‘Were not going out and killing goats.’ Chaos Inception’s Matt Barnes and Gary White dispel the death metal stereotype.

One of the fastest, heaviest bands on the scene profess their love of death metal.

'There’s a couple degrees back there.’ Matt Barnes says, casually pointing to the framed certificates hanging on the wall behind him. Up to now in our interview, Barnes has spoken in short bursts, listening and nodding to bandmate Gary White’s answers and stories. Now he’s telling me he’s the smartest man in metal. ‘I studied psychology and philosophy so I got two Bachelor’s degrees and then I got a Master’s degree in History of Psychology,’ Barnes continues in his Southern twang. I can see in his face the pride in his achievement, but that is almost shoved aside by the self-conscious near-embarrassment he feels at having just pointed that out. ‘I was going to be a professor and write histories of psychology and then I realised it was only like ten people in the world who did that so there was no huge demand for it! So you gotta go with whatever you got after that.’

 

Aside from serious brains, Matt Barnes has huge chops. Of the guitar variety, that is. As lead guitarist and chief songwriter of Hunstville, Alabama’s Chaos Inception his musical works have been on show once more after the release of second album, The Abrogation. A more musically assured and improved follow-up to debut Collision With Oblivion, Barnes has now set up his signature guitar sound – furiously unyielding riffs blending immovable heaviness with untold waves of melody. As the main lyric writer, his words read like a sci-fi novel: A cyclone of sand obscures the figure/Wind whips my face, I squint to set my gaze/Against the blinding sun and storm I glimpse Nemesis.

There is certainly a feeling of more focus this time around, of trimming away any excess fat (although Collision... was pretty lean to start off), culminating in a blindingly fast and heavy record. A target which was achieved in the end but was painful to start. ‘It was kind of stressful,’ sighs Gary White, Chaos Inception’s long-haired, barrel-chested and deep-voiced drummer. He too has improved upon last time playing with extra confidence, not afraid to add different techniques to his bombastic blast beats. ‘We pushed it up a little bit from the first album. Obviously it’s a little bit faster, we put a lot more time into the writing. In fact the lyrics probably took a little bit more time; Matt wrote a lot of the lyrics, got really creative!’

Barnes and White admit to being a lot happier with this album than the last. The playing is better, the sound superior and the reception has been very positive. They finally shook off the disappointment on hearing what they felt was a below-par sound quality on Collision... only to find they had been tagged with the dreaded ‘r’ word. ‘We keep hearing a lot about us being a retro band and I think a lot of people don’t realise that we’re 35,’ White explains. ‘We’ve been around for quite a while [in] different bands and stuff; we’re definitely not retro. That’s just the style of music we grew up with...it’s not really anything that was planned, I think it’s just something that came naturally because that’s what we grew up listening to. I think you can probably hear the influences.’

And indeed you can. But is being labelled retro a bad thing? Is it a problem to sound like Death or Morbid Angel (whose poster adorns the wall above Barnes’ head) or any of those great death metal bands that came before them? Taking influence from the very best of any genre or its sub-culture applies to almost anyone – It’s impossible to find a thrash metal band that doesn’t sound like Metallica or Megadeth; every punk rock band takes aural queues from the Sex Pistols and The Ramones. Although this frustrates Barnes when he feels like he has ‘failed, like I didn’t get the point across’ if people draw too many comparisons to some of his favourite bands like Entombed or Autopsy, sometimes the resemblance is unavoidable. ‘Some of the things we just like too much and we say, Well that sounds like Morbid Angel - who cares? I like the sound of that...and other times just like if you do the – we call it a triplet blast beat; that one-two-three – hey, you can’t do that without being compared to Morbid Angel. But that’s just so broad, I mean Pete Sandoval [drummer Terrorizer, Morbid Angel] just pretty much invented that whole thing. The amount of blasting we have, that’s who we’re gonna be compared to...but I listen to stuff like at extremes like the most progressive things to the shittiest stuff that you could listen to. From Tony McAlpine to Conqueror and then I put that together.’

