There's an obscure Chinese proverb that roughly translates as "There is one thing greater than money and power: Enthusiasm." While some of the more cynical bastards in the world would dismiss that statement as some kind of hollow fortune-cookie philosophy, that lesson is something the Cleveland-based metal outfit Chimaira have taken to heart. With four records and a decade of service in the trenches behind them, the band-singer Mark Hunter, guitarists Rob Arnold and Matt DeVries, bassist Jim LaMarca, drummer Andols Herrick and keyboardist Chris Spicuzza-have created The Infection, their second release for Ferret Music and their most ambitious recording yet.
Sounds like typical record-company bio nonsense, right? Doesn't every band tell you that their latest release surpasses everything they've done up to this point? How many times have you heard the words "maturing" or "progressing" as a rationale to deliver a crap album? For their fifth album, Chimaira didn't have any brushes with death, rehab memories or dalliances in musical genres that have nothing to do with "the rock" as we know it. Sounds crazy, but the truth is that the band have come around full circle, returning to the headspace that brought them together in the first place.
"Every album we've ever made has a back-story that made the creation of that album a pain in the ass," says Mark Hunter about his band's evolution. "When we made our first album [2001's Pass Out Of Existence], we were thrown into the studio for two months with a huge budget, a big producer and no songs. We just rushed through it. When we got the record back, we thought, 'this is not what we signed up for.' When it came time to do the next record [2003's The Impossibility Of Reason], we felt like we had something to prove, so we were purposely writing songs that just put up a huge middle finger to everybody that steered us in the wrong direction. Andols had quit, and for the third album [2005's Chimaira], I hardly showed up to work on it. I'm usually working 12 hours a day in the studio; I went in, and did all my songs in four days and left. We got off of Roadrunner, got our old drummer back and signed to Ferret. Now people are questioning our stability and we're thinking we have to make the best record we've ever done because it could be the last one. The touring cycle for [our fourth album] Resurrection went well and we made tons of new fans.
"So it's time to write the next album," he continues. "We're happy! Everything's stable. So where's the drama? How are we going to make an album? So we went back and did what we did 10 years ago-we went back to jamming. We just had fun."
This might be the only time you see the words "fun and "infection" in the same sentence, but we're talking about a bunch of metal lifers from the not-quite Midwest doing what brings them joy. The title of the new album implies multiple meanings: Instead of writing down lyrics, Hunter freestyled the words live in the studio, finding inspiration in favorite movies and revisiting moments in his life where he was in a dark place emotionally, "doing things I would never do. My cure was getting it out of my system. I grew up listening to records that got that across. Alice In Chains would have lyrics that would hit you in the gut and make you think, 'I feel just like that.' [Late AIC frontman] Layne Staley might have been singing about heroin, but I could relate that to something else in my life." Hunter says the second meaning is the amount of "infectious riffs that'll get stuck in your head," while the third focuses on the disc title. The band recently launched spread-the-infection.com as a site where fans can download various icons, avatars and stencils of the cover art as a way of "spreading the infection" prior to the disc's April 21st release.
Team Chimaira's fifth release isn't for the faint of heart-or the casual heavy music fan. Produced by longtime producer Ben Schigel and mixed by the mighty Zeuss (Hatebreed, Shadows Fall), every downstroke feels like a bludgeon to the face, every snare hit a pistol shot to the chest. Topped off with Spicuzza's dark electronics and Hunter's this-means-war growl, The Infection clearly finds the band at the top of their powers. Hunter meets Herrick beat-for-beat on "Frozen In Time" for maximum in-tandem propulsion. "Coming Alive" is the aural equivalent of cracking open a crypt to find some real horror inside gritty processed guitars and Hunter's roofing nails-n-molasses growl. The chiming guitar figure and textured keyboards in the introduction to "Secrets Of The Dead" create a feeling of dread while maintaining intensity. Charging riffs and noise-saturated harmonics conjure a steel-cage match between power-masters Pantera and doom-merchants Godflesh on "The Disappearing Sun." In addition to being Hunter's favorite track on the album, "Impending Doom" proves that you can effectively convey menace with both a whisper and a scream. "On Broken Glass" is the soundtrack for a circle pit in a burning ballroom, with Andols' precision time-keeping sounding more like an assault rifle than an actual drum kit. The shapeshifting "Destroy And Dominate" is downright punishing, with cinematic sonic discovery and time changes as tight as a mosquito's ass. (Hunter describes the track as "being dragged through the mud with a 700-pound dude on top of you.") The near 15-minute closing instrumental, "The Heart Of It All" offers prog-rock musicianship but not at the expense of an emotional core. ("Technical skill is good," reminds Hunter. "but I don't want to 'count' my music-I want to feel it.")
Given the amount of sonic territory The Infection covers, the band's power and vision remain consistent. While the individual members will pledge allegiance to disparate-sounding bands ranging from Carcass, Slayer and Nine Inch Nails, the commonality they share is 100-percent Chimaira, a chemistry not lost on Hunter. That's why when a waitress at a truck stop asks him what kind of music he plays, the singer says "metal" like it's a badge of honor. "I think you can alienate people if you're linked to a particular genre," Hunter says. "We're not in the death-metal scene, we're not in the hardcore scene. I just tell people we're metal, because that gives us carte blanche to do what we want. I'm glad we're not some hip, scene-centered band, because we can make the decisions we want to make and not worry about backlash. Our fans have always come along for the ride with us, and we feel really blessed in that regard."
If Chimaira didn't hold back anything for the making of The Infection, it's obvious they sure as hell aren't going to phone it in onstage. Don't invite the members to any weddings, birthday parties or new bar openings this year: The band's 2009 is slammed with a relentless touring campaign beginning with a slot supporting Disturbed this spring, followed by trips to Japan, Australia and New Zealand. In addition, the band will visit Russia for the first time, and are also looking forward to appearing at the Desert Rock Festival in Dubai. With a decade of service to the metal masses behind them, Chimaira are embracing their future with an unwavering enthusiasm. Consider the number of bands who lose the plot entirely by making oh-so-grand "art statements" or stay together to rehash pale imitations of their glory days simply because they can't do anything else. As a music fan, Hunter is well aware of the traps his heroes have fallen into, and instead of slapping the backs of his bandmates in a self-congratulatory mode, Hunter gives the credit to the people who encourage him: the fans.
"You can't make a fly-by-night record anymore," the singer warns. "As a musician you need to work your ass off; otherwise, your fans will see right through it. I am proud to say that as I speak, there is no bullshit on The Infection. It's as honest as we've ever been."
Introducing The Infection: Ten doses of intensity and integrity to cleanse you of all the festering mediocrity happening in music today. Roll up your sleeves, because this is going to leave a mark.