Heavy-Metal Homecoming

Throngs of new "old friends" turn out to hail Chimaira.

Chimaira's Mark Hunter, on a tear at House of Blues. - Walter  Novak
Chimaira's Mark Hunter, on a tear at House of Blues.
"It's so big," the young blonde gasps. A man lives to hear those words -- especially when he's a musician, and the girl in question is marveling at the size of his tour bus.

Standing aboard Chimaira's 25-foot-long home-on-wheels, the blonde is among a flock of crew members, bandmates, runners, and friends who pass before guitarist Matt DeVries.

"It's gonna get loud. Sorry," DeVries says from the front of the bus, which idles behind House of Blues on a recent Wednesday evening.

The place buzzes with activity. A stack of pizzas gets delivered. The band's techs hunt for gear. People constantly shuffle on and off the bus like it's some sort of amusement-park ride.

DeVries takes it all in calmly, nursing a can of Bud Light. His father, dapper in a navy sport coat and slacks, sits at a table beside him, reading Time magazine.

"Growing up in a hardcore band -- my dad let us practice in the basement for hours on end," DeVries says. "I don't know why he ever did that, but I'm thankful for it. It paid off."

That's clear from the line of kids that snaked out of the venue earlier, waiting to get into tonight's show. It's Chimaira's first stop in its hometown since the release of the band's latest, self-titled disc, which in August sold over 14,000 copies its first week out. It was a big step forward for the band, since it registered twice as many first-week sales as it did with its previous album, 2003's The Impossibility of Reason. Chimaira has gotten bigger and bigger with each disc, and now it's experiencing a new level of notoriety here.

"It's kind of funny; every single year we play Cleveland, there's more and more friends, more and more family, and everyone's trying to get on the list," says DeVries, clad in camouflage pants and a Napalm Death hoodie, his long auburn hair tucked into a ball cap. "Usually we get maybe 10 slots a night [on the guest list]. They gave us 30 slots and a dressing room here. The phone'll blow up all day: 'Can I get on the list?' Nope."

Still, Chimaira loyalists pack House of Blues, where the band opens for Danzig. Chimaira is playing fifth among six bands on the Blackest of the Black tour, and when it hits the stage at a bit past nine, the crowd is already sweaty and drunk. As the band rips into the show-opening "Nothing Remains," the floor erupts. Harried-looking girls pour out of the pit, fleeing airborne beer and shirtless moshers.

Chimaira eats it all up, encouraging the bedlam. "Let's fuckin' tear this House of Blues down," growls singer Mark Hunter, who somehow manages to headbang and sing at the same time. The rest of the band members shake their manes in unison, their long hair flying about as if caught in a windstorm. They put the crowd through heavy-metal boot camp, shouting profanities and demanding action, until their shoulders sag with fatigue. They leave the stage with their fists in the air.

After the show, the bandmates have little time to catch up with friends and family before hitting the road. They'll leave town at 4 a.m. to make a show in Springfield, Virginia, the next day. Then they have to drive all the way back to Niagara Falls for a gig on Friday night. On their few days off from the Blackest of the Black tour, they'll play their own headlining shows, meaning they seldom get a break from performing.

But the money's better when Chimaira headlines, and the group needs to keep busy to help offset the high costs of touring. Increased gas prices have made bus rentals much more expensive. Though Chimaira has become a solid national headliner, the band still has to work hard to make ends meet. Its members rarely spring for hotel rooms, and they still shower at truck stops from time to time.

But for a band that once toured with 11 guys packed into a van, this is the high life. DeVries grins as he recalls how fierce the bickering used to be when Chimaira toured in such close confines, and he can't help but chuckle a little as he scans his surroundings.

"We've got a nice bus, we've got six people working for us, a crew of techs -- we're lucky to have what we have," DeVries says with a sweep of the hand. "You gotta work it to get to this."

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