We’re almost there. Reviews have been coming in for Clamfight‘s I Versus the Glacier and all of the ones I’ve seen have been spectacular. As a fan of the band it makes me really excited to see good things happening for them and I hope the momentum continues right into the proper release of the album on The Maple Forum on Jan. 22, just 12 days from today.
As I promised, the preorders are ready to go out today. You can see in the stacks above — separated by international and domestic shipping destinations — that the discs and stickers are packed up and headed to the post office. I have to run out of work early today, so it might be in the morning they actually get mailed, but sooner rather than later, in any case. Of course, if you still want to preorder a copy, you can do so at The Maple Forum store. Is it still a preorder if it ships right away? Shh. I won’t tell if you don’t.
Because they’re awesome people and because they’ve made an awesome album that, if I haven’t yet mentioned it, I’m ultra-excited to finally get out to the public after over a year of discussing it, drummer/vocalist Andy Martin and lead guitarist Sean McKee have sent in a new track-by-track examination of I Versus the Glacier, complete with notations on the references they’re making, points of inspiration and stories about recording. It is an excellent read front to back.
To celebrate the release of the album, Clamfight have booked a couple gigs for next weekend that will take them north, and next month, they’ll also be taking part in the Eye of the Stoned Goat II festival alongside the likes of Pale Divine, Iron Man, Wasted Theory and a slew of others. I’ve included flyers for all the gigs below (click any to enlarge), and hope you get to check them out live in the near future.
Clamfight are Andy Martin and Sean McKee, guitarist Joel Harris and bassist Louis Koble. I Versus the Glacier was recorded by Steve Poponi at Gradwell House Recording and also features Erik Caplan of Wizard Eye on guitar and theremin.
1. The Eagle
Sean: This song is a natural opener, and it only makes sense that it’s our oldest song on the album. Most of it was done even before we recorded Volume I but we had some parts to work out, namely the chorus. I think the main riff was so simple, we were trying to come up with something more complex for the chorus. We tried it a few ways but nothing sounded natural. A lot of my ideas come to me when I’m nowhere near a guitar. I remember sitting at work thinking about this song, just running riffs through my head. I thought about taking it back a step to something simpler, mainly so I could remember it when I got home, and I thought it would sound bigger with those open E and D chords ringing. It worked, and I think it really creates a natural chorus, or as much of a chorus as we’re going to have.
Andy: One thing I do remember about the writing of “The Eagle” is that we essentially took what would have been the half-time crushing end riff and made it the whole song. This ended up being a guiding principle behind most of the songs on I Versus the Glacier. At one point early on, we essentially had two halves of two different records written, a handful of direct bruisers like “Eagle” and a few songs that fit more into the melodic “rock” side of the stoner thing we do. I remember sitting in Sean’s basement with two competing lists of songs written down and trying to find a way for them to make sense together. Once we realized they were never going to make a cohesive record, we had to make the call: either go direct and heavy or fuzzy and melodic. Since we have far too much fun being cavemen and trying to smash our equipment it was a no-brainer, and the rock songs were consigned to Riff Jail, probably for all eternity.
2. Sand Riders
Andy: Ahhhhh sweet Dune, is there anything more metal than songs about Dune? I’m sure Dune needs no introduction to the Obelisk crowd, so I’ll stick to the song. I’m a little fuzzy on the writing of this one but I feel like it came together pretty quickly. For me this song is all about two things: Sean‘s solo in the beginning which I love because it’s a very bluesy/’70s rock solo that he manages to work into a pretty driving metal tune and the end breakdown. It’s a stick/floor tom destroyer and I think [engineer] Steve Poponi‘s best work on this entire record… the end of this song kills live and Steve managed to capture that same intensity as well.
Sean: I can remember writing the main riff and instantly knowing we had a bruiser. The song came together very naturally, and we felt after the uptempo first half we had to pull it back but maintain the heaviness. The second half is a blast to play live and really crushes with Andy‘s thumping bass pedal. We can’t resist a good reprise.
3. The Shadowline
Sean: Lyric-wise, “The Shadowline” is one of Andy‘s most personal songs on the album. It’s also a song that went through a lot of changes from the time we first wrote the main riff. The opening phrase was always the same, however, we used to play the main riff with fast palm-muted downstrokes. We liked it at first, but it just started to lose its luster after a while and we felt like it needed to be nastier. I remember one day at work, after a practice session in which Andy and I hammered on the song for two hours with little progress, we were trading texts with ideas of how to play it. He said he wanted to try laying back on the drums while I sped up the riff, kind of like Led Zeppelin‘s “Black Dog.” I think I said it’s already fast as shit, how do you want me to speed it up? His reply was “gallup!” I thought he was crazy, but I ran over to Guitar Center at lunch and worked out the riff, and I loved it. Because of this exchange, I now have a guitar and small practice amp in my office so I can work stuff out immediately if I get an idea in my head.
