All the point-blank shootings, armed robberies, and giant explosions get the members of 13 Faces warmed up for what they really like to do.
"When we got together, our goal was to be the most brutal band in the area," says guitarist John Comprix, "to write the most violent hardcore imaginable, but to write songs that have hooks."
The mayhem that inspires 13 Faces fortunately takes place far from the streets of Cleveland. The four members raise their hell in suburban North Royalton -- specifically, in Comprix's living room, where they lose hours at a clip to the shoot-'em-up video game Grand Theft Auto. The room is 13 Faces' office and studio, full of stereo equipment, instrument cases, and a freshly arrived case of beer. A drum kit dominates one side, a giant wide-screen television the other. It's one part tension, one part release, and 13 parts sex and violence.
PlayStation 2 is "really fuckin' fun" on the big screen, Comprix says, and porn is even better. The guitarist gladly demonstrates, popping in a DVD that fills the screen with the adventures of an outnumbered and overworked young woman. "It's always better on the big screen," he says. "That's how we roll in Cleveland."
13 Faces roll like Comprix's smut: big, in-your-face, and hardcore. The band quickly went from 0 to 60, dropping These Bloody Hands on the Columbus-based indie label Bandaloop Records a little more than a year after forming. Recorded in Comprix's living room, it's a milestone disc that deftly blurs the line between metal and hardcore. With hints of the whiplash funk that made Metallica precious metal, its solo-free, minimalist arragements move fast and groove hard, each with a sharp hook. Many of the three-minute blasts catch a distinct second wind before the first one expires.
"We see ourself as a metal-hardcore band the exact same amount," Comprix says in his deep, booming voice. He's endlessly enthusiastic about music, and his stage presence never cuts off. "A lot of people see our hair and say that makes us a metal band. If we all had short hair, people would say we're a hardcore band. I've always been a metalhead, my whole life. But then I found hardcore-metal crossover bands like Integrity [for which Comprix played guitar], Hatebreed, D.R.I., Sworn Enemy. That's what appealed to me the most. I'm not into the whole punk thing. I just like violent guitar riffs that really grab you."
With close-cropped hair, ballcap, and a pierced right eyebrow, 27-year-old singer Runt Runt is the youngest Face. Bubbly in conversation, he's a homicidal ogre on the album, roaring bloody murder as he praises loyal friends, crushes enemies, and unspeakably violates innocent bystanders. With a smile, he shrugs off the significance of lyrics such as "These bloody hands aren't at fault for your death" and "Breathe your last breath for me/This feels so right/There's something wrong with me."
"I write about whatever I'm thinking," says Runt, the band's sole lyricist. "Sometime's it's about family, like 'My Life.' Or 9-11, like 'March.' Or sometimes it's about strangling and sodomizing a beauty queen, like 'Something's Wrong.'"
Though they're in on the joke, Runt's bandmates look at him with a certain amount of trepidation.
"It's just a song," he counters. "I'm not doing it. I've gotta get the shit out of my head somehow."
"We're regular people," adds drummer Jeff Curenton, the band's veteran hesher, a longhair who describes himself as "a lot older" than the other three. "I'm a father and a husband when I'm not in the band. But when 13 Faces happen, these four other people come out."
Talk of anger comes cheap in extreme music, where suburban microphone fiends rapped and whined nü metal to death. But 13 Faces have more in common with deadly metal tribes like Slipknot, groups with an average age closer to 30 than 20. Their mature metalcore bubbles with palpable pressure, venting the frustration of men who have had bills to pay, mouths to feed, and six-dollar-an-hour jobs.
"We're angry because we're angry," says Comprix. "Not everybody grew up in a world where you have your perfect mom and dad, hang out with your buddies, and come home and have a nice little bed to sleep in. I used to live in a house with eight people and one bathroom, and I slept on the couch. I didn't have any fuckin' money."
But fortunes are starting to change for Comprix and 13 Faces. The band's April CD release party brought a near-capacity crowd to Peabody's DownUnder, where they sold almost 600 copies of These Bloody Hands. They've won a growing legion of pit-thrashing fans, who see in 13 Faces something they can relate to, Comprix says.
"We've got the kids with the lip rings and the tattoos and the dreads, to skinheads right out of prison -- and they all get along. They're that part of society that is shunned anyway, because they look different. All the freaks go to where the freaks are. With the music, we're telling people, 'You're a real person. You deserve respect.'"
Frank Novinec, guitarist for Cleveland hardcore vets Ringworm, has shared stages with both 13 Faces and Hatebreed, one of the genre's top national acts and a mainstay on MTV's newly revived Headbangers Ball. 13 Faces, Novinec insists, are the real deal.
"Let's face it: Everything's been done," he says. "The hardest test of all is to come up with something that's original and catchy. And I think 13 Faces do a pretty good job with that."
Yeah, metalcore has broken before: In the mid-'80s, the movement crested, as pioneers like D.R.I. and Agnostic Front started drifting from 30-second thrash outbursts to conventional four-minute epics. Time and gravity make all bands slower. 13 Faces recognize the phenomenon, but they're not concerned; following their instincts brought them this far.
"We'll write something, and if you have to say, 'That's not hardcore enough, let's change it," or 'That's not metal enough, let's change it,' then that's not true; it's not real," says Curenton. "Whatever we play, however it comes out, that's what it should be. If people don't like it, they don't like it. But they seem to like it."