Chicago twin-guitar madmen Bible of the Devil and I first crossed paths in Austin, TX, during the 2004 South by Southwest festival. I was a drunken lad stumbling my way through the back alleys of the hip part of town, and they were about to make me understand the appeal of Iron Maiden with acrobatic fretwork the likes of which I’d never seen before and have encountered precious few times (and mostly at subsequent BotD shows) since.
After tracing a path through albums like 2003′s Tight Empire and 2005′s Brutality, Majesty, Eternity, it became clear that although they destroyed on stage, their albums never quite captured the same energy. The Diabolic Procession, which followed a year after Brutality, was no different. The songwriting, however, never ceased to grow, and with their latest, Freedom Metal, the four-piece blaze their way through riff after gorgeous riff topped with ballsy classic rock vocals and the same down and dirty rhythms that had heads banging in the first place, all while coming the closest yet to that back bar, max volume vitality.
They’re beyond stoner rock, beyond classic rock, and completely free. After the jump, guitarist/vocalist Mark Hoffmann explains just what the hell that means.
You start Freedom Metal with “Hijack the Night” and “Night Oath.” Other than pure balls, what does it take to have the word ?night? in the first two song titles of your record?
Mark Hoffmann: (Laughs) Actually, it?s kind of an inside joke — one we share with the guys from Slough Feg. We’ve done short tours with them in the past and we always joke about which band can come up with more songs about the night. “Oh yeah, well, our first two on the record are about the night” (laughs).
The production is crisp, the recording clean, and the record feels short at 44 minutes. How important is capturing a live energy in the studio?
The last couple records we’ve done with Sanford Parker, and I definitely think his technique is a lot more technical and maybe a little drier than when we worked with Mike Lust on Tight Empire and Brutality, Majesty, Eternity. The takes were a little more live in the studio, primarily because we were dealing with reel-to-reel instead of ProTools. In recording, the live feel suffers a lot of times no matter what, and it?s our goal to maybe do a live record at some point to translate the live show better.
Feeling that way, what made you go back to Sanford again?
I think the overall result with Sanford is always great. I love his mixing techniques and he’s just a great dude to work with, totally understands the band and we?re into a lot of the same things, so, given that, he?s probably our first choice always to work with.
In terms of how the studio and the stage play into each other, do you think of playing live as a way to hone the songs or is the studio the place you put the songs down so you go out and have people know them? What?s the relationship for you?
I think of a band like Thin Lizzy. When I hear their records, like Bad Reputation or something like that, and you listen to a Thin Lizzy live record, and the songs are quite different live. For us, naturally things get sped up, there’s more energy, that type of thing. But yeah, I guess the whole goal in getting albums out there is to get the songs in peoples’ heads so when we play them live, they recognize them.
Listening to “Ol’ Girl,” one gets the sense that you guys are often thinking of Thin Lizzy.
(Laughs) Yeah. That?s definitely a major influence on all of us, for sure.
You guys have always struck me as a band that?s very active. Not only musically, fast, energetic songs, but every so often you keep hearing, “oh, Bible of the Devil’s going on tour,” you’ve been prolific in the near-decade you’ve been a band. What’s the motivation to keep going?
I feel we’re still very much fans of heavy music and rock ‘n’ roll, and I don’t think we harbor any illusions that we’re gonna be international superstars from this, but I think of this kind of music in the folk tradition, where we have this network of bands who all know each other around the country, and even overseas since we’ve been over there. Touring and recording is just continuance of a tradition and as long as you still love doing it, why not? For us, it’s definitely a hobby, but one that occupies a lot of our lives and causes us to make adjustments to our jobs and lives in general.
Is it still a learning process for you, in the studio and on tour?
Yeah, very much. We always feel like we could always get tighter and learn new things and maybe write songs in a different way, so in that way it still continues to be a challenge.
Were there any specific changes you wanted to bring to Freedom Metal?
I think after the last record ? we approached it conceptually and tried to tie the songs all together. This one, we wrote all over the place and didn?t really go in with a set idea. All we really knew we wanted was a classic rock record, and the songs don?t necessarily all tie together, but when you throw them together in the right sequence, it sounds like an album.
In terms of the album title, I know there was a quote from Hobbes in the press release, but ?freedom? has taken on so many connotations in the last decade. What does freedom mean to you in terms of the music?
The name came about because I was talking to someone who said they?d never heard the band and they?d never heard the band or anything and they were asking me to describe what kind of music it is and that?s always a tough question, because I never like saying, ?oh, metal,? or ?rock and roll.? So I said it?s metal, but very much in the classic rock and punk rock and stuff like that. It?s not like black metal, or death metal, it?s freedom metal. Not only did I like that Hobbes quote, because it puts it outside of the American jingo idea of freedom, but I think Freedom Metal implies that along all the delineations and subcategories of metal, maybe this is our style. It?s freedom metal.
Classic rock vs. classic metal: Thin Lizzy we already mentioned, Sabbath, Zeppelin, stuff like that. Is there a line for you guys with what you?ll bring into the band? I don?t mean a year, like you?ll sit there and say, ??75 and before only!? but will you draw a line?
Not particularly, but definitely our goal from the beginning, when we got the solid lineup together and started putting together cohesive albums, we just wanted to make stuff catchy. As long as the influence fits within what our influences are, if it?s catchy, then that?s the major thing. We like hooks and we don?t just want some pile of white noise. We want people to remember it. Any of those bands you mentioned are fair game (laughs).
It?s freedom metal, but it?s still traditional, structurally.
We?re definitely not free-jazz or something (laughs). We?re still very verse-chorus-verse, but with our own twist on that.
How do you feel the process of writing and bringing in those influences has been refined over the years? ?Heat Feeler? is an obvious point of difference, being acoustic-based.
Nowadays, Nate Perry, the other guitar player, and I pretty much split songwriting duties, whereas in the beginning it was more me with a riff I?d done with Greg [Spalding, drums] and hashed out a basic guitar part and drums and Nate would add his own thing. Now we bring in our own ideas, and ?Heat Feeler? was definitely an idea of his. We?d never really done a Wishbone Ash-style feel to a song and that?s kind of what we were shooting for.
You guys recently did the Beyond Bombed tour. How was that?
We usually assume that a tour is going to be 50 percent awesome and 50 percent shitty. We have our spots we know are gonna be good, and there?s other spots you?re gonna hit on a Monday or Tuesday night and there?s probably not going to be a lot of people there and maybe the local band doesn?t bring anybody. When there were crowds, the shows were really good, and the off-nights, they were dead. Pretty much like every other tour.
Along those same lines, how important then is the band members to survival on the road? 15 days out, it?s not like it?s three months, but you?re still in tight quarters and you?re all together there.
We all get along pretty well, I would say. When we?re back home, we don?t hang out every day and all live together or anything, but we do hang out and we?re all friends, genuinely, outside the band. There?s never really any tension on the road. We seem to get along real well, and even when things suck, we have an ability to look past that and have a laugh about it. That?s why we?ve been able to keep the band together this long.
That?s fortunate. If you?re working on a 50/50 suck-to-awesome ratio, you probably want to come armed with a sense of humor.
(Laughs) Absolutely, yeah. That?s where a lot of our inside jokes that nobody gets come from.Chicago, Kickass Soloing