Interview with vocalist Knox Colby and guitarist Will Wagstaff | By Hutch

Enforced are another killer band from the fertile soil of Richmond, Virginia. Their debut LP, At the Walls, just dropped on July 19 via WAR Records. Chaotic and damning, At the Walls is fierce. A brutal onslaught, the album gathers influences from many aggressive types of music for a severely punishing sound.

At the Walls was recorded by Bob Quirk, an RVA audio wizard who was in the too-short-lived band Barge and has turned knobs for Memory Loss, Misled Youth, Left Cross, NO-HEADS, and more. Vocalist Knox Colby speaks on the dynamic Quirk brought to Enforced’s work, sharing, “Bob is excellent. He and Sam [Deyerle] at [Studio] F12 record a large grip of bands in Richmond. We’ve worked exclusively with Bob Quirk from bands before Enforced and continue to trust his process and style. Bob is quietly demanding and knows when you haven’t done your best take—I can only speak for vocals. You may think you nailed it, but Bob will run it 10 more times to get the hardest and most honest recording. I would recommend Bob Quirk to anyone.”

Guitarist Will Wagstaff adds, “Bob knows the type of sound we are going for and is down to try literally anything to get a cool sound. I like that we’re never limited in any aspect of the recording process. He wants the same thing we want: a recording we can all be proud of.”

After At the Walls was recorded, Arthur Rizk—whose vast résumé includes records by Crypt Sermon, Power Trip, War Hungry, Pissed Jeans, and Cavalera Conspiracy—took it from there. “Bob gave all the raw stems to Arthur, giving him total [free] rein for their production, sound, and feel,” Colby says. “Arthur managed to reinvigorate tracks recorded in 2016 and put them on par with how we wanted the new songs to sound. Arthur also twisted the few interludes we had into digital hellscapes that breathe new life into the older tracks. We couldn’t be happier with his execution and adding his clandestine mark on Enforced. Thank you, Arthur.”

Quirk and Rizk couldn’t have molded a killer album without true substance. Obvious influences include everything from Slayer, Integrity, and Ringworm to Palehorse and Foreseen. Wagstaff delves deeper than the obvious, though, and dives into further influences while fleshing how they maintain their originality. “[Our sound] fuses punk, heavy metal, and hardcore,” he says. “It’s almost limitless in terms of song structure, riff ideas, you name it. Probably around 2014 to 2015, [guitarist] Zach [Monahan] and I were doing a Poison Idea-ish hardcore band, and I started kind of exclusively listening to death, thrash, [and] crossover-type stuff: Demolition Hammer, Sepultura, Sadus, Kreator, Pestilence, etc. I heard ‘Neanderthal’ by Demolition Hammer, and I remember thinking it just sounded like a modern hardcore riff and becoming more and more interested in ’90s death metal and crossover thrash more than anything else.”

“Zach kind of wrote most of the stuff for the hardcore band we were doing, and I was writing more of the Enforced riffs and playing them with him and developing a sound along with our original drummer, Isaac [Hullinger], who was also super important in writing the two demos, [Demo 2017 and 2017’s Retaliation],” Wagstaff continues. “So, I kind of brought riffs, then we would jam them and see what kinds of structures felt cool. I really don’t like pigeonholing us in one genre or the other. We play aggressive music. If you like metal, punk, thrash, death, hardcore, crossover, etc., you’ll like us.”

“As for divebombs, the whammy bar just adds so much dynamic range to the guitar,” he adds. “It allows you to do tons of stuff you just can’t do with a fixed bridge, not only divebombs but other effects-type stuff. There’s tons of stuff on the record you wouldn’t think is done with a whammy bar, but [it] is.”

Integrity were more than an influence. Enforced wanted to enhance At the Walls, and there was no better way than to invite and record Integrity vocalist Dwid Hellion. “We were talking with WAR Records to see if a guest vocalist or guest musician would be feasible for this release,” Colby says. “The older songs being set in stone, we wanted the newer songs, [‘Reckoning Force’ and ‘Skinned Alive,’] to represent our forward momentum. We threw a handful of names back and forth, but ultimately, I wanted to try to get Dwid onboard. As a big fan of his music and artwork, we reached out to see if he’d be interested in what we were trying to create. Fortunately for everyone, he was available and believed in us. He did vocals on ‘Skinned Alive’ and the album artwork.”

