our email list where we regularly chat to our close fans and see how everyone is doing!
As for the videos, this wasn't a contingency plan… It was THE plan from day 1. We believed so strongly in every song on the album that we felt rude not to give each one their own opportunity to shine in their individual glory. While this is one hell of a big effort, every song connects with new fans in a different way that the previous song did and it allows us to continually promote the album to attract new fans AND keep giving back to those ones who have been so loyal to us over the years!
I’ll get to those video’s very soon, but before that let’s chat about the artwork – a Daniel Liang piece. Really captures the whole theme of your album – something you explain at length inside the Digi CD cover. The Red and the Blue. The Two sides. The Dichotomy. Did you have the artwork ready to go or did you give Daniel something to work with?
Wartooth: Man, that is a great question! I remember driving home from our parents' place one night and we were brainstorming ideas for the title and concept of the album. We had an idea in our head, we love sci-fi art (as noted on the 'Virus' EP as well), and we basically had the album title, overall concept and an idea of what it might look like: The two babies (fetus), one born (read: manufactured) into a red camp, one born into blue and forever shall they be opposed. Obviously a social commentary on the world we are in, as touched on before.
We found Daniel through Instagram and reached out to him with our ideas (another benefit of social media). It was one of those things where we had the idea, but just had to find the right person with the right style to make our vision a reality. He has definitely delivered, as I’m sure you can agree!
Yep, indeed! I represent that artwork weekly on that awesome T-shirt I scored! Now, moving on to the video side of your work. ‘Venomhead’ came first, I think. A collection of live footage – think I even saw myself in some Crowbar venue video parts – and you Ando, in your Noiseworks T-shirt. Always loved that! Great vid that captures your live energy?
Ando: Ha! Yeah as I mentioned before, we’re not just thrashers that listen to Thrash. We are musicians and music fans of all sorts. Plus, 80s Aussie Pub Rock is dope and I won't let anyone argue with me about that. That video was actually a follow up to our lyric video for the same song, and the footage was all captured on our Venomhead tour end of 2019, gearing up for the album release. We always go hard on stage – as you know – and we give off the energy of our music every time. We can't help it – it's not an act – it just flows from our veins, haha.
Wally: Yeah, the videos are great aren’t they! We certainly did try to film as much as we can when we were touring the Venomhead Single in November 2019 because we knew we would need it sooner or later. When it came to promoting the album, we dug through the archives and we were able to really build a video that captures the live energy of a Wartooth show but is backed with the well produced recording of the music. Thanks to my partner, Sharna, for whipping that video together. She has done a bit of our video work to date and keeps getting better each time!
Then we get the video for the Skid Row cover of 'Slave to The Grind'. Just killer. Guitar solos on top of a removalist van and office desks, etc. Great track pick also in the fact that its ‘society conformist’ theme drops neatly into the album playlist? Looks like you enjoyed putting this one together?
Wartooth: Mate, the song choice was totally slotted into the album because of its themes, but also because Ando’s a huge Skid Row fan, and the original song is actually really kinda thrashy without being Thrash metal. Killer energy and great and topical lyrics!
It was a really fun day filming it too! Behind the scenes, there are actually a lot of people whose cooperation go into making each of our videos, including partners, family members, employers, and mates who really help us to fulfill our dreams of making these awesome video clips. We really appreciate the help we have from all of those people and we enjoy being able to act independently and make the video we want to make.
Fun fact: The office space is Wally’s actual day job office, and Ando is actually a removalist by day – so it's all LEGIT!! Haha. It was so much fun to show off our real lives and to make a fun video together that captures the fun energy of Wartooth, as well as our serious message.
Loved it, lads! So well done! Then you choose to showcase Wally for a drum play through of ‘Kingdom of Fear’. Again, an inspired choice and really allows people to see the work/energy that Wally puts into his playing. Where was this shot and how many takes did you need to nail it?
Wally: We shot that in a stormwater culvert about 5 mins from my house in Tarragindi, QLD. During the middle of the coronavirus lockdown, here we were hauling a drumkit through the park setting up to make one hell of a racket on a Sunday morning! Probably one of the most intricate songs drumwise on the album, we knew by showcasing this, as you have said, would capture the energy and the creative nature that we put into our individual instruments which make up the tracks for each song.
Filming for the whole video took a couple of hours and we had a lot of spectators in the park who would clap and cheer at the end of each take. Many of them encouraged what we were doing as we were out ‘getting after it’ during the pandemic when so many others were sitting at home waiting for opportunities to slap them in the face.
And finally, we get the latest and brilliant piece of work – the fan filled video for ‘Wired to Die’. Talk about celebrating your fans and making them feel so included. Totally pissed that I missed my opportunity to get my ugly mug in the mix, but this is such a great vid – tirelessly edited to say the least – and really captures the fun of Wartooth. How’s the feedback been around the video?
Wartooth: As we mentioned earlier about the mailing list and online community of Warheads – through COVID lockdowns and isolation, we decided it would be a bunch of fun (and great for all of our sanity) to collaborate on a music video project for 'Wired to Die'. The song is about social media, so it made sense there, and we essentially got Warheads everywhere to submit a cover of our song and we made it into a social media style music video!! So much fun to put together, and kind of takes the piss of social media at the same time as it celebrates our online community and using the tools as a positive force! That’s the message of the song, PLUS it helped a few folks have something social and productive to be a part of through an otherwise lonely and depressing COVID time – especially those in Victoria.