Crossover thrashers Enforced weigh up the psychology of warfare and making the most violent record possible on War Remains.
Entering the new decade on the look-out for the great thrash metal bands of the moment Enforced have torn their way to the forefront of that pack, pumping out three rabid records in five short (or long, dependent on how you’ve been holding up about it) years and since 2021’s Kill Grid ripping up stages across the world too.
Their trademark is ballistic and gravely heavy, and where Kill Grid made them the new favourite band of many a crossover thrash fan, the band didn’t feel it was quite enough. Aiming to live up to the legendary Joe Petagno’s artwork, new album War Remains is more concise and consequently more crazed and cataclysmic than its predecessor.
For frontman Knox Colby, it’s exactly what’s needed for a record that weighs up the human compulsion for conflict, not just warning listeners off the barbarity of warfare but drilling inside the innately barbarous creatures we are.
You feel like a very driven band in terms of wanting to hone the base sound of what Enforced is into the best thing it can be. When you were approaching the follow-up to Kill Grid, what was it you felt you wanted to improve or develop on this record?
Colby – Shorter songs, getting rid of all the extra soundscapes and synth stuff, because we just didn’t it, we never needed them. I think we had to have done that to understand and realise that we don’t need that. We learned that we don’t need to put so much pressure on ourselves, where you can go past the point of thinking that it’s perfect and ruin an album by overthinking every single second of it. I didn’t want to do Kill Grid 2.0 in terms of the recording experience, which would ultimately affect the album. We wanted to keep the momentum of us touring and playing and apply that to the album, rather than sit in the studio for a month.
You’re a bit of a pandemic breakout band in that your first album was released just before it started and then your second which got you a lot more attention during it. How have you found coming out of that in that way, and was the decision to hone this album down based in the energy of getting to play those songs live?
Colby – I think it was a subconscious decision, but after touring relentlessly since October of 2021, we’ve changed and grown as a band and grew into a band that wants to play live, wants to tour, so the album should reflect how we sound. There’s nothing in the studio that we did that we don’t do live. There’s no trickery, there isn’t even a click-track or tempo maps, we just played. It keeps it raw. One of my favourite songs off of Kill Grid is the first one The Doctrine, and that song takes two minutes to actually really get into it! Good God, we don’t need all of this, and when I listen to it I skip because I want to get to the fucking fast part and not this whole intro. For this album, let’s just write some hard fast punching songs, and beat the audience into the submission then bounce. There’s no reason to hang around after a murder!
It’s a real whirlwind and part of the appeal of thrash has got to be feeling how much fun the musicians are having playing together at high speed, was it a breezy record to make?
Colby – It doesn’t have that effect that a lot of underground thrash bands have where they play so fast that they’re about to fall off the rails, but they never do, and that’s maybe something we could achieve at some point but there’s plenty of speed and aggression on War Remains. I think Avarice is fast as fuck, it’s so fast and we can and do play it faster. There’s room for more speed.
The recording sound on this album is so fierce, it really feels like it’s got a level of rawness and live in the moment energy without sacrificing clarity. How much work went into really making sure it sounded perfect with that balance?
Colby – I would put that mainly on the guitars. Zach is in this other band Destruct and he uses this specific guitar, I think it’s called an Orville and it’s a Japanese guitar that’s hard to find, but he got one and he uses that and Will uses a Gibson Les Paul for the rhythm parts. For the solos it’s the guitars they use live which I think for Zach is a Jackson and Will plays a BC Rich. They have their own unique sounds for the solos and the brick-layers for the rhythm are just really thick and dark, heavy guitar tones.
When you are going for a full force 30 minute thrash record like this one, have you gotta work a bit harder to make sure the arrangements are still memorable and catchy?
Colby – Yeah, it’s still gotta keep you hooked. You can play a song as fast as you want but if it’s not catchy, it’s not gonna live in anyone’s minds. That’s always on our minds trying to write really memorable and catchy riffs. That goes with trying to write the cadence of the vocals and putting vocals in specific places to catch your ear and pull your attention back in for the song.
