Make Them Suffer: "We’re capable of doing any kind of sound we want"

(Image credit: Sandra Steh)

If you’ve ever seen them live (and you probably have, given they’ve toured with everyone from Architects to PVRIS), you’ll know that Perth quintet Make Them Suffer are one of Australia’s most destructively mental metalcore acts kicking. 

Their sound is defined by a kaleidoscopic clashing of brutal breakdowns and sparkly synths, garish gutturals and drum fills that’ll put even the highest quality speakers to the test. They’ve spent the past 12 years feverishly carving out a career that puts them neck-to-neck with some of the best bands in the world’s wider heavy music scene, and with LP4, they’ve set their sights on some of the biggest, too.

How To Survive A Funeral is an unquestionably monolithic release for Make Them Suffer – not just because marks their debut on Greyscale Records, or because it sees them team up with the universally acclaimed Drew Fulk (a.k.a. WZRD BLD, who’s produced for everyone from Motionless In White to Lil Wayne), but because it’s one of the most creatively daring albums to come in 2020, point blank. 

It takes everything fans have come to know and love from the fivesome and amps it up a thousandfold, yet also twists and turns it into something entirely unheard of. It’s metalcore for a new generation of moshers – one keen to break free of the metaphorical shackles imposed by the notion of genre; it’s an album that may prove to be ahead of its time, or (more optimistically) spark a much-needed musical revolution.

To learn a little more about how Make Them Suffer brought their rulebook-defying fourth album to life, we got down to the wire with shredlord Nick McLernon.

Why would you say this is Make Them Suffer’s most important record to date? 
I don’t think I have a good third-person perspective on how people see MTS right now. I would call this our quintessential record for sure, though. Something I really want people to know about Make Them Suffer is that I feel like we’re capable of doing any kind of sound we want, and still have that X factor in there – however you might define that. It’s hard for me to really say, because it’s my band, but the way I see it is that we certainly belong in this metalcore genre, but we’re able to explore past and push the boundaries beyond what defines the genre. 

As a general rule of thumb, I’d say that four out of five bands in the metalcore genre tend to keep within the box. And there’s nothing wrong with that – y’know, every band is different, and a lot of them really find their own style and stick to it, and it works for them to reciprocate that formula with every new album – but we’re not one of those bands. As a matter of taste, we’re just not about making the same record over and over. And this album is an example of something we’re doing different.

How is it that you wanted to break through those boundaries and eschew the rules of what metalcore typically is? 
Honestly, we don’t think about the direction of an album until we start writing it. We never discuss what our music is going to sound like on one particular record – it’s just whatever comes out at the time. It would be against my philosophy as a musician to sit down one day and be like, “Okay, this is the concept for this record – this is the direction we’re going to head in.” But the sound on this record had actually been greatly influenced by the producer we chose to work with, Drew Fulk. 

When you write with somebody, you tend to take on their influences and some of their own style of sound. And people who work with Drew knowingly go into the studio expecting that. He would say to Jordan [Mather, drummer], “Come up with a couple of ideas,” which I’d probably then play over with the guitar – and after three or four hours of writing and arranging together, you could imagine how much of an influence he’d have on the music.

You’ve spoken in the past about your affinity for ‘riff banking’, where you’d write a stack of riffs on the fly and then work them into songs. Did you employ that technique on this record as well? 
Yep, absolutely. I would spend hours riff banking, and then between Drew, Sean [Harmanis, lead vocals] and I, we’d pick out the right riffs from there, and then I’ll either introduce more riffs into the riff bank, or write something completely from scratch in accordance to what was taken out of it. 

“Hollowed Heart” is an example of a song that was made purely out of riffs from the riff bank – we picked them all out, then just gathered them all and slapped them together. But then tracks like “Soul Decay” or “Drown With Me”, we’d take one or two riffs out of the bank and go, “Okay, what can we write to continue this vibe?” We used a few different approaches to the way we’d use riffs from the riff bank.

So what does that process involve? Do you have a bunch of spreadsheets full of different riff ideas? 
Yeah, pretty much. I’m very methodical in my writing – years and years back, I used to just record things on the fly, and I really found a talent in producing or writing stuff on the guitar with no clear direction of where the parts would go. And the setback there was that I would never really know what to do with any of my riffs – they would just sit on my laptop, taking up space. So one day, I just decided to group them into different columns… They’re all organised by tempos, time signatures, key signatures, etcetera…

What guitars were you ripping on in the studio for this record? 
I took a couple of Jacksons with me over to Drew’s place in LA. My go-to guitar at the moment is a Pro Series Soloist – I’m really into that mahogany body body. Especially for riffage, if you’re a band that plays a lot of riffs and really heavy rhythm parts, then it’s got to be mahogany all the way. And I’m a Jackson‑endorsed artist, so I’m vibing really hard on their guitars right now.

How did you link up with those legends? 
A few years ago, my rep at Fender approached me and was just like, “Hey man, do you want to try a Jackson guitar?” This was just before the Worlds Apart record came out; I was like, “Okay, sure. Do you want to send me one?” I’d never actually picked up a Jackson guitar before at this point – a couple of my friends used them, but I’d never really considered them. But he sent me a guitar – it was a Pro Series Monarch, kind of similar to a Les Paul shape because I was super into Les Pauls at the time – and yeah, I loved it. I thought the neck profile was fantastic, so I went back to Fender with nothing but praise and they were like, “Yeah, cool, we’ll sign you and send you out a Dinky.” I fell in love with that as well, and I’ve been playing Jacksons ever since.

Is it too early to start talking signature guitars, or… 
[Laughs] You’d have to ask my rep about that. There’s no plans for anything like that at the moment, but it’s definitely on my bucket list! I am probably going to be picking up a custom this year, at least. 

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Ellie Robinson
Editor-at-Large, Australian Guitar Magazine

Ellie Robinson is an Australian writer, editor and dog enthusiast with a keen ear for pop-rock and a keen tongue for actual Pop Rocks. Her bylines include music rag staples like NME, BLUNT, Mixdown and, of course, Australian Guitar (where she also serves as Editor-at-Large), but also less expected fare like TV Soap and Snowboarding Australia. Her go-to guitar is a Fender Player Tele, which, controversially, she only picked up after she'd joined the team at Australian Guitar. Before then, Ellie was a keyboardist – thankfully, the AG crew helped her see the light…