Interview with Ryan McArdle and Kevin Fitzgerald | By Hutch | Promo Photo by Zion
Crossover thrash has had a mighty resurgence over the last 10 to 15 years, but eschewing the neon palette, party anthems, and nuclear aesthetic, High Command garner accolades from playing a darker version of the genre. Their new album, Beyond the Wall of Desolation, is out Sept. 27 on Southern Lord Recordings.
High Command’s sound is grisly. There is power and grit, not just flash and polish, and the dense atmospheric cloud crushes audiences. Guitarist Ryan McArdle quickly comments on the fertile soil of High Command’s home state of Massachusetts. “Keeping in mind some of our more obvious influences, it’s hard to ignore the rich heritage Massachusetts has of bands that masterfully blurred the lines of metal, punk, and hardcore,” he says. “We were all brought up on bands like Overcast, Only Living Witness, and Converge. Some bands like to pretend they were born in a Hellhammer shirt, but we prefer to embrace our roots. Physically speaking, the frigid New England winter is both brutal and unrelenting. The days are short, and the nights are long. Our brand of metal is a logical extension of the environment it was created in.”
Beyond the Wall of Desolation was recorded at Machines With Magnets in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. The production unit there has been churning out gems in recent years, forging a reputation of stellar regard. “Seth Manchester has made quite the name for himself producing some really great albums over the years,” McArdle says, “Daughters’ You Won’t Get What You Want [in 2018], Lingua Ignota’s CALIGULA [in 2019], Churchburn’s None Shall Live… The Hymns of Misery [in 2018], and various albums with The Body. Basically, he’s not afraid of experimentation, and the thought of working with him on a thrash album was intriguing. He killed it, and I think the result is a unique take on the genre.”
Vocalist Kevin Fitzgerald, whose rapacious tongue colors vivid visions and conquers with sneering domination, explains his lyrical inspiration. “The lyrics are fantasy-based, leaning toward the sword-and-sorcery side of things,” he says. “I’ve tried my hand at writing more traditional-style lyrics, and they were fucking terrible. To me, it’s a lot more fun to get stoned in the woods and create a whole new world. The possibilities are endless. There are a lot of terrible things that are going on right now, and I’m glad bands are bringing attention to that—they execute it a lot better than I ever could—but personally, I’d rather put on an LP and escape for 30 minutes or so, reading about mystical landscapes and chopping people’s heads off with swords.”
As discussed, High Command draw from their local scene’s history and legacy, but the band celebrate and propagate the vibrant scene being cultivated in the present. Fitzgerald calls the New England scene “stronger than I can ever recall.” He adds, “There are so many sick bands crushing it right now, not just in metal but across the board: hardcore, punk, rock ’n’ roll, electronic, experimental. It’s really great to see. Everyone should do themself a favor and check out the following bands to get a sense of what New England is bringing to the table right now: Fuming Mouth, Malleus, Marrow, Final Gasp, Crystal Dagger, The Touch Heads, FACEPAINT, Sombre Arcane, Wound Man, The Furs, Skrawl, Video Filth, Demon Chrome, [and] Moss Folk, just to name a few.”
A June tour helped prep audiences for High Command’s upcoming album, and McArdle reveled in the opportunity to support Spirit Adrift over 10 days. “Their new album, [Divided By Darkness]’s tour was definitely one for the ages,” he says. As far as memorable experiences, “We met Stone Cold Steve Austin in a BBQ restaurant in Austin, Texas,” he adds. “Forget 2019, that was the highlight of my life.”
After putting out Beyond the Wall of Desolation on Sept. 27, High Command plan to hit the road hard with no thoughts of stopping. “[The release will be] followed by an East Coast tour with the sick fucks in Enforced from Richmond, Virginia,” McArdle shares. “As far as I’m concerned, in 2020, the entire world should shut their windows and lock their doors. High Command is on the prowl.”