The house I’m standing in front of could become a new stop for metal fans. From the outside, it looks like the other houses in this quiet Tacoma neighborhood. Maybe the paint is a bit darker and the bright-red door stands out. Just driving past it, though, you wouldn’t guess that lyrics like “Violent killers on the prowl seek to take the human crown” and “A frozen giant with a heart made of ice/Hideous flesh-eating creature of northern desolation” were written behind its walls. This is where Vancouver, B.C., metal sextet 3 Inches of Blood wrote their album Fire Up the Blades before returning home to record (they finished recording at London Bridge Studios in Seattle).
“Everyone’s from around [the Northwest],” says guitarist Shane Clark when I ask him why the band chose Tacoma as the location for writing its newest record. “Nothing beats being at home.”
It’s not a strange thing to say for a band that, like many underground metal acts, has forged its notoriety by touring. And for a group not yet in its prime, who you open for on tour can predict the direction of your career. In the last few years, 3 Inches of Blood have toured with metal giants Satyricon, Cradle of Filth, and Motörhead. By coincidence, it was the Satyricon tour that landed 3 Inches of Blood a producer for Fire Up the Blades: Joey Jordison of Slipknot, who was filling in as Satyricon’s drummer for the tour.
“He’d been a fan,” Clark says of Jordison. “He came in with no intention of changing our sound. He just wanted to keep us a tight-ass sounding band.”
Influences are something you’ll hear on Fire Up the Blades, and guessing which band spawned what riff would take longer than listening to the record.
“There’s all these influences from growing up,” Clark admits. “Everyone in the band has different ones, but they’ve all morphed into [3 Inches of Blood]. There’s overtly early-metal influence, sure, but I’m big into late-’70s proto-metal and the Bay Area thrash. If something sounds a little too much like someone else, we might redo it, but it has to fit in the grander scheme of things.”
If the music itself isn’t enough to evoke Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, or very early Metallica, just look at the liner notes to Fire Up the Blades; even though they’ve never met the metal legends, the first band mentioned in the thank-yous is Iron Maiden. And aside from the soaring Rob Halford–esque vocals of original band members Cam Pipes and Jamie Hooper and the dual guitar attack of Clark and Justin Hagberg, 3 Inches of Blood have something else in common with their metal forefathers: iconic album artwork.
“Each character [on the cover] is linked to a song, so we’d have to reuse those characters to use the images again,” Clark says of the medieval-looking marauders on the Fire Up the Blades CD booklet. The result is an album full of lyrics and song titles rooted in the world of fantasy. The group has produced song cycles before, however, including the three-song pirate saga “Upon the Boiling Sea” from its previous album, Advance and Vanquish.
“Cam and Jamie are the concept makers,” Clark says. They’re big fans of fantasy books and movies. But if they had some [idea] like The Elder from KISS, we may have to talk about it.”
Then again, Pipes and Hooper are the only band members left from the Advance and Vanquish sessions. Clark (who was in a Melvins cover band with former 3 Inches drummer Alexei Rodriguez) joined the group just after the album was recorded. Bassist Nick Cates joined the band after leaving Bremerton-born indie rockers Kane Hodder. Guitarist Hagberg came out of Canadian black-metal group Allfather. Once the new lineup was in place, the tour began and didn’t stop until it was time for a new album.
“I toured for two years before recording anything,” Clark says. “If your band doesn’t get its chops up after that long on the road, there’s something wrong.”
Fire Up the Blades was released this week, which means the hard-core touring begins again. A number of regional CD-release shows will precede their stint performing on Ozzfest’s second stage. However, Clark is not expecting a chance to meet that particular heavy-metal icon, either.
“I had a friend who did Ozzfest a couple years ago, and he never saw Ozzy,” he says. “I heard he shows up, does his set, and leaves.”