Neither A Phoenix Project Nor Nu-Metal Band, Maleveller Ventures Into The Metal Unknown

Heavy metal is a genre that is famously and often unintentionally self-parodying. Bands that are in on the joke, but that take their craft seriously, are rare. Local metal masters Maleveller seek to fill that void.

Since their first show in 2009, they have carefully constructed a unique sound that sets them far and above the vast majority of Dallas-based metal bands. Taking their cues from old-school acts like Motorhead and Ride the Lightning-era Metallica, these guys have quickly risen to the status of local heroes, providing a breath of fresh air in a scene that's been dominated by nu-metal acts and Pantera soundalikes for years.

But Maleveller have always approached their career in a deliberate fashion. They began rehearsing in 2008, a full year before they played their first gig. Their three-song EP dropped a year and a half ago, and they've been hard at work on the full-length followup ever since. All that work is hopefully about to pay off: Their debut LP is set to drop on Saturday, August 13, during an album release show scheduled to take place at the Double Wide.

Rarely do we see a band that lives up to the hype like Maleveller. Seriously, if you're a metalhead and you haven't discovered this band, you need to hear what they're doing. (The above links will help you do that.)

Might as well hear about what they're doing, too: We recently caught up with Maleveller frontman Brian Smith to talk about Maleveller's origins, the new album and what the future holds for the band that.

You guys released your EP in January of 2010. What has the last year and a half been like for you?
It's been pretty busy. There's been some ups and downs -- life happening and whatever. We put the EP out, and we started playing out a little bit more after that. We didn't really do a whole lot to tour under it or anything like that, but we got asked to be on Battle Flag Records in about May of 2010. Starting from that time, it's just been about writing and starting to work on getting the record out and all that. In a nutshell, that's what it's been like.

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What do you have planned as far as support for the new record? Will you be touring?
Yeah, definitely. We've talked about doing some dates with a couple other bands. We have a series of shows around Texas coming up after the record comes out, and we'll start off doing that. We've been talking to some friends of ours down in Austin in a band called Eagle Claw that we've been playing with up here, about doing some fall touring. A couple other things are in the works that are too early in to comment on yet, but definitely, we want to get on the road a lot more with this record, get out of Dallas more than we have in the last year.

Your label, Battle Flag Records, started out in '08, around the same time as you guys. How did you get hooked up with your label?
They were some mutual friends of ours. I told them about us, and they came to see us play a show at The Cavern last year, and we started talking. I guess it was actually in '09, when they saw that show. It was a show we did with Juarez at the Cavern, and they came out to that show, and we started talking after that about recording with the guy who owns that label, Josh Robinson. He's also an engineer; we recorded the EP with him, and we became friends through that process. We just started spending a lot of time hanging out with each other, and when they dropped The Phuss, they wanted to add us onto the roster. Since then, we've been working pretty closely, and we've become great friends, too, with Josh. We're all bartenders, too, so we get along on that level.

You guys rehearsed for a whole year before your first show in '09. Was there a vision for the band that you developed during that rehearsal process?
There kinda was. We were all listening to the same stuff at the time, and we kind of knew what our expectations were, as far as what we could pull of musically, so we started trying to write songs around that. The sound started to develop itself. I didn't really know how to sing when we first started playing, so once I learned how I could do that, and how that would fit in, the whole thing started developing, and the sound started happening. Now, when we write something, we have a better idea going into it what it's going to sound like. In the beginning, it was a little bit of trial and error. It was a learning process; we were learning about ourselves, what we could and couldn't do, what sounded right, what didn't sound right. The sound just kind of came together that way.

