Interview with vocalist Mike Score | By Hutch | Photo By Joe Calixto
Vocalist Mike Score of New York’s All Out War is again addressing the masses to illuminate the fact that they are not condemned to suffer—but destruction is impending, and society’s current embrace of ignorance and consumer convenience only hastens its arrival.
In his 25 years of screaming over metal-driven hardcore, Score’s main targets have been politicians and organized religion. All Out War—who reformed their classic lineup from 1998’s For Those Who Were Crucified six years ago—have been reinvigorated and have resumed dominating stages. The five guys have also released new material: an LP, Give Us Extinction, in 2017; an EP, Dying Gods, in 2015; and two singles in 2012, all through Organized Crime Records.
They returned on July 26 with a new album, Crawl Among the Filth; a new producer, John Naclerio; and a new label, courtesy of Stigmata and Bulldog Courage’s Buddy Armstrong and his Unbeaten Records.
When perusing All Out War’s debut full-length, Truth in the Age of Lies, released in 1997 via Gain Ground, and their four Victory Records releases from 1998 two 2010, the apocalyptic and blasphemous cover art is striking and confrontational. Score says questions probing into his childhood relationship with religion get asked in almost every interview. “I have been anti-organized-religion since I was exposed to religion.” he says. “I grew up in a sort of hypocritical household where they dropped us off [at church] until we got old enough not to go. Then, we just never went.”
Whenever Score references “religion,” he persistently qualifies it as “organized religion.” Just like many youths who found refuge in metal, punk, hardcore, and other subcultures, he found the egregious hypocrisies of the church and blind allegiance of their flock too infuriating to ignore. “I saw the hypocrisy,” he confirms. “It never made any sense to me. Any type of organized religion is another way to divide people and create sheep. I have no love for organized religion at all.”
These disparaging sentiments are obvious and repeated in All Out War’s album art, album titles, and Score’s scathing lyrics. Additionally, Score has been a history teacher in the New York state system for over 13 years. When it comes to instilling lessons in his own children or in others’ children, Score recedes from direct installation of his ideas. He instead finds value in equipping youth with their own arsenal of skills for parsing and problem-solving.
Score comments that he never avoids discussing weighty subjects with his students. He simply refrains from spouting his opinions in a blustery manner. “You want to give kids the ability to engage in critical thinking,” he asserts. “You want to give them the information and hope they use critical-thinking skills to piece all of this together—and history is a great tool to do this, because you decipher primary-source documents and understand what has been going on for centuries and deduce that nothing has changed.”
“With social media, you have all of these people who really think that they are having a say in all of this and they are in the know and are helping with government. They feel like the government is on their side,” he mocks. “They think if you just support the government, they’re looking out for you. The reality is that governments have been screwing over people for centuries. The Persians did it. The Romans did it. You name the government throughout history, and the masses have always been the pawns. So, why would people think that our government or any government is not doing it now by manipulating people and satisfying their own financial gains?”
People who tweet at a politicians or officials feel that they have an active hand in democracy, yet they exist in a system that not only permits but encourages lobbyists’ corporate expense accounts designed to woo and sway and dictate legislation. “Both sides of the political aisle are making tons of money off of the lobbyist—Republican or Democrat, it is all the same,” Score agrees. “Look at the 2016 election. You have Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, but both sides will enflame the situation and make good media. It’s a great distraction. Neither were good candidates; they were just good stories. Look at the candidates who were put out there. I’m not saying any of them were great, but certainly, there were much better candidates out there.”
But it’s not about the best candidate. “No, it’s who is the best story,” he reiterates.
However, being Chicken Little doesn’t evoke confidence in future voters. Score parses the shock and fright and extracts the pith of the issues without being alarmist. He explains his approach, saying, “You can’t come out and tell them what to think. You’re just contributing to the problem. You have to give them the skills and let them make good decisions, not ‘Follow me, I’m the prophet. You should listen to me. I know it all.’ Then, you just create more sheep, and after they’re done following you, they’ll find someone else to follow, because they don’t have the skills to make their own decisions. So, the best thing you can do as a teacher is give these kids critical-thinking skills, so they can make their own sense out of things and do not have to depend on a political figure or a religious leader to tell them what to do. They have enough people telling them what to do.”
