Back in 2012, Bulletbelt released their first full-length, Down in the Cold of the Grave. Black metal led the charge, but the Wellington, New Zealand-based band mixed in plenty of thrash’s jagged bite and traditional metal’s harmonies, before liberally dousing everything with punk rock’s venom. What Down in the Cold of the Grave revealed most was that Bulletbelt weren’t going to be bound by any strict genre rules. The band’s brand new album, Rise of the Banshee, amplifies that stance tenfold.
Rise of the Banshee features a much broader and bigger sound than on the band’s debut, and incorporates a wider range of influences from across the metal spectrum. From its cover art to its triumphant hailing of all things metal, Rise of the Banshee sees Bulletbelt go from being a black metal band to a consummate heavy metal band.
Rise of the Banshee features the first recordings from Bulletbelt’s powerful new vocalist, Jolene Tempest (ex-Zirconium). Tempest joins a crew of New Zealand metal stalwarts: whirlwind bassist Tim Mekalick; guitarists Ryan O’Leary (ex-Backyard Burial) and Ross ‘Rots’ Mallon (Pervertor); and former Karnage and Demonic drummer, and current sticksman for Red Dawn, Steve ‘Cleaver’ Francis.
Bulletbelt have toured the country and played numerous support slots with visiting international acts, including Psycroptic, The Black Dahlia Murder, Impiety, Bolzer, Tragedy, Rotten Sound, Midnight, Municipal Waste, Ringworm, Paul Dianno, and Primate. Bulletbelt have played with such a diverse selection of bands, because they make exactly the kind of cutthroat, meteoric, aggressive metal that appeals to a wide crossover crowd. The band are all about the fundamentals – razor riffs, pounding percussion, and earthquaking bass. And in the case of Rise of the Banshee, you get Tempest’s wickedly baleful vocals too.
Six Noises caught up with Bulletbelt drummer Steve Francis as the band prepares for their New Zealand and Australian tour to promote Rise of the Banshee.
Six Noises is also extremely honoured to debut the first track to be released from Rise of the Banshee, “Murderer’s Collar”.
Steve, before we delve into Bulletbelt’s latest album, I wanted to ask you something about your own journey through the metal realms. You were right there at the birth of New Zealand extreme metal in the early ’90s, so what’s kept you in for the long haul?
Metal’s in my blood. If I’m not listening to it, I’m playing it. It’s just what I do. I couldn’t imagine a life without metal. Eddie Van Halen and Ritchie Blakemore hypnotised my brain with their flying fingers when I was 10 years old, and I’ve been a lifer ever since. Metal keeps me out of trouble too!
What changes have you seen over time in the NZ metal scene? Any distinct shifts that stand out for you?
The early ’90s had some great bands. Obviously, there was the early ’90s Christchurch scene, and a scattering of other bands from around the country. But the mid to late ’90s weren’t so good, with bands splitting up or changing their sound completely. A lot of dudes became DJs overnight too! What were they thinking? Thankfully, these days the NZ scene is in really amazing shape. There’s a lot of great bands, and a really diverse scene overall. We’re getting a lot more overseas bands playing here these days as well, and there’s a lot of energy at local gigs.
What’s the story behind the inception of Bulletbelt? What brought you guys together to form the band? Did you have a shared goal in mind when you started?
I knew that Ross lived in the same area as me, so I sent a text to him along the lines of, “Hey man, do you have a guitar, and do you want to form a bedroom black metal band?” This is pre-hipster bedroom black metal, I must add. Ha ha.
I had the name Bulletbelt stuck in my head for about 20 years, but I’d never used it. It might sound a bit corny to some at first, but it has a real identity and doesn’t confine us to any one box. It could be a power metal band (over Ross’s dead body!).
The goal is pretty simple. We just want to make awesome metal that we love, and ignore any trends going on in the scene.
Let’s talk about Rise of the Banshee. Everything the band’s previously recorded has been stamped by that NZBM logo, although there’ve always been plenty of elements from outside black metal appearing in your sound. To my ears, you’ve taken a different approach and broadened your sound on Rise of the Banshee. The album sounds much bigger and diverse as a result. But what inspired you to make those changes? Or, do you even see them as changes, or just natural progression?
I think, this time round, there’s a push from the band to get away from the NZBM tag. We all listen to a wide range of metal; today, for example, I’ve already listened to WASP, Death, Oath of Damnation and KISS. We really consider Bulletbelt a metal band first and foremost. There are black metal influences. But those are more first wave (Venom, Bathory etc), and some second wave Norwegian influences; certainly more so than anything going on in black metal today. So, Rise of the Banshee is a really natural progression for us, but it’s also just about being comfortable as Bulletbelt, and knowing who and what we are as a band.
Some metal fans take the stance that it’s almost sacrilege if their favourite bands make changes to their sound. What’s your take on that? I’m wondering if you considered that with Rise of the Banshee, or did you just follow your muse regardless of where it led?
Personally, I like it when my favourite bands try something different. I’d rather they do a Cold Lake or a St Anger than just pedal out the same shit, album after album. For a genre that preaches about being yourself and not giving a fuck, metal really is full of closed-minded unadventurous listeners!