It sounds like you guys are in tune with each other's vision, despite being from different backgrounds. Jeff Biehler played in Max Cady, T.J. Prendergast played with Salim Nourallah. How did you guys first meet?
TJ and I had been playing together in a band that wasn't a metal band at all. It was a pop band, basically. That band was kind of deteriorating and phasing out, and TJ and I had both grown up big fans of metal, and we'd been going back to listening to the stuff we were listening to in high school -- records like Master of Puppets, Reign in Blood, all that stuff. I was like, "Hey, I played this kind of music at one time in my life!" TJ was like, "Oh, really? I did too! It would be fun to go back and do something inspired by that." We decided to start a band together around '07. That's how the decision was made. We basically had to start gearing up to do it. His drum set at the time and my guitar rig at the time were items that wouldn't cut it in a metal band, so it's, like, having to start saving money, buying the right kind of gear, the right kind of guitars and amps and all that stuff. I started writing a lot of the riffs at that time. About the time that we felt we were ready to put a band together with a guitar player and a bass player, I had become friends with Jeff. Max Cady had just played their last show, and we started talking. We became friends, and I thought he would be a good person to have in. Max Cady, although not a metal band, definitely has the hard rock thing, and it would probably be an easy transition for him. So the three of us started playing together. We went through one guy on bass who didn't work out, and somebody recommended Luke to us. We met Luke, and that just kind of worked out. He ended up being an awesome bass player for us, and an artist, by the way. An amazing artist. He had a lot to bring to the table.

What is the songwriting process like for you guys?
Usually, I'll start off with a series of riffs that I'll write, several that kind of tie together, that flow together and sound like a song. We'll get together and start learning the riffs, and that process -- Jeff or Luke or TJ will have an idea to throw in, based on what they're hearing in the process of working on a song. It takes us a while. I'd guess it takes one to two months to finish a song once we start playing it together as a band. It's pretty intensive, but everybody contributes. Luke's written ideas, Jeff's written ideas, TJ's come up with ideas. So it's a group thing.

Talk a little bit about what it's like to be part of the metal scene in Dallas. Are venues and audiences receptive to your sound, or do you run into any conflicts?
Brian: I'm gonna repeat that question to Jeff so he can hear it. [To Jeff] She wants to know what it's like to be in the Dallas metal scene.
Jeff: [Laughs.] Ha! There is no Dallas metal scene!
Brian: Jeff says there is no Dallas metal scene.

It sounds like you guys have run into some obstacles in your quest to get your stuff out there. Do you think people are ready to hear your kind of metal? Seems to me that there are lots of new metal bands out there on the national level; Mastodon and Children of Bodom have put out some spectacular records in the past decade. It seems to me like metal is having a kind of renaissance. Do you see that from your perspective?
Yeah. I definitely think there's a resurgence in classic-influenced metal. Even stuff that precedes the Slayer-Metallica era. There's been a resurgence in stuff that's sounding older. My take on Dallas is that there is a metal scene. We have the Phoenix Project. There's a really strong grindcore-crust scene that's really supportive of it, and I think that's really cool. They're doing their thing, and they're doing it their way, and they're throwing their shows, and they're promoting it, and they're doing it without getting into the mainstream element. They're not trying to get into the big clubs that everyone's trying to shoot for -- like Trees or whatever. These bands are active, they're writing, they're touring, they're doing all the things that a lot of other bands around town aren't doing, and a lot of people don't even know who they are. There's this other side of Dallas metal. And there's a lot of nu-metal stuff -- that's not really what we're about. There are a lot of Pantera holders-on, that really love Pantera, and understandably so, but there's a lot of bands that still try to sound like that, and it's been that way for 15 years.

Yeah, I've seen 20 billion bands like that. Pantera's great, but we don't need a hundred bands that sound exactly like them.
Yeah, you know what I mean? I think there is a metal scene, but a lot of it doesn't get the attention it deserves, and a lot of it isn't really what we like to be associated with. We're not really a full-blown Phoenix Project band. We like what they're doing, and a lot of those guys are friends with us, and we've played shows with those bands, but at the same time, that's not really what we're doing. We accept them, and they accept us. The other side, the Pantera and nu metal side, that's not really what we're doing. There's been some reception issues at times, but at other times, it's been really great for us, so we can't really complain. We don't want to put ourselves on a show opening up for a Pantera cover band just to play for more people. We like to keep it grassroots in our own way.

Is there anything you wanted to talk about with the new record that I haven't mentioned?
Brian: Josh [Robinson] gets all the credit for the sound of it. He's like a member of the band, in our minds. We try to keep it all in-house as much as possible -- the artwork was done by Luke from our band, and we're really happy about it. We had an idea for a photograph that we talked with Dylan Hollingsworth about doing that came out really cool, and we're really happy with it. So we're pretty happy with it, and we feel really good about how this is a homegrown, grassroots kind of project.

Maleveller, Eagle Claw and The House Harkonnen perform Saturday, August 13, at the Double Wide

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