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Richard Christy: Drums
Jason Suecof: Guitar, Producer
Tim "Ripper" Owens: Vocals
Steve Digiorgio: Bass
Ask Charred Walls Of The Damned drummer, founding member and principal songwriter Richard Christy what he wants to achieve with the band's third full-length, Creatures Watching Over The Dead, and his answer is as succinct as it gets: "To bring the metal! I want people to listen to this album, bang their head, and have fun." It's actually hard to imagine anyone with even the slightest hankering for the hard stuff not having this exact reaction when exposed to the nine tracks comprising the record - for this is heavy, catchy, anthemic and downright killer music to wreck your neck to. At the same time, it stands as one of the most uplifting contributions to the metal canon of 2016, which is both timely and welcome. "I try to be positive with my lyrics because there's so much negativity in the world when you watch the news right now," Christy states. "I like to write about my personal experiences, things that inspire me and things that have had a positive impact in my life, and hopefully other people can relate to them and find something that inspires them."
With five years having elapsed since the quartet dropped Cold Winds On Timeless Days, it's understandable that fans have been yearning for more, but they have not exactly been sitting around, kicking their heels. Christy, who has previously played with Iced Earth, Death, Control Denied, Burning Inside and Leash Law, played drums on Monte Pittman's Inverted Grasp Of Balance, wrote music for New York State's "The Great Jack O'Lantern Blaze" event, and co-wrote a heavy metal comedy Viking rock opera with guitarist Jason Suecof and Titmouse Animation, titled "Majestic Loincloth". Suecof is of course one of the most in demand producers in contemporary metal, and during CWOTD's hiatus he worked with - among others - Death Angel, Deicide, Cryptopsy, Motionless In White and fellow Metal Blade vets Job For A Cowboy and Battlecross. Then there's legendary bassist Steve DiGiorgio, who made a name for himself in the ranks of Death, Testament, Vintersorg, Dragonlord and a myriad of other great metal bands; in recent years, he has laid down his inimitable style on records from Ephel Duath, Soen, Memorain and others. Which just leaves vocalist Tim "Ripper" Owens, who for a time fronted a little known British band named Judas Priest - before lending his formidable pipes to Iced Earth and Yngwie Malmsteen's mighty compositions, touring relentlessly under his own name, starting new band Project Rock and running a restaurant in Akron, Ohio...Needless to say, getting these four guys in one place is something of a Herculean feat, but just because everybody was busy with their own projects, it didn't mean that the band was absent from their collective consciousness, and Christy spent much of the last five years writing the songs that would comprise Creatures Watching Over The Dead. "When I write for Charred Walls I never really plan anything out. I just start playing riffs and if something sounds really cool, I'll build a song from there. My only intent is that I want our music to be heavy, melodic, and catchy. Jason and I then get together for pre-production. I'm an average guitar player so he takes my riffs and makes them amazing, and then we spend a lot of time re-arranging and crafting the songs to refine them and make them flow really well. Once we have the songs where we want them, we get together with Tim and Steve to take them to the next level."
