|At War were originally 80's Thrash foot soldiers before slipping into a 19-year hiatus at the start of the 90's. Lo and behold, the trio (who are singer-bassist Paul Arnold, Sean Helsel on guitars, and Dave Stone bashing the drums) have returned this year to take on the terrorists and reclaim their legacy. With a sound that harkens to the primeval days of the Thrash genre, At War pull no punches as they celebrate war and violence across the nine songs inside this stellar comeback "Infidel". Taking the time off from a hectic touring schedule, Paul Arnold talks to Maximummetal about rising from the dead, battling Al Qaeda, and the Beastie Boys.
MM: All right, At War! You just released a very grim comeback album titled "Infidel" and have been supporting it on the road. What kind of audiences have been flocking to your shows? Are any of the younger set rediscovering the thrash genre through At War's music?
Paul Arnold: The interesting thing is that the crowds have been a very wide demographic. We are seeing many old school metallers and even younger thrash kids showing up all the time. It is a very diverse crowd.
MM: You have to do this for our readers, man. What happened between the last album and the band coming back with full force this year? I think that's more than 15 years worth of, uh, hiatus. Did the reemergence of thrash metal bands such as Evile and Warbringer inpire you guys to pick up your guitars again?
|It is the aggression of metal that drew us to this form of music to begin with, and the ultimate manifestation of aggression is war|
PA: We had many diversions over the years that took priority and kept us from doing At War. We had been out of the scene for so long we had no idea that there was a thrash resurgence taking place. This all happened because the time was just right. We all missed what we had done for so long and missed even more making the music we loved so much. The only idea we had that something was going on in the scene was a huge increase of feedback from fans saying that they wanted to see us again. The timing of us getting back together was very much a coincidence. It just happened to be at the same time as bands like Warbringer, Evile and Merciless Death were starting a new rage.
MM: What led to the dissolution of At War in the late 80's?
PA: It was a weird time for metal the early nineties with the sudden introduction of grunge rock. It seemed overnight that metal took a back seat. It made so much so hard for so many bands. It was also at this time I had a very young daughter I wanted to spend more time with. Negotiation breakdowns with the label on the next album didn't help either. You know, we never officially broke up, so I see this as less dissolution and more an extended hiatus.
MM: Having been away for so long, did you guys have to lock yourselves in a bunker and practice for inhuman stretches of time to get your chops back in shape?
PA: It was amazing how much we remembered and even more amazing how much we forgot. It started out slowly and we steady worked ourselves into a groove and it didn't take long to knock the rust off and get it back even better than before.
MM: So how did At War find a home in Heavy Artillery Records? Who introduced themselves to whom?
PA: Dave from Heavy Artillery came to see our first show back on the scene in 2007 in Brooklyn NY and that's when I first met him. He came up to us and told us how much he dug the show. When we came back for another show we started talking about doing something together. Heavy Artillery was very supportive of what we were trying to do so we decided to go for it. It has been very cool.
MM: Your label mates Merciless Death had a few nice things to say about you guys when I interviewed them last year. They really dug a few East Coast dates they played shared with you. What is the essence of an At War performance?
PA: The essence of an At War show is a commanding brute force in the form of true metal unencumbered by things unnecessary for metal. It has been described as a freight train in the face. A wall of sound that does not ask for attention, but demands it.
MM: How many bruises and broken noses have you counted during an At War gig? Bare tits, perhaps?
PA: We did a gig in Detroit where the count was four bleeding or broken bodies. At least a dozen titties during and even more after the show. Pretty cool and always welcomed.
MM: There must have been shitty gigs too, right? How do you get over the disappointment of gigs that don't meet your expectations?
PA: Yes, there have been shitty gigs with either a bad performance or a lousy turnout. You never dwell on these shows because you know it is going to happen from time to time. Your goal is to keep these type of shows from happening as much as possible, and just look forward to the next one.
MM: Can you bring us back to the 80's? You know, for the benefit of those of us who weren't there to witness the emergence of the Thrash genre. Ronald Reagan, the Cold War, New Kids on the Block, Beastie Boys, Thrash Metal. Does the band look back at that time with fondness?
