Interview with Sheer Terror vocalist Paul Bearer | By Christopher J. Harrington | Photo by Aga Hairesis
Legendary NYC punk rocker Paul Bearer is like that “Magic: The Gathering” card, Blightsteel Colossus: an 11/11 indestructible golem with trample and infect. The dude’s a force of nature. Whether he’s fronting hardcore behemoths Sheer Terror or just shooting the shit, he’s always intense and always completely real. When he talks politics, things quickly take on a life of their own.
“It’s like we get what we deserve, really,” Bearer asserts. “Trump’s a clown. He’s not a politician, he’s a huckster, a salesman. I mean, I understand why he got voted in—he basically talks just like me,” he laughs, “but that doesn’t mean you should be running the damn country. It’s almost like Dennis The Menace: we wake up, and it’s like, ‘Oh shit, what’d he do now?’ We had a chance with Bernie [Sanders], but everybody freaked out about socialism. I mean, shit, what is wrong with everybody having health insurance and having social security?”
Slowly, an unstoppable storm gathers. Little by little, Bearer becomes even more animated, and soon—things get weird. His thick New York accent echoes like a siren, full of wild, untamed emotion. “I don’t know what the hell is going to happen,” he barks. “You got this guy, [Vice President Mike] Pence, and the religious right who think they know what’s right for America. Talk about fucked. I mean, fucking-A! People should be angry, they should be scared—they should burn cars. People are just…” Bearer is mad. Shouts are muttered, the connection goes in and out—it’s all fire and smoke. But then, things calm down, and Bearer starts talking about his band.
Formed in 1984, Sheer Terror released the classic Just Can’t Hate Enough in 1989 on Blackout Records. A crushing and dark realization, the record is one of the most influential hardcore records of all time and one of the very first to forge extreme heavy metal with punk rock. A new form was birthed with this interstellar gem: a gritty, heavily Celtic Frost-influenced, thrashy storm of pure aggression that would influence a whole generation of punks, metalheads, and artists.
“Maybe there’s too much metal in punk these days,” Bearer ponders. “I can’t get mad at the kids, though; it’s what they were raised on. I mean, if you grew up with Slayer and Sepultura—and that’s where you got your hardcore from—your sound and approach is going to be a whole different thing. I grew up with punk rock, and that’s where all the energy I bring comes from.”
Listening to Just Can’t Hate Enough all these years later, it’s easy to get the point Bearer is making. It’s a hardcore album that’s every fucking bit as heavy as Slayer’s Reign in Blood and Sepultura’s Beneath the Remains, but where the latter albums have only the density of hardcore, the former has the true and eternal spirit of hardcore: the wild abandon and freeness. Bearer’s an original, and Sheer Terror have drifted through the years like their leader: controversial, powerful, and continuously compelling.
“You see a lot of groups [onstage], and it just seems like they’re going through the motions,” Bearer explains, “like they’re reading from a script or something—it’s just boom-boom-boom, you know? I got a big mouth, and when I’m onstage, it’s really just what’s in my head. I’m going talk about some stuff whether people like or not,” he laughs.
Bearer’s lyrics have always flowed with a deeply purposeful social and philosophical depth. He’s a wildman poet in the vein of Jim Morrison and the Sex Pistols’ John Lydon, but it’s not all charge, charge, charge all the time for Bearer. He’s an artist with the soul of a journeyer. “Certain types of music should challenge your perspective, confront your demons, and open your mind—but not all,” Bearer notes. “Hardcore and hip hop—that stuff is heavy, and is made for confrontation. Some music should just be for enjoyment. I got nothing against a beautifully crafted pop song, you know? I’m a huge soul and reggae fan, and when I DJ, that’s the stuff I’m usually spinning.”
Sheer Terror came out with The Bulldog Box in 2016. A behemoth collection, it included vinyl pressings of the band’s classic records—Just Can’t Hate Enough, 1992’s Thanks Fer Nuthin; and 1994’s Old, New, Borrowed and Blue—plus previously unreleased versions of the tracks on 1995’s Love Songs for the Unloved, entitled Unheard Unloved, and the demo compilation, No Grounds for Pity. It’s a substantial box set, a big old lug of deep force and long gravity. “The return wasn’t real great on it,” Bearer admits. “I’m not walking around in a new pair of shoes, if you know what I mean, but it’s cool. I get to look at the thing, and I’m a huge vinyl nerd, so it’s nice to have something that’s mine, something I helped create. I’m happy with it.”
Bearer says the band are currently working on a new album, and it’s going smoothly. For the first time in the band’s history, there are two guitarists in the mix, and things sound heavy and righteous. “Three songs are already done,” he notes. “We got Black Anvil’s old guitarist, Gary Bennett, back working with us now, and the songs are heavy as shit. I mean, we’ve never done this thing with two guitarists, so I said, ‘Let’s do this. If it sounds great, let’s just keep going with it.’ We’ll see how everything looks in April. If we got eight or nine songs, we’ll do an EP, if we got more, maybe we’ll do a full-length.”
Sheer Terror continue to keep the hardcore real—a blast of honesty and profundity in times of complete shit.