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Mike Conte, guitarist and vocalist with the Los Angeles-based Early Man, believes that many metal acts have lost their way.
"There are bands nowadays that have been around for 15 years and they still don't have a clue about Megadeth or Iron Maiden," Conte says. "One of the sad things that has happened to metal is that there is too much division and not enough appreciation of history."
To help alleviate the historical injustice, Conte formed Early Man in 2000 while he was still living in his home state of Ohio—maybe not a hotbed of metal, but certainly a fertile breeding ground.
"When I think about Ohio," Conte says, "I think about guys with mullets who drive Camaros around in trailer parks listening to Megadeth."
Channeling an early affection for punk and classic metal, Conte knew that he wanted to make music that was raw and powerful—basically, built around the things that attracted him to the metal genre in the first place.
"I wanted to go back to the basic idea of riffing," he says. "When I was thinking up the band's name, I wanted it to reflect an urge to return to a more direct, traditional sound."
Enter Death Potion, Early Man's debut full-length album, which came out in July. Although a couple of earlier EPs hinted at the structured roar that was Conte's wish, Death Potion is another matter all together. It's a heaving beast of a record that pays homage to bands like Black Sabbath and Judas Priest, legendary figures in the annals of metal.
But perhaps Death Potion is a bit too classic-sounding for its own good. Like the acts that inspired him, Conte seems fixated on death, as song titles such as "The Undertaker is Calling You" and "Killdrone" might indicate. As expected, though, Conte doesn't see things that way at all. As a matter of fact, Conte thinks metal's fascination with death is one of the genre's virtues.
"Metal can be consumed with death," Conte admits. "Death is the big, final, scary frontier that every human must face. Everyone is obsessed with death, but metal is the only kind of music that confronts death."
Helping Conte confront death this time around was legendary producer Jack Endino. At first, it seemed an odd choice for a metal band; Endino's previous work saw him helming the knobs for grunge icons Nirvana, Soundgarden and Mudhoney. But the pairing actually works with Conte's wish to rein in the chaos.
"Endino is one of us," Conte says. "He's a musician who's been through the trenches. He got the closest to capturing what Early Man sounds like live. To me, Endino is a legend."
And, sure enough, it's certain that Conte hopes to see Early Man one day achieve such status as well.