The last 18-months, like for so many, put a temporary pause on Wage War’s ascent, but channeling that into a new album, ‘Manic’, they look set to soar higher than ever before.
Words: Steven Loftin.
After scrambling around for a few minutes, Briton Bond settles into a corridor in the depths of tonight’s venue. Beaming in from Michigan, on the final date of Wage War’s first tour since landing back from Australia last year in support of 2019’s ‘Pressure’, the vocalist is very keen to mention just how much fun they’ve been having.
“It’s nice to be letting loose, you know? Especially on this tour. Just getting back on the grind. I didn’t know how much I needed this; it’s like therapy out here!” Briton opens, smiling.
You see, they’ve also been toting a few new songs. “I feel like it’s like the purest form of Wage War. We got to do a record we wanted to do, be a little bit more out of the box but still keeping it super heavy metal at the same time,” he explains of their newest outing.
‘Manic’, the Florida outfit’s fourth effort, does exactly what it says on the tin. Within, there’s some of their most brutally abrasive tunes, as well as some that could make even the most toughened heart crumble. A venerable beauty and the beast situation. It also sounds like they have something to prove.
“We wanted to prove to ourselves that we can write even better songs than before, you know, ‘Pressure’,” he says of their divisive third album. “It was a little bit more experimental with songwriting and things like that, but I really feel like we have something special going on here where we can just really tap into our actual, true identity, and be progressive with our songs and be a metal band same time.”
To be fair to them, Wage War haven’t had exactly an easy time of it. Since forming back in 2010 and then the release of their debut ‘Blueprints’ back in 2015, the metalcore scene has been relishing in the Wage War adrenaline rush while simultaneously giving them a scrupulous and oftentimes unfair tarnishing. Not only that but since basically every other band has been sat at home, honing their craft, the ante has indeed been upped. No wonder there’s a sweating, furrowed brow, with a dangerous snarl reaching throughout ‘Manic’.
“That’s the thing, I feel like so many bands are coming out with such sick material because they’ve had time to refine and figure out what they love and not have to hurry. I feel like in our music industry now, with social media and things like that, fans just want stuff all the time, all the time, all the time,” his pace quickening with each emphasis. “Unfortunately, sometimes things get rushed a little bit, and they’re not looked at and refined as well as they could be.”
Spending their time properly focusing on what they wanted to write, as opposed to being thrust through the cycle once more, also offered Wage War a chance for something very important indeed: “You can learn from your mistakes.”
Not that there are many, Briton feels. Wage War are all about being true to themselves. Sure, there are echoes of metalcore past, but there’s also a bright future roaring away. Briton, along with clean vocalist and guitarist Cody Quistad, guitarist Seth Blake, bassist Chris Gaylord, and drummer Stephen Kluesener are the ones who want to stare down those expectations and restrictions that come from the dirgy core, intent on dismantling them with a sledgehammer and a sincerity.
Love them or hate them, Wage War are also a band doing numbers. On if that brings a certain level of expectation now that they’re well into their careers, Briton chews: “Yes and no, since we’re going to get in front of more people.”
“At the end of the day, we just want to have fun and write good songs, and the core base of our fans, they’re along the ride. I don’t think we’ve done anything detrimental either to scare them away.”
‘Manic’ is indeed no strange side step, instead bullishly powering forward, Wage War appear ready for anything. It’s an embracing of being metalheads, popheads and just fans of good songs. On more than one occasion, there’s an earworm poking its head up through the dirt.
“That’s why we’ve named it ‘Manic’, because of all these different things going on in your head,” he says, smiling. “The record’s definitely about mental health. The first one’s about relapse, being stuck with things that aren’t good for you. It could be a substance or a toxic person in your life. And ‘Manic’ is just straight up having a panic attack. ‘Never Say Goodbye’ is about losing a loved one. It’s just an album about a lot of emotions that someone would feel in a time like this. I feel like it’s a perfect representation of what we’ve all been feeling over the last few years.”
Purposefully placing ‘If Tomorrow Never Comes’ as ‘Manic”s finale, the album’s resolution isn’t one of hope but more questioning. We don’t seem to be able to help ourselves, so what happens if tomorrow never comes? The answer to that is a lot simpler than you think, actually.
