Interview: Landmine Marathon's Ryan Butler Talks About Their New Album, 'Gallows'
Phoenix-based extreme metal quintet Landmine Marathon have been making quite a name for themselves ever since they started out in 2004.
Having a female vocalist in Grace Perry is not the only thing that makes them unique. It's the combination of the crushingly raw feel of their music and the insane energy in their live shows that makes them stand out among their peers and gets well-deserved attention among fans of this genre.
Being the actively touring band that they are, Landmine Marathon have shared the stage with a number of highly reputed bands, and even though they are usually labelled as the "odd band out" on just about every touring lineup, they have continued to successfully stun and slay the masses across the North American continent as well as Europe.
Now they are ready to release their fourth full-length album, "Gallows, and a North American tour with Warbringer, Lazarus A.D. and Diamond Plate follows soon after the September 27 release through Prosthetic Records.
I got a chance to speak to guitarist Ryan Butler, and we talked in detail about the new album among various other topics.
Read the conversation below, and check out the band's official website right here.
I was listening to your new album, Gallows, and it sounds really raw to me. Would you say it's your most raw album to date?
Well, I wouldn't say most raw, because the first album was done before I was in the band but I actually engineered it, and they were actually going for a little more raw feel then. The guide they gave me was that they wanted to sound like that Terrorizer album World Downfall, which is really, really raw. So there was no sound replacement or anything on it. The production was raw, the riffs were raw, etc., etc. But since then, yeah, I would say this is probably the most raw. It's pretty brutal and may be the most straightforward, I would say. If you want to call that as raw, I guess you can call it that (laughs).
Yeah, I was talking in terms of the music, because the production is still great, and I think that's what separates it from the first album. As you just said, the production itself was also raw on that one.
Right, yeah it definitely has a very raw feel and that's always something we're going for, to have a well-produced record but have it sound really raw and brutal.
You have a new drummer now, named Andy York. This is his first studio album, and I feel that drumming is an important aspect in your music. What do you think he has brought to the table in terms of his contribution to the album?
He has brought more consistency to everything. I just know that whenever he is plays, each time he is so solid. The man never drops a stick or screws up, you know, and that's really refreshing for us and he is really up for any challenge, which is great thing because we are on our fourth album and sometimes it's hard to not repeat yourself but still kind of maintain that same feel.
So he is up for trying some new things every once in a while, which really makes it easier to write. I enjoy having his ability in the band to really just take it to new levels.
While listening to the new album, I feel that it will sound even better in a live setting than it does on the CD. Would you agree with that?
Yeah, we are definitely a live band. We definitely maintain that raw feel live and really try and put a lot of energy into the live show. We definitely try and maintain that raw kind of punk attitude live for sure.
You'll be touring with Warbringer next month. Can we expect you to be debuting some of these new songs on that tour?
Yeah, the plan right now is that we're going to have a seven-song set, and three of them are going to be new tracks. We've done a short West Coast tour last month to kind of warm up some songs and see what we liked and didn't like. We kind of settled on the three tracks, so we'll be hopefully getting to play three new ones live once we feel confident about them by that time. We have a couple of shows in between as well, to really make sure that these are the ones we want to play.
On July 29, you did a show with Toxic Holocaust, Holy Grail and Krum Bums up in the valley at the Cobalt Cafe. How was that? That's such an eclectic bill in the sense that they are different from each other, but also very different from your style.
It really was a crazy lineup. Usually we are kind of like the punk band on a death metal bill, but on that show we were the death metal band on a punk bill, with the exception of Holy Grail who have the guitar solos that are power metal more than anything. That was a really good show. We got a really good reaction and had a good time at that. It was packed too, so we had a great show.
Coming back to the new album, what is the idea behind the title "Gallows?"
Grace comes up with all the titles and lyrics, and she kind of based the concept of the album on some 17th- and 18th-century European folklore, which all has a really dark edge to it. There is a lot of stuff about family members killing each other, etc. And she kind of just took a lot of things from the lyrics and made a list of possible titles. We really liked "Gallows" because it's simple and straightforward, and it ties in to the story that she put together for the record. So it has a cool, eerie feel to it and the artwork has gallows on it. So yeah, that's kind of where it came from.
As you were saying, this is your fourth album and your previous full-length, Sovereign Descent, was actually released last year. So, how did you manage to do this one so quickly within a year?
We actually got a lot of press to say that, but the funny thing is, it was almost two years between the recordings of the records because we started recording Sovereign Descent in May or June of 2009, and it didn't come out until March 2010. We tend to spend three or four months on the recording process, then we put the art together, do the press, and the label always kind of decides when it would be best to release it. So Sovereign Descent was in the can by November 2009 but didn't come out till March 2010. And we didn't start recording this [Gallows] till April 2011, so it was nearly two years in between recordings. We had a quick release date this time because we wanted it to line-up in time for this Warbringer tour. So I think it really kind of made it seem that it was closer together than in really was (laughs). It's almost a year and a half between release dates, but we did write it really quick, in about three months, which is not something we usually do either.
I saw a video interview you did in which you were talking about the cover artist Rob Middleton, saying you were a huge fan of his from the time you were growing up. What are some of your favorite covers he has done in the past?