4. I Versus the Glacier
Andy: In 1845, Sir John Franklin and 128 men set out for the Northwest Passage, none of them ever returned. I don’t set out with the idea that every Clamfight record needs a song about a shipwreck and cannibalism (see Vol. 1‘s “Ghosts I Have Known”) but it keeps shaking out that way. The Franklin expedition fascinates me for more than just the tabloid aspects of what happened to the crew, as a student of history I feel like it’s noteworthy because it’s one of those “nothing ever changes” moments that brings me a little comfort every time I fear our leaders are going to steer us into the ditch. A lot of the current work on the Franklin expedition’s fate points the finger at Franklin‘s men being underequipped and the British government’s hiring of the cheapest and quickest cannery to provision the expedition (some of the bodies of the dead have tested positive for botulism), playing a role in dooming these men, and governments taking the cheap way out at the expense of human life is something that resonates to this day.
Musically it’s a driving riff and a lot of fun live — the end doom-down may be responsible for spilling more of my blood than any part of any Clamfight song ever… and though we’ve yet to make it happen live (our fault not his) Erik Caplan from Wizard Eye swoops in to deliver some really chilling theremin work. Erik came by the studio and pulled this off in one take. He asked about the mood of the song and I said something vague along the lines of, “Give me something arctic and chilly sounding,” and he absolutely crushed it. The guy’s a miracle worker and we were lucky to have him on the record.
5. Age of Reptiles: Rhedosaurus
Andy: There’s songs on this record that are intensely personal and were born of the hardest time in my life… and then there’s “Age of Reptiles: Rhedosaurus,” which was born of a hangover, medicinal fried chicken, and Frank Frazetta and Ralph Bakshi‘s Fire and Ice. I was loafing around one Saturday afternoon, knowing that I was due to record vocals on Monday night and true to form I didn’t have a single line written. I already had the title, minus the “Rhedosaurs” bit, and being a huge dinosaur nut (I count Charles R. Knight paintings and my dad’s Zeppelin records as probably my two most formative musical influences) I had a general theme. I tried, and failed thank god, to pull some real freshman English dinosaurs-as-a-metaphor-for-closing-factories shit, and when that wouldn’t work, I decided to take a break and watch a movie. Luckily for me that movie was Fire and Ice. Once I got to the part where the dinosaur pops out of the pond and rescues Princess Tit-tania or whatever her name is I knew I had my lyrics. It felt right, the bridge for “Age of Reptiles” is maybe the jiggliest, most ass-shaking riff we’ve ever written, so it made sense to write about the most boob-tastic dinosaur chase in cinema history instead of trying to be a budget ass Bruce Springsteen.
6. River of Ice
Andy: “River of Ice” is one of those rare Clamfight songs that basically wrote itself in the space of one practice. While on the train to Jersey, I’d finished Wallace Breem‘s amazing The Eagle in the Snow, a novel about the failed defense of the Rhein by a Roman Legion in the waning days of the Roman Empire. I’ve read enough historical fiction to know that a lot of it’s crap, the kind of thing you’re only reading for the beheadings and the pillaging but Eagle in the Snow is more or less literature (whatever that means beyond “I know it when I see it”) and the ending is devastating. It was a particularly bleak winter night and I got off the train stunned by what I had just read and staggered into practice where I began clawing away at the wardrums that begin the song and Sean caught the mood and laid our most somber riff over it.
Sean: My favorite part about recording “River of Ice” is that I got to play through Erik‘s rig. I knew I wanted a certain big type of sound to come in right after the first verse. I asked Erik to help me dial in the sound he uses on Wizard Eye‘s song “The Dying Earth.” He told me to grab his guitar and after he hit a few pedals he said “try that.” Oh man, it was perfect. It’s some type of combination of a phaser and custom fuzz pedal that, to this day, I still haven’t mastered myself. I wouldn’t want to copy it perfectly either, because he’s crafted such a unique tone that it deserves to stand alone.
