Musicians and pundits spend a lot of time talking about the merits of creative risk-taking versus playing it safe. The stakes are rather trivial compared to the work of a brain surgeon or firefighter, but a musician’s penchant for either adventure or comfort food is often what makes or breaks them.
With their third album, 2019’s Pressure, Florida metalcore band Wage War threw in their lot with the former. “We took a lot of risks, which is important,” said guitarist and clean vocalist Cody Quistad. Pressure was made with producer Drew Fulk, aka WZRD BLD, who guided Wage War towards a more contemporary sound, pairing their metalcore might with electronic production details.
Although fan reactions were mixed and Pressure didn’t match the commercial highs of 2017’s Deadweight, the record was essentially a success. Lead single ‘Low’ is one of Wage War’s most popular songs to date according to streaming data.
Perhaps more crucially, Quistad and his bandmates – lead vocalist Briton Bond, guitarist Seth Blake, bassist Chris Gaylor and drummer Stephen Kluesener — came out the other side feeling eager to keep pushing the boundaries of their sound. The fruits of this enthusiasm can be found on the band’s new album, Manic.
“We came into Manic knowing what it takes to make a record that will please older fans, yet continue the journey and growth for us,” said Quistad. Manic is both an evolution of the band’s sound and a consolidation of their strengths. The sonic bandwidth is dangerously thick and the record features plenty of gnarly riffs, breakdowns and guttural screamed vocals. Meanwhile, Quistad’s chorus melodies bear the gloss of arena rock and the band’s integration of electronic production continues.
Music Feeds spoke to Briton Bond about the writing process, the range of sounds on Manic and the band’s political stance.
Music Feeds: Even a pandemic couldn’t stop Wage War from releasing a new album two years after your previous. Was Manic completely conceived after COVID? Or were some of these songs kicking around beforehand?
Briton Bond: So, with Pressure, we did two or three tours off that album cycle and then COVID hit. We had some songs we were working with already after that record came out, but once quarantine hit and things like that, we all started hitting it pretty hard with writing. We were just like, we have all this time, why not be useful and work on new stuff?
MF: Cody is credited as co-producer on a number of tracks, but you also worked with Drew Fulk, who produced Pressure, as well as Jeremy McKinnon and Andrew Wade, who produced your first two albums. How essential is it to work with outside producers?
BB: It’s always smart to have a second set of ears to hear it and have another opinion on your stuff. With this record, we took our favourite things that we love from Pressure and the stuff with Drew Fulk, and then we took our favourite things that we love from our two first records, Blueprints and Deadweight, and kind of just threw it all together. And I feel like it’s a strong album with both those kind of styles; like, the real classic metalcore heavy with some newer production and fun stuff.
MF: When you started writing Manic, were you conscious of the spectrum of sounds you wanted on the album?
BB: Having almost two years to write a record, there were so many demos that we combed through and we just took our favourites. Usually, when you’re on a normal cycle, you’re having to work on a record between touring. I feel like sometimes things can kind of be rushed. Like, “Oh, we need a heavy banger real quick, so let’s try to write up a riffy breakdown song,” which sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t.
Having two years, we could have a song, work on it, and if it’s not there, just move on to something else. And I feel like we came up with 11 songs that are completely different from one another and decided to roll with those.
MF: The title track, ‘Manic’, stands out from the pack — it’s not just different to the other ten songs, but different to anything on your first three albums. It’s essentially a rap-metalcore song; Cody has described it as his favourite Wage War song ever. Is that a feeling shared by the rest of you?
BB: Yeah, I think everyone was pretty on-board with the song. This song is my favourite on the record for sure. I feel like it was something new for me to showcase — I’ve been doing scream vocals for a long time, and it’s still in the song, but just having a new challenge and trying something different was super cool to me.
It’s got a rappy, trap kind of side to it in the beginning, but it still comes down to heavy metal once we get going. So it was cool to mix the old with the new with that song.
MF: I’m interested to learn about the delegation of roles between yourself and Cody as vocalists. Are the lyrics a team effort?
BB: It’s not just me or Cody that’s like, “Oh this is what we want to say in a song.” I feel like we get a lot of cool lyrics from Chris, Seth and Stephen also. So we’ll just sit down with the overall theme and let whoever wants to write on it go. Some days everyone’s on it and some days it’s just one person, but for the majority, everyone has a say in our lyrics and the way we do our songs.
MF: The lyrics in ‘Circle the Drain’ envision a different sort of political discourse, where people are more accountable and where the aim is to unite rather than indict. Is there a particular political point of view you want to broadcast in your work?
BB: I wouldn’t say political. I think it’s just more, we all live on this rock together, let’s try and make it the best. We all go through stuff and the biggest thing I want people to come and listen to our band and take away is, number one, we’re here to have a good time and number two, we just want to write about real-life stuff.
We want to talk about mental health and relationship problems and things like that. And I feel like every album we’ve had is just a diary of what we were going through in those seasons. We just want people to know that they’re not alone in what they go through. And sometimes you don’t have to take the lyrics that literal, it’s just heavy metal.
Wage War’s fourth full-length studio album ‘Manic’ is out now via Fearless Records.