Interview with guitarist Mike Valente | By Hutch | Photo by Jim Wertman
Life is tough. Work is tough—and unavoidable. The blue-collar mentality and ethos of Brick By Brick is emblematic of their home, Troy, New York. The city has bred its children hardened and determined. To deal and to vent, the four members of Brick By Brick get together to construct some of the most brutal metal—or metallic hardcore, we’ll get to that. That DIY and egoless paradigm drives Brick By Brick through a scathing sixth album, Hive Mentality, out Feb. 22. Having moved from hardcore heavies Eulogy Recordings and Fast Break! Records, Brick By Brick now land at home with Upstate Records, for whom they also wailed on “Iron Fist” for the label’s Jan. 18 Motörhead tribute, Damaged Cases, alongside Sheer Terror, Unruly Boys, Countime, and more.
Brick By Brick’s first two records featured a gun and a demonic angel, respectively, as their representative imagery: 2004’s Pull the Trigger and 2006’s Wings of Angels were explicitly metallic monsters. The images of death and violence were intended to seize audiences by the throat. The band’s next three albums, 2010’s Severed Ties, 2015’s This World, My Enemy, and 2017’s Thin the Herd, were adorned with covers by famed Detroit native and artist Craig Holloway—who has also done work for Agnostic Front, Wisdom In Chains, Skarhead, Homicidal, Toxpack, Cold As Life, Negative Approach, and more—portraying killing and carnage. Now, Hive Mentality omits the blood in favor of an evil, sneering rebel removing a sheep-denoting mask. When asked whether this reflects the attitudes of the dudes in Brick By Brick, guitarist and founding member Mike Valente distinguishes images from intent.
“First thing, when we were doing this back in the day, when we were young’uns, [we wanted] to use an image that would grab your attention,” he explains. “Each image represented the title track. Nothing to do with favoring violence at that time; we just wanted to look cool. In our later releases with [current vocalist] Ray [Mazzola], This World, My Enemy was anti-corporation. The cover emulated a ‘suit and tie guy,’ and instead of having guts and blood, he was ‘bleeding’ money, and the rats represented the corporations taking the guts right out of you! I thought it was pretty clever. Then, we move onto Thin the Herd. This message is plain and straightforward, à la the movie ‘Rampage’—not much thought into this. Now, we are up to the present with Hive Mentality. This is a dig at the social media trolls and how they can’t cope with minor details in life, which leads to an umbrella of politics, something that I do not believe should be in an entertainment platform. Entertainment is meant to entertain.”
Tracing back, Full Blown Chaos frontman, the formidable Mazzola, attained the Brick By Brick mic in 2014. The band released records in 2015, 2017, and now, 2019. Releasing an album every two years seems to mean they are picking up momentum compared to their first decade. Valente concedes, “Ray definitely fits the mold better. We have fun. The momentum is there because we enjoy hanging out with each other and writing tunes. We’ve made a lot of headway because we have a unit that is on the same page. The last lineup was stuck in Troy, and we barely left for many years.”
For the last few years, Brick By Brick have continually left their working-class textile city, embarking on tours constantly. The harsh reality of their music manifests into songs designed to destroy dance floors while they support hardcore and metal bands such as Anthrax, Hatebreed, Shadows Fall, Biohazard, Agnostic Front, Madball, The Acacia Strain, Sick Of It All, and others, as well as play festivals like New England Metal & Hardcore Festival, Black N’ Blue Bowl, East Coast Tsunami Fest, The Breastfest, Motor City Fest, Tough Love Fest, Florida Rules Fest, and more.
As 2018 ended, Brick By Brick played The Chance Theater in Poughkeepsie, New York, with NYHC OGs Cro-Mags and Murphy’s Law, then Chrome in Waterford, New York, with metalcore stalwarts The Acacia Strain and Recon, plus new killers Vatican and Year Of The Knife. Hive Mentality’s record release is set for Feb. 22 at Upstate Concert Hall in Clifton Park, New York, with death metal giants Dying Fetus and Boston’s Ramallah. Brick By Brick play with a vast array of heavy bands and punkier hardcore bands.
Valente reacts to this elasticity and appeal, admitting, “I’m not quite sure where we fit in when it comes to our genre. I think it’s the attitude behind it. We are a metal band first and foremost but with a hardcore mentality. We can dip in and out of genres, but metal gets the better response. I write based on what is in my CD player. I get inspired by all sorts of shit. This new resurgence of thrash is awesome, though! I’ve always been a thrash kid!” While hardcore breakdowns and two-step tempos blend well on Hive Mentality, the nasty lead solo on “Battleground” proves Valente’s point.
Hive Mentality shows Brick By Brick at their peak with crisp musicianship and devastating riffs and breakdowns, always keeping a proper pace and a punishing tempo. This is not to showcase their worship-worthy skills but rather a working-class approach of churning out belligerent music to vent their blatant ire for the nonsense in this world. This is what attracts the chaos on the floor. “Bad Sign,” a call to the outcasts over sinister thrash; “Toe to Toe,” which has a tense pulse simmering at mid-tempo before exploding into fury-fueled speed; and “Never To Wake” are standout tracks. Again, the NYHC powerhouse sound of “Battleground” renders a stellar track.