Sean: The main riff for “Mountain” was actually born of a jam session we had with Kris, the drummer from the band we had prior to Clamfight. We were practicing for a “reunion” show and started messing around with this crushing, slow, droney beat. We really had no intentions of writing any new material with Kris and it was too slow for his style anyway, but we knew there was something to it, so we recorded it to revisit at a later date. As anyone who writes music knows, some songs come together so naturally and easily and some really take time to construct. “Mountain” is definitely one of the latter, and as easily as that opening riff and the chorus were developed, we really struggled mightily finding where we were taking the rest of the song. Around this time, we were struggling with another song, “Indian Fire.” It had a really cool bridge, but had grown stale. Andy suggested using that bridge in “Mountain” and seeing where it led. The bridge fit so well it really was like the song was leading us to a natural ending rather than us taking it there. The last big riff just flowed out of the bridge.
Recording “Mountain” was a particular high point on this album because I got to directly collaborate with Erik. I felt like the song was the right vibe for him and the solo was long enough so we could each add enough flavor to it. We were able to jam on it once before entering the studio, which really helped me more than it did him. I think we have similar styles except Erik is more spontaneous, and he was able to improvise something in the studio where I had to have something pretty solid ahead of time. I love hearing the different guitar tones in the solo and the key change leading to those high notes makes me smile whenever I hear it. He also loaned me an awesome pedal to use for the leads over the bridge and helped me work out the harmonies. I’m honored we were able to put something like this together with Erik and I hope to do it again in the future.
8. The Green Gods of Yag
Sean: We don’t necessarily set out to write instrumentals, some songs just end up that way. We had three-quarters of “Green Gods” in the bag before we decided to make it an instrumental. It just had that feeling. We initially called it “Tower of the Elephant II” after “Tower of the Elephant” from Volume I, but that sounded too Metallica. Andy kept with the Robert E. Howard theme, though, and went with “The Green Gods of Yag.” We actually sat on the song for a while because we thought the “chorus” was too much like Black Sabbath‘s “Fairies Wear Boots.” We were going to change it, but we finally decided a little Sabbath influence is not necessarily a bad thing. We also pulled off a last minute change to the bridge just before we went into the studio because we felt it sounded too much like “Mountain.” I really like the change. It brings the tempo down just enough before we kick it in the balls again. I don’t really have a traditional solo, but I had a lot of fun in the studio layering the leads toward the end of the song. I remember telling Steve I had one more thing I wanted to try, and he gave me a look that I knew meant I had one shot at nailing it. I added the high scale ending with a long bend right before we come back around to the main riff. I asked him how it sounded and he replied, “Ridiculous.” Done!
9. Stealing the Ghost Horse
Sean: “Stealing the Ghost Horse” and “Age of Reptiles” were written one after the other. With these songs, two things became evident: we knew what direction we were going with the sound of this album, and we had our closer. “Ghost Horse” just flows into bigger riffs and I think it could really go on and on, which is why we chose to fade it out. It’s the type of song where Andy and I needed Louis and Joel to kind of reel us in, because we’d just keep adding riffs and play it forever. I don’t really remember how we composed the main riff, I just know it’s very fluid and a lot of fun to play. I love the big chorus and the galloping bridge really adds another dimension to the song. The solo was a bitch to compose. I worked on it for weeks until I had something I was happy with, and it’s still challenging to pull off live. I particularly enjoy the second half of the song, starting after the solo. I love the way it sounds with the guitars pounding away on a single note while Louis takes it away with an underlying progression. And then the riffs keep getting bigger, and Andy gets angrier, until we fade into the distance. I think perhaps we’ll have to start the next album with a “Ghost Horse” fade in… Damn, that’s good. I’m going to work on that right now.
Andy: A little ways back we were doing a run of shows with the mighty Rukut, and they were staying with us so the usual post show Euro-horror and Miller Hi-Life soaked shenanigans resulted. Cut to the foggy next morning and finding that one of us had written in huge letters on a legal pad “STEALING THE GHOST HORSE,” which a character in Amando De Ossororio‘s excellent Tombs of the Blind Dead actually does (an act repeated several times in the series, which always struck me as odd because I’m not sure if I saw a ghost horse I’d be tempted to abscond with it), and I knew I finally had a title and a theme for this massive song that we’d just written. Finally, the death metal bits at the end are my tribute to Hooded Menace, a band that I love, and one that also loves the Blind Dead movies.
Tags: ClamFight, Clamfight I vs. the Glacier, I vs. the Glacier, New Jersey, The Maple Forum, Westmont