Metal for the Masses: Chimaira Takes a Low-Dough Approach for its Annual Christmas Show

Shortly after forming in 1998, local metal band Chimaira signed a deal with Roadrunner Records that effectively launched the group's career. It achieved national and international fame as albums such as 2003's The Impossibility of Reason and 2005's Chimaira were every bit as heavy as anything by Slayer or Metallica. The group was on Ozzfest in 2003 and joined the European Road Rage tour that same year. Even after parting ways with Roadrunner in 2006, the band was still a major draw on the metal circuit and its albums still sold well.

But last year, the band splintered, leaving Mark Hunter as the only remaning original member; the group made just one U.S. appearance in 2012. This year, it returned with Crown of Phantoms, its first studio album in two years. The wailing guitar solos and hoarse vocals are classic Chimaira and suggest the new line-up is every bit as potent as the old one.

The band has moved its annual Christmas show from House of Blues to the Agora where bands will play on stages in both the ballroom and the main theater. It's also reduced the ticket price to make it easier for fans to attend. Hunter recently spoke about the approach for this year's show.

Talk about the importance of keeping the ticket price low for the show.

We're no strangers to how things are going around the world and the economic realities. We switched venues to the Agora and that enabled us to lower the ticket price. There aren't as many expenses. We can make them more affordable to our fans. We want everyone to come out and not worry about the fact that it's the holiday season. A ticket costs $10. You don't have to get that Extra Value Meal. You can just come to our show. There are many bonuses. We were unable to perform at the Agora for many years because of something between our agency and the previous owner. Now everything has rectified itself. It's awesome that shows are getting booked there again. The venue is so legendary. I don't even remember when we last played there. I think it was Chimaira Christmas 5.

Did you handpick the other bands?

The goal this year was to take advantage of the fact that the ballroom is there. The show from the beginning has been about supporting other Cleveland artists. It brings people and fans together and you can showcase what else is going on in Cleveland. I and [promoter] Chris Zitterbart, who's a guru about knowing the scene, put it together. I'm traveling and he's here. He helped suggest a few bands and we handpicked a few bands. We have a diverse line-up that I hope brings out a diverse audience.

Last year, you guys went head-to-head with Mushroomhead, who played their Christmas show on the same day. This year, you're going back-to-back. Is that intentional?

Sure. I think the past two years our bands played against each other. That's not good for either one of us. The fact that the shows are spread out helps both artists. Maybe next year, we could do a show together. We did a Kings of Cleveland show in 2006 and that was successful for both our bands. If fans want to see that again, we'll start making some noise about it.

What's been the key to keeping the group going? Both bands have had incredible runs.

The key for both bands is re-establishing the identity and retaining as much nostalgia as possible. As an artist, I want to reinvent myself, but I can't forget where I came from.

Have you figured out the set list for the show?

We want to make sure there are enough old songs there and remember what it was like to play those songs at the very early Christmas show and put myself in that headspace as a fan.

Any surprises?

There are a couple of songs we have never played live. We decided to film it for an upcoming music video. It'll give Cleveland fans a chance to get some face time on YouTube. We plan on putting the camera on the audience multiple times. It's a multi-camera shoot and there will be hidden ones. We're going to have some fun with it. There might even be some helicopter stuff going on. It's going to get wild.

Talk about the making of Crown of Phantoms. The band went through a major overhaul before heading into the studio. How did that affect your approach?

In 2012, the newest incarnation of the band formed. We toured across the world to see how the audience responded. We went into full-on writing mode and spent the summer, fall and winter working on the album. We did it in my kitchen for the most part. We would get together for a week or two and just work using ProTools and basic stuff. We hammered it out in the studio a bit and moved on to pre-production. Here we are. It debuted at No. 52 on the Billboard charts. It's been a success. From the pain of 2011 to the hard work of 2012, we can see the benefits. This show will be the icing on the cake. We had a great year with the release and 2014 is shaping up to be extremely busy for us and that's a good feeling.

Especially for a band that nearly called it quits.

It's not all smooth sailing. We're definitely rebuilding and that's awesome for us. We don't mind minor setbacks. It's how we respond to adversity. All I can say is that we take some pretty cheap shots on the Internet and we've been through major complications. In South America, we lost our drummer in a security thing. We did it all with smiles and persevered and played a killer show. Everything worked out in the end. It's how we hold onto it and dealing with that adversity.

Any New Year's resolutions?

We just want to keep busy.

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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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