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“We never broke up,” exclaims Shai Hulud guitarist and founding member Matt Fox. “[Bassist] Matt Fletcher and I never said we were hanging this up.” Instead of making new Shai Hulud music 24/7, Fox and Fletcher were working on the Zombie Apocalypse side project, touring overseas, parting ways with vocalist Geert Van Der Velde, and searching for members to fill out vacant slots; all while writing and demoing Misanthropy Pure, their Metal Blade Records debut.
So, don’t call it a comeback. It’s not a reunion. It’s an emergence from a hibernation that included plenty of activity. Shai Hulud have returned to the forefront of a scene they helped create. While the current “metalcore” climate has a blueprint that was co-authored by Shai Hulud, the band isn’t content to rest on past triumphs, namely the definitive A Profound Hatred Of Man EP, released in 1997, and the equally as influential Hearts Once Nourished With Hope And Compassion record, also released in 1997. Shai Hulud are pushing their sound and the scene forward.
“This album is the same album that would have come out in 2005 had we not parted ways with Geert,” says Fox. “We are still good friends with him. When he heard the songs, he’d say, ‘Are you are going to use that riff? Cool.’ So he was even in the mix of this album.”
Now, for a little back-story: Shai Hulud formed in 1995, the project a few friends with a love for metal and hardcore, and for writing and recording. They played shows at Cheers in Miami, released a seven inch, people cared enough to write fan letters all the way from Iowa, something that blew Fox away, and they got signed to Crisis/Revelation Records on a fluke. Vocalist Chad Gilbert left to play in pop-punk phenom New Found Glory. The band met Van Der Velde, a major fan living in Holland, when they went overseas –without a singer- for a tour. Fletcher was playing guitar at the time, and singing, because “things fell apart, as they often do for Shai Hulud,” Fox says, with a note of sarcasm rising in his voice. “We met Geert at the second show and became friends, and he became our singer.” The band eventually migrated from Florida to Poughkeepsie, NY in 2000 in order to be more centrally located. After 4 years of touring and making music, and releasing 2003’s That Within Blood Ill-Tempered, Geert and the band mutually parted ways, due to the age old “personality differences” excuse.
When the metalcore sound was in its infancy, there were 4 bands that every band was copying and those bands were Dillinger Escape Plan, Converge, Poison the Well, and Shai Hulud. Shai Hulud – yes, they take their name from Dune-- fused punk, metal, hardcore, and thrash in a way that hadn’t been done before, and the inspired, fevered lyrical delivery attracted rabid fans who had a cult-like worship for the band. Shai Hulud represented an ethos and an ethic: touring till they wore the tread off the tires, playing expressly for the kids, and having something of note to say in the lyrics. Shai Hulud were vital, essential and relevant, so much so that Alternative Press did an “oral history” feature on the band, an accolade reserved for bands that have carved out an undeniable place in the hearts of music fans.
Fast forward to 2008: Matt Mazzali is the new singer of Shai Hulud, having been introduced to the band by a mutual friend. Misanthropy Pure is the long-awaited follow up to 2003’s That Within Blood Ill Tempered. The core remains Fox and Fletcher, who have a real passion for music. “We’re the guys, who when we go on tour, are looking for the used record store. We love to play it, find it, and experiment with it. We’re not business minded. We take longer to write and release records since we want to bring emotion to it. We’re passionate about living music,” says Fox. “Music is like pizza and sex. It never gets old, and it’s something we will always love. Playing songs from A Profound Hatred will never get old.”
As for Misanthropy Pure, the band’s first offering in over 5 years, Shai Hulud kicks it old school, according to Fox. “It’s faster, slower, more metal, less metal, more rock, more progressive, and less progressive than anything we’ve ever done. There’s not a million change ups on power chords. It’s a lot heavier and punchier. It doesn’t adhere to any current trends and is 100% Southern rock-free. There’s not one conventional breakdown, yet it still maintains the ferocity,” Fox admits.
Lyrically, Misanthropy Pure retains Shai Hulud’s signature style that makes the listener think. And sing along! “We wanted a themed album,” reveals Fox. “We’re not hateful people. I’d like to think we are pleasant, affable people. But the theme of the band is a focused hatred, for the right reasons, of mankind. That Within Blood Ill-Tempered was supposed to be seething, but it wasn’t. I want people to pick that record up and be like, ‘Holy fuck!’ Ironically, unbeknownst to us, that album turned out hopeful and inspirational. It wasn’t supposed to be that way. We’re not ashamed of that, of being aggressive musically with positive lyrics. But ultimately, that’s not what we were going for. We wanted it to have the same theme as Profound, times ten thousand, but the songs on Blood turned out cool and have an emotive impact.”
But for Misanthropy Pure, which was recorded at Silver Bullet Media in CT and mixed by Eric Rachel at Trax East, Fox aimed to achieve that same pissed off theme as Profound, which is considered a hardcore classic and a landmark in the HxCx canon. The mission was definitely accomplished and the rage seeps from every one of the album’s pores.
“We knew we had to make it insanely pissed. ‘Venomspreader’ was the original title, and is the title of one of the songs, but that word was being used in so many other albums by Throwdown and Hatebreed at the time, so we made it the first song and chose Misanthropy Pure as the title to get the message across. Our overall goal to make it have the biggest punch of everything we’ve ever done,” Fox finishes. That’s a huge statement to make, considering how highly regarded Profound is by scenesters.
But the band achieves that goal of maximum pissed off’ness on Misanthropy Pure, insisting that the energy and inspiration to be misanthropic and pissed at the human race is not hard to find. “For such a pissed off band, we’re not unhappy guys,” laughs Fox. The band, indeed, exists as the vehicle to get the red out and to make the listeners think about how fucked up their fellow man can be. “The way man conducts himself is not conducive of progression,” Fox theorizes. “We write about people we see and think suck. We’re not trying to be poetic.”
Songs like ‘Venomspreader’ touch on how people don’t progress mankind, and how they abet social regression by carrying spite and resentment, and how that can become a cancer eating away at their soul. ‘Four Earths’ is a sci-fi story about the stupid things man does to a single earth, so imagine what he could do to destroy 4 earths, if we had such resources. Clearly, Shai Hulud are thinking man’s heavy metal, exploring topics all the while making you question everything.
Musically, the album combines hardcore, thrash, punk and metal, and siphons influence from diverse sources, ranging from Metallica to Burn to Testament to Dead Kennedy’s to Circle Jerks. “We were influenced by Youth of Today and Testament from day one,” Fox says proudly of the days before the term “metalcore” even existed. He admits the up the ante, refusing to adhere to trends or to cash in on some musical renaissance. “It’s like that movie Deep Blue Sea,” Fox says. “The tagline on the DVD box is ‘Bigger. Faster. Smarter. Meaner.’ That’s how this record is. Is it the best thing we’ve ever done? I don’t know. We’ll leave that to those who listen.”