Australian Thrashers 4ARM Check In Prior To U.S. Tour, Bay Area Metal Fest
Not long ago, I was nearly convinced that today's young thrash metal movement had spun off its axis into repetitive farce, and was ready to throw in the towel. Aping the sounds, sights, and vibes of the '80s "Golden Agers" is admirable in theory, and once (briefly) rang with the charm of novelty. But now, what's the point when most of the big boys are still in fine form, cranking out career-topping masterworks and touring like they're twenty? You can have the real thing, or something that pretends to be the real thing. It doesn't take long for nature to weed out that redundancy.
4ARM, hailing from Melbourne, Australia, doesn't pretend to be the "real thing." They simply write towering, powerful, memorable metal songs, and for that reason, they ARE the real thing. This band has salvaged my hopes for the new generation of thrash, and if given the chance, may wind up leading a bold charge of authenticity that reclaims the genre as a current, vital force - and utterly does away with the fast-dying "retro" mentality.
4ARM will soon be hitting American shores for the first time. The so-named "Zombie Apocalypse" tour will span the bulk of July, wrapping up with a performance at the vaunted Bay Area Metal Festival. Just prior to the band's departure for the States, I was delighted to get in touch with guitarist/vocalist Danny Tomb and drummer Michael "Mick" Vafiotis. What follows is our extensive email correspondence.
Mike Smith (OverkillExposure): For readers who may not be familiar with 4ARM, could you fill me in with a brief history of the band to the present day?
Danny Tomb: We’re an Australian four-piece thrash band that began back in the later parts of 2004. In 2005, we independently released our first album titled “13 Scars.” We then took a five-year break after the debut, due to members starting families and other commitments that needed a little attention. We collectively consider our official beginning to be mid-2009, when we began work on our second independent release “The Empires of Death,” which came out around mid-2010. We have since toured Australia with Testament and Destruction, signed a load of endorsement deals and signed with our first label, UK-based Rising Records, who released our third album “Submission For Liberty.” That album in turn has seen us play the Download Festival in the UK and now in your fine country, and will see us back in the UK and Europe a little later in the year.
Mike: What’s the meaning behind the band name?
Danny: The meaning behind 4ARM is to be prepared for battle. To “4ARM” is to be ready for anything! I guess it reflects on our tendencies to always over-prepare for everything we do, haha.
Mike: Tell me about your musical backgrounds. While growing up, who listened to what (metal or otherwise)? What artists would you cite as influences dearest to your hearts?
Danny: We all grew up listening to very similar bands, apart from [guitarist JP Glovasa]. That boy is weird and listens to almost anything, haha! Personally, I first heard Metallica when I was around nine and was instantly blown away. “Fight Fire With Fire” was the first thrash song I ever heard. I was like, “What the FUCK?” From there, it was all about the Bay Area bands. Testament, Megadeth, Slayer, Metallica and Machine Head have always been big influences for me. Personal artists that inspire me are definitely James Hetfield, Dave Mustaine, Robb Flynn, and Alex Skolnick. I love what Skolnick does; I think he’s a genius. I know Mick is inspired and appreciates the work from guys like Paul Bostaph, Dave Lombardo, Ulrich, Dave McClain, and yeah, lists could go on forever for us I suppose.
Mike: What, if any, other bands have you guys played in?
Danny: I was in two other bands before 4ARM. There was a band called Maladiction that I could not stand! I originally joined to help out the drummer who was a friend of mine. I had no intention of staying but ended up with them for a few wasted years. Before them, a band called Iniquity, which was kind of the beginning of Mick and I wanting to work together in bands. At the time, he played in a band called Neglection. We’d done a couple of shows together and we both began to appreciate each other’s work and capabilities. Mick ended up joining Iniquity for a short time, and thus began our friendship. Well that, and the fact that we both went to school together for around a year before I was kicked out! Haha.
Mike: 4Arm is routinely described in the press as simply a “thrash” band. However, here in the States, we currently have a so-called “retro-thrash” trend. Those bands do a great imitation of 1985, but very few seem to write such kickass, Machine Head-style songs like “The Oppressed,” “Taken Down,” or “Blood Of Martyrs.” So how would YOU guys describe your music? Do you feel the “thrash” label is limiting, in a way?
Michael Vafiotis: Although we love the old school thrash and have been influenced heavily from this, we’ve always made a conscious decision to write music that has more modern elements and definitely a more polished sound in the production. I guess a lot of people can be put off by the term “thrash” and are stuck thinking before listening that we would be a bunch of old blokes trying to relive the past. But there are a lot of bands out there such as Evile, Havok and us, bringing a fresh new interpretation of “thrash”. I don’t have a problem being labeled a “thrash” band at all.
Mike: “Submission For Liberty” is your first album with Rising Records, and a major step forward. In writing and composing the music, what approaches did you all take to really push yourselves? What will your longtime fans get from you that they haven’t gotten before? For newer fans, what might they expect to hear next?