Hive Mentality’s family vibe runs even deeper thanks to the guest vocals. The condemning title track features Jessica Pimentel of Alekhine’s Gun, the 2008 film “Pride and Glory,” and the Netflix show “Orange Is the New Black” delivering a disdainful rant about the apathy festering in contemporary youth tethered to technology and missing out on other experiences. “Jessica has been a very close friend for years,” Valente says. “I’ve helped her with her band at times, and we’ve always kept in touch. She has a mean voice, and I thought of the rant for her in ‘Hive Mentality,’ because she has given me advice in the past that was reminiscent of what was said in the rant.” The ferocious riffs are appended by some interesting guitar work as the song pounds to its end.
Vincent Bennett of The Acacia Strain comes on to strengthen the vocal attack on “In the Ruins.” Valente explains the reason for unearthing this forgotten gem, noting, “Vincent helped us on this same song years ago for a split 7”, which sold out and was never reprinted. We wanted to redo it to update it with our new sound and give this song the props that it deserved. It was never released worldwide, and very few knew of the song. It was only right to have him do it again. Such a humble dude!”
Finally, there’s the magnificent collabo that is “Bar Is Open.” Tony Foresta of Municipal Waste and Iron Reagan comes in with his signature larynx to bless the party ode. “Tony was asked because the song was written based on my influence of Iron Reagan and D.R.I. at the time,” Valente explains. “That’s what happened to be in the van at the time of writing the song. I’ve known Tony for a few years, and we have never played together, so now that he’s on this album, we have a few shows with Iron Reagan in Europe and in New York City in the spring. It’s his style; it’s his song!”
To help Brick By Brick create this monstrous tribute to isolation and enmity, the catastrophic rage and fury was captured and produced by Jason Bourdeau at Overit Media in Albany, New York. The mastering was done by heavy music guru Alan Douches of West West Side Music. Valente relays his pleasure with Bourdeau’s work. “We were excited to work with Jason. I’ve known him for a long time but never really spent time with him,” he says. “He knows his shit! He pushed us when we needed it and made suggestions. Ultimately, the mix was his baby, and he definitely had input on the mastering side of things. He added that extra push that was needed without being a dick about it.”
These tunes of valiant wars waged inside their heads and on city streets, reeking of bloodstains and sweat, are forged in the band’s hands. Struggle and determination form the foundation of these cautionary tales. “Our recording process is basically [drummer] Jameson [Muller] and myself structuring the skeleton,” Valente relays. “[Bassist] Andy [Parsons] comes along with his ideas, and we record the skeleton—mostly just the drums. Jameson is a very open drummer when he plays, very loose, so when Andy and I go in after the drums are completed, we rewrite a lot of the parts to match what Jamo is doing to tighten it up. The skeleton is well-rehearsed, and Jamo is quick when tracking. The recording really doesn’t take that long for us time-wise; just doing it around work schedules and life takes the time. This could’ve been done in a week if we arranged our time better.”
After the songs are complete, Douches conjures his decades of experience and knowledge and masters them. Valente reveres the longtime audio magician. “Alan is a mastermind!” he enthuses. “He is very easy to work with, and I have never been disappointed. You figure, with all his credentials, he’d be a dick. Quite the opposite.”
With all the technologies homogenizing American culture, it seems rather obvious to what Hive Mentality’s title is referring. Valente’s optimism that coming generations will break this cycle is absent. “I think our future is fucked,” he states. “Kids are not sociable anymore. Technology is the babysitter. There are experiences to have and be made. They are missing out on life lessons that you can’t learn from a smartphone.”
“Media is controlled by corporations, and the only way you’ll get the truth is though the underground—as always,” Valente continues. “What is printed in newspapers and on the news is what they are telling you that you need to know. Mind control. Keep you in fear, so you need to rely on them.”
As Valente reflects on the hive mentality of society, he expounds beyond the literal to explain the band’s references to violence. “Fighting is a reflection of everything we do,” he says, “not necessarily fistfighting but metaphorically. We are a blue-collar bunch of guys, and we fight every fucking day to make ends meet. No one in this band tolerates disrespect, because we do not disrespect. So, no,” he responds when asked if he’ll ever stop singing about violence. “I will be a 90-year-old man who will smack you to prove a point if I have been wronged.”
Regarding their hometown, that city north of the state’s capital, hugging the Hudson River and home to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Valente says the underground scene is pulsating with a vibrant appetite for honest working-class music. “Troy kids are still representing hard as fuck,” he asserts. “There are no more venues in Troy. The city hated it. Albany kids are a little more on the social side and come out to support everything that is decent. The 518 scene, collectively, is an awesome family. These kids will take the shirt off their back to help. Not saying that it’s not happening elsewhere, but I constantly see the camaraderie between these individuals. I wouldn’t be shit without this scene.”
No longer content to keep it Upstate, Brick By Brick have plans to spread their sincerity and ferocity in 2019. Valente excitedly shares them, listing, “Well, Europe with Madball, Iron Reagan, Death Before Dishonor, Born From Pain, Slope, and Ironed Out: Rebellion Fest! Can’t wait! Trying for Japan and trying to not get fired from my job. Also, we will be on Black N’ Blue Bowl in May at Brooklyn Bazaar.”
“Waiting for Slayer to ask us to come out with them too!” he laughs. “I wish…”
Keep working. The job will still be there—and so will Brick By Brick’s audience.