Most of the early extreme metal bands from the 1980s have completely given up on both the underground and extreme metal. The musicians from cult bands like Cartilage (Fin), Dominus (DE), and Repugnant (Swe) have become legendary for playing with bands like Nightwish, Volbeat, and Ghost at this time. The majority of the classic death metal bands that didn’t completely disband ended up playing well-liked varieties of groove metal, goth rock, or other more lucrative genres as early as on their second album.
The number of musicians from that era who are still as dedicated to repulsive underground death metal filth can nearly be counted on one hand, even if the first wave of USDM was undoubtedly more committed to the genre over the years than the European bands I listed. Mortem, Dead, Pentacle, and a few others… also the Ares Kingdom.
The band was founded by Mike Miller and Chuck Keller from the mighty Order From Chaos shortly after the band split, and the continuation is obvious: Keller’s writing is Keller’s writing, and no amount of years, changes in trends, label support or a lack of it, or anything else have ever changed that. Ares Kingdom themselves did not begin until the middle of the ’90s. In Darkness at Last by Ares Kingdom is the band’s most recent album and the logical continuation of about 35 years of underground death metal madness. It is fiercer, more original, raw, and better written than nearly anything else available.
Young talent and spirit are frequently praised, but there is also merit in having an abundance of talent. Although Keller’s passion for extremeness keeps his writing from ever feeling worn out even after all these years, In Darkness at Last does not sound like an album that a younger band could write. The aggression and even perhaps Keller’s riffing approach could be mistaken for the vigor of a new writer, but undoubtedly the class that lurks behind the hateful riffs is not something that could be accomplished without building a strong, true songwriting base.
The band’s covers of bands like Dokken and Van Halen further establish Keller’s roots in the ’70s and ’80s, and the melodicism these influences bring ties together the entire riffing package to create something that is uniquely Ares Kingdom. Keller has frequently discussed his love of heavy metal and punk. The complete package includes an album that is as thrilling on its own merits as it is for being from one of my favorite bands. Add to that Keller’s fantastic shredding (really, Shrapnel Records phoned and requested for their guitarist back). Miller’s strong drumming.
For an interview with Chuck Keller, continue reading below, and play In Darkness at Last loudly. Hey, brothers, hail and kill.
You just got back from a tour with Deceased and Bulldozer. Tell me about that!
It was incredibly unique. It was the closest thing you could get to an authentic old-school tour in today’s world. Bulldozer was 100 percent real, sounding just like they did in the middle of the 1980s. There couldn’t have been a better fit because the other bands on the tour, including us, Dead, and Demiser, clearly draw inspiration from the attitude and spirit of the 1980s. There were at least a dozen gigs, and because the bands got along so well, everything ran well every single time. A west coast leg with the same roster is currently being planned for late summer or fall of the following year.
What to you makes for an “old school” tour as opposed to other less old school ones you’ve done in recent years?
For starters, Bulldozer was the headlining act on the last tour and only performed songs from their debut two albums, The Day of Wrath and The Final Separation. That is about as throwback to the 1980s as you can get. I’m aware that the word is frequently used, and people are free to disagree as to what exactly constitutes “old school,” but for me, the old school ended in 1989 when death metal overtook thrash, which had sadly withered away…with only a few notable exceptions.
What are some of those notable exceptions?
Up until 1989, bands like Bathory, Sodom, Voivod, Living Death, Carnivore, Razor, and Infernal Majesty were releasing excellent music, but there was also a ton of crap being released at the same time, making it tough to go through it all. In those days, I worked at a record shop as the buyer of metal and punk music, so I witnessed the never-ending stream of brand-new albums. I’d become briefly giddy when a new record came out, pop it open, and start listening. The majority of the time, I would be dissatisfied, re-shrinkwrap it, and silently place it in the record bins in the hopes that someone would purchase it before we had to discount it. I would then share with my group of friends what I believed to be positive and negative.
The majority of the time, I would be dissatisfied, re-shrinkwrap it, and silently place it in the record bins in the hopes that someone would purchase it before we had to discount it. I would then share with my group of pals what I believed to be great and terrible, hehe!
For my money, In Darkness At Last has perhaps the best and most live-like production that Ares Kingdom has ever had. What did you do differently?
Except than spending more time recording the drums, which was still a mechanical process, we really didn’t do anything differently. We only use acoustic methods; there are no triggers or fake replacement tones.
