British music magazines spare no adjectives and superlatives when describing AMEN, Los Angeles’ sonic-assault merchants.
Kerrang! calls them “rock’s new Messiahs.” Metal Hammer says, “To describe AMEN as important is an understatement. Punk rock for the next millennium without a doubt.” New Musical Express declares, “The first shots in the war to win rock ‘n’ roll back from the moaning hippies has been fired … Sign up now, kids. Your country needs you.”
And it’s not just the critics. Rat Scabies, drummer for The Damned, says, “AMEN is the punkiest, heaviest thing out of America since the Stooges and the MC5.”
They’re not being superfluous. AMEN is the real deal.
“We just got back from there where we did Reading and all the festivals and all that,” lead singer Casey Chaos said recently. “It was really surreal for us, going over there and playing Reading, theoretically our first European show, because we had only done an in-store before, but walking out to the stage 15 minutes before we’re to play and there’s fucking 10,000 people chanting ‘AMEN!,’ that was pretty surreal.”
Will disenchanted American youth join in the chorus? Their parents better pray they don’t.
AMEN’s debut I AM/Virgin album, “We Have Come For Your Parents,” will attack U.S. stores on – appropriately – Oct. 31. Already numb from the monotonous presidential race, Mom and Dad won’t know what hit them.
AMEN’s fast, loud and aggressive, unabashedly wicked and violent. They’re always one step away from total self-destruction, from the torturous intensity of “CK Killer” and “Justified” to the jaw-dropping “Refuse Amen.” Their raw, built-up anger makes Green Day and blink-182 seem like prep-school boys.
Chaos’ lyrics are filled with biting political and social commentary, bordering on disgusting, but always brutally honest. Crunching away behind his fierce vocals are former Snot guitarist Sonny Mayo and bassist John “Tumor” Fahnestock, guitarist Paul Fig and ex-Ugly Kid Joe drummer Shannon Larkin.
Making sense of this turmoil is producer-I AM Recordings founder Ross Robinson, the man behind Korn, Limp Bizkit and Slipknot.
Larkin recently told Kerrang! that Chaos is a ticking time bomb waiting to go off every night. That’s not far off the mark, Chaos says. He says America is brimming with time bombs.
“The kids are all time bombs,” he said. “The ones that aren’t rich enough to dress the proper way, or rich enough or cool enough to hang out with the in-crowd, that’s when you’ve got Columbine. That’s when you’ve got all these other time bombs.
“I mean, I was the same fucking kid. I was that kid. I just had proper parental guidance, so to speak, to know that I wasn’t going to go kill some people; I would just maybe beat the shit out of them. I was a skateboarder when I was real young, and that was my outlet. Then, after I broke too many bones and got out of that and started getting into music, it was just a natural progression.”
The New York native says the flash point for him was when his parents moved to Melbourne, Fla., when he was 8.
“Melbourne is about as backwoods as you can get,” Chaos said. “It’s a fucking shitty place. Everybody had a cop mentality down there, where if you didn’t wear flannel and chew tobacco, you weren’t cool. Coming from New York and having kids constantly on me, I had to – I hated them. I hated everyone around me. I hated all the fucking rednecks, I hated all the fucking jocks, I hated all the fucking preppies, I hated everything around me. All these groups of people that I just could not identify with to save my life. New York’s multicultural, multifaceted. There’s so much diversity.”
The current AMEN lineup formed five years ago when Mayo, Kahnestock and Larkin, disillusioned with their bands, hooked up with Chaos and Fig. With Robinson as their biggest champion, the quintet emerged from the L.A. underground and signed with Roadrunner. Their self-titled debut album last year figured prominently in U.K. magazine year-end best-of lists. Energetic tours with Slipknot, Machine Head, Coal Chamber and Nothingface further expanded their notoriety.
Then AMEN had a falling-out with Roadrunner. Enter Virgin.
“We were looking to get out of our deal,” Chaos said, “and Virgin was a company that was interested in the band before we even signed with Roadrunner, and it was just like home. It was a natural place for us.
“I’m anti-iconology and anti-brainwash, and I guess it’s probably similar to what Rage Against The Machine probably does, being on Sony. The only difference is that we definitely don’t create music for money, or to become famous. All we give a fuck about is being able to have 100 percent creative control. I’m really hands-on with the artwork, hands-on with, obviously, with the music. I’ve had about a thousand times more freedom (with Virgin) than I had with Roadrunner.