This empathy drives Score’s job as a teacher. His lyrics are somewhat more jarring, but they have a different audience. Either way, Score’s goal is to make critical thinking a habit. “Government and organized religion depend on followers,” he says. “They want you to blindly follow and not think, because it upsets the system. They want people to blindly support and consume. That’s what they want. That’s the endgame.”
Score’s astute insights are reflected in his efforts with students and in his passion for the underground music scene. “I like bands that are trying to open their [audience’s] eyes,” he says. “That’s what draws me to underground music. Commercial music, again, is trying to create followers and consumers.”
Commercial music is about formulaic compositions, moved units, and Pepsi tie-ins. This is a distant cry from, say, Sheer Terror, whose show at legendary venue The Anthrax in Connecticut is where Score met Armstrong, the owner of Unbeaten Records.
The world is a tumultuous realm. Tracks like “What Was Becomes Undone” and the bleak “Septic Infestation” grace Crawl Among the Filth, and it is on songs like these that Score delves deeper into current issues that beacon the world’s demise. “If you are alert at all, you can see impending doom: climate change, proliferation of weapons,” Score says. “It seems to me that it would just be a matter of time, unfortunately.”
A ray of hope blinks. “Unless there is a great awakening,” he adds. “You always hope people will stop being blinded by powers-that-be who are just out to make a buck and use the masses to create international consumers.”
But that hope is quickly extinguished as Score refutes his own optimism. “It hurts the financial base. It’s more profitable to keep the myth alive that [climate change] isn’t really happening,” he asserts. “While, in the Northeast, you see tornadoes that we’ve never seen before. You can see the climate changing. It doesn’t take a scientist to see that. People have to start opening their eyes and see this is all economically driven—and not economically for you and me but for people who have more money than we could possibly even understand.”
Tracks like “Suffocate and Subjugate,” with its great Carnivore feel, and “Hanging on the Wire” are illuminated as Score mentions, “Look at the opioid epidemic across the U.S. At the same time, [the opium] is coming from Afghanistan. You can easily say, ‘Oh, it’s just the U.S. Military protecting the poppy fields,’ but, really, the Taliban is paying these people as they are making money off of this. It’s more deep-rooted than people see.”
The conversation is sullen and stark, and the music of Crawl Among the Filth is fierce and punishing, but a lighter subject is this lineup, who are again solidified on the new album. It’s like an old friendship between the listener and the band. That classic line-up includes bassist Eric Carrillo, drummer Jesse Sutherland, guitarists Andy Pietroloungo and Taras Apuzzo, and, of course, Score on vocals. “It’s the same lineup [from] For Those Who Were Crucified,” Score validates, “except Andy, who did all the touring for that record [but did not play on it].”
Score confirms that two decades after that monumental album, each member is on the same page. “Yes. It has been awesome doing this lineup for six years,” he says. “We just did a run of shows on the West Coast with Integrity, Funeral Chic, and Toxic Holocaust. Every band ripped. Awesome to see those bands every night.”
The momentum continues as This Is Hardcore Fest begins on July 26, the same day Crawl Among the Filth is released. “We are doing This Is Hardcore, then a run with Eyehategod and Come To Grief in September,” Score shares. These smaller venues will allow fans to get sweaty and sore with the new tunes.
The album was recorded in one shot, Score reports, from the “end of February into March.” Another break from the normal routine was not having Steve Evetts as producer. “We would have had to wait to do it with Steve, and we had the songs and wanted to get it out,” Score explains.
With that palpable anticipation, All Out War kept it local and recorded with John Naclerio at Nada Recording in Montgomery, New York. The result has Score elated. “I feel great,” he says. “I don’t think it’s the same old, same old. We drew from different influences this time. It’s a little more aggressive.”
The concept of a “more aggressive” All Out War is an enigma. Score reaffirms, “We drew from grindcore. This is more in-your-face. We went for the throat.” That and a leaner songwriting execution resulted in fiercer, more direct songs. Eschewing the five- and four-minute average length, tracks hit three minutes or two minutes and 40 seconds, or even two minutes and 22 seconds on “Drink the Plague.” “We cut the fat. The songs are shorter,” Score says. “One song is long like the old ones, but all of the others are under three minutes.”
Score and the boys do not fret about a switch in writing. The core of All Out War still stands tall and proud. After all this time, being different is staying the same for Score. “We’ve never been a band trying to impress anybody,” he says. “We just go with our influences and put it out there. The origins of the band are a big ‘fuck you’ to what’s going on.” He draws a comparison to some Cleveland stalwarts who have a similar career trajectory, a reinvention of their history and a stable lineup slaying with a new, more chaotic record. “We are a lot like Ringworm,” Score says, “too metal for the hardcore kids and not metal enough for metal kids.”
