Maax started out in 2006 as a black metal band, but over the years have grown to infuse more and more old school, rock ‘n’ roll influences into their music, with their latest release, Unholy Rock & Roll being the definitive release of their new sound. We talk to Brett, guitarist of the band to learn more about their transformation over the years, the writing of Unholy Rock & Roll and more.
Brett Schlagel: MAAX arose from the ruins of another band known as “Dyngyr” (pronounced Die-in-gear), which was also a Black Metal band. Everything about Black Metal we like; lyrical content, musical configurations, and overall sound so there wasn’t a doubt what type of band we would forge.
The band recently released the second full length album, Unholy Rock & Roll, and musically speaking, it is a far-cry from where Maax started off with. While Dawnbringer leans more towards traditional black metal, Unholy Rock & Roll presents a more fun side of the band. Was this an intentional move by the band?
It was very intentional, we have many influences and decided it was time to let those shine through on this release but still keep that edge and element that is characterized with black metal. We fucking love Black Metal but we also hold old 80s riffage on a high pedestal as well. We are all influenced by bands like Motley Crue, Ratt, Kix, Judas Priest and Motorhead but were holding those great aspects back in the beginning. “Six Pack Witchcraft” bridged the gap from “Dawnbringer” to “Unholy Rock & Roll” and did so quite well, it gave the listeners an idea where MAAX was heading. We still keep a firm grasp on our Black Metal roots, which can be found in several tunes on “Unholy”. Black and roll is what we have seemed to have evolved into to and it’s a fucking awesome thing to witness.
What was it that made the band decide to shift from a pure black metal style to one that incorporates elements of black metal and rock & roll?
I came into the band midway through the writing of “Six Pack” as a bass player, it was during that writing process that we just started to venture in this direction of old schoolery. Just because we played Black Metal doesn’t mean we hung out in the woods all day ha ha! We found this formula and it worked well. We enjoy the playing and writing the music definitely. “Six Pack” was the stepping-stone to what is now “Unholy Rock & Roll”. It gave our listeners a good inclination as to where we were taking MAAX. When it came to “Unholy” I put down the bass and grabbed the Les Paul. We unleashed the floodgates on our old school riff lockers and hammered forward with it. The turnout was unfathomably awesome. We still have our Black Metal ground but have gained that dirty sleazy rock and roll sound and vibe with big hooks, big leads, and frost bitten vocals.
Why the shift in direction rather than having a band set up with a different name to pursue music in different directions? Does this mean that the band will never go back to its black metal days again?
We are still MAAX and we will never lose touch with Black Metal. Black metal isn’t just in the music but in the lyrical content as well. We are currently writing some blackened tunes but are writing black and roll jams at the same time. It is safe to say that MAAX will never venture too far off the mark of Black Metal.
The music on Dawnbringer can be said to be more carefully crafted, while songs on last year’s Six Pack Witchcraft and this year’s Unholy Rock & Roll has a more reckless feel in the music. Were there any particular reasons behind this?
We are a live band and that is what we have aimed to capture on the last two recordings. There is still quite the effort that goes into crafting what is we do; writing, rewriting, rearranging, rephrasing, etc. We enjoy a lot of things about the “Dawnbringer” days but we also enjoy seeing a bigger response with this route as well. You know you’re doing something right when beers are flying, bones are breaking, and there is blood all over your guitar at the end of the night…but it isn’t any of our blood. We put a lot of blood, sweat, and more blood into what we do and with this newer style of MAAX it seems to get noticed ten times more. We enjoy playing the music and the crowd enjoys rocking to it, all in all that’s what any musician wants at the end of the day.
Also, with the shift in musical style, how has it affected the songwriting process of the band? What was songwriting like before, and what is it like at present?
Before hand a skeleton of a song would be brought to the table and we would hammer it out and tweak it until it was just right, sometimes spending weeks and months on one song. Now there is a lot more involvement with each one of us. I may have a piece that really fits with something Kyle has written, we put them together and shave off the excess crap and develop the skeleton together but not without input from everyone, we all have our own personal influences and experiences that can better one another. Back in the day, if a drummer told me to try “this” instead I’d be less apt to try it, now with the line up we currently have, every suggestion is taken very seriously which has really opened up the doors for our future recordings. We still record our own things at home and hand out a cd to everyone at the next meeting so we can all dissect it to see what could be done better. Constructive criticism is key.
The band’s music currently reminds listeners of bands such as Barbatos and Abigail, with the perfect fusion between black metal, old school rock & roll and thrash metal. What are some of the influences that the band looked at when deciding the direction to go after Dawnbringer?
We didn’t look at any band or style specifically. We have big influences from the 80s; Motley Crue, Judas Priest, Skid Row, Slayer, and so forth. Honestly we aimed for as much as an original sound as possible even though some things are comparable. We know black and roll has been done before but MAAX hasn’t and this is what you get, a brutal sound that is gnarly, black, heavy, and balls to the wall just plain evil.
Purge of Depravity also sees the band presenting a more serious side, with the heavy mood that is present in the song. What is the intention behind the inclusion of the track on the album?
If you picked up on the more Lucifer-esque tone on this track you are correct. Good ol’ Aliester Crowley speaks over the haunting guitar work with “The Pentagram”. It is a look into our more serious side for sure. It is a segway into “Overthrone” which is one of the blackest songs on the album with an opening line of “We are wolves, satan in the flesh”. The intention was to remind our listeners that we are still the same MAAX from “Dawnbringer” and although we have a more “fun” feel and add humor into the mix here and there, we are still very serious with what we do.
The production quality on Unholy Rock & Roll is markedly polished compared to last year’s Six Pack Witchcraft, and the members’ playing has sharpened considerably. Was this an intentional effect on the part of the band?
The production quality was intentional, “Six Pack” was meant to have that low-fi sound familiarized in the Black Metal genre. With “Unholy” there were more things that needed to be pronounced so a low-fi mix wasn’t too much of an option unless we wanted to sacrifice certain aspects of the tracks. I did most of the lead work on this album and wanted to bring a more precise 80s solo element to the album specifically trying to capture the styles of Slayer, Randy Rhodes and Zakk Wylde, as well as Mick Mars.
On top of the usual Satanic and Luciferian themes, the band has also incorporated a sense of drunkedness in the music on Unholy Rock & Roll. How does the band balance the themes present on the album, and where does the band draw such inspirations from?
I feel we keep that balance in check. We draw from our own experiences on every aspect of this recording. We love booze, beer, bitches, and good ol’ Lucifer. The balance on the album is what we do in everyday life.
Some of the band members have mentioned bands such as Motley Crue and Ratt as personal influences. With the black metal scene mostly being “anti-trend”, has this affected the fanbase of the band?
For every fan we lose we gain 15 more for the reason that the 1 left. You either like the music or move the fuck on, that’s the bottom line. Yeah we definitely have our influences but if you liked the music before you found out what we jam to daily then it’s your loss, not ours.
We have come to the final section of the interview, the last words are yours!
I just want to raise a few MAAX beers to all the hard work that goes on behind the scenes of MAAX. Dan Ferguson of Abyss Records and Dan O., Clawhammer PR, and all the MAAX Bastards out there keeping us afloat by picking up our merch and cds! Without our supporters we wouldn’t be able to do what it is we love to do. Thanks to all there at the HMT and the interest in MAAX! Check us out at Facebook.com/maaxmetal and give us a “like” to keep informed on MAAX news. Also visit officialabyssrecords.com for official MAAX gear! Cheers and beers!
Album Review: Maax – Unholy Rock & Roll