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I believe what you are hearing is a variation in production tones, which always differ from record to album. It’s true that the drums are a little more prominent on this album, but what matters most is that they’re entirely acoustic. Also, my obscenely loud guitar tone is included, so the adage “everything louder than everything else” is once again applicable. We didn’t intend for the record to sound live, that much is clear, but if that’s how it comes across, I don’t mind. Who can argue with that record? In my opinion, In Darkness… has a strong Pleasure to Kill attitude and feel, which I think is quite appropriate for the tracks.
So, our records maybe have a little bit of a live feel because we record it as though it’s still 1975. Nowadays, there are so many studio tech tricks at their disposal that almost anyone can sound really professional if they so choose. Inaccuracies can be fixed by computers with a few mouse clicks. Yet in our opinion, this is ridiculous and tends to sanitize and drain the spirit out of Heavy Metal recordings. We deliberately decide NOT to do it. We only continue to do things the way we have always done them. On my favorite CDs as a child, I used to hear stray noises, erratic playing, and sonic warts. They contributed to the enjoyment of that record, and it wouldn’t have been possible without them.
I don’t demand every album I enjoy listening to be recorded or sound the way we do, but it is a must for Ares Kingdom. We must remain feral.
How did you achieve your guitar tone on this one? Have you been experimenting with different tones live as well?
Actually, I utilized the same technique I’ve been doing since Incendiary: I plugged my guitar directly into my Marshall JCM 800 50w, which, by the way, is always in the studio. Although I occasionally use delay, reverb, phaser, and flange pedals, I don’t use any external distortion or overdrive pedals.
In Return to Dust, I connected my ancient OFC-period Boss Heavy Metal pedal (which has since died) into the JCM 800 using a Jackson Kelly from the Vulpecula era with stock “Jackson” pickups. After finishing the recording of Incendiary in 2010, I replaced it with a more 퍼스트카지노 recent Jackson Kelly Bloodline model that had excellent Seymour Duncan pickups. It became my primary guitar for live performances and recording. Using it, I achieved excellent thick-and-snarly tones on Veneration and The Unburiable Dead. A few years ago, I experimented with By the Light… by reducing the tone knob by a few clicks, but this time, it was back up full.
The biggest difference between the tones on Incendiary and Veneration, the following recording session we conducted, was basically a Jackson Kelly Bloodline. Nothing changed about the Marshall JCM 800, cab, or the way I mic’d everything for recording.
It’s fascinating that people always comment on the guitar sounds on our CDs. Because my tones were usually coarse and agrarian during the OFC era, I could completely grasp it. The trouble is, I’m quite traditional and think that an amp should be mic’d before adjusting tone on the mixing board.
I know I once re-recorded the guitars on the entire album for the Stillbirth Machine recording, but I can’t recall what, if anything, changed. As a result, I’m a little hazy about what I actually did. But I do recall that our late engineer and co-producer, Ron “West” Hodgden, brought in some absurdly large parametric EQ just for my tone. It was strange because despite our best efforts, the tone still sounded like a Murder Hornet nest being attacked and kidnapped by a UFO. But in the end, it turned out to be incredibly essential to the record’s sound and appeal. The riffs are inaudible, but I suppose that’s not the goal, ha!
I haven’t actually been conducting live experiments either. Just plug my Marshall JCM 800 100w into an Ibanez Tube Screamer and let it go. Of course, only Marshall is authentic. My live settings have very little nuance, too. With the exception of the mids, which are at 5, tones are typically full. In order to keep the live tone I prefer—pure Marshall roar—earlier this year, I switched from the Jackson Kelly to a reissued Washburn HM-20V that I had modified with the same model Seymour Duncan pickups as the Kelly.
What do you do for flyouts where you might not have access to a Marshall at all, let alone a JCM 800?
I set whatever it is to what I use on my own Marshall and let it go, making the most of what is available. During live performances and practice sessions, I utilize a Tube Screamer with my trusty JCM 800 100w, with Drive and Level tuned all the way up. That usually puts me close to my typical tone.
I can play on almost anything and have done so, and I don’t get upset if my tone isn’t exactly replicated. The crowds seldom seem to notice when I occasionally have to change certain portions of my performance to fit a house equipment. I don’t mind as long as it sounds like a thermonuclear explosion.