“We picked it to close it out because with everything going on and all the chaos, holding on to the things that you love is important because tomorrow might not be there. The last few years have taught us a lot, that we should cherish the little things that we have in our life, like treasure your significant other, your wife, your children, your dogs, your friends – anything. I feel like we take a lot of that for granted.”
There’s a deep catharsis that runs throughout. Briton also notes that he “vocally put on my best performance,” which is hard to argue as he as easily reaches new levels of hellishly low guttural growls as much as joins in with Cody’s more melodic tunings.
Dealing with the cacophony of feelings that cropped up throughout the pandemic, there wasn’t anything off-limits. If anything, it’s led to Wage War, as studious as they have been, armouring up further to take the world on once more. Though, it was by no means an easy ride.
“It was really cool to see it come together like that, but on the other side, there were some times where we worked on music, and then almost a month would go by, or we’re not doing anything,” he says, choking slightly. “And it’s just like, am I even like in a band anymore? You know, so there was definitely pros and cons to this, but I think we made the best of it.”
Likewise, when they weren’t writing during those lockdown days, Briton found himself playing video games, he says laughing: “I did a lot of that!” But more importantly, he found himself jumping on YouTube and watching his favourite bands live at festivals. “I thought that was super sick; it made me miss it. It almost brought a tear to my eye, wishing that was me again. But we’re here! I’m thankful for sure.”
Swinging back to being on the road. For Briton, what has he missed most? “Just the interactions with our fans,” he says, an earnest twinkle in his eye. “That is number one. That’s why I do this, and without them, there are no shows, there’s no music, there’s no scene, so I owe everything to them.”
This is why trying to bottle all the complexities of the last year was no easy feat but by far the most important. “I feel like lyrics are a big thing in this band, and I would say they’re all pretty positive messages we want to portray,” he explains. “I know things are dark in this record, but I feel like it’s more us telling our listeners, hey, we’re going through the same thing you are, the same things you’re kind of feeling.”
He also found himself turning to the online faction of the Wage War fanbase during the great halting. “100% the biggest thing I was looking for,” he mentions. “It’s not like I needed it for justification for an ego; it was just nice to see them again, and happy.”
“I feel like that’s what the world needed for a long time. We’re all cooped up, and even though it doesn’t have to be rock music, it’s just being around other humans. It doesn’t matter what background you come from or what you believe in; we can all come together for the same cause of loving a band or musician, which is awesome to me.”
Thanks to applying its own stringent barriers, ones that turn out to be nothing more than rope when whatever new song hits right, there’s no doubt that metal is one of the more contentious genres in the game. Online forums are full of faceless names disputing just what’s what, who should be doing certain things, and how. Similarly, with that thorny passion comes the positive and kindness many don’t expect to find.
“We shouldn’t keep ourselves in a box; the world needs metalheads!” Briton beams. “You’re having the best time at concerts like why not share that with everybody else. I’m telling you, like, we want to start a revolution, and that’s what we got to do.”
Diving in a bit closer, he continues. “Metal fans are the best in the world, man. Bands like Megadeth, Metallica have had super long careers, and I feel like that can happen in certain industries like the pop genre and things like that, but with those, you’re hot or not, and you’re gone. I feel like there are so many dedicated fans in this, and they know how to treat bands, know how to be good to their favourite acts. I feel like the world can use that, you know? Us just being better and everything. If you go to any type of metal festival, people are being great to each other, and I think we could learn a lot from that.”
It seems like the time at home has given Wage War a decent outlook on weathering the side-eye storm whenever they do something. They know they’ve found a good home in metalcore, one that will be kind to them, even if it does tend to snap back on occasion.
“You definitely get some backlash, but as I said, we need to be a little bit more appreciative of things, and I feel like this last year, a lot of people have woken up being like, you know what? I’m gonna change some of my toxic behaviour ways.” He continues, “I have, I’ve looked in the mirror and been like, you know what, I’m not going to complain or, you know, say certain things about things that are going on in my life because there are way worse things that can be going on.”
It could be argued that attitude is far easier for a band to change than their sound. Sometimes it is easier to know that whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not. Even Briton is guilty of having his moment of not quite gelling with music a little closer to home, that is until it does. Tides change, after all.