Danny: Basically, Mick and I knew the game needed to be stepped up. We were sick and tired of playing the shitty pubs and underground places Australia was trying to palm off as live venues! We needed to push ourselves! Basically we focused on our routes and really thought about what it was that made the monster thrash albums of the past so timeless! The answer remains our little secret, but I will tell you this: it took the better part of twelve months for Mick and I to write “Submission.” I know for a fact Mick would practice drum rolls and feet work for hours on end every day. I pretty much sat down and focused heavily on my playing, even down to how I would pick strings to either dull something or make it brighter. Another thing I did was take singing lessons, which was something I’d never considered in the past, but since beginning, I will definitely continue them for future recordings. Longtime fans can expect a far better-oiled machine; we are totally in our element playing these songs, and it shows. We are all about progression, as any band would be or should be. We love the challenge of trying to outdo ourselves, so as far as what to expect to hear from us next, the answer is simple: another major step forward! It’s what we have to do.
Mike: To me, the album is very clearly an expression of individual independence, and a denouncement of overbearing governments and institutions. Common themes in metal, but I rarely hear them expressed with this kind of maturity and moral clarity. Tell me about some of the events, issues, beliefs, attitudes, and feelings that fuelled the lyrics on this album.
Danny: Whenever I approach lyrical content, I wear my heart on my sleeve. Each song I’ve ever written in 4ARM is an insight to what goes on in my head. It is very close to home, and I’m very passionate about what I choose to write about and what I want to say. I believe there is no such thing as freedom, and that liberty is a fabrication force-fed to us by governments who want you to believe you are free when, in fact, they have us all on a leash and constantly pull on it. Corporate sectors run things and rape the people of any chance of liberty they have while the governments get fat off the backs of the hardworking men and women who slave away at minimum wage only to pay everything back in taxes. I mean, free speech doesn’t even exist anymore. You cannot say what you want to say, you cannot feel how you want to feel, governments and society have told you what you can and can’t say and what you can think or feel. If no one sees that, then they are still blinded. Everything these days is politically incorrect; there are fines for everything and you need licenses for everything. Even to go fishing, you need a license. What the fuck is that? Taxes are killing us while the minimum wage has remained the same for the past fifteen years, every other cost of living has sky rocketed, and what do we do? Nothing! We sit back and take it like good little sheep. They’re laughing right in our faces and we are letting them.
Mike: I’m not too familiar with the Australian metal scene, in Melbourne or elsewhere. Can you give me a little of its flavor? What styles tend to be most popular? What are the hot spots to play and gather fans? How do you feel your national scene reacts and/or adapts to various worldwide trends in metal?
Michael: Unfortunately, the metal scene is very underground and really not strong at present. We seem to be a nation that only relies on trend music. The scene is divided into groups based on specific genres. You don’t get the sense of a close metal community over here. Also, the majority of bands try way too hard at being the most technical and aggressive band on the planet with the most over-the-top, almost unbearable vocals, that they have forgotten what it’s like to write songs with melody and groove. Its mainly hardcore/metalcore and death metal bands over here. Touring is very hard here also, as each major city is a long way from the next (some can be a 24 hour drive), so touring becomes very expensive and logistically impossible.
Mike: How and where in the national scene does a band like 4ARM fit in?
Michael: Even though 4ARM are considered in the elite group of Australian metal bands, we just don’t have the numbers and support to make a living from national album sales or touring. There is a level where you reach here and will never grow unless heading out internationally. It’s no secret that we are a band that doesn’t want to be pigeonholed into such a scene, and we do see our future being outside Australia.
Mike: Breaking out into the world, 4ARM recently played Download in the UK. Tell me all about it! How do you feel you were received, overall?
Michael: Probably stands out right now as the most memorable moment of my career. To think I’d be here talking about the day I played Download Festival is kind of crazy. You don’t appreciate the actual scale of how big the festival is until you become a part of it. Even though the weather was a letdown, it didn’t stop bands and fans having one hell of a time. Our show seemed to get a great response. To travel all the way over to the UK and look up and see fists in the air, a circle pit with kids going mental, and the crowd singing along to some of the lyrics gave me great pleasure viewing behind the kit, I must say.
Mike: What artists did you get to watch, and who impressed you the most? Other miscellaneous highlights or horror stories?
Michael: I got to see a little of Freebase before our set, but prior obligations prevented me from seeing a lot of bands on the Saturday. Over the three days though, I managed to see a few bands. Trivium, Metallica, Anthrax, Kyuss, Sabbath, Megadeth, Shadows Fall, Black Label, Ghost, Soundgarden, Fear Factory and a few others. Don’t get many opportunities back home to watch so many great bands at one given time, so I made the most of it. Highlight was, of course, Metallica. Trivium was really fierce and I enjoyed hearing them. Only horror story would be trawling through all the sludge in gumboots. Didn’t expect that to happen. Always looks real “metal” getting your photo taken wearing gumboots, haha.
