The third album by hard rock tornado HELLYEAH, Band of Brothers, is gonna take the rock world by the balls and twist. It’s heavier than anything they’ve done before, more emotionally expressive, and, well, more sonically reminiscent of the bands’ past groups, Pantera, Damageplan, Mudvayne and Nothingface. “When people first heard about HELLYEAH coming out, I honestly believe this is the record they were expecting,” vocalist Chad Gray says. “It’s a jigsaw puzzle of everything we’ve done in music, and it’s the album we needed to make.”
The opening track, “War in Me” lays down the hammer right from the start with a thundering, instantly recognizable drum volley, and builds into a chugging, crunching, squealing display of aggression and selfdetermination.
Then there’s the title track, which features a down-tuned power groove, a swaggering beat loaded with double-bass and crashing cymbals and vocals that vary from snarling and vicious to fiercely melodic. The song peaks with a pair of wah-wah saturated solos, then Gray comes back in with half-spoken verse that builds back up into an anthem of unity: “It’s time to man up, never leave a man down/I’ve got your back and you’ve got mine/ As long as we stand together everything’s gonna be alright.” “Everybody in this band has been through some personal experiences that were trying,” drummer Vinnie Paul says. “On top of that, our band was always looked at as an underdog and after being on a label that gave up on rock and roll, we had to move on. This music really brought us together and being together brought the best out in all of us.”
“Band of Brothers is the title of the album because it’s really our story,” guitarist Tom Maxwell says. “After everything we went through we still remain this tight group of guys that love being around each other and love making music and playing together. There’s a line: “I’ll keep you high when you get low,” and that’s really the truth. We’ve been there for each other.”
While Band of Brothers is a natural and organic album, one that should thrill metal fans that might have been on the fence about HELLYEAH’s previous material, it’s a record that couldn’t have come out when the band first got together in 2006. At the time, the members wanted to stray from the sounds of their previous bands, explore some uncharted territory and have a good time. They hung out at Paul’s home in Dallas, barbecued, listened to some of their favorite tunes and drank. It may not have been what fans of their individual bands were expecting, but it was honest and impulsive, a wide-ranging collection of songs including stomping metal, melodic hard rock and fun-loving southern rock. The album sold over 300,000 copies. HELLYEAH’s 2010 follow-up, Stampede, was more of the same, and debuted at number eight on the Billboard album chart.
“For the first two records, we didn’t put any kind of boundaries on ourselves,” says Paul. “All of us came from well-known metal bands and we wanted to branch out and cover a lot of ground. I think we all got that out of our system and when we got back together to make this new record we said, ‘Hey man, let’s go back to our metal roots. Let’s kick some fucking ass and make a heavy record.’ We’re still proud of the first two records. This one just has a lot more teeth.”
“I was stoked to get back to making really heavy music,” Maxwell says. “I’ve wanted to do that for a while and we finally did. We got put into this twangy redneck rock pigeonhole and I always knew there was much more to us that that. It’s like, Fuck! We have the drummer from Pantera, two guys from Mudvayne, me. Let’s be ourselves and write a heavy, fuckin’ record structured around powerful hooks and riffs. Let’s not be afraid to be ourselves.”
“It’s great to be focusing on one band again,” Tribbett says. “Flip-flopping between Mudvayne and HELLYEAH was making us crazy. We never had any time off and it put a lot of strain on us mentally. And now we can put some of the heavy aspects of Mudvayne into HELLYEAH without crossing borders.” “After Mudvayne started some downtime I realized I’ve always been into aggressive, heavier music,” Gray adds. “It felt really natural to do these more metallic vocals. We’ve all brought everything we’ve done in the past to the table as HELLYEAH, whereas before, I was almost scared to write something that sounded too similar to Mudvayne. If I did a melody or harmony that reminded me of that, I would wipe it out of my brain and do something else that seemed more HELLYEAH. This time, I just quit being afraid. I was the voice of Mudvayne, so if anyone says, “Oh, that sounds kinda like Mudvayne,” that’s fine and I’m proud of that. I don’t have to be afraid of it.”
In addition to performing more like he did in Mudvayne, Gray is singing fewer party songs (with the exception of the punchy, swingin’ “Drink Drank Drunk” and an amped up cover of Def Leppard’s “High and Dry”). Much of Band of Brothers is more pointed and relevant. WM3 tells the story of the West Memphis Three, teenage metalheads in Arkansas, who were wrongly jailed for murder in 1994 and recently freed following the introduction of new DNA evidence to the case. Other songs, like “War in Me,” Why Does it Always” and “Burn Rage” are more personal. “I’m one of those people that create their own problems,” Gray explains. “They create their environment because they don’t know how to be happy. They don’t understand it because they weren’t raised that way. I didn’t have a great upbringing. I had a pretty hard life. I wasn’t coddled and cuddled the way some people are. So I’m always emotional and I’m always carrying something and wearing it on my sleeve. And I just fucking write about it.”
At the same time, Band of Brothers isn’t a sounding board of hang-ups, gripes and self-destruction. It’s more a defiant cry that no matter how bad things seem to get, you can always summon the energy and motivation to rise above. “The biggest inspiration for the record is the idea of taking your life back,” Gray says.,“I’m gonna live the way I want to. Nobody’s gonna tell me what to do, and I don’t give a fuck.” HELLYEAH started working on Band of Brothers in the summer of 2011, again at Paul’s home studio. Tribbett and Maxwell messed around with riffs, combining different ideas until they had coherent structures. Then they presented them to Paul.
“We’d start jamming on it and it came together pretty quickly and easily,” Paul says. “Sometimes you listen to it and you go, ‘Well, maybe that part should be the verse and the other part should be the chorus.’ We definitely did some shuffling around and rearranging, but the spontaneity of playing it live stayed.” While it took HELLYEAH eight months to complete the record with producer Jeremy Parker – more than twice as long as it took them to make Stampede – the process was smooth and enjoyable. “The only thing that ever slowed us down was when we ran out of beer or booze and we had to run down to the store to get some more,” Jokes Paul.” From the rolling bass lines, crunching riffs, powerhouse drums and raging vocals of “Build a Better God” to the lunging rhythms, tumbling beats and eclectic counter-melodies of “Call it Like I See It,” Band of Brothers is raucous and rebellious, a primer to bands that want to mix melody and ferocity without resorting to templates or clichés.
“The first song we finished was ‘War in Me,’ which was fast and heavy and really set the tone for the record,” Maxwell says. “We went, ‘This is fuckin’ bad-ass and it’s exactly the direction we should be going. Everything else just followed from there.”
“This is us at our best because it’s more familiar territory for us,” Paul concludes. “We all come from bands deeply rooted in metal that have that traditional grind. We understand the machinery that goes into a heavy metal band, and once we started writing these songs I got back to playing the drums the way I’ve played in the past and the guitar riffs were rolling. Everything was hot and we were smoking.”