So yeah, to answer the question: we’ll continue to take the songs in any direction we feel, without worrying about whatever the fuck anyone else thinks. Anyway, most people who slag off Cold Lake, St Anger, or the last Morbid Angel album probably haven’t even heard it, or they’ve maybe heard a song or two. They’re just basing their opinion on what all the other sheep on idiotbook are spouting.
**Rise of the Banshee is the first recording with Bulletbelt’s new vocalist, Jolene Tempest. Jolene brings her own powerful energy and dynamic to the band onstage, and her performance on the album is outstanding. I’m wondering if Joelene’s arrival provided any extra drive to alter Bulletbelt’s approach?
Having fresh blood can definitely bring new energy to the band. It’s more about how much we all enjoy getting together, whether it’s practice, writing, or touring. Anyone in a band will tell you how soul-sapping it is having a member who isn’t pulling their weight, because that drags everyone down. At the moment, we have five people who are all on the same page working towards a shared goal and vision. We’re all a bit older too, which helps!
With five of you in the band, you’ve obviously all got different ideas and influences. How did you balance that in the songwriting process for Rise of the Banshee?
We all play a different role. Ross brings the riffs, and a basic idea for song structures. My part is to help with the arrangements, and to suggest changes here and there. The others in the band are all then given an opportunity to add their two cents in. But, to be honest, Ross and I have final say.
How did you approach the lyrical focus for Rise of the Banshee? Did you go into the album with any specific ideas you wanted to explore? Where does the band draw its influences from in that regard?
We talked about basing the album around New Zealand’s dark underbelly. Worldwide, our country is thought of as this beautiful, clean green paradise, and to some extent it is. But, as Ice T said, “Shit ain’t like that, it’s real fucked up”.
When I was a kid, I would hear about a murder maybe once a month on television. Today, as a society, we have degenerated to the state where we have one of the worst rates of violence against children, a very big drug problem, and generally fucked up violent events dominate our daily news. So, we looked back and chose some topics from NZ’s dark past to document, and there was a lot to choose from.
Talk me through Rise of the Banshee’s cover art, because it’s got classic, definitive metal written all over it.
Bang on. The reference point was King Diamond’s Abigail, which is one of my favourite albums. Remember when you’d go to the record store as a kid and stare at those awesome Iron Maiden covers? That’s what I wanted the artist to create. We asked Scarecrowoven to provide the cover art – he’s an American artist who I actually discovered in Thrasher magazine. He nailed it. Even though it’s seemingly all about downloading these days, Bulletbelt don’t endorse that at all. We’re an album band. The artwork is equally as important as the music. We’re pressing Rise of the Banshee on vinyl too. That’s what it’s all about!
I know for some bands from New Zealand our location means nothing; they just see themselves as contributing to this vast international metal subculture. How do you guys see that? Is maintaining a New Zealand identity important, or even something you think about?
No, we don’t think about it at all. That said, if having ‘New Zealand’ next to our name means that people will check us out over the 5,000 bands from Europe all vying for the listener’s attention, then it can only be a good thing. But no, it’s not something we think about consciously. It just is.
There’s probably no better time to be a New Zealand metal band seeking the attention of overseas audiences. Does that give you hope that Bulletbelt are more able to find an international audience now than in the past?
We’re looking to push this album further afield than we did with Down in the Cold of the Grave. The key is getting good distribution, and getting Rise of the Banshee out and available everywhere. That comes from good connections and networking. We think we’ve made an excellent metal album, and after releasing the first run of CDs through our own Headless Horseman label, we’re keen to get this album released by a good overseas label. There’s work to do. And we’ll do it.
Bulletbelt is heading out on tour in a few days playing the main centres, but you’re also hitting smaller towns in New Zealand. Is it important for you to play those smaller towns?
Those small town gigs are normally the best! The fans living there don’t get many bands coming through, so they’re real excited when they do. Those crowds also bring a lot more energy to the shows. They don’t stand at the back trying to look cool, they just destroy each other! Hopefully, we can inspire people in those towns to start their own bands too.
I know you’ve got a pre-order package planned for the album, so when can we expect to see Rise of the Banshee released?
We’re aiming for a 22 September release. We’re going to advertise a very cool pre-order package on 15 September, which has CD, t-shirt, sticker, guitar pick, and an engraved bullet!
Thanks for your time, Steve. Anything else you want to add?
Get out and support live music. Buy some merch at the show, get drunk, and hit the front row all guns blazing!
Rise of the Banshee** New Zealand and Australian Tour**
Friday, 15 August – Valhalla, Wellington w/ Psycroptic
Saturday, 16 August – Kings Arms, Auckland w/ Psycroptic
Friday, 26 September – Cabana, Napier
Saturday, 27 September – King St Live, Masterton
Thursday, 2 October – Venue tbc, Nelson
Friday, 3 October – Churchills Live, Christchurch
Saturday, 4 October – Barkode, Timaru
Thursday, 30 October – Whistle Stop Bar, Brisbane
Friday, 31 October – Bendigo Hotel, Melbourne
Saturday, 1 November, Bendigoat Metal Fest, Bendigo
Sunday, 16 November – Valhalla, Wellington w/ Krisiun
Monday, 17 November – Kings Arms, Auckland w/ Krisiun
Saturday, 29 November – NZ Tattoo and Art Festival, New Plymouth