October 17, 2012

With a focus on friendship and fun, Hammerlord puts a twist on metal

Hammerlord calls itself a punk/metal/thrash band, and it plays high-speed, rip-roaring rock songs titled accordingly: “Storm the Castle,” “Tombstone Piledriver” and “Demon Fever.” But the motivation behind the founding of the band was warm and simple. Friendship and fun.

Hammerlord calls itself a punk/metal/thrash band, and it plays high-speed, rip-roaring rock songs titled accordingly: “Storm the Castle,” “Tombstone Piledriver” and “Demon Fever.”

But the motivation behind the founding of the band was warm and simple. Friendship and fun.

“We started doing it for purely selfish reasons,” said Stevie Cruz, the band’s lead singer. “We just wanted to make a (great) heavy-metal record, for fun. But the more we got into it, we realized it was worth taking the music out and playing live.”

Since Cruz started jamming with drummer Adam Mitchell and guitarist Ty Scott in 2008, Hammerlord has added another guitarist, J.P. Vaughan, and bassist Terry Taylor, released two full-length albums, generated some legitimate online buzz within the heavy metal underground and started its own annual tradition: Hammerween, a mashup of hard-core metal and Halloween.

Saturday night, Hammerlord will host “Hammerween III: Season of the Hammerlord” at the Beaumont Club in Westport.

“It’ll be only our third show of the year,” Cruz said. “We did a show (recently) at the Replay in Lawrence to knock the dust off. So Hammerween is going to be action-packed.”

It will also be the latest chapter in a group that was started after Cruz’s other band, the Esoteric, went on an extended hiatus, which left Cruz with a lot of spare time on his hands.

“Everything I’d been doing was for the band,” he said. “I’d sacrificed my health, my personal relationships, everything. The band was the center of my world. When that stopped, I didn’t know what to do. It was scary but liberating. I was stoked.”

During one of the Esoteric’s final tours, Mitchell, who had recently rejoined the band as its drummer, played recordings of some informal jamming he’d been doing with Scott, whom he’d met at a record store in Lawrence.

“It was amazing,” said Cruz, who also DJs regularly in Lawrence and Kansas City as DJ Motley Cruz. “I said, ‘We should get together and make an old-school heavy metal record.’ Nothing came of it until about a year later, when I ran into Adam in Lawrence. He said, ‘Wanna come over and mess with the heavy metal stuff?’ I wasn’t doing anything with my voice, so we met at Adam’s house and I got involved.”

As the recording process evolved, all three realized the project was worthy of more than just a one-off recording. So Taylor and Vaughan were enlisted, and the band started playing live. Its first show was at the Replay Lounge in Lawrence at the end of 2008. Even then, the ambitions were modest.

“It was all going to be for fun,” Cruz said, “There was no idea of being a real band trying to get signed and going out on tour. We just wanted to make a record and play some shows around town.”

But the “Hammerlord” album came out and started generating some good reviews online.

From Blabbermouth.com: “Where more than a few of the current crop of retro-thrashers walk gingerly on that fine line between ‘true’ and ‘trend,’ Hammerlord leaves no doubt that they spent at least a good portion of their salad days destroying their bedrooms to the tune of ‘Kill ’Em All,’ ‘Reign in Blood’ and countless other speed-addled classics.”

The band’s hybrid of metal styles generates a variety of descriptions, even within the band. Its website calls it “relentless Midwest metal with punk and thrash influence.”

Mitchell: “If I had to sum it up in a word: thrash.”

Taylor: “1980s (San Francisco) Bay area thrash with a twist of modern metal.”

That hybrid has its supporters and detractors in the metal world, which is filled with unrepentant purists.

“Even in the heavy metal world, people are tripping on why the drums and bass are death metal but the guitars and vocals are thrash,” Cruz said. “Some people love or embrace it; some can’t stand it. We also use standard (guitar) tuning; most metal bands don’t. It’s not like we’re intentionally trying to keep people guessing. It’s just how we are.”

“Hammerlord” was eventually picked up by Init Records, a hard-core/metal label in Sioux Falls, S.D. The label also released the follow-up, “Wolves at War’s End.” And the band started playing shows around the Midwest, from Wichita to Chicago, and picking up prime opening gigs for bands like Testament, Valient Thorr, Devil Driver, Static-X and Rob Zombie.

The band’s schedule has been limited this year. Cruz said they’d intended to do fewer shows, but the schedule has been lighter than expected because Mitchell is recovering from a leg injury. The inactivity has everyone chomping at the bit.

“We’re going to play all our new stuff,” he said. “It’s going to be jam-packed. Everyone’s really hungry to play.”

The band is recording new material; it also bought a van, two signs that the future is likely to get busier and will include plans for Hammerween IV. But the objective hasn’t changed, Taylor said.

“A lot of the bands I have been in I have had too much pressure; pressure to get signed, pressure to tour eight months a year, pressure to make more money, pressure to keep our managers and agents happy. Pressure, pressure, pressure,” he said.

“Hammerlord is the exact opposite. Obviously we would like to get signed and play out of town more, but that is not the focus. The focus is to have fun and create some kick-butt music along the way. Also I get along with these guys so well. Such a laid-back atmosphere makes it really easy to enjoy what we are doing.”

“Everyone in the band is on the same levels technically,” Cruz said. “In some bands, somebody might start complaining about wanting to write songs and it’s like, ‘Your songs suck.’ Not in this band. Everyone has something to contribute. And on top of that, these are the kind of guys I want to get in a van and go on the road with.”

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