Mike: You're scheduled to play the Bay Area Metal Festival. Have you become fans of any of the bands on the bill? Which are you most looking forward to watching or performing with?
Michael: I’ve been into Mudface for a while now. I think playing with all the bands on the bill will be exciting. Being the Bay Area Metal Festival, I can bet it will be a quality lineup and that a lot of good bands will be on show that day.
Mike: As thrash fans, do you anticipate playing in the Bay Area as a “pilgrimage to Mecca” of sorts?
Michael: Well, that’s where thrash metal’s roots came from, so I’m expecting a vibe like no other there.
Mike: Prior to the festival, you'll be touring throughout the Western U.S. Aside from playing for new crowds, what aspects of this adventure have you most excited? Most ambivalent?
Michael: Just the different culture and experiences, really. I’m really excited about the weather over there right now. I kind of function a lot better as a human being in the hotter temperatures. It will be the longest we’ve been on tour, so it will test all our stamina and patience with one another also.
Mike: Any landmarks or attractions you hope to visit while you’re here?
Michael: Hoping not to see the inside of a jail cell, that’s for sure! Hopefully we’ll get some time to spend looking at the country and its attractions. Probably go see The Golden Gate, the strip in Hollywood and the casinos in Vegas. We have the Fourth of July off, so we will be checking out the festivities for that, no doubt. Also, I’ve been hearing about the Double Bypass Burgers at some Heart Attack Grill place. Must try it and see what the hype’s about!
Mike: The global metal community abounds with national, cultural, and “scene/genre-specific” stereotypes. Which, if any, about U.S. fans do you hope to see disproven or confirmed?
Danny: I wanna see confirmed that thrash metal is the only genre that matters! Haha, to be honest, all the labels and subgenre bullshit really does my head in. I would love to see all that rubbish just put to death. Call it what it is! Thrash is thrash, death is death, and blah, blah, blah. It doesn’t have to be so complicated.
Mike: Your upcoming tour mates Casket For Cassandra were recently the victims of a dreadful theft (their tour van was stolen), one of a working band’s worst nightmares. Has 4Arm endured any setbacks, injustices, or hardships like that? How did you persevere?
Michael: Yeah, just heard about that. Quite disgusting and appalling, really. Things like this really make it even tougher for us bands to do these things like touring and doing what we love. As every band knows, it’s a constant struggle and you endure setbacks after setbacks constantly. Either you ride these out and keep pushing forward, or just get swallowed up by the industry and crumble. We have indeed had many struggles along the way, some not our fault, some self-inflicted. Our bassist Andy [Hinterreiter] severed the tendons in his fingers a while back, which set us back almost a year as he underwent microsurgery and rehab. I’ve also broken my finger, and Danny broke his whole hand. So things always happen, it’s just life I guess.
Mike: Tell me a little about yourselves outside the band. Other careers, hobbies, family, sports, etc. – what are your biggest interests and passions outside music?
Michael: I have been working as a chef most of my life. I am a big sports nut, so I enjoy watching and playing a lot of sports. Mainly English Football and our own Aussie Rules are what glue me to the TV. Play a little soccer, as you guys call it, just to keep fit and active. I think it’s important to have another hobby outside music to break things up and also gives those ears a rest. Hoping to check out some NFL or baseball whilst I’m in the USA.
Danny: I am a tattoo artist, have been for around five years now. I’ve always been into art even from a very early age, whether it be sketching or writing. I could always just lose myself in it and spend hours doing either. I’m a bodybuilding fanatic, I totally dig Schwarzenegger and do a pretty mean impersonation, haha. I body-built for years before I started getting real busy with music, and I’ve even made it a mission of mine to visit the gym that eight-time Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman frequents in Arlington, Texas, while I’m over there!
Mike: Do you guys have any particular favorite metal releases in 2012 so far? What’s been blasting your ears lately and currently?
Michael: Waiting anxiously for Testament’s newie. I love Shadows Fall’s “Fire From The Sky” and Kreator’s “Phantom Antichrist.”
Danny: Kreator, “Phantom Antichrist,” and I can’t wait for Testament’s new album!
Mike: Lastly, tell me about 4ARM’s immediate plans for the near future. How will you spend the rest of the year? Any special tours, shows, videos, or other projects? What are your major upcoming goals as you continue to break into the worldwide metal scene?
Michael: We are going to do as much worldwide touring for this album as possible. Looking at shows in Europe in October, then Japan sometime in November. We will take a break over Christmas, then start looking at our next set of goals for 2013. We’d like to get a spot at Soundwave early next year, then get back to a full run of Euro festival shows in summer. There has been a slight hint at going in the studio and recording a new album midyear. So we will see what new ideas we come up with from now until then.
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