by Quentin Singer
One of the best elements of Berklee is its acceptance of various musical styles and talents, and the death metal dudes of Hate Storm Annihilation are no exception. Regardless of your musical tastes, the sheer technicality and physicality it takes to play like HSA is remarkably under appreciated. From a band whose name is just as visceral as there music, this comes at no real surprise. I mean death metal isn’t creeping its way up to the top 40 anytime soon. While HSA wasn’t formed at Berklee, two of its members, including founding member Craig Schmuhl, currently attend the school as undergraduates. The band has been quite busy the past two years writing a new record and preparing for upcoming US tours, one of which the band is on right now with Morbid Angel. Fortunately for us, we were able to catch Craig and Spencer for an interview right before they embarked on this tour.
Berklee Groove: Being a death metal band, your music doesn’t necessarily appeal to the average music listener, but Berklee recognizes and appreciates all sorts of music genres. Has your music seen appreciation at Berklee, whether through faculty or the student body?
HSA: No. I think with some individuals – like say for example John Baboian, my private instruction teacher – he’s really into what I do with this band. I played him a track from the new record and he loves it, and he’s a guy that’s probably in the top five Berklee jazz guitar teachers. But I think there’s a whole category of professors and students [at Berklee] that don’t want to experience something a little different, so I think in some regard absolutely, but in a lot of other regards absolutely not.
BG: A plethora of metal icons have sited jazz as huge influence to their writing and playing ability. How has jazz in any way, shaped the way you approach writing and playing for HSA?
Craig: Yeah! I mean obviously in a harmonic aspect there’s not as much in Death Metal, but I think in a more melodic fashion a lot of the stuff we do are like single note runs and stuff like that. Like to play this full bar of eighth notes, where I know six notes are definitely being used, how do I fill in those spaces? I learned from studying a lot of jazz guitar players, there’s this whole chromatic approach thing, which is heavily used in the new Hatestorm stuff. It all sounds evil because there’s distortion on it, but then you play these same licks clean it’s just jazz. I mean maybe not just jazz, but it’s got that sound you know.
BG: A key aspect to HSA is the intensity of the vocals. How have you trained your voice to project such gnarly and intense screams?
HSA: Honestly it’s like this thing where I was kind of thrown into it. I didn’t even want to be vocalist and then our old bassist at the time was like, “Well, you gotta do it now so get working on it.” So I went on it with that regard, “If I have to do this, I gotta do it right.” It took probably the first two years to get really really comfortable with doing it. There are certain things you do be it with any skill level, the way might structure your throat or your stomach power, and I always found that the vast majority of the things I do I don’t scream per say, I’m probably just speaking at a louder than average level, but it’s all in the mouth for me. Often times, you’ll get these live show pictures where I’ll be getting zoom ins on my face, and I notice a lot of times with other metal vocalists that their mouths are wide open, which surprises me. Again I do ‘gutterals’ for the most part, so there are different things I have to do, but it’s a mouth thing, you structure your face to kind of achieve these lower tonalities than you would typically get. You’ll find eventually after you’ve worked on your craft long enough that it’s almost as easy as regular talking, you have to figure out that structure and work from there, but again it’s different for all vocalists and genres of metal.
BG: You guys finished recording a new project. For people that aren’t into metal, what attributes would you use to suggest or describe this record?
HSA: I have the perfect the answer. If Genesis from 1973 made a death metal album. Plain and simple. If you’re looking for really out of the ordinary song form, but plenty of melody and really interesting rhythm stuff – it’s death metal, but I was pushing for a lot more musicality on this one. That was kind of my approach on this record. The songs are fun and they can be catchy at times, and there’s lots of layering so there will be moments where I might have four or five guitars playing on a singular part. It’s definitely death metal, but if you can look past the evil man yelling at you there’s a lot of really fun musical parts that I think anybody who appreciates composition will say “I think I like this at least a little bit.”
If you’re looking to catch HSA perform live, they’ll be playing at O’Brien’s Pub on June 4th with fellow Berklee metal band Seven Spires.
Do you think Berklee appreciates or recognizes enough genres like death metal? If not, should they? Let us know in the comments!