The six members of Take Over and Destroy and Bob Hoag are gathered in the lobby of Flying Blanket Recording, the 1947 house in downtown Mesa that producer Hoag has converted into a studio. All focus is on the middle of the room, where two stacks of comic books lean precariously.
They aren't originals -- they're reprints from the '90s, Hoag explains as he peels issues from atop the piles and passes them around, copies of EC Comics titles The Haunt of Fear, Shock SuspenStories, and Mad Magazine, which started its publication life as a comic before switching to the less-regulated magazine format. The band members gawk at the books, rattling off names like Jack Davis and citing movies like Creepshow before conversation turns to the Comics Code Authority, a watchdog group formed in 1954 by the Comics Magazine Association of America to regulate comics. The violent, disturbing content of the EC books circulating the room inspired the creation of the code after Congress held a hearing to address comics' potential influence on children.
As Heinekens are cracked open, Hoag describes scenes from a '50s TV show that dramatized the lurid appeal of spooky comics on children. After a few minutes of exposition, he declares, "Oh, we've just gotta watch it," and directs the group to the control room, where he queues up a YouTube video, a black-and-white "reenactment" of a group of neighborhood kids torturing a buddy, influenced to the act by comics.
Keyboardist Pete Porter leans over and says that the evening's activities thus far serve as a good indication of how the recording process for the band's latest album, Vacant Face, scheduled for release on August 19, went down. The band would gab, peruse Hoag's comics, movies, Space Age gizmos, guitars, and amps, decamp to the lounge to watch horror flicks, and at some point in the night -- usually very late -- head to the studio's "A" room to record.
The band has done all its records with Hoag, starting with 2011's Rotten Tide EP and continuing with 2013's full-length Endless Night, and on to Vacant Face, which finds the band dropping the acronymic version of its name, TOAD. The records have been received tremendously: Blogs including Stereogum, Lambgoat, and Metal Sucks have lauded the band, and Pitchfork's Kim Kelly praised the band, singling out the "strong groove coursing within their veins." The band's toured with Swedish doom outfit Agrimonia and opened local dates for Ghost B.C. and Dillinger Escape Plan. This year, the band is part of the three-day Southwest Terror Fest in Tucson, where it's billed alongside the Atlas Moth, Pelican, the Body, Neurosis, Sunn O))), and dozens more.
Hanging out with the band (Porter, guitarist Alex Bank Rollins, vocalist Andrew Leemont, guitarist Nate Garrett, drummer Jason "The Creature" Tomaszewski, and bassist Dylan Thomas) is like stepping into a pop culture whirlwind. While ostensibly trying to discuss the musical content of Vacant Face, we touch on the idea of a collective unconscious, ZZ Top, Slayer, Metallica, Converge, Goblin, Blue Cheer, Michale Graves-era Misfits, Bruce Springsteen, Jack White, Dwight Twilley Band, Neil Young, and spend a disproportionate amount of time arguing about Weezer. It's not impossible to hear touches of most of those artists in the band's third album, which blends big melodies with the group's black metal influences, hard rock bravado, punk propulsion, and elements of '70s and '80s horror movie soundtracks -- think John Carpenter and Goblin's scores for Dario Argento.
Hoag's interaction with the band is so loose and freewheeling that the studio begins to feel like a clubhouse, stuffed with a bunch of excitable dudes. Hoag's time with the band stretches back to mid-2000s recordings by pre-Take Over and Destroy band Slut Sister, and it shows: surrounded by toys and pulpy inspiration, the band members treat Flying Blanket like home.
Hoag primarily is known for the indie rock and punk records Flying Blanket has pumped out --- albums by the Ataris, Gospel Claws, the Love Me Nots, Dear and the Headlights, and Black Carl -- but despite his lack of fanaticism regarding heavy metal, he acts as something of a seventh member of Take Over and Destroy during the recording process. Vacant Face cements his role as guru; he contributed a song to the record, a Carpenter-esque segue called "The Fly Is Awake," which he wrote and performed with the album's final sequencing in mind.
Hoag is "never satisfied," Garrett says, "and that's what we have in common."
Vacant Face features plenty of experiments. Acoustic guitar lines drift over ambient noise on the title track; dramatic synths open "Glance Away"; layers of sweeping Mellotron, vibraphones, celeste, timpani, and tubular bells add psychedelic touches. The band sounds tight but unrestrained, given to widescreen guitar solos and heaving breakdowns. Leemont's vocals alternate between gothy dread and scorched-earth screams. The album features his finest moment, "Where Seasons Lay," which tempers some of the band's ferocity to invoke post-punk textures to great effect.
"Yeah, I can imagine it's super-different," Hoag says via e-mail regarding the band's relation to contemporary metal. "I don't listen to a lot of that stuff, but my impression is there's not a lot of Mellotron on hardcore records."
Vacant Face continues a trend of evolution for the band, and though it likely will continue to earn citations from metal critics and bloggers -- Entombed, Kvelertak, Darkthrone -- the chrome-plated density of Vacant Face finds its source materials further synthesized and refined.
The band is driven, Rollins says, not to get stuck in a rut. Bands will "get a good response from one thing, so they think 'Oh, I'll keep doing that,'" he says. "But that gets boring as hell."
"Unless you're Slayer, don't do it," Thomas deadpans.
The band assembled Vacant Face's components in Tomaszewski's Tempe home -- nicknamed the "Black Lagoon" -- using tiny practice amps and an electronic drum set. Once the songs were written, they brought the raw material to Hoag and began the process of assembling them into a cohesive statement. Hoag and Take Over and Destroy are simpatico, and Rollins says that their discussions help define the band's aesthetic. Endless Night was born from marathon sessions of listening to Alice Cooper and repeated viewings of Dario Argento's films. Vacant Face, by contrast, was shaded heavily by Stanley Kubrick's The Shining and a mutual obsession about David Lynch's cult TV series Twin Peaks.
The band members smile and hit vaporizers while Hoag shows off his personal chunk of Twin Peaks history, a set of stools and a chunk of countertop laminate from Twede's Café, which served as the set of the Double R Diner in the show.
"It's my favorite show of all time," Hoag says.
Like Twin Peaks, Take Over and Destroy's music embraces over-the-top drama and sideways wit but remains capable of genuine pathos and evoking cosmic terror. Hoag heads back into the control room, opening web pages to compare his newly purchased glasses to those of the Twin Peaks' Log Lady. He thinks he's got an exact match, but the members of Take Over and Destroy need to be convinced.
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