LOCK UP: TAPPING INTO THE GREAT HYBRID
It’s been a long, static trail marred by tragedy and blotched with an eight-year gap of studio inactivity, but Lock Up are finally loaded for their long-awaited return record. The name might not conspicuously spark a cognitive chain reaction that reveres the band among the top pervading acts of grindcore in the way that Shane Embury’s primary project Napalm Death would. Their unplanned almost hiatus state has done them no favours either, but you’d be foolish to write them off. Gigs have remained sparse since 2002’s Hate Breeds Suffering and there’s been a complete absence of studio activity that led many to believe they would simply fizzle into a back catalogue of flash-in-the-pans. But Lock Up has other plans.
The Birmingham based quartet have not only actively fought this, but have also set out on a hell-bent grind fury with new record Necropolis Transparent, to disprove the critics who still distinguish them as a band living behind an overbearing shadow consisting of Napalm Death and Terrorizer.
Affected by the tragic loss of Jesse Pintado, the four-piece nearly grounded their mash of deathgrind in 2006, but battled through the grief of their devastating loss, only to face the pressing dilemma three-years later. One show at Leeds’ Damnation Festival in 2009 would decide a future that hung in the balance having collectively survived tragedy and with time restraints still firmly purged against them, most severely, the threat of disbanding. Shane tells me “We’ve had a history of bad luck in some ways, or tragic events. The first singer Peter Tägtgren couldn’t really tour with us when we did the first album, we went and did the second album then my friend Jesse (Pintado) passed away in 2006. I think we just wanted to do this one show and then see how we felt really. We didn’t know whether we were going to carry on after that, we thought we’ll do this one show. Nick (Barker) and Anton (Reisenegger) had been jamming together for a bit. I’ve known Anton for a long time and we’ve always thought in the back of our heads that if we wanted to give it a shot then perhaps now would be a good time. It just felt right.”
Facing the potential of a premature end to the band, their performance revived the inner atmosphere and after receiving a rabid reception, Lock Up lived, regardless of each member’s time-taxing commitments to a host of projects. Embury was no exception. Rooted in his wide-spanning passion for music, the 43-year-old devoted the majority of his time travelling and rehearsing with Napalm Death last year, and has featured countless times as a guest musician in numerous live performances, including fellow Brummie blackened grind-monsters Anaal Nathrakh. Still active in a multiple of other successful projects, namely Hardcore punk band Venomous Concept, Mexico based death metallers Brujeria, brutal supergroup Insidious Disease and heavy metallers Absolute Power; Embury faces the mammoth task of structuring an ever increasingly tight schedule. You wonder how there is time for Lock Up.” It’s going to be a little bit hectic at times and maybe I’ll try and slow down a little bit. I say that and I end up doing it anyway! It’s not like I’m cornered, it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do. I think one weekend I did Napalm on the Friday, Lock Up on the Saturday and did Brujeria at the Deathfest in Leeds on the Sunday. I did three bands in three days but it was fun and it keeps you on your toes. If you get together in a room with some like-minded people and knock out some stuff purely for the hell of it, it keeps you grounded, you know? Otherwise you become in fear of just becoming some fucking jaded arse, who sits there and thinks the world owes them a living or something. I don’t want to become anyone like that” he explains. On hearing this, you might think there is a slight fear of complacency setting in, but Embury flat out refutes this. “Well, some people say ‘are you not satisfied?’ I’m very happy doing Napalm but I can’t help the buzz I get. It’s not something I have to prove to everybody, it’s just fun to do. Sometimes I’ll start stressing and my wife will say ‘it’s your own fucking fault! You can’t sit still for five minutes so what do you expect!’ But I do enjoy it.
It doesn’t come purer than that. Lying under the seemingly resilient mentality and exterior public shell is Embury’s almost innocent, untamed craving for music that disregards all strategies of success and carves its own story, albeit with a sincere beaming smile. But look as far as the upcoming full-length ‘Necropolis Transparent’ and you soon realise that his passion outstretches beyond the realms of enjoyment and into far deeper and more stimulating territory. Originally set as a tentative album title, third track The Embodiment Of Paradox And Chaos is one good example of many that illustrates Lock Up’s fascinating societal annotations. It focuses on the recent earthquakes in Japan and Chile and explores themes that challenge the individual’s ability to believe in a greater good or higher power, powerfully contrasted against a sense of injustice and anger. With this in mind, it would be silly not to ask exactly what does the title Necropolis Transparent refer to? “Well, in general we’re not trying to make a message [but] there’s this secret layer of mistrust that goes on and that’s what Necropolis Transparent really relates to. It’s the world beneath the world. It can be your job, it can be your marriage, it can be politics, it could be the world. There’s a purity that’s been lost over time. I’m not a great conspiracy freak, but I look at the world and sometimes I walk around and I almost feel a weird tension in the air, like something’s gearing up – something that none of us have any idea about and it’s about to fucking pop off all of a sudden. I don’t think anyone’s prepared for it or expecting it, we’re living our lives quietly and subserviently which most people are happy to do – what the fuck can you do anyway? That’s really what the album is about. There’s a darkness that’s been going on for a long time that’s making us slaves and puppets I think.”
