Taking a break from his work as owner of 252 Tattoo, the Human Furnace isn't talking ink today. His focus rests on Ringworm, the Cleveland hardcore and thrash-metal group he's led for 20 years. "Tattooing has allowed me to do the band as a more serious thing," he says. "It's hard to make a living just being in a band ... at any level."
More than a dozen musicians have played in Ringworm since 1991. As the group's only remaining original member, the Human Furnace welcomes the band's sporadic schedule and workload — they've released just five albums — so he can recharge his batteries from time to time.
He's also manged to balance the group's hardcore roots and influences with the heavy riffage of thrash metal. "We came up in the hardcore scene, so you get labeled that," he says. "Not to discredit the hardcore scene, because it's gotten us to where we are, but we're all metalheads. We cut our teeth on '80s thrash and early hardcore. We vary here and there, but we've never changed our style. Throughout the years it was either 'Those guys are too hardcore for the metalheads' and then 'They're too metal for the hardcore kids,' which is kinda where I like to be."
That mix balances out well on Ringworm's latest album, Scars, which came out last year. Working once again at producer Ben Schigel's Spider Studios in Strongsville, the band matches pounding songs with equal doses of ferocity and melody. The opening track, "Voluntary Human Extinction," sets up the album's theme of overcoming mental wounds.
The Human Furnace calls Scars "self-therapy," which pretty much describes all of Ringworm's albums. But "this was particularly personal," he says. "I had to dig up a lot of demons and stuff that had been eating away at me for years and put it into song." While he remains evasive on specifics, he does admit that dredging up those memories hasn't yet reached the cathartic stage.
In a way, 2011 was sort of a banner year for Ringworm and their frontman. They've picked up tons of fans in the states and in Europe. And after years of a do-it-yourself work ethic, the band finally hired professional management, which has helped with exposure to wider audiences.
Oddly, the band skipped its hometown during last spring's 10th-anniversary tour celebrating one of its most popular albums, Birth Is Pain. But Ringworm will make up for it this weekend, when they'll play their landmark album in its entirety, along with other material from their first two decades.
After that they'll hit the road, with gigs lined up at South by Southwest and Chaos in Tejas. They're also planning a new compilation album, developing leftover Scars songs for a new release, and completing a DVD that chronicles their history. All of this has helped elevate the Human Furnace's outlook on the future. "Everything kind of aligned," he says.