The concept of a spaghetti western-themed sludge-metal band is so inspired in its simplicity, so tremendously appropriate, that one has to wonder why there aren’t more, similar bands out there. After all, the desert-friendly vibe of that strand of metal is totally at home in the dusty town-setting of those old movies.
It took Red River Massacre, a band with members spread between Orange County, Long Beach, and Los Angeles, to fully make the connection. The group formed at the start of the decade, brothers Miguel and Adriel Hernandez (guitar and drums respectively) hooking up with Keith Irish (vocals, banjo).
“One day [Keith] gave me a call and said he had an idea for a new band, and his idea hasn’t come to fruition yet the way he wanted it to be, so he asked me and my brother to play in the band with him, and we had nothing really going on at the time so we said, yeah, let’s do it,” says Miguel Hernandez. “Jeremy [Schott], the bass player, was already in the band. We just took it from there.”
There sure aren’t many bands that list both English grind-metallers Bolt Thrower and SoCal surf legend Dick Dale among their influences, but such is the eclecticism of the Red River Massacre sound. Simply put, if you add banjo to thrash metal, magic will happen.
“Keith picked up the banjo and started messing around with it, and then the addition of electric guitar and drums adds a different dynamic to it,” says Hernandez. “We wanted to take scores, like from Ennio Morricone, and just kind of add heavy guitars to it, make it sludgy and doomy, and epic.”
There’s a self-titled EP currently available on Spotify, and the band has just finished recording its first full-length album with producer Billy Anderson, who previously worked with the Melvins and Sleep. That currently-untitled album is currently in the mastering process and should be out early this year. The lyrical subject matter on the new material will tough on those spaghetti western themes, though so much more too.
“We started off writing more western-themed things,” Hernandez says. “Stories that could translate into a story of a tragedy or a death, a la Marty Robbins, a singer from the 1950s and ‘60s. Tragic stories and stuff like that. Then we get political too. Some of our songs are politically-charged. Covered in metaphor, but very much political. There’s also the nonsensical bullshit in there, talking about nothing except death or something like that. Bullshit ideas that just come together for the sake of putting lyrics together.”
Because the members are spread across the region, they are able to keep in touch with all of the local metal scenes. Hernandez says that, in LA, fans prefer their metal faster and more brutal. In OC, we like it sludgier and more atmospheric.
“A lot of the kids playing metal in L.A. also come from a punk background,” he says. “There’s a hint of punk in there. It’s mainly Mexican-American kids like myself, who grew up listening to Slayer, Pantera, Metallica, Cannibal Corpse and stuff like that, and just evolve it to where they’re making it their own. It’s a really cool thing that’s going on up here, and it gravitates to social economics. It’s usually people in the lower bracket, that seem to be attracted to more extreme music. As opposed to Orange County — there’s a different attitude that I notice. I have lots of friends who live there, and everybody’s into that atmospheric death metal which is a lot slower, way more melodic, prettier, almost a bit more palatable. It might have to do with the scenery.”
Hernandez says that, live, the Red River Massacre set is full of energy and screaming, with Irish’s crazy banjo that, in his words, bites your ear. We’ll get to hear it all on Thursday, when Red River Massacre plays Alex’s Bar in Long Beach, a room that the band enjoys.
“We’re going to play a lot of our new songs,” Hernandez says. “We’ve been working on a couple of new songs that are not in the album. All the other ones are gonna be on the album. We’re gonna exclusively change one song from the album version — a speed punk metal song, to more of a Melvin-esque song. We won’t record it that way ever. Then most of our set list which is the songs on the album.”
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Now that the new year has arrived, Hernandez says that the Red River Massacre will be trying to play out more in LA and Orange County, and then maybe spread its wings to the Bay Area and beyond.
“We’ve been talking about how to expand our horizons a little bit,” he says. “Hopefully after that, we get out of our hiatus and go on tour. It’s also a little hard for us because Keith has a family, Jeremy has a business, the Dark Art Emporium in Long Beach. My brother and I also work. So it’s difficult to out everyone’s schedule together, to go ahead and tour, and do something major like travel. But we’re putting our heads together and hopefully we’ll get something together. It’s very exciting.”
That it is.
Red River Massacre plays with Core 10, ORKEST, and Project Human at 8 p.m. on Thursday, January 11 at Alex’s Bar; 2913 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; 562-434-8292.