It’s often said that struggle and strife creates the best art and this rings especially true for Ohio’s favourite hybrid metal act, Chimaira. After a two year period of internal turmoil and continuous line-up changes the band is back with a brand new album Crown of Phantoms and are stronger than ever. Vocalist Mark Hunter discusses with Ghost Cult the emotional journey he’s embarked upon to be where he is now.
Crown Of Phantoms is very strong album – does the overall quality validate the new line-up?
I certainly hope it does, it was our goal. Crown Of Phantoms is the culmination of three years of going through tons of changes, harsh realities but also excitement. It’s something brand new and when you put all those things together you get Crown Of Phantoms as a result. These are exciting times for the band and it’s the polar opposite of where I was with the band two years ago.
To get a sense of perspective, can you take us through the past two years?
It was 2010 and we were going strong and we hadn’t had any hiccups in the line-up or anything. Resurrection and The Infection brought us some really good tours. The band was in a really good place. Some time in 2010 Jim (LaMarca), our former bass player, wanted to leave the group to spend more time with his family. He wanted to retire from being on the road all the time. That caused a domino effect with other band members following suit wanting to settle down with their families as well. Some people didn’t see eye to eye on things anymore, the usual drama that accompanies a band, you know; basically getting sick of each other after spending an x amount of years together combined with family and a myriad of other things. One member after the other basically left. When we were devolving we were trying to evolve by putting new members in Chimaira and rebuild the band. When that was happening those new members brought new life to the band. When Rob (Arnold) and Matt (DeVries) were leaving as well I asked Austin (drummer), Sean (Z, electronics) and Emile (Werstler, guitar) whether we should continue with the band. We decided to go on and spent the last 1.5 years focusing and working our asses off in order to write a great album. We really took this seriously and we didn’t want to to have some unknown kids in the band. Every new member was carefully chosen for their love of the music and what the band stands for. As for me, I’m really having a great time now with these guys.
With all the old members leaving a lot of people on the internet thought Chimaira was done for. Did you ever seriously considering pulling the plug on the band entirely?
Many people on thr internet thought we were done for. By the timing and the speed things were unravelling I had the luxury of not thinking rationally and I simply soldiered on. It was happening so fast and not thinking about quitting was a sort of defence in a way. I defended what I hold dear and what I wanted to fight for. Of course there were moments of insecurity and doubts. Luckily I had a good team and a good support system of friends and family around me telling me that I was crazy if I wanted to change the band name or quit altogether. They pointed out that bands like Megadeth and Black Sabbath went through countless lineup changes. Black Sabbath had a super successful era without Ozzy. Of course with Megadeth Rust In Peace was one of their best albums and it wasn’t recorded with the same line-up who did Peace Sells, which is another Megadeth classic. There are more examples of bands that went through major lineup changes and still had major success. Of course, to be in this situation is scary as hell.
So where does Crown Of Phantoms fit in the overall Chimaira back catalogue? Do you think it will be one of those typical hate or love albums?
The S/T is one of those hate or love albums in our catalogue. The Infection is another one. A lot of fans didn’t get the S/T album and our record label at the time didn’t know what to do with it as well. They yelled at us that the songs were too long. Next thing you know, Machine Head released The Blackening two years later, which had some really long songs. I guess we’re trailblazers in a way. At the time Roadrunner was used to three minute ‘Powertrip’-like songs. Here we are delivering songs like ‘Nothing Remains’, which is over six minutes long. They weren’t really happy. As an artist what I really like about our catalogue, including ‘The Infection’ and Age Of Hell, is that they represent a certain era in the band’s history and I don’t look back in anger or regret. I understand why some fans don’t like certain albums but those albums were necessary for growth and development. With the lessons learned from The Infection’and The Age of Hell I was able to forge Crown Of Phantoms. The Age Of Hell is a transitional album. The songs on it aren’t that bad, but the fire and the passion simply wasn’t there. It was more about holding on to something that was falling apart and recording those emotions. I think it’s still a decent metal album, but Crown Of Phantoms is really special to me, because of all the fire and passion. The Age Of Hell was basically me and Rob (Arnold) recording an album with a stand-in drummer. It isn’t a good representation of what we are all about. If fans had the chance to name an album which shouldn’t have the Chimaira mark on it, I’d suggest The Age Of Hell would be the appropriate album.
In the biography it stated that the new album brings the essence of Chimaira into new uncharted territories. What’s the essence of Chimaira according to you?
I think that we’ve been a band that over the past fourteen years encapsulates the best elements of heavy metal. In our music you can hear elements of death metal in one instant only to hear influences from classic thrash metal the next moment. Chimaira has always been a hybrid metal band and we’ll continue doing that. We’re a band that never quits, no matter the odds. If anything, that message is really clear at this time.
Words: Raymond Westland