Stafford's Those Snakes overcame personal strife to produce second record - unsigned column
When an up-and-coming metal band from Stafford approached a producer who can count the likes of Napalm Death, Machine Head and The Big 4 - Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeth and Slayer - among his past projects, they weren't sure if they would hear much back.
But Those Snakes were bold. And on the recommendation of Owen Davies from Loud Noises Studios, the man who produced their 2017 debut album Holy Mountain, they sent it off to Russ Russell.
"It was amazing to even get a response, let alone the chance to record with him," said guitarist and vocalist Karl Slater - originally from Cannock but now living in Stafford. "He's done so many of my favourite albums. I'm probably the biggest fan of his in the band.
"And to get positive feedback from him in the studio made us all feel like we were doing something right for a change. Everyone should check out not only his production but his musical work on Tronos just to get an idea of how limitless this man's ability is."
Slater is joined in the four-piece by bassist and vocalist Sandy Stanton, an old school friend who has also made the move from Cannock to Stafford. Drummer Tom Wilson was born in Stafford but now lives in Abbott's Bromley, and their second guitarist is Daniel Jennings, who resides in Stone.
"We are all feeling very positive, confident and relieved to get it out there," Slater adds of the new record Widowmaker, which is out on February 28. "So much raw energy has gone into this. Pure emotion, anger, resentment, hard work, literal blood, sweat and tears has gone into making this. It needs to be heard."
The recording process with Russell was a breeze as the experienced producer put the newer musicians at ease.
"He is a very relaxed yet super-organised person," Slater continues. "We'd start at around 10am in the morning regardless of how much we drank and what time we stayed up 'til the night before. The setup at his Parlour Recording Studio is awesome. Russ knows his way around all the gear like the back of his hand so everything went smoothly. He's a super nice and friendly person and was just easy to get along with. He absolutely loved Sandy. The two of them laughed a lot recording his bass parts.
"The time we spent there will be locked in our memories forever."
WATCH: The video for Those Snakes' Ghosts of Tomorrow
And he left the band with a few nuggets of advice they won't be forgetting any time soon.
"He has the mind of a master and everything he said to me has been burnt in," adds Slater. "He got Tom playing things he thought he couldn't play. He was very fond of Sandy's punk way of playing the bass and influenced him to try more things of a similar vein on the record. And he also taught me how to sing properly, in just 15 minutes! He did a lot for us, definitely."
But it wasn't all positivity and laughter. The album tackles some very serious issues and was fraught with difficulties before Russell was on board. An injury to Jennings hampered his time with them, and there was also upheaval among the members that threatened to derail them before they'd even got going. Yet here they are, stronger than ever.
"The overall theme of the album is death, but more exclusively death in men," Slater reveals. "The reason this topic came about was because of personal things that happened to us during the writing process. We had two members leave a few months before recording which meant they were no longer funding the recording with me and Tom.
"It couldn't have come at a worse time - literally a week after having to deal with an emergency with my daughter where a virus almost took her away. I was down on money, I had to find more of it somehow to fund the recording. Tom was going through his own personal torment, having a family member die of cancer. To say we were both bummed out is an understatement.
"We were depressed. I don't think we realised it at the time, but looking back at it we were utterly depressed. We stuck at it though. Me and Tom carried on practising and wrote an album. Themes of revenge by murder, suicide - we wrote a song covering this subject with reasons not to go through with it, war and cataclysmic events caused by human interference with the Earth. I've always been the first to say 'you don't have to feel sad to write something sad', but this record and all the events around it actually helped make it a better record. Would I want to go through that again? Hell no. Was it worth it? It is 100 per cent worth everything we went through."
They'll be launching Widowmaker with a show at their hometown's Redrum the day after it comes out, February 29. Backed up by two bands they are proud to call friends - Prognosis and King Corpse - it promises to be a night full of raw energy and huge riffs.
"We are about halfway sold and hoping for a packed crowd on the day," Slater adds. I think people will be keen to hear our new songs and our friends. Both bands we have played with lots of times. Not only are they amazing bands but great people who we love hanging out with, which is why we chose them to play with us at this gig."
The album will be available to buy in physical format at the show, and all tickets will include entry to an after party where the band will be letting off some steam after all the hard work and strife to get to this point.
Then comes a tour.
"Our UK tour is almost finished with two slots needing to be filled," Slater adds. "We will be heading out with our friends Battalions starting in Hull on April 25.
"We also have a festival slot in July but can't announce that just yet. It's a big one and we are really excited for it. We will be playing in the US for a few shows in the summer unless we get another festival that we are hoping to play. If so we will go over in the winter."
Which of course means that, to paraphrase a popular Samuel L Jackson movie, Those mother f***ing Snakes may end the year on a mother f***ing plane. And they deserve it after all the hard work to get here.
Widowmaker will be available for direct download from Those Snakes's website along with a limited edition digisleeve CD with exclusive artwork and a very limited live album. Murder Bar Records will be putting out a vinyl later in the year. Fans will also be able to hear it on their Spotify page, and it will be available through the usual digital outlets too. Tickets to the Redrum launch show are available from PartyBeep for £5 or £7 on the door. For more on Those Snakes, follow them on Twitter @ThoseSnakesBand and Facebook @ThoseSnakes