PA: For us it was not this magical time everyone tries to make it out to be. We were just living our life playing the type of music we wanted to hear. It just so happened to be the eighties. It was the time of our youth and I guess everyone remembers their teen and early twenties with fondness. Having said that, we did know what we were doing was part of something new and we loved it. I always loved the Beasties even back then. I voted for Reagan, and we knew it was just a matter of time before the Soviet Union would fall apart.
MM: Let's now discuss your spanking new album. When you decided to name the new record "Infidel" were you concerned that dealing with the theme of terrorism—those are terrorists on the album's cover—would cause people to dismiss you guys as another ‘typical' metal band latching on to negative themes?
PA: I would argue that the message this album conveys by way of the cover art is a positive message in that it is bringing to the fore the threat that radical Islam represents to all freedom loving peoples of the world, and that there is something that can be done to protect our freedom by keeping these extremists in check. I see this as positive. The problem I see is that the people who would dismiss us because of artwork and not the music are a bunch of politically correct jack-asses anyway.
MM: At War plays bare knuckle thrash metal without the nice flourishes. I can even hear the punk and NWOBHM influences in your music. But there's also a political and militaristic vein running through your songs. When did you guys decide to combine your interest in warfare with the music you played?
PA: You know it is the aggression of metal that drew us to this form of music to begin with, and the ultimate manifestation of aggression is war. Combined with the fact that we all are avid WWII and Vietnam history buffs, the merging of the two was inevitable. Incidentally, we did not name the band At War because of war. The real idea was that if you have a problem in your life...instead of bitching about it, you should attack the problem or declare war on it. Hence At War!
MM: Returning to the studio for "Infidel," how would you describe the band's work ethic during the sessions? Did you guys all have a good time recording the tracks or did it get a bit stressful for those involved? Is songwriting a pain in the ass?
PA: Once we hit the studio our work ethic was all business but a lot of fun as well. Songwriting for us can be slow at times because we are our worst critics. We really have to like a song before we will agree to continue with it. As a result new songs can take a while to develop.
MM: One of my favorite songs on "Infidel" is "RAF." It's just a great sing along tune. Are there any other military history themed tracks that did not make it on the album?
PA: That's one of my favorites as well. We actually wrote "RAF" back in 1990 or so and played it live for years. We sort of revamped it for "Infidel." We have no others about military history that did not make it but we do have a few ideas for the next album.
MM: You also take on the politicians who capitalize on American war dead. Care to name names? When I was listening to the monologue at the start of "Deceit," excuse my bad manners, but it actually brought Sarah Palin to mind.
PA: The song was really about the family, friends, AND politicians who would twist the reasons someone would join the military and go fight when asked by their country. Only to have what they believed and were proud of used as part of an agenda that was not in line with their beliefs after their death. You are excused, but Sarah Palin NEVER entered my mind in any songwriting we did or do.
MM: You are all firm believers in the right to bear arms. Can you divulge some of the weapons you actually own? I'm quite the weapons enthusiast myself.
PA: I have owned shitloads of weapons over the years, but my collection is a practical one that's mainly aimed at hunting. I own as my primary hunting rifle a Springfield M1A National Match with a Leupold 50mm scope. For my ultra long range I have a Weatherby 30-378 rifle scoped with a Leupold as well. I also have a 10 gauge shotgun, a 12 gauge, and for handguns I own a Desert Eagle .44 magnum, a Walther PPK, and a 1920 Smith Police Special. These are just a few.
MM: Have you guys heard from your European fans yet? Any chance At War will be doing festivals this 2010?
PA: This is one of our major goals. Yes, we will be seen in Europe in 2010. We have already booked shows in Puerto Rico, France, and Japan for 2010.
MM: If you have to serve your country overseas, what weapons would you bring to the battlefield? If it were up to me, I'd settle for an AK-47. Rugged, but reliable. And a knife.
PA: I think I would have to choose a Colt Combat 45, a SAW, and a shipload of ammo!
MM: Are you guys open to playing in the Middle East?
PA: Hell yes!!! How about Dubai? We'll play anywhere.
MM: If the resources and time were at your disposal, who would you like to bring on a North American Headlining tour? I think Sodom would complement you guys a lot. But who cares about my opinion?
PA: I agree! Sodom, Destruction, Motorhead, Agnostic Front...man, the list goes on.
MM: I guess this is it for now. Thanks for being awesome. There will be a follow up to "Infidel," right?
PA: You are DAMN right!!!
--by Miguel Blardony
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