One of the most immediately apparent aspects when listening to Creatures Watching Over The Dead is how damn direct and punchy it is; the majority of the songs clock in under four minutes, containing both the catchiest and most face-destroying music released under the Charred Walls name. "We really wanted it to have that light and shade, and I think this new record brings it all: aggression, power, feeling, technicality," states Owens. "I think it is exactly what the doctor ordered!" This is abundantly apparent on the likes of "The Soulless" with its blast-beat attack, breakneck thrash and irresistible hooks, plus the stomping beast "Reach Into The Light", which is equal parts brawny aggression and sublime melody, and has a chorus that would make In Flames jealous. In fact, across the record, the band challenge you to resist punching your fists in the air and hollering your heart out with every chorus unleashed. Having always shined in this department, it's humbling that they have managed to somehow up their game again, and never once do they fail to hit the stratosphere. "Tim is such an incredible singer, and it's so fun to build those huge choruses in the studio," Christy enthuses. "Jason and Tim have such a great ear for harmonies, and to hear the choruses take shape is so exciting. The first cassette that I ever bought was Quiet Riot's 'Metal Health', and I always loved their huge choruses, so that's definitely an influence on us!" If the choruses of opener "My Eyes", "Living In The Shadow Of Yesterday" and "Afterlife" are somehow not indelibly carved into your brain after a single exposure, you might need to see a doctor, but this could probably apply to pretty much every track. Likewise, shred maniacs will have plenty to lose their proverbial shit to, with Suecof serving up blistering leads and solos that are string-stranglingly technical, yet never at the expense of melody. Christy asserts that when it comes to metal his favorite leads are those that can be "hummed along to", but even he is caught off guard by his guitarist sometimes. "He did this whammy bar, harmonic type thing in his lead on 'The Soulless' - and I'm not even sure what the hell to call it - and it's so cool that I about fell on the floor the first time I heard it!" On "Tear Me Down", Christy also reached out to one of his favorite shredders, Rob Cavestany of Death Angel. "I've been a huge Death Angel fan since 'The Ultra-Violence', and thanks to Jason, working with Death Angel on their last few albums, we were able to get a brilliant solo from him on that song." Followers of the band will note that in titling the record, Christy stuck to the established pattern - Charred Walls Of The Damned; Cold Winds On Timeless Days; Creatures Watching Over The Dead - and when it came to lyrics, he once again wrote from the heart. While drawing from his personal experiences, Christy still covers a breadth of subject matter, adding to the overall scope and dynamic of the record. With "Lies", he flies the flag for heavy metal, recounting an experience from his youth in which his friends took acid and immediately abandoned their passion for metal in favor of fawning over The Grateful Dead, which bummed him out, but, Christy notes: "the positive aspect of it was that it kept me from ever doing drugs because I never wanted to stop listening to heavy metal!" On "My Eyes", he poignantly speaks of dreaming of loved ones who have passed and the joy entailed in encountering them, juxtaposed with the sadness upon awaking to the realization that they are gone. "The Soulless" speaks to a subject he touched upon with "Zerospan" on Cold Winds On Timeless Days. "It's about how in New York City, where I live, everybody is constantly staring at their cell phones and not actually living life. They're living inside this little electronic box, and it focuses on how I love to not be around my phone and live like in the good old days, before cell phones, where people walked around appreciating life and enjoying their surroundings."
When it was time to lay the songs down, the members convened at Suecof's Audiohammer Studio, outside Orlando, FL, and the subsequent sessions might well have been the smoothest in the history of the metalverse. With everyone more than prepared, after nailing a drum tone that sounds "so natural and crushing", Christy laid down all the drum parts in a single day, and DiGiorgio "crushed it as usual" over the space of two days, delivering an incredible performance which really shines through on every song. Suecof infused Christy's riffs with character, dynamics and sheer power as he tracked them, and then it was down to Owens, who delivered one of his finest performances - made all the more impressive by how quickly he worked. "Tim Owens is a machine in the studio. He does so much touring that his voice is super strong and he belted out this whole album - along with harmonies - in just four days. I don't know how he does it without blowing his voice out!" Christy marvels. "He's the exact kind of metal singer that I always dreamed of being in a band with since I was a kid listening to Dio and Iron Maiden. There's a scream that Tim does in 'My Eyes' that is going to totally blow people away. It sounds like David Vincent starts the scream and Ian Gillan ends it, it's awesome!"
It's understandable that the four guys are seriously proud of the finished product. Once released, Christy has a simple ambition for the record, wanting "people to crank it up while they're drinking their favorite craft beer and cleaning their guinea pig's cage - which I do once a week - or mowing the lawn!" Though the schedules of the individual members have prohibited them from touring in support of their previous records, they have managed to play a few shows, including Metallica's Orion Fest in Atlantic City, NJ, and if the fates permit it they would certainly like the opportunity to blast the tracks from Creatures Watching Over The Dead at heaving crowds. Moreover, if Christy has anything to say about it, five years will not be allowed to pass before we're treated to the fourth Charred Walls Of The Damned album. "I have a lot of songs left over from this album's writing session that I think are really good, and I'm already writing more material for the next one, so hopefully we'll have another big slab of metal for the fans soon after we release this one!"