“We’re talking about Virgin, one of the biggest corporations or companies there is, and they’ve been so supportive, and they believe in the artist, as opposed to where – I mean, we’re totally grateful for the Roadrunner situation, because we’re at where we’re at today. The staff there is great. It’s just unfortunate that the people who run the company are a little, uh, they’re definitely into a cookie-cutter mentality, and they want to have like a control issue. We’re not a controllable band. We’re going to write the music we want to write, we’re going to portray whatever images we can, and we want to be able to have the freedom to do that.”
There were no holds barred for “We Have Come For Your Parents.” Chaos says they wanted to make a statement: It’s possible to create an uncommercial record in a commercial world.
“It’s an honest record in a dishonest world, you know,” he said. “We didn’t care about radio, we didn’t care about anything. We just went in and recorded what we recorded, and never questioned it. There were no holdbacks.
“Today, everyone’s doing shit with pro tools, and everything’s in tune, and everything’s got to be perfect. Perfection is boredom. It’s not interesting to me. I hear some band that’s playing the tape loops and all this, I’m just like, ‘Jesus Christ!’ There’s no vibe in it. It’s not human. It’s not a human sound to me. If you’re listening to aggressive music, there needs to be some sort of disorder or some sort of imperfection to make it human. That’s our intent. That’s just us.”
Chaos has nothing but praise for Robinson, a visionary who has a touch of gold (and platinum).
“I’ve been friends with Ross forever,” Chaos said. “I used to go watch Korn when they were playing at the Coconut, a little hole in the wall on Sunset Strip, and there would be 10 people there, five of which would leave after the first three songs. The bartender would just go, ‘This is the worst fucking sack-of-shit band I’ve ever heard in my life!’ Ross would just go, ‘Yeah, sure, we’ll see what happens.’ He was the only guy. Every A&R guy, nobody wanted to touch that band, or any band in that genre. They stayed true to what they did, and now they’re Korn, and every three-dollar A&R guy wants to find the next Korn.
“Ross just knows honesty. He’s into the intent of the music, and it has to be real for him to work with it. He won’t work with a band solely for the paycheck or because they’re a big band and they want to sell records. I know the bands he turns down. He turns down gigantic bands, because he doesn’t believe in the music, or he doesn’t think the music’s up to par. He knows his stuff.”
Though his lyrics say otherwise, Chaos is a happy man. Hit album or not, he likes where AMEN is right now.
“I don’t expect anything,” he said. “I’ll be satisfied if we sell enough records to where Virgin’s like, ‘Okay, yeah, we’re happy, that’s enough, that’s fine, whatever.’ I don’t want to be some fucking band on MTV; I’m just not interested in the whole consumerism aspects of music, I’m more interested in being able to create. All the bands that I’ve ever liked never had a gold record, or a platinum record, for that matter. But they were always the bands that were truly influential, like the Stooges and Black Flag and the Sex Pistols, even Roxy Music back in the day.
“At this point, we’re so happy and Virgin’s been so cool, I think our next album will sound like Britney Spears. We’ll have nothing to be pissed off about anymore.”
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: “Black Flag, ‘Damaged.’ I was real young, real young. That was when I lived in Florida and I hated every single person around me. They were all human breathing sacks of shit. Chewing tobacco, fucking their sisters, trying to be police mentality as kids. All group thought. You couldn’t look different, act different, or anything. So I didn’t know anything about music and never heard anything. I was skateboarding at the time and one of the skateboarders was playing Black Flag, and I was like, ‘What the fuck is this? This is fucking amazing!’ There was emotion in it, really violent and really angry, and that’s the way I felt. So that’s what drew me to hardcore.”
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “I think it was Devo. Genius, to this day. They’re another band that probably didn’t sell very much back in the day, but there was only one Devo. I saw them in Orlando at the Southern Music Hall.”
THE LAST CD I BOUGHT: “Discordant Axis. They’re like really, really super grind core, but they actually can write songs, and the guy screaming really has a lot of passion. It’s really a good CD for what it is. If you think we’re violent, these guys are like, take the CD and spin it five times faster.”
BWF (before we forget): Bow down to AMEN on the Web @ www.amen-us.com.