By Keith CarmanWhen most acclaimed artists convene to form a side-project, there’s always a degree of leakage. Elements of their "day job” inevitably seep into the new band’s sound or style. For the most part, this is presumably why those forays outside of the norm fail to garner much attention other than the expected, "It’s not as good as their main gig,” comparisons.
Houston, TX-based Arson Anthem is an anomaly to that assumption. An ’80s hardcore punk-influenced project featuring vocalist Mike Williams (EyeHateGod), guitarist Phil Anselmo (Pantera, Down, Superjoint Ritual), drummer Hank Williams III (Assjack, Superjoint Ritual) and bassist Collin Yeo, the band’s eight-song eponymous debut (released on Anselmo’s own Housecore Records) is nothing less than standalone and extraordinary. And while it may not surpass the glory of its feeder bands, it certainly matches them. Ferocious, frenetic and fucking fast, the unbridled maliciousness and aggression of Arson Anthem finds this quartet deserving praise amongst their own personal heroes such as Discharge, Negative Approach, Black Flag and Agnostic Front.
Lest one overanalyse Arson Anthem though, Williams quickly points out that the album was recorded and mixed in less than a week, stressing the fact that Arson Anthem has no grandiose plans other than creating some fun — albeit passionate — old school hardcore.
There are some great musical achievements between the four memebers of Arson Anthem. You all have very strong personal legacies with revered albums and what-not, yet when listening to this record you all sound like 15 year-old kids just having a blast. Right! I look at it that way too. I consider myself a music fan first and foremost because I buy records and search out weird bands. This is a tribute to the ’80s; all the early hardcore punk. It’s a good way for us to get together and play what we’re into…what our passion is.
I’ve heard tale the band came about because after Hurricane Katrina, you took up residency at Phil Anselmo’s? I lost everything in that hurricane but I had also gone to jail for a while so I really had nothing. After I got out, Phil was nice enough to help me get back on my feet. He has a guesthouse where bands record. He let me live there and we’d hang out everyday, listening to music. He’s got a huge collection of every type of music. We were listening to old punk bands and missing those days, reminiscing and saying how there would never be an era like that again. That got the ball rolling. I mean, we’ve talked about this for years but we finally got down to doing something.
I’d say so if you recorded, mixed and mastered your first album in six days. That’s quite the accomplishment and entirely in keeping with the attitude of that era. I guess it is [an accomplishment]. People are either loving it or hating it. Either way it’s getting a good reaction. If people hate it, I don’t care but it’s good to get a reaction of some kind.
There does seem to be a very strong divide between people who adore Arson Anthem or absolutely despise it. Why? Are they expecting something too close to your various legacies? That’s part of it. They pre-judge it, expecting it to sound like Pantera or EyeHateGod. They expect it to be a metal record but it’s not at all. Some people just find this type of music too aggressive. We’ve had people say it’s poorly mixed. Well, it’s just raw; pure emotion. It was done like a studio album but it was on an eight-track, back to the old school days of doing things simple. The other bands we’re in, albums are made in professional studios and take weeks. It was nice to do it this way.
With such a laidback approach, do you have any aspirations for Arson Anthem? I’d like to inspire people. I can’t say we’re the first band to be doing this because there are a lot of bands that play heavy hardcore like a throwback to that era. I want to at least inspire people to seek out those older bands and do some research. That was such a great time for me growing up. I had no responsibility, running free listening to that type of music and riding my skateboard. Hopefully people who didn’t live through it can do it vicariously. We have future plans and some new songs to record but first we just wanted to put out the record. Overall though, this is just about fun. The people who take it too seriously and say it doesn’t sound like Vulgar Display Of Power don’t get it.
There’s always backlash against a "new band” from established artists though. Just because of the members of the band, people are gonna dig to find something to start an issue with. Phil’s already getting the brunt of things. They kick down on him for no reason sometimes. It seems like some people don’t even listen to the record before they judge. There’s prejudice. I don’t understand it. He gets these people who are jealous, hating on him or something. Some people hate for no reason.
He is a magnet for controversy though, sometimes by his own actions. Right. Sometimes controversy can be exciting but sometimes it’s a pain in the ass. Sometimes I’d rather have chaos in my life than be bored but it can become too much. With the internet now, everything is taken as fact. Rumours start and it’s taken as truth, starting controversy. It’s ridiculous. I don’t get people who just bitch all of the time about what they hate. If they’re doing that, they’re bringing attention to it. Why waste your time? If you’re gonna put energy towards something, support it. If you don’t like it, ignore it.
What do you have to say to detractors? We just want you to listen and judge for yourself. We have a right to put out any type of record we want. Freedom of speech. I’m happy to be doing this now but at times I wish this band had been together in the ’80s. It would have been taken in a different light. Arson Anthem isn’t that complicated of a concept. It’s just raw, in-your-face music. I love a lot of different stuff but it’s great to put out this record and say, "Hey, this is the kind of music that I love.”