By Rich Hobson
Opinions are like arseholes: everybody has one and if you spend longer than 10 minutes on the internet, you’ll be bombarded with them. It doesn’t matter if it’s about film, football, music or even what constitutes a proper Sunday dinner, you can guarantee that somewhere, some group is lodged in a war of words. In the age of X Factor and the all-mighty public vote, platforms like Twitter, Facebook, WordPress and YouTube mean our opinions are more widely disseminated than ever. No longer is it “one person, one vote”. We now control the world; we pick what we watch on TV, what causes we support, what news is real and what bands we follow. And if you don’t like what you see? Time to let that arsehole opinion loose…
“People said to me, ‘your fans really hate your new shit’, but that doesn’t even make any sense.” I’m on the phone to guitarist Mark Heylmun of Suicide Silence – a band currently caught up in their very own (shit)storm Doris. “How are our fans hating? Fans are fans! Besides, I didn’t have fans when I was first learning music in my bedroom. I did it for myself. With this, we’re just trying to be ourselves and inspire people to do the same thing.”
After a decade spent as one of the founding pillars of the deathcore scene, the band announced that their next album would take a more experimental approach. Less than a month after the band dropped lead single ‘Doris’, a petition was launched to prevent the album from ever being released. “It was never about the music, or the scene for that matter. It was just about getting hits,” Mark tells me incredulously.
Attracting a couple of thousand signatures, the petition demanded the band’s label, Nuclear Blast, cancel the release immediately because ‘even Nickelback is heavier’. A ludicrous statement, but one that has darker undertones about the sense of fan entitlement prevalent in the modern music scene. But that’s not the story you’ve likely read. Instead, you’ll have seen a procession of interviews and articles where the band are asked to defend their stylistic choices. Vocalist Eddie Hermida (who joined in 2013 following the death of Mitch Lucker) has found himself particularly hounded.
“Eddie is going to take the blame for the evolution, just because he’s the frontman,” Mark says. “It’s very difficult, having a member of the band pass away that so many people hold dearly to their hearts. The words that Mitch said, the things we did, the fans own those memories. But because the memories belong to them, they become so tightly attached to the past of our band that a future is difficult to see. I like to think people’s current hatred of Eddie is just a love for our past.”
Mark brims with passion when speaking about his fans, a stark contrast to the criticism levelled against the band. “We are deeply connected to the fans”, he says. “We’re not abandoning them at all. We got messages from his family saying ‘You’re doing the right thing, Mitch never wanted to do the same record twice’. It reminded us that we are the ones who lost our friend and we’re the ones still making music.”
Love it or hate it, the direction Suicide Silence have taken on the album is undoubtedly unique. Rather than forsake deathcore completely, the band have taken the genre into stranger, more progressive territories reminiscent of Deftones or Dillinger Escape Plan. “My friends told me to just say ‘it’s a progressive deathcore record’, then everybody would give it a break,” Mark jokes. “This is anti-pop. The number one thing we were doing on this record was encouraging everyone to be the best, rather than being like, ‘nah that’s not Suicide Silence’. We tried to ignore the world outside and dive into ourselves, as much as we could.”
There’s plenty of ignoring to be done, especially when dealing with the largely insular deathcore scene. Notorious for expecting bands to stick to a rigidly dictated style, in this scene you’re deathcore, or you’re out. “Sticking to a scene is the biggest sell-out bullshit you can be a part of,” Mark says, clearly frustrated. “It gets too easy to just sell out to that scene and follow all of the rules. I think it’s amazing when a band just allows its ‘fans’ to dictate the kind of music they make. Those are the fuckin’ sell-outs! It doesn’t even make sense when people say ‘this isn’t deathcore’ or ‘you’ve gone metalcore’ – these genres have only existed for the past twenty years. What’s worse, it was our formula, something that we helped start. We just see it as us evolving that formula.”
By taking steps in a more experimental direction the band are slowly moving to re-forge their own legacy. They have passed the cutesy, honeymoon stages inherent to the start of a new relationship and are now ready to get kinky. Mark laughs, “I wouldn’t even say there was a honeymoon phase really. It’s more like getting with someone who everyone has already been with. Everybody has some opinion of it. Once you’ve got past everybody thinking they know, because they had their own two minutes or whatever, you can show everyone just how crazy great this person really is.”
Unfortunately, dispelling notions and preconceptions can be almost impossible in a world where a band’s every moment is documented, and expectations form a huge part of their narrative. You have to wonder if they would have fared better following in the footsteps of Avenged Sevenfold, by just dropping an album with minimal promotion. “I would love to do that!” he exclaims. “I think that’s cool. That’s being creative and spontaneous.”
Would they change their approach now then, if they could? “No way,” says Mark. “Positive or negative, people are talking. We’re already throwing ideas around for things we could do to flip the script again. We wish we had another, unbiased record ready to go, so that nobody could say ‘oh well you did this because you did that last time’. The music is still the music, end of.”
Suicide Silence isn’t just a polarising new release from a somewhat popular metal band. It is a statement of fact: no matter what they do, how they develop, the band are absolutely – and unapologetically – true to themselves. “It was always the plan, to call the album Suicide Silence,” Mark states. “Our records so far have been like the journey from high school to college, then on to university. This is the ‘coming into our own’ phase, accepting that we’ve grown so much. Right now, hardly anyone has heard the record. The internet community is judging it based on two songs. But the fans are going to have to listen to the whole record and make a judgement from there. If they don’t like it… so be it.”
If you squint hard enough, Suicide Silence’s c’est la vie attitude could be interpreted as being dismissive towards the fans of the band. Open your eyes though and you’ll see the same attitude that has been echoed time and again throughout the history of the entire rock‘n’roll canon. Suicide Silence are a band that thrive on challenging their audience and are passionate about redefining the relationship between band and fan. The night I speak to Mark he is later due to head across town for a pre-launch listening party. In addition, the band have committed part of the funds from their album to the LTD foundation – a charity which raises money to help kids with terminal illnesses see and meet their favourite bands. Anti-fan, this band ain’t.
“It’s all about connection,” Mark says. “Almost every day on the Warped Tour there was a Suicide Silence fan that wanted to hang out. It’s a way for us to give back, meet some unique people and make them smile.”
With a UK tour imminent and the album due for release on Feb 24th, the final verdict on Suicide Silence is still a way off. For the band, this record represents a strident step into new territories. Whether you take that step with them or not is entirely up to you. To Suicide Silence, art means following your own path, not kowtowing to entitled whiners. “A word of advice for up-and-coming bands; do what you want to do, not what other bands do, or what your ‘fans’ demand. Be yourself; that’s how this whole thing got started in the first place,” Mark says. “For us, people know who we are already – we’re not in doubt about that. Now we can see if they dig this new shit as much as they did the old.”