(Our man BadWolf did this interesting interview with Ringworm’s screamer and lyricist, Human Furnace. We’re also streaming some new Ringworm jams at the end.)
The Human Furnace has a lot going for him: the best stage name in heavy music, a voice to match, and a new album, Hammer of the Witch, coming out on Relapse. For those not in the know, HF fronts Ringworm, a seminal Cleveland band with formal ties to Hatebreed and Terror. For what it’s worth, I like Ringworm’s take on metallic hardcore better than those other bands—it’s more vicious, and less focused on sing-along breakdowns, even though Furnace and company bring the hooks on Hammer of the Witch with songs like “One of Us is Going to Have to Die.”
Furnace is the only consistent member of Ringworm—the band dropped a required listen with 1993’s The Promise, and then split for most of a decade when some of Furnace’s cohorts went on to join the mighty Integrity before the band re-united in the early aughts. Ringworm’s been going strong since, and a lot of that has to do with Furnace’s powerful pipes and tireless work ethic. We chatted about being a ‘head from the Midwest, the blurred lines between metal and hardcore, and how he keeps his voice in tip-top shape (hint: it’s nothing good).
I’m sensing an increased horror story vibe on Hammer of the Witch, especially considering songs like the title track, “Psychic Vampire”, and “King of Blood.” Are these titles metaphors for something? What inspired the lyrical direction on Hammer?
The lyrical direction for this and every Ringworm record is, basically, just personal experience. I just write about experiences and how I view things in the world. Every song has personal meaning. I do like to use a lot of imagery and I use a lot of metaphors. I like to be cryptic, but also at times very blunt and literal. But I also like to keep things somewhat vague so the listener can perhaps find their own meaning. I like to approach it as I’m trying to paint an ugly picture with words.
Ben Schigel produced Hammer, and he’s a man who’s worked with some more above-ground acts, like Chimaira. What was the recording process like?
We’ve done our last few records with Ben. He’s a real talented guy and we work really well with him. He knows what we are trying to accomplish and makes it happen. As far as the studio process goes, we’re really very simple and don’t require advance pre-production or any over the top studio magic. We basically write a bunch of songs, practice them a few times, then go record them. Simple, easy. I would say, if anything might be found different or strange is that I don’t write any lyrics until the songs are pretty much done being recorded. Of course sometimes I have ideas and/or random writings that I adapt for a song. Once all the songs are tracked and its time for vocals, I’ll pick out a couple at a time and write words and blast them out the next day. So, the band really never hears what the song’s going to sound like with vocals until it’s done. I like doing it this way because it’s hard for me to write to a practice recording. Most times, it’s hard to hear everything that’s going on and sometimes I like to sing along with certain drum fills, accents or happy mistakes that sometimes happen when you record. I like to work from the final version of the song, as sometimes (mostly) they are different than what you would hear on a practice version, in respect to the finer nuances.
Ringworm’s music sounds as much like a metal band as a hardcore band to me—is there a difference between the genres to you? Does the difference between them even matter anymore? It feels like the crowds keep overlapping more and more.
That’s the funny thing about us, I guess you could say. Whereas you tend to think that we are much more of a metal band, other interviewers I’ve spoken with will swear up and done that we are a true hardcore band. For me, knowing where our influences stem from, I usually just think of us as a cross-over band, as we tend to lean in many different directions. We all grew up on 80’s thrash metal, early Earache type stuff, skate punk, and bands like DRI, Crumbsuckers, COC and shit like that, so our metal influences really tend to dominate our sound. The way I look at it, I judge what genre we are like this. If someone, who doesn’t know much about the “music world” or is just a regular Joe hears that I’m in a band and asks me what kind of band I’m in, I usually just say I’m in a heavy metal band. From there, if there’s more questions like “oh yeah? what do you guys sound like?’ I’ll say it’s really fast, intense and loud and there’s a lot of screaming. (I think that’s a pretty good way to describe Ringworm.) If they still inquire, I’ll eventually make a quick assessment of the person’s musical knowledge, and either say we sound like Slayer or old ‘tallica. If it still continues, I’ll get more detailed.
Labels and genres can get really ridiculous at times. I get it and it helps sell records. Personally, I don’t really care what genre we are labeled as, but, what I don’t like about it is, listeners will often not even give a band a chance BECAUSE of what a band is labeled. In our case, a “metalhead” might not ever be interested in listening to Ringworm because they heard or read that we were a “hardcore” band. They might think “I’ve heard Madball and that’s not my thing, so fuck hardcore” when, I think, we have more in common with metal than he or she might think. (By the way, I love Madball and think they are really the textbook definition of “modern hardcore”.) So, compared to Madball, yeah, Ringworm’s a fucking metal band, ya know?
