Chimaira let hometown metal fans pick their own late presents for the band’s 9th annual Chimaira Christmas show. Headbangers voted online to determine the metal heroes’ set, which will feature 18 favorites from the band’s catalog. The poll results are classified, but you can probably expect the power-surge title track from 2007’s Resurrection, which chronicled the sextet’s divorce from powerhouse metal label Roadrunner and their subsequent signing to indie foundry Ferret. Calling to discuss the show, frontman Mark Hunter let slip that that they’ll also play nuggets like “Eyes of a Criminal,” in addition to signature throwdowns like “Pure Hatred,” which was the number-one vote-getter.
Fans won’t hear any samples from the band’s upcoming fifth album, The Infection, which is set for release April 21. Chimaira recorded locally with producer Ben Schigel, the former Switched frontman who’s worked as a behind-the-boards songsmith for bands like Drowning Pool and Walls of Jericho. The new record will arrive in five different versions: a songs-only download, a CD with a making-of bonus DVD, a box set, a vinyl version and a special edition with b-sides (one of which may be a cover of State of Conviction’s “Convictions,” which they recorded with SoC singer Jason “J Mann” Popson). Meanwhile, the Christmas show will be a low-dough festival of mayhem featuring eight other locally based bands, from hardcore veterans Ringworm to hard rockers the Ohio Sky.
When I talked to Chimaira, they were assembling the final pieces of the record and didn’t even have any rough mixes to share. “We’re all saying that’s what will be cool about this record,” offered bassist Jim LaMarca as we were setting up the interview. “We haven’t really heard it yet either.” Hunter and rhythm guitarist Matt DeVries took a break from holiday hustling to tell us what to expect.
What’s the new album like?
Hunter: The album is a little slower than people might be expecting. It’s at this groove tempo where the whole time you can’t stop bobbing your head. Some of the songs are “Venom Inside,” “Secrets of the Dead,” “Destroy and Dominate.” There’s one song in particular I think Cleveland fans will enjoy: It’s called “The Heart of It All.” We’re no stranger to doing instrumental songs. And as we were writing it, I kept thinking, “Wow, it sounds like Cleveland to me.” It’s long, epic.
DeVries: I’ve been super-stoked on everything, and we’re proud of everything. But for this record, it’s a different kind of taste, and it’s a different kind of stoked. Every single song is catchy to us and has a lot of groove and has a lot of Chimaira in it.
Hunter: All the lyrics and vocals were improvised, for the most part. I came in with nothing. I work really well when there’s a gun to my head. Some of my best songs I freestyle, and it’s perfect the first time. And if you’re not recording, you lose it. The underlying theme, I guess, is being put in the worst point at your life and how you deal with that situation.
How is that different from Resurrection?
Hunter: Resurrection, we were thinking very much about the band, the band persevering and getting off Roadrunner and people saying we’d be finished. This is more personal.
What’s “Destroy and Dominate” like?
Hunter: Heavy and sludgy. The best description I heard of it was “like you got hit really hard and you’re getting dragged through the mud for four minutes.”
Matt, what are your favorite songs from it?
DeVries: “Secrets of the Dead.” It’s kind of a roller coaster of groove-slash-thrash. “The Heart of It All” is a song where we kind of fused all our influences into one.
You were going to record with some bigger names, but you decided to stay home and record with Ben Schigel. What did he contribute?
DeVries: Ben’s got a brilliant musician’s ear. When we started pre-production, we were dissecting our songs. There were a couple of songs he hadn’t heard yet, and he would change the verse to the chorus and vice-versa. And we listened to it, like, “Wow, that made all the difference in the world.”
Hunter: He had to virtually become the second singer of the band. Working how it was — zero lyrics, zero ideas — if I’m stuck on a part, I need somebody that’s going to complement that. He was the other half of me. We would work six, seven, eight hours a night for three weeks straight. We had good riffs, but the riff’s only as good as the song is.
The last couple of albums have been strong, but to me, they didn’t have the kind of memorable songs that you can hum.
Hunter: I think that has a lot to do with the tempo. We write really heavy riffs, but it needs to be slowed down a little bit so people can hear the riff and feel the power, instead of being like an axe to the face the entire time. You can still have that feeling, but it will be that much more drastic if you bring it down 20 bpm. And once I had more breathing room and could sing a little slower, my tone got way more aggressive.
How long is the album?
Hunter: About an hour. Some songs are around three minutes, some are around ten. I would say the songs are on the shorter side this time. Most are in the three- or four-minute range.
The secret show you played at [300-capacity Flats club] Roc Bar in October was fun. Will you do that again?
Hunter: We were always hesitant to do it. But now that we did it and had a good time, you can expect to not know about it.
Now that you’re not on Roadrunner, is the band doing better financially?
Hunter: We definitely make more money now than we ever did on Roadrunner. We’re the big fish now. That doesn’t mean that a smaller band would get this treatment. We’ve proved ourselves for ten years. With a new band, nobody’s going to get a chance anymore, because the record industry is pretty much dead.
Tickets are $28 for the next Black Keys show. Your Christmas show is $9.99 for a nine-band bill. Why go cheap?
Hunter: We feel we owe it to our fans. They’ve supported us and seen us on bigger shows where we didn’t have control over the prices. It feels like the right thing to do. We want everybody to be able to come out and have a good time and jam with us.
Chimaira Christmas 9
6 p.m. Tuesday, December 30
House of Blues
308 Euclid Ave.
Tickets: $9.99 advance, $15 day of show