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Hell to Play 

From cramped quarters to audience abuse, Chimaira basks in its road trip with Slayer.

Chimaira, looking as well-rested as ever.
  • Chimaira, looking as well-rested as ever.

The rackety RV that Cleveland metallers Chimaira have called home for the past five months sleeps six comfortably. There are 10 people on board. The band, its driver, road manager, and two techs left the comfort of their homes in June to take another stab at uncrossing the arms of skeptical longhairs in dives and dance halls from Portland, Maine, to McAllen, Texas. They've been sleeping on linoleum ever since.

"Andols, this is his bunk right here," says guitarist Rob Arnold as he points to the floor in front of the sink where drummer Andols Herrick crashes each night. It's a space nearly as cramped as Pittsburgh's club M is later that evening, when Chimaira takes the stage to open for American Head Charge and metal gods Slayer. Though Chimaira's set begins at 6:30, the sold-out, 1,400-capacity club is already packed, and the notoriously violent Slayer crowd is restless. As the band breaks into its second number, singer Mark Hunter launches himself into the mosh pit and proceeds to throttle some poor dude. For their part, Arnold and fellow guitarist Matt DeVries headbang as if their necks were made by Michelin, while bassist Jim LaMarca wields his instrument like a sling blade, harvesting eardrums in place of oats. With Hunter's serrated vocals and pure Front Line (dis)Assembly electronics, the sound that spills forth is as prismatic as it is pummeling. Most impressive, though, is that it all manages to avoid inducing catcalls from the notoriously unreceptive Slayer crowd, a contingent whose verbal abuse makes opening for the band almost as feared among metal acts as a trip to Supercuts.

"Slayer fans, that's a hard crowd to win over," Hunter says. "I don't know of any other band that bands have had a harder time touring with in the genre. I saw Alice in Chains [opening for Slayer], and an entire coliseum chanted, 'You suck, You suck.' We were like 'You know what, though, we're a lot heavier band than Alice in Chains; we probably won't get too much of the chants.' Then I got an e-mail from a guy at Roadrunner who does our touring, delivering a message from Jerry Cantrell: 'Don't worry about the Slayer chants. It happens to all of us.' I was like 'Oh, great.' I had just built up my confidence to get over that, then I have one of my idols tell me, 'Don't worry about it, it's OK, it'll happen every night.' So far, we're six for seven. We got just a little bit in Florida."

The ability of a band as young as Chimaira (its members range in age from 20 to 28) to avoid the slander of the Slayer fan is almost as remarkable as the group's quick ascension. Though Chimaira has been together for only a bit over three years, it's already toured the country a half-dozen times, with such heavy hitters as Fear Factory and Machine Head; released its debut full-length, Pass out of Existence, on Roadrunner Records; and been handpicked as the opening act on a jaunt with metal royalty. The current tour has gone so well that Slayer recently invited Chimaira on the next leg of its God Hates the World outing, replacing American Head Charge as the primary support act and keeping the band on the road through March.

"Slayer is really taking care of us every night," Hunter says. "The crew goes out of their way to make sure everything is good for us, which is a nice change of atmosphere. Spineshank was very hospitable to us, and that was our first touring experience. After touring with them, we thought every band would be like them: just cool, 'Hey, come on up, hang out,' and that wasn't the case. Now Slayer comes out and is kind of like Spineshank, which is awesome, because they're a band that we really look up to. I remember being eight years old, jamming out to Reign in Blood at my friend's house."

And yet Chimaira has taken it all in with an ease that belies the pressure it's under. While on tour, the band is working an album whose current sales of 10,000 must be increased tenfold if it hopes to keep itself a part of the Roadrunner roster. This unaffectedness becomes evident upon entering Chimaira's cramped camper, where the band members occupy themselves by mowing down old ladies in über-violent video games and riffing on one another's parents.

"A typical day is us yelling at our driver, telling him to slow down, getting to the venue, walking around, eating, coming back here and playing video games, going to play, going to sleep. That's about it," Hunter says.

The band breaks up the monotony with capriciousness. Chimaira manages to keep the mood as light as its music is dark.

"When people are leaving a Slayer concert, they're just idiots, screaming, 'Slayer!' down the streets, so last night we were doing that with everybody, and they had no idea we were in a band, even though they just saw us," Hunter says. "We're running down the streets, playing air guitar to all these people. That's how we amuse ourselves. We'll go out during Slayer and find the coolest-looking metal guy, who's just so into playing air guitar, and play air guitar with him and headbang. If you play air guitar to a Slayer fan, they respond. Their fans are just nutcases."

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