“There’s a band… I’m not gonna name any names,” he says, anticipating the obvious question. “But there’s a band that recently we’ve been on tour with, and they’re super nice guys, but I’ve never really vibed too much with their music. They put out a track recently that I’m just like, this is sick. I’m starting more and more to understand even if you don’t love a band or whatever, you can still respect their songwriting because even the songs you hate, they get stuck in your head; you’re singing them all day.”
Wage War will forever be fighting forward. “With our music too, if you don’t like the new stuff, I mean there’s a bunch, there are a lot more records before that; ‘Blueprints’ and [2017’s] ‘Deadweight’, that stuff that you can go back and listen to at any time. And any time you come to one of our shows, we’re going to be playing that stuff, so all hope is not lost for sure!”
Quickly clarifying, he says: “I’m not calling out fans or anything like that, but I feel like there is a good amount of us that… we’ve kind of missed the mark of understanding bands are gonna go through different seasons,” he reasons, knowing it’s hitting a little close to home. “They’re all humans, and they’re going to write different things all the time. Like Slipknot, for example. If you go to a Slipknot show, they’re gonna play those songs you love; they’re always going to be that thing you love, but just because you don’t love their most recent record or whatever, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t support them anymore.”
Recalling a recent appearance at US festival Louder Than Life, Wage War stuck around and managed to catch nu-metal legends Korn. “I don’t think I’ve listened to their latest two records,” Briton says. “Getting out there and hearing all the old hits was super sick, but when they slipped those new ones in, I’m just like, ‘Okay, I’ll accept this, this is fine’. I feel like if we just opened our ears or eyes a little bit more, I feel like we could enjoy a lot more than we think we can.”
Positioning ‘Manic’ as the purest form of Wage War, and it being “the most excited I’ve been for one of our records ever”, means a lot is riding on it. It’s no make-or-break; instead, it’s the band continuing a journey entrenched in musical and personal catharsis, which does involve essentially sacrificing a part of yourself to the wolves.
“That’s the thing; that’s a reality bands need to understand, too. Every record you put out is not going to be the best record of all time. Like Metallica, for example, I 100% know their latest albums from like ‘Load’ and ‘Reload’, to ‘Death Magnetic’ is not people’s favourite stuff. They love ‘Ride The Lightning’, they love the Black Album. And they know that. That’s just how it is.
“Just enjoy the era some of your favourite songs are coming out in because that’s not always gonna be there. I remember when I was young, like, being 15-16, years old, going to my favourite metal bands and being like, oh my gosh, it felt like it was magic happening on there. I would trade a lot of things to go back and feel that again, for sure.”
Nostalgia is the biggest catalyst for anyone to get entrenched in the past, especially in music. Everyone wants that magic spark that first sparked their relationship with any band, that unknown synapse, but so often, it’s reliant upon more than just music and notes. It’s time and place. When Wage War first struck up back in 2015, they found strides because metalcore was waiting for a young and fresh face to take up the mantle, which ‘Blueprints’ delivered. Three albums later, with ‘Manic’, the band are older, wiser and ready to provide the same for whoever stumbles upon them next.
“Maybe you’re going through something, and that song was just the perfect thing you needed. It’s hard to replicate that kind of stuff. I think that’s what’s cool too, with bands trying different things and trying different sounds because you never know, that could be the new thing that everyone’s going through, especially with ‘Manic’. I’m not saying it’s gonna be your new favourite album, but you might be going through some of the stuff that we’re talking about, and it might become your favourite. We’ll see.”
For all the comments, naysayers, or the enthusiastically baying crowds, the fire and fury is something Wage War embrace. Acceptance is no longer on the agenda; instead, the road ahead is littered with the wreckage of those that try to get in the way.
“At the end of the day, we’re gonna do what we want to do. We’re all big metalheads in this band, and we’ll never abandon that sound. I don’t think we’re going to be some dad-rock band either,” he says, laughing.
“I enjoy heavy music, but it’s important to shift different gears on record, so you don’t just be the same thing. I mean, you can be, but for us – we like to slow down and have things a little bit more impactful with meaning and melody. We’re all big on melody and on different genres and songs, like pop and country and hip-hop, things like that. It’s nice to just switch gears and do things a little bit different but still keep that heavy metalcore in there.”
Wage War’s album ‘Manic’ is out now.