He is in a band called Deviated Instinct, who recently started playing again, and I just always loved the stuff he did on there. It kind of ranged from an H.R. Giger influence to more of his own thing. He did a lot of collage work combined with hand-drawn stuff and some painting. So I really liked a lot of the stuff he did in Deviated Instinct. He did most of the Napalm Death covers. Harmony Corruption might have been the first one he did for them. I was 15 or 16 years old when that stuff was coming out, so it kind of meant a lot to me. Then he did Gorefest and a few others over the years, and I just really loved how authentic he was and how assertive his artwork was.
For this artwork, was the idea given by Grace or was it Rob who came up with it?
She works really hand in hand with him, and they kind of came up with the concept together. She gave him a list of images that came to her mind when she thought about the cover. She gave him all her lyrics and we gave him a copy of the record for inspiration. It wasn't even done yet but we sent him some MP3s of it. So they really worked hand in hand to bring it together. He actually did the cover in three different pieces. He combined together several sketches of everything, and then he's done the interior artwork as well, which we haven't seen yet. But it all comes from Grace's lyrics and it's really tailored just for us.
You recorded this album in your own studio, and it has also been used by bands like Exhumed, Misery Index and Phobia. Do bands actually look at a studio's reputation when they decide to use it for an album?
If I didn't own the studio, which we've used for doing everything simply because it's cost and time efficient, I would definitely look at that. And as an engineer trying to sell myself, the more the number of higher level projects you have, the more people are going to consider taking on your studio. So that's definitely a factor for bands, I would say.
Grace gets all the attention, for obvious reasons. Is that a good thing for you, as you can kind of just do your own thing and not worry about anything else?
Yeah, it makes some things easier, but at the same time, we kind of get sick of reading the same questions over and over that she gets asked about what's it like being a woman in metal, blah blah. She gets tired of answering those same questions, and sometimes they ask her technical questions. Our publicist is never going to give her a Guitar World interview (laughs). We definitely try and vary it up when it comes to who does the press. Between Grace, our bassist and me, we divide up the interviews. She gets the "higher level" press because she is an attractive woman in a death metal band, which is obviously a rare thing (laughs). So it's good and bad for sure. We just kind of deal with it and take it for what it is, and take advantage of it when we can.
Talking of the guitar stuff, I feel that the guitar parts in this album are sounding very cohesive. Do you feel that you have progressed in that aspect over the years?
Yeah, definitely. I've been writing music since the early '90s, mostly of this style. I played in a band called Unruh for a long time, and then I played in a band called Structure Of Lies. It definitely begun kind of at a pinnacle of knowing how to write just a catchy, more pop metal song because for a long time I just wrote music more in a classical style where parts didn't repeat a lot, there wasn't really a verse-chorus-verse. But when I got invited to play into this band [Landmine Marathon], they did it differently. They kind of went more for that A-B-A-B-C-A-B verse-chorus-verse-chorus riff structure. So I think I definitely honed my skills writing that style over the years and now our newer second guitarist is kind of fitting in on the songwriting as well and we are building together.
As you were saying before, you are often the "punk band" on a death metal tour. What do you feel about the dynamic on this upcoming Warbringer tour? Do you think you'll still stand out as the odd band?
Yeah, I think we're really going to stand out on that one. I'm not super familiar with Lazarus A.D. and Diamond Plate yet, but I know Warbringer real well. I think we'll mesh with them because they have a really raw edge as well as being a tight band. They're not a death metal band obviously, and these bands are all thrash. But I think we'll blend in well enough and may be stand out on the bill a little as well as something different than all the others on it. So I think it will be a good thing for us and that's part of the reason why we accepted the tour.
Well, just to let you know since you said you're not familiar, Diamond Plate is pretty much an old-school thrash metal band, and Lazarus A.D. started out kind of thrashy but are more groove-oriented these days.
Oh really? I've listened to Diamond Plate a little bit and I definitely heard some old school thrash influences, and I saw a video of Lazarus A.D. on headbangers ball a while back and I got kind of like a Testament feel out of it. But you're saying that they're more Pantera-like these days?
Yeah, and it's interesting that you mentioned Testament because Lazarus A.D. toured with them a couple of years back and I think that was an early influence on their music. So do you feel that happens sometimes, where you tour with a bigger band and they influence your music?
Not really, because I'm 35 and I'm kind of set in my musical ways. Matt and I are both 35, and I've been into hardcore, punk and death metal since the early '80s. So I'm kind of at a point in my life where I am what I am musically (laughs). It's not really kind of change. The style has changed with the change of bands here and there, but I can't say that being around other bands really makes me go, 'Oh this is what I'm going to do on this next record'. I did record the new Exhumed album in November, and the riffs on that are so catchy. That definitely inspired me to make the catchiest riffs possible as I was writing our record, because I wrote the record about two months after I did the Exhumed stuff. So that was an influence, but we are kind of set in our ways.
Andrew is a Los Angeles-based writer who has been running his own website, Metal Assault, since early 2010, and has been prolific in covering the hard rock and heavy metal scene by posting interviews, reviews and pictures on his website -- with the help of a small group of people. Besides being hugely passionate about heavy metal, he is an avid follower of jazz music and recently started a blog called Jazz Explorer to pursue that interest.