The ending breakdown of Hanged by My Hand is a real moment in the record, is there just like an instinctive sense of where to put those mid paced breaks, or where to put a track like Nation of Fear?
Colby – It’s all intentional. We wanted to have not necessarily a breather, but just have something a little bit slower. Reading reviews Nation of Fear is a lot of people’s favourite, solely because it’s slower. It kinda breaks it into pieces and makes it more digestible.
Does there ever come a point when someone suggests to put a dive bomb in and you say no?
Colby – No! Do whatever you want! When it comes to solos, Will works so hard on solos and I know Zach does as well but Will is the main lead guitarist when it comes to solos, and he’s re-written and re-written so many solos. If there’s a dive bomb there, it’s meant to be there. He’s a perfectionist in that sense and I really appreciate it. I hope he reads this, cause I’ll never tell him to his face!
There are songs like Empire that have been more scope to them but everything here is still 4 minutes tops. Do you ever see yourself dabbling in some slightly more epic thrash areas, going for a Fade to Black moment or anything?
Colby – At the moment, it’s come, raise hell, leave. That’s the MO as of right now, as for the next one, who knows? We have two or three songs in the can at the moment and they are different already. I think there’s a possibility of having some grandiose opus, but not right now.
Thrash is a genre that has had various points of vitality over the years and the last few years have had a particular bent to them, different to the last time period when there was a noticeable thrash boom in the late 2000s. A lot of those bands could be very cartoony and knowingly goofy with their sound and their imagery, but it feels like recently it’s been more about putting the sense of danger and violence back into thrash. Where do you feel that comes from and what do you feel the key is to making thrash metal feel dangerous and vital rather than pastiche?
Colby – Danger and urgency and desperation. I think it comes with the lyrics, it comes with how the band presents itself, it’s image. We’re all super goofy and stupid people but the songs that we write don’t reflect that. It sounds so stupid, but we contain multitudes. There’s a dark side to everybody and it doesn’t need to be happy fun time all the time. That comical goofiness is not something that any of us are drawn to, we’re all drawn to the super dark and super heavy, mean, aggressive thrash of Sodom, Razor, Slayer, Sepultura. They all have their own unique qualities but they talk about darker topics, about suicide and death, and it’s a little more pertinent in modern times than trying to ignore all the destruction and awfulness around us.
It certainly seems like thrash bands have reconnected with the social and political elements of the genre. For yourself, a record called War Remains, what kind of things are you pulling your inspiration from for that?
Colby – I read a lot of psychology for this one, a lot of Carl Jung and a lot of James Hillman. James Hillman wrote a book called A Terrible Love of War where instead of approaching war as a rejection of it, from a psychologist’s standpoint it takes the view that you are abating the problem and don’t want to understand the problem. He goes through trying to understand war and why humans perpetuate it if we all think it’s wrong and hate it, and basically comes to the conclusion that we can’t survive without it which is paradoxical. War is something that comes with human nature and is baked into our psyche to fight each other. The problem’s not solved there, but at least you understand it more. I think everyone should read that book, you will understand the usefulness of it more where war and violence have a purpose even if it’s a weird one. The album artwork was done too before we were finished writing the record, and having that as a picture to guide the lyrics had to match. There’s sci-fi too, where Aggressive Menace is based on Harlan Ellison’s story I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream, one of the greatest books of all time. Half of that song is understanding the position of the humans in that story, and then flipping it to juxtapose against Seneca the Stoic philosopher who was constantly in and out of the halls of power while never really caring either way, so there is this eternal prison and damnation there against this complete freedom depending on how you’re looking at it.
There is the stand-out line in the record “War is what makes us human”, and thinking about the history of thrash metal warfare is not a new topic but the ideas of anthropology you’re drawing on here must be a difficult one to navigate in not coming off crass or flippantly encouraging bloodshed.
