Wondering where all the blood-and-guts imagery that runs through Lair of the Minotaur records comes from? "I read a lot of stuff that most people only read in college classes," laughs Steven Rathbone, frontman for the Chicago metal band.
"I'd read some writings about [god of warfare] Ares that don't describe him as a person [but] as the will to kill," he goes on, rattling off his literary finds. "When there was a battle, they would say Ares was on the field with them. Not that he was actually there, but that there was this feeling to kill. I thought that was an awesome concept."
Little surprise that all of the songs on Lair of the Minotaur's latest album, War Metal Battle Master, were inspired by Greek mythology. It's really no different from the trio's previous two albums. In fact, almost every song the band has ever recorded can be traced to thousands-of-years-old texts about angry gods wielding ginormous weapons.
The group's debt to the Iliad and other tales of mythic glory is made even more evident in the video for title tune "War Metal Battle Master," a gory extravaganza of armed combat, cannibalism, and full-frontal female nudity. It's not exactly Headbangers Ball material.
As the band plays — Rathbone out front in a T-shirt that gives a shout-out to the early-'80s cult chainsaw-horror film Pieces — guys in gladiator-style armor chop off each other's arms and heads with big-ass swords and axes. Blood spurts from necks, eyes bulge, etc. Then it gets weird: Two naked ladies show up, sporting fangs, and they begin to chow down on the dead and the wounded, soaking themselves in the crimson-colored carnage while feasting on piles of severed limbs.
"It's an idea I had a while back, and I thought it would translate pretty well on video," beams Rathbone. "I didn't want to do a normal video. The stuff that's out now — it's flashy crap, and I wanted to do something that metal fans would wanna see and horror fans would wanna see. And apparently people wanna see it."
Indeed, the clip — available online at www.lairwarmetalvideo.com — has become one of those Dude, you gotta fuckin' see this internet sensations since its release. Check your spam filter — someone's probably sent it to you already.
Still, despite all the hacked-off hands and blood-covered boobs, the gore's not really all that gratuitous — for the simple reason that clashing swords, gaping wounds, and bouncing breasts are all kinda ideal visual analogues for Lair of the Minotaur's music.
Each of the band's three albums offers a punishing-but-in-a-good-way combination of brutal riffing, thunderous drums, and raw-throated, gargling-on-shards vocals. If that combination sounds familiar, it oughta be — these three guys plumb the same sonic territory as classic power trios High on Fire, Motörhead, and Monotheist-era Celtic Frost.
On War Metal Battle Master, Lair of the Minotaur's harsh sound gets a slight polishing, which can probably be traced to new recording conditions — producer Sanford Parker took the band into a larger studio — and a new drummer, Chris Wozniak. "I'm really happy with how War Metal [sounds]," says Rathbone. "I think it's a perfect blend of all the instruments.
"We try to make everything loud but not distorted," he continues. "And we don't do a lot of digital playing around. You can tell most of our stuff is one take. We like to be very practiced and well-rehearsed before we go in the studio. There's no triggers on the drums; there's no smoke and mirrors. It's what the band sounds like."
Still, it's somewhat ironic that one of the country's best metal bands comes from Chicago, a city with a fairly dismal reputation for supporting the genre. "It's weird, because I've heard that the area is the No. 1 market for metal in the U.S.," says Rathbone. "But most metal shows are out in the suburbs, not in the city. I live in the city, and there's a place way-the-fuck out — like an hour's drive — where all the big metal shows have been coming to. It's ridiculous. It's really inconvenient to get out there."
Even if Chicagoans can't find Lair of the Minotaur or most other metal bands in their city's clubs, they can find them — or at least their monikers — on the menu of one of its eateries. Every burger at Kuma's Corner is named after an ass-pummeling metal group. Lair's burger is topped with brie, pancetta, caramelized onions, and whiskey-soaked pear slices. It comes on a pretzel roll. "We wanted them to serve it on fire," laughs Rathbone, shooting for ultimate metal cred. "But the insurance company wouldn't let them."
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