That metal adoration and obsession shows in All Out War’s choice of audiences and shared stages. “We just played with Death Angel,” Score says, noting that those varied audiences absorb the power of All Out War in or out of context. “After playing in front of people at a straight-up metal show, people come up like, ‘You guys ripped. Are you a new metal band?’”
“There’s no infamous horseshoe,” he adds, referencing the Hardcore Horseshoe, an arched opening in the crowd at a hardcore show where people not dancing stand on the perimeter, “there’s no targeting from hardcore dancers. People are just up front banging their heads getting into the music. I love playing metal shows. It’s no less intense. It’s just a different kind of intense. That Death Angel show, there were no bands who were remotely hardcore, just straight-up metal. That was in Poughkeepsie, New York. We’ve always played those kinds of shows.”
Reflecting on old shows from the ’80s and ’90s, Score notes his passion for shows where variety was the thread. “Those were some of my best memories of playing shows. Ralphy [Boy] from Disassociate,” he says, referencing the Brooklyn band who recently reformed to play a string of shows with Eyehategod, Negative Approach, and Sheer Terror, then Phobia, “in the ’90s, used to put on Loud As Fuck Fest at CBGB’s. My favorite types of shows to play were mixed bills with ugly bands, punk and noise and grind bands.”
All Out War retain the energy and vigor and dedication of the Victory days. Currently, jobs and families are priorities, but they also keep the music and the performances passionate and pure. All Out War play when they want, as frequently as they want—and they want to play, if only for short spurts at a time. “At this point, we can only do short runs,” Score says. “We’re not in this to make money. We do this because we love it. We did a few runs recently—the Integrity one out West. We did a couple shows in Japan, one club show and one festival and then flew back. We were there in 2002, and it was good to go back. We want to go back in 2020 and also hit more of Southeast Asia.”
Their 2019 schedule will see more geography before that. “We are going to do Québec and some parts of Canada with In Cold Blood,” Score shares, citing another group of Cleveland outliers who will revive their chaotic sound of metal and d-beat hardcore with a new album, Legion of Angels, on Aug. 23 via Fast Break! Records.
Score revels in the freedom 2019 offers to him and his bandmates in All Out War. “We’re not tied to any label. We’ve been working with friends, and it is so much better,” he shares. “Now, it’s people who are super behind the band. Now, it’s fantastic. It’s what you dreamed of doing as a kid. You just make a kickass record, your friend puts it out, and we do some shows. We’re not trying to be rock stars, and they’re not looking to be millionaires.”
Armstrong’s Unbeaten is slinging Crawl Among the Filth by pressing it on some killer colored vinyl, and Score is happy to release something fans will want to buy. The fans have supported this decision. “[This release is] much more relaxed,” Score adds. “Presales are already doing pretty well, so that’s good for Buddy, but there is no big pressure to be on the road and push the record. Hopefully, people will dig the record and buy it.”
Since All Out War’s reforming, graphic designer Alexandre Goulet—who has also worked for Cold Cave, Trap Them, Despised Icon, Dopethrone, and more—has used his pen and ink to match the intensity and severity of Score’s lyrical barrage. Score lauds Goulet, recounting, “He has done the last three records we’ve done. We’re sticking with him. He’s a great guy, easy to work with. He gets my insanity, which is great, because a lot of people don’t. I send him lyrics and a basic idea. He runs with it. Then, we go back and forth. When you send him the lyrics, he gets it pretty close. He has freedom to do what he wants. I don’t give him artistic direction; I just give him the lyrics.”
The result has been captivating: 2017’s Give Us Extinction and the 2015 EP Dying Gods stand out with haunting imagery, especially the latter’s combination of striking colors and heretical visuals of a feeble savior.
Crawl Among the Filth has arrived to sweep metal and hardcore fans into a frenzy of revolutionary fervor. The substance and rebellion emitting from Score’s seasoned vocal cords inject skeptical thoughts into a complacent world. Listeners, hopefully glued to the lyric sheet before pouncing around in fist-driven spasms, will embrace the furious resistance. All Out War have created a special album here, honed and armed to engage and disrupt.