‘I think anybody should do that whether you’re into death metal or whatever it is,’ Gary White agrees with his bandmate’s curious influences. ‘Because you have a lot of people that I think are just in the closet; they’ll listen to certain kinds of music and they may think that it’s not true [to their genre] to listen to [another] kind of music. I don’t look at it that way. I think you should just do what you do and if you like it and you’re true to it I don’t see what the issue is. I think you also have people too that may act like they’re in a certain genre of music and they don’t even listen to it. Because I’ve seen that with the death metal/black metal genre...they may be in a black metal band and they act like they’re all cult and cold and all that, then you run into them on the street they look like they just got back from a Korn concert!’ White laughs. ‘Which is fine, but I’m just saying you shouldn’t hide what you are.’

If there’s one lesson we should learn in life it is appearances can be deceiving. Barnes, the archetypal death metal guitarist with long hair and black clothing, is possessed...with brains. But even after achieving his degrees, it took a while for his dad to accept his brainiac son didn’t like his favoured jazz and country music he spent 30 years playing around the clubs of Chicago. Eventually he came around to the idea. ‘He thought it was a bunch of devil worshippers,’ explains Barnes. ‘So I’d have to hide my tapes. But at a certain point he didn’t care anymore; when I was ten years old he was trying to take away my Iron Maiden tapes but then [my parents] were buying me tapes...like my mom bought me BathoryThe Return [of The Darkness and Evil].’ Similar rewards were bestowed upon a young Barnes after getting good grades in school and slowly they have warmed to his choice of vocation. ‘They didn’t really encourage it but now that I’m doing something with it they like it.’

Gary White’s is a similar story: ‘When I was younger my parents weren’t really supportive at all [with being a death metal musician]; they hated it.’ But White is not upset with his parents at all, he accepts that they are from different cultures – different worlds almost – and he understands why they were not the supportive people they are now way back when. ‘I think people when they don’t understand something the first thing you do is you throw up a wall. I think that was what was going on with them and I think once they met a lot of the people that were in the scene and saw that they were actually good people and that it’s just music and we’re not going out and sacrificing little children and killing goats or anything like that they could see that it was just silly and that was very stereotypical.’

Indeed White is right. Stereotypes are rife, especially when it comes to metal musicians. While it’s true that there’s no smoke without fire, some of it is just plain wrong. Hell, some of them have degrees in psychology. ‘Some, yeah!’ White laughs heartily then points to Barnes beside him. ‘He’s one of my best friends. Probably one of my other best friends is Rob Kline from Pessimist, he is a [Forensic] Psychologist; he owns his own private practice and he’s lucrative! But he still loves death metal, too. That’s the great thing about him, he’s one of the people that still looks and acts exactly the same and he loves metal music but he’s a doctor. I think that’s really good because that helps break down the stereotype that everyone has long hair or anyone that listens to death metal is all on drugs and all have issues and problems and we cause problems. I just think that’s a really good thing especially as you get older because you don’t want to be thought of that way when you’re 35. Maybe when you’re 19 that might be cool.’

It can not be said of Barnes and White that they lack confidence. They know how good they are and are fiercely proud of The Abrogation, and they think it’s about time you heard it. ‘We just want to get it out there and let people enjoy good death metal,’ says White. ‘We just want to do death metal at a high calibre, write good songs, write good lyrics and not just slap an album together. A lot of death metal bands just don’t put the time into their music or they’re just not very good musicians. I mean, there’s a lot of lacklustre death metal out there...but we put a lot of hard time in. We just want people to enjoy it and see that we work hard and it’s good quality death metal.’ A clear statement of intent by the sticksman. But the band leader, the brains behind the chaos, goes further. ‘I read histories of heavy metal, all the Martin Popoff and all that stuff. I think I can honestly say that this album...I think historically it will be seen as one of the best albums that’s like that.’

And so with history beckoning them, we abrogate our interview.