Although Necropolis Transparent can be interpreted in many contexts, it can be looked at as a question of existence. A whole civilisation can disappear as the concept of a ‘necropolis’ would suggest, and with it a million voices can be cemented, concepts made dormant and cultures coffined in an unrelenting tirade of time. These bare-bone fears of becoming a forgotten world expose an apprehension that can be read as questioning the value of existence yet at the same time understanding the subtlety of being human. It can be taken that the lyrics on Necropolis Transparent are entirely subjective to each individual’s interpretation, but what else does the writing of the album make Embury think about? “There seems to be a weird atmosphere in the air and I think it’s perhaps made me think that the simple things are a lot more important. There’s something missing somehow. We’re becoming disconnected in some respects. Now the internet is there and Skype’s there. We can get anything instantly, but it seems like we’re becoming more distant. It’s not that we’re not eager to learn or we’re not eager to find out, it’s just basic communication seems to struggle sometimes.”
Carrying the weight of these burdensome undertones is no easy task and wielding such views with convincing force is an even harder one. Lock Up’s sound has wriggled and twisted through the canopy highs and rock-bottom lows in their rare activity but who can blame them? The death of Pintado was a terrible loss and whilst the Terrorizer legend could never truly be replaced note-for-note, the final component in the cog that has seen Lock Up swiftly bolt back into their current action is the addition of Anton Reisenegger from Anglo-Chilean band Criminal. With an obvious variation in musical background from the traditionally grind quartet, Reisenegger may have seemed an unlikely addition. Has this brought a different atmosphere to Lock Up? Shane doesn’t seem to think so. “I’ve known him for years. The South American death metal vibe is really nice and he’s a little bit different in the way he plays to me. It works really well. He pushes Nick and we all fit well together, but Anton has such a lot of great songs he calls a weird satanic deathgrind – we’re not a bit satanic or anything like that!” So you’re pretty happy with the outcome then? “Yeah we were very happy. There is a bit more death metal. A blend of the Terrorizer feel from the second album and Anton brings that Dark Angel vibe. So we’re stepping out of our own bands shadow I think, with our own sound in tow”
There’s a respectful modesty about Embury’s hopes and intentions, but his former achievements have undeniably solidified him as an icon at the forefront of grindcore music. You’d never catch him bloating but it has to be said that he is essentially a forefather of the cataclysmic sound, a pre-cursor bombastically reverberating the fluctuations of influence that came to not only inspire hundreds of future bands, but also lay a groundwork of socio-political aesthetics to be built upon and define an identity ardently steaming against the tides of conventional music in a sonically scorched fury. Developing since then, the bowels of grindcore have further produced a common theme of comedy within the genre. Not many hold equal passion and knowledge for grindcore music than Embury, so we’re wondering what he thinks of this, where he stands in regard to the genre that he essentially pioneered. He tells Soundshock “It was never really meant to be purely about playing fast, it was more of a concentrated sound, noise and high energy. It was really about also thinking. I was raised on the old metal bands but lyrically when things enter your mind and you feel deeply about something and expressing something, it always seemed to work well with grindcore – an expression, an outburst. It’s something that was serious and to me the power of the music should be reflected by those lyrics. Even if you can’t understand what this guy is saying you should be listening to this insane noise whilst reading his really powerful words” So, being such a fan of the genre, you can tip us off with a few names to look out for in future surely? “Sure, I recently went to see Today Is The Day and there was an excellent band called Retox supporting them. I think its two guys from The Locust (Justin Pearson, Gabe Serbian). It’s really really good. There’s some small blast beats in there but its heavy bass, ultra distorted guitars and so fucking powerful. The vocals were high pitched, he was screaming his head off, but I love shit like that. On the grind front there’s a band from Singapore called Magnicide that I’m totally freaking out on at the moment. They’re pretty old school grind with old school riffs with the rhythms and arrangements. I’m never too old for a blast beat. It’s really good stuff. I still get a kick out of it.”
So there you go…you’ll never be too old for a good old blastbeat. That’s very reassuring.
Necropolis Transparent is out on July 1st.