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  • Tiana Speter

EXCLUSIVE: Simon Neil & Mike Vennart Share Their Fave Metal Albums Of All Time

Photo Credit: Gavin Smart

Over a decade in the making and consisting of a truly sweltering array of talent, the band Empire State Bastard may be a new name for some. But when you combine the likes of Mike Vennart (Oceansize, Biffy Clyro touring guitarist) and Simon Neil (Biffy Clyro) alongside the talents of drummer Dave Lombardo (Slayer, Mr. Bungle) and bassist Naomi Macleod, there was never any doubt the end result would be nothing short of astonishing.

From Vennart and Neil spending their touring downtime devouring the most intense, confronting and/or avant-garde tunes imaginable to the pair finally conjuring their own sonic hellscape, the road to Empire State Bastard ultimately hurled together hues from the likes of Slayer, Mike Patton, Melvins, Dillinger Escape Plan alongside any and all metal that inspired the duo throughout their lifetime, with Empire State Bastard now set to release their debut album Rivers of Heresy this Friday 1 September via Roadrunner Records.

For Biffy fans, the delectable chaos that lies in wait on Rivers of Heresy may not be entirely what you'd expect. A collection of tracks that revels in themes surrounding misanthropy and nihilism, the pure genius that lies at the core of all involved elevates a complex yet enthralling album into one that powerfully captures the angst and unrest of the big, bad world and somehow leaves you feeling hopeful - even if it's just hope that you're not the only one feeling overwhelmed dealing with reality on a daily basis.

A modern yet nostalgic melting pot of all things metal, Rivers of Heresy is truly a stalwart addition to 2023's overwhelmingly stacked release schedule. And in honour of this fact and ahead of the album's release later this week, The Soundcheck's Tiana Speter spent some time over Zoom with Vennart and Neil themselves to bring you each of their favourite 3 metal albums of all time. What album did Mike Vennart come out of the womb listening to? What album does Simon Neil put on to test if someone is "one of us"? Clear your schedule and your playlists and come dive into some of the pair's formative records that ultimately would go on to help shape Empire State Bastard.



Will Haven - El Diablo

I'll pick Will Haven’s El Diablo as my first one. It was a record I discovered when I was about 15 years old, but I had to get an import and it cost me 22 pounds. It was like a real investment and it was just one of the most cathartic, primal pieces of music. There's a hint of kind of shoegaze in the guitars, obviously there’s a lot of that kind of thing going on now; but this is like 28 years ago or 27 years ago. And Will Haven, they just had this groove, and it wasn't the Pantera groove, it wasn't like the Sepultura groove, it was their own fucking thing. And the way they operated as basically a three piece band, you know guitar, bass and drums, they had their singer Grady [Avenell] as well. But there's something in that album and there's a magic and a real hopelessness as well as hopefulness in that record. And you can tell they've made that album with no view of being popular or successful. It's just an expression of who they are at that point. And there's something really, really special about that. I feel like not a lot of people know that record or knew it at the time, and I think it felt like that was my little secret. I would always kind of test people, if I put on Will Haven and they went: oh, that's a bit noisy! I was like: I'll never forget that. I'll remember you're not one of us. It was honestly a test point for me with people. But I still love that record to this day.


Black Sabbath - Paranoid

For my first one, I'm going to say Black Sabbath’s Paranoid, which is kind of Black Sabbath's greatest hits, most of their best songs are on there. I feel like I came out of the womb listening to that fucking record. I know it like the back of my hand, and yet whenever I do listen to it, I seem to find something new. It’s as dry as a bone and there's no fucking effects on it. It's just a band in a room who know their fucking songs inside out. And nobody sings like Ozzy Osborne. Nobody ever has, nobody ever will. He just sounds at once both terrified and terrifying. He's like this strange wailing moan from this fantastic fucking human.


Sepultura - Chaos A.D.

For my second one, I'm going to go with Sepultura’s Chaos A.D. After going through a big Metallica phase, Metallica were my first love, I was lucky to see them live when I was 11 and it led me down this path of discovering just the next level of metal bands. We were really lucky during that early 90s period, metal was really evolving and changing a lot - but there was something about Sepultura. I know they started off a little bit as a death metal band with Beneath the Remains and things. Chaos A.D. is, I guess, their kind of pop record - but it's fucking insane. The riffs on it that Andreas Kisser and [Max] Cavalera came up with are insane. The drums almost basically, for better or worse, preempted nu metal I guess. Nu metal was almost a mixture of Sepultura and Faith No More and kind of combining them together. But Cavalera’s delivery…I’ve still never heard anyone who sings like Max Cavalera. And it's still an inspiring record, it still sounds new. And when I think about it, actually, I think I bought the fucking singles off that album as well. Unless I'm mistaken, Orgasmatron, there was a live cover of Motorhead, it goes“I am the one, Orgasmatron”, and I think that was on the Refuse / Resist single (Mike Vennart chimes in here: It absolutely was!). That’s how important these albums are. And as you get older, you look back and you realise the albums that really left a mark on you. Not every album you love in your life leaves a mark, but those albums left a big mark in me, and the same with Mike. And you never fucking forget it.


Faith No More - Angel Dust

Next up, I'm going to say Angel Dust by Faith No More, because it's the record that opened the door to the freaky stuff. Everything that Mike Patton did from there on…well, from the Mr. Bungle record that preceded it, you realize that we're a long way now from Iron Maiden and from anything that's come before. You've got a guy who wants to scream his fucking head off in the most visceral and pained way, but also wants to croon a country and western tune shortly afterwards. It just blew my mind. It became pretty much my most favorite record of all time, and I still love it to this day.


Converge - Jane Doe

Lastly, I always have to mention Converge because they were such an important band for me, so I’m going with Converge Jane Doe. It’s hard to kind of explain that when that album came out, was it 2001? It really blew the bloody doors off, to fucking paraphrase Michael Caine (Neil pauses, laughing with Vennart). Refused’s The Shape of Punk To Come was like this arty kind of punk record. Converge’s Jane Doe really took every extreme bit of music from Morbid Angel-type stuff, and from Napalm Death-type stuff to the more Revelation Records hardcore-type stuff and just packaged it into this absolutely insane record that fucking sounds like a mainstream record. The sounds in that, I think Kurt Ballou worked on it, their guitarist, I think he co-produced it. But the kind of texture of that album, the delivery of Jacob Bannon's vocals…there's like a fizz to the mix of it that gives it a layer of anger. It's like the ramped up fucking rage mix or channel, whatever it is. And it just has this vitality to it that I think a lot of heavy records can struggle to get, and it's that life and soul of what they have. It’s an album that pulsates out the speakers and there's not a lot of heavy records that do that to me, that feel that they're actually crawling out the fucking speaker. So yeah, Converge. God bless you motherfuckers.


Iron Maiden - Piece of Mind

And for my last one, I'm going to go for Iron Maiden’s Piece of Mind. I'm not going for the extreme stuff here, I'm just going for the classics aren’t I?! Piece of Mind is probably Maiden's darkest record. It's got a song on it called To Tame a Land, which I think they've barely ever played live, but it's just fucking completely hatstand. It's where Maiden just went: fuck it. We've got your attention now and we're going to do whatever the fuck we want! It's also got the classics on it, and it's a gloomy sounding record to me. There’s something just a little bit darker about it. It's impeccable songwriting. I think Iron Maiden used to just basically write an album in three weeks and record it in one, and just fucking keep banging 'em out every year. But it's so well arranged, the composition of that early Maiden stuff I’d put up there with the fucking Beatles. It's just absolutely immaculately composed.








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