This musical style lends itself to apocalyptic and foreboding tones, but Colby feels no pressure to stick to the usual subjects of the genre. Sure, his lyrics include a few, but they also elaborate on personal struggles to paint their soundscapes. “Threaded themes throughout the songs are anger, distrust, corruption, the war between the head and the heart, unchecked authority, and the toll of stress,” Colby says. “However, I also try to hammer home the importance of positive growth, mental health, and the power of self-confidence. I’ve never felt any pressure to stick to any topic or theme. It’s usually content that I’ve been ruminating about, and the lyrics are mainly a topic being mulled over. No answers or solutions, just a conversation about it. I don’t believe the lyrics have to necessarily match the songs. It’s a blend of two different parts. That partnership has to be cohesive and balance one another out.”

Enforced were scooped up by WAR Records on the power of their two demos. Their talent and energy impressed label head Andrew Kline, and a true partnership materialized. “Andrew has been great!” Colby rejoices. “We’ve been talking almost once a week about recording, pressing, etc. since late November. He’s been a constant partner and companion. I can’t thank him enough.”

Kline began WAR to showcase great bands. His own band Strife did their time and taught Kline how to treat his roster. Wagstaff appends, “From the get-go, I knew Andrew would be great to work with. Just from our early conversations, I could tell that he wanted to give these songs as much life as he could, and he’s done just that. If there is one thing I know, it’s that Andrew cares about the record as much as we do. We’re fortunate to be able to work with him.”

In May, Enforced jumped on the road with fellow RVA residents Iron Reagan, plus New York hardcore legends Leeway and Phoenix thrash titans Sacred Reich. Clearly, this was a great experience and an honor for a new band who still hadn’t dropped their debut, but they knew that they had earned the spot. “Richmond has been home to many awesome thrash [and] crossover bands, and so, for Iron Reagan to reach out to us to do a tour like that was awesome,” Wagstaff says. “We get along great with them, and the same went with Leeway and Sacred Reich. Very genuine, down-to-earth people. That is exactly the type of tour we wanted to do.”

“We love to put on the best show possible for the crowd, so to say [it was a] big tour for a young band, yes, that is true, but bring it on,” he exclaims. “I want to play Hellfest.”

Enforced also played a hometown show on May 25 with skate-thrash-metal-punk outliers The Accüsed A.D. from Seattle. Wagstaff revels in that experience as well. “Such a sick and seminal crossover act,” he says. “[It was an] honor to get to see them and play with them. This show was just about a week or so after we got back from tour, so it was awesome to get to play that type of show to a crowd in Richmond. We sold all of our merch out at that show.”

The work has already proven its worth. After WAR announced the preorder for At the Walls, one version sold out almost immediately, and only a few units remain of the cassette, CD, and clear-with-black-smoke vinyl editions at the time of writing.

However, Wagstaff notes that there is still more up Enforced’s sleeves—unsurprising for a band who finished their record in a week, perpetual motion and all. “We have some cool announcements coming soon,” he says. “We’re settling in to writing with our new drummer, Alex [Bishop]. Expect nine to 10 new songs next year, spring-ish time. We’re finishing writing them right now and booking a few tours for the fall and winter with some very cool bands.”

For now, he focuses on the accomplishment that is At the Walls. “Very excited to finally have a real physical record that is an official copy,” Wagstaff says. “We’ve done probably 250 to 300 demo tapes of Demo 2017 and Retaliation, then we did some that were both the demo and Retaliation on one tape, so it’s kind of been a clusterfuck of releases. So, I’m really stoked to finally have the official versions. Also, I’m excited it’s mixed and mastered as one release so some people’s first experience with hearing Enforced at all will be a very cohesive, thorough, thought-out release, which is exciting. I want people to put the record on, sit in front of their speakers, smoke a blunt, and headbang for 30 minutes.”

Purchase At the Walls here

Photo by Chrisy Salinas

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