I live in Toledo, OH (I saw you this year at Frankie’s, killer set!). Sometimes it doesn’t feel like heavy or extreme music is very accepted in the Midwest. Obviously, Cleveland is a bit different, but what do you think about the state of heavy music in this part of the world?
I dunno. I’ve always found the mid-west is actually pretty good as far a being into extreme type music. It’s hard to say what the state of heavy music is. People’s attention spans are so short anymore. Everybody’s just waiting for the new, hip thing to latch onto. I can say that heavy or extreme style music is never really going to go away. There’s always going to be a scene for it in any city, albeit it’s popularity fluctuates from time to time.
There seems to be a rise in interest in Cleveland’s hardcore scene recently—for example, a re-master of Integrity’s Systems Overload was just released. Do you think this is true? And if so, why?
Eh, I dunno. Perhaps more and more people are taking notice again because they are actually starting to “get it”. With metal being so prevalent in today’s hardcore sound, maybe they are starting to really appreciate and “get” what we have been doing for nearly 25 years. I’ve always said that sometimes it seems we are “Too Hardcore for Metal and too Metal for Hardcore” but the lines are definitely blurring more these days and that’s something I like to see. Or maybe because of all the bands that advertise “For fans of Ringworm, Integrity etc.” kids actually want to listen to Ringworm or Integrity for real, ha.
Regardless of Cleveland hardcore in general, I feel like the time between this record and the last has been good for Ringworm—I hear the name bandied about more. How has your life changed since the last record?
We’ve never felt any pressure to have a new record every year. Some bands do, as with attention spans being so short, there could be pressure to stay in the public eye, so to speak. But, sometimes you end up putting records out that are not quality. It takes time to recharge, gain life experience, and not just lyrically speaking but also musically, you need to recharge. Good records happen when they are ready to happen. You can’t always rush things. Usually after a record comes out, you really need to tour for it and let it really sink in for a while. If you can consistently put out quality records, people will wait for the next one.
Just like everyone else, my life is constantly changing. But, it can be said that the more things change the more they stay the same. As for lyrical inspiration on the new record, as opposed to the last, it’s really the same. Life almost always never goes the way you plan it. Shit happens. The world is a sick place, filled with sick people. It can be depressing, but it can also drive you to overcome adversity. So, I’ll continue to scream about that.
I’ve been asked this question before and I still don’t really have that great of an answer. I would assume my tone is the result of 25 years of screaming your face off. Style-wise, after years of doing this you come to know and understand what your pipes are able to do, so you have to adapt your style around that. I’ve never tried to imitate any vocalist. My tone just comes from me screaming as loud as I possibly can for the most part. Sometimes I feel awkward about calling myself a “singer”. DIO was a SINGER. I SCREAM. I’ll be the first to admit that my range is limited and I’m quite alright with that. I’d like to think I’m pretty good at working with what I got.
I have a few things that I do before shows. I smoke cigarettes and drink lots of ice water [laughs]. I don’t advise that to any vocalist. I do everything you’re not suppose to do really. I do try to take care of the pipes when we are out on the road, though. I try not to talk so much during the day. I’ll make sure to drink tea or something warm and soothing, in an attempt to apologize to my throat for what I did to it the night before. My throat is so roached from years of doing this, I could almost guarantee it’s been permanently scarred.
You’re the only consistent member of Ringworm—how do you keep the spirit of the band consistent when the instrumentalists switch around so much?
Well when you’ve been around for as long as we have, almost any band is prone to member changes, especially when you’re doing something that doesn’t really earn you your living. That’s just how that goes. But, we’ve only had two primary guitar player/songwriters for the entire history of the band (Frank 3-gun and Matt Sorg) and they were in the band simultaneously for a couple of years, so our sound was able to make a smooth transition and keep the core solid. If we do have to get a new member we’ve always tried to get guys who are of the same mindset as the rest of us. It’s best to have a lot in common, and similar musical tastes. Plus if you are willing to, basically, throw your life away, be in a touring band and everything that comes with that, you’ve already got a good head-start at having the “spirit” of this band. I think the rest really comes naturally.
Ringworm’s Hammer of the Witch will be released March 18 in North America, March 14 in Germany and Benelux, and March 17 in the UK and the rest of the globe. It can be pre-ordered here. Listen to three of the new Ringworm jams below