In their native UK, Biffy Clyro are one of the biggest bands in the country – festival headliners with an arsenal of anthemic alt-rock singles that are guaranteed crowd-pleasers. But touring guitarist Mike Vennart and frontman Simon Neil have taken a distinctly non-commercial turn with their new project Empire State Bastard.
The clue is in the name: ESB’s music is utterly uncompromising – extreme metal that gives precisely zero fucks about anything other than the almighty power of the riff. Worshipping at the altars of Black Sabbath and Sleep, debut album Rivers of Heresy is a bracing listen – not least because of the breakneck drum set beatdowns supplied by Slayer legend Dave Lombardo, who signed onto the project within 24 hours of hearing the duo’s demos.
Key to the band’s disgustingly heavy new direction is some almighty down-tuning from Vennart, who “set about making the most fucking poisonous vile music I possibly could, just unabridged hatred in musical form”.
“I was experimenting with a new tuning, C standard, which you would think wouldn’t make such a drastic difference, but the feel of the guitar in that tuning was so inspiring,” the Gibson SG-toting southpaw told Total Guitar. “This tuning made me just want to make fucking riffs.”
Rivers of Heresy contains riffs by the bucketload, but standout track Stutter is one of its most knuckle-draggingly punishing, a tour de force of nasty, encircling chromaticism – and we here at Guitar World are hosting a playthrough from Vennart of that very song right at the top of this very page.
“Stutter is one of my favourite songs to play ’cos it’s pretty frantic and really just involves moving a basic 5th position around the neck,” Vennart says of the track.
“In C standard tuning, that feels so satisfying. The end is some long drones on the [Boss] HM-2 while Dave Lombardo absolutely brings it underneath.”
Along with that death metal stompbox staple, Vennart employs a Pro Co Rat, Sault Guitars Pure Acid Driver and Death by Audio Fuzz War, which he’s running through a delectable combination of WEM and Selmer combos (although he tracked the album with a stoner-approved Green Matamp GT1, amp fans).
And while Vennart and Neil might be trading arenas for club shows, you shouldn’t write Empire State Bastard off as just a side-project – the duo have plenty more venom left to drain.
“I think it would be a damn shame not to do more,” Vennart told Total Guitar. “I don’t really care if anybody likes it one way or the other. I’m very lucky that anybody does, but we’re all having such a good time that it’d be ridiculous not to do more of it.”
- Rivers of Heresy is out now via Roadrunner Records.