Colby – Well how older thrash is depicted as evil and demonic, I could write that but it’s finding a way to approach that well-trodden ground but come at it with a new perspective to make our album stand out.
The new cover painting is fantastic and there’s a real house style that’s developed in identity between the Enforced records where they feel like part of the same universe. It must feel good to have that on hand from the artist who created Snaggletooth and those classic Motorhead covers.
Colby – Joe’s a great guy to work with and a really easy, cool guy. Having him on board and in our back pocket is such an insane thing to me. How many lifetimes would it take for me to even get his phone number, but it somehow happened and the stars aligned. When you said it lives in the same universe, it literally does. The next one will also be in that universe and I think will close the book on that once we’re done with the next one. I’ll give you a clue on what happens after that: look at the album cover of Kill Grid and look at the album cover of War Remains, and take note of the differences between them. Technically War Remains is basically just a zoomed in portion of Kill Grid. Kill Grid has this huge cityscape bombed and nuked with big clouds of skulls, but War Remains is very much a boots on the ground perspective of the same event. The next one will have to be even more zoomed in from there, lyrically and thematically.
The crossover thrash sound and those connections to hardcore culture are really apparent at the moment, and the hardcore scene is obviously having basically its biggest ever moment with it becoming the unlikely biggest source of contemporary heavy bands that are making waves in the mainstream and new bands getting traction all the time. For bands like yourselves who play in genres that are adjacent to that how do you feel that rising tide is affecting things?
Colby – I know, it’s another thing I never would have bet on. We all have hardcore backgrounds and were all in hardcore and punk bands growing up. I think metal is a natural progression where if you play enough shows and write enough songs, you naturally get better at your instrument, and you want to do more technical things with it but you can’t write a super technical hardcore song cause that doesn’t exist, and will never exist because hardcore is not technical. You can have that profiency and slowly move into metal where you’re given room to play around with harmonics and solos and advanced songwriting. All these metal bands that are growing out of hardcore, that makes the most logical sense. Start out in a terrible punk band, then if you want to get a little meaner go to hardcore, and then when you’ve got your chops up start a metal band. The thing I’ve noticed is the average age of a hardcore show is mid 20s, and I started to go to shows when I was 13 and the average age was like 17. I thought they were all 30, they weren’t. Hardcore is a youth genre and it’s weird to see people discovering it now rather than growing up with it. It’s a different time and you have the internet to access this stuff at any time. Kudos, I’m glad people are going and experiencing hardcore.
There seems to be a lot of planning ahead with the album narratives. Now that War Remains is done, is there something that you feel in this one that you really wanna go further with?
Colby – I wouldn’t do anything different about War Remains. It’d be cool to write something like a hit Judas Priest song. It wouldn’t fit in the narrative at all! Maybe a one-off.
War Remains is out now via Century Media Records. Order the album – HERE
Enforced will be out on the second leg of the ‘Boundless Domain’ tour supporting Creeping Death. See the list of dates and cities below.
reeping Death Boundless Domain Summer 2023 Part 2 w/ Enforced (July 12th – July 16th), Upon Stone, Saintpeeler:
7/10/2023 Chelsea’s Live – Baton Rouge, LA
7/11/2023 40 Watt Club – Athens, GA
7/12/2023 The Radio Room – Greenville, SC
7/13/2023 The Canal Club – Richmond, VA
7/14/2023 Lovedraft’s Brewing Co. – Mechanicsburg, PA
7/15/2023 The Palladium – Worcester, MA
7/16/2023 Amityville Music Hall – Amityville, NY
7/18/2023 The Loud – Huntington, WV
7/19/2023 Eastside Bowl – Nashville, TN
7/20/2023 Vino’s – Little Rock, AR
7/21/2023 Tulips FTW – Ft. Worth, TX