Interview by Dr. Abner Mality

I love mythology and folklore of all nations, but the Greek myths have always been the closest to my heart. These iconic tales are full of more monsters, mayhem and madness than any contemporary fantasy epic you could name...boiling over with passion and violence. I never forgot the stirring tales of Hercules, Jason and Theseus!

And neither did Steve Rathbone of the Chicago band Lair of the Minotaur. I'm sure he went to bed as a kid dreaming of skeleton warriors and snake-headed Medusa much like I did. Only he did more than just dream about the Greek myths...he converted them into some of the most brutal, scathing, take no prisoners metal to come out of the US since....well,maybe since never! Lair of the Minotaur has released two prior masterpieces of gritty headbanging fury, "Carnage" and "The Ultimate Destroyer", each of which was killer in its own right, but now surpassed by album number three, the brilliantly titled "War Metal Battle Master".

Steve took some time out from sparring with cyclops and hydra to meet me by the shores of Styx to discuss "War Metal Battle Master" and the eye-poppingly extreme video accompanying it...Into Battle we ride...

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: "War Metal Battle Master" is my top CD so far this year. It just sounds utterly barbaric! What frame of mind were you in when you recorded it?

STEVE RATHBONE: (laughs) We definitely went into battle mode! We get pretty prepared before we go in to record. Most of the songs I will record demos of in my home studio with my drum machine. I'll listen to it altogether to make sure it sounds good as a complete album. What we're trying to do here is create whole albums, not just songs that are thrown together. It's important to me to have a complete piece. We practice the songs for months before hand and try to play them live as much as possible just to get comfortable with them. When we go in, I like to do only one or two takes...three at the most. If you can't already tell from the recording, it's a no-frills, it's just us! It's raw, we record it right to tape and bump it to ProTools. We'll record one extra guitar track and then put the vocals down. That's it. There's no triggers, trickery, mirrors and all that crap. And so it has a very barbaric sound compared to a lot of the clean sounding metal coming out. The way a lot of that stuff is produced, it sounds almost like a pop record to me.

WC: Like something from Tue Madsen or Studio Fredman...

SR: It's these guys who come up and go to the same schools and they produce records all the same. It sounds all the same.

WC: That covers the preparation and the method, but to get that actual feel of barbarism, do you guys grab swords and rush each other or beat each other up, because that comes across in the music?

SR: (chuckles) No, we don't have swords. Now I do collect weapons and I have plenty of swords at my house. I have axes, sickles and maces at my place, but I didn't bring any to the studio. Now we did bring one item of visual inspiration but we just got in there and got down to business.

WC: It's refreshing because that sound takes me back to the days when a lot of metal was done that way. Speaking of visual, you guys did one of the most eye-popping videos...literally...for the title track. What was it like to put together that bloody masterpiece?

SR: It took a long time. I probably spent just as much time or more as on the album itself. Gary Smithson, who's directed videos for High On Fire, Goatwhore and Exodus, approached us at the Murderfest in LA, he wanted to work with us. I told him I had this idea for a video and we were figuring out a way to do it for cheap. We didn't have an extraordinary budget or anything like that. We had some friends in the industry and he had some friends in the industry and we knew people who worked in special effects. So it really came together through a lot of help from a lot of friends and people putting their hands into what we were doing and saw it was going to be something very different, something special. We're real happy with how it came out, man.

WC: In my review, I said it looked like "Troy" had been directed by Lucio Fulci...(laughter) Where did you get those girls in the video? They look like they enjoyed themselves, which was scary!

SR: The director, Gary, cast them. I'm not sure exactly where he found them. They were great, man! There were some of those scenes when we were out in the desert and if you know the desert, you know it can get pretty cold out there. They were wearing nothing or next to nothing so they were troopers about the whole thing. They were covered in goo and blood and chewing on all sorts of crap and bones (laughs). We had 'em crawling around in the sand butt-naked on their knees. They were great about it.

WC: It makes you wonder if the director signed some sort of unholy pact and got the real thing!

SR: (laughter) It was quite the labor. I couldn't imagine try to film an entire movie. Our video was three and a half minutes and half of it was band performance. That's easy but the film stuff was very daunting.

WC: What draws you to the Greek myths for inspiration?

SR: When I was younger, I played Dungeons and Dragons. I've always been into horror and sci-fi...movies like "Dragonslayer" and "Clash of the Titans". I thought it was something that would be great fodder for metal lyrics. There's so much material in Greek's monsters and blood and war and tragedy! There's a lot to work with. Some of the songs were pretty literal depictions of these myths, some of the other ones I took the characters and made up my own stories. It's the same way these myths have been passed down through ages...through songs, through poems. Really, this is just another passage of that.

WC: I'll bet you're a fan of "Jason and the Argonauts"...

SR: (chuckles) That's a good one! Ray Harryhausen...

WC: If it's not my favorite movie, it's definitely in the top five. I saw it when I was very young, in a time before computer
effects have cheapened things. When you saw a Harryhausen flick in the 60's and 70's, there was a wonderment to it.

SR: Yeah, a lot of the digital effects now just don't have the grittiness of these practical make-up type effects or the small miniature effects. You could see the bumps on those and the way the light hits it.

WC: It looked like it had weight and mass to it. The stuff nowadays, you know it's a cartoon even when it looks cool.

SR: That's the thing with CGI. You can't half-ass it at all. You have to be like Peter Jackson or George Lucas and hit it out of the park. Even the "Star Wars" films, the older ones have a grittiness to them.

WC: They tried to turn Jabba the Hutt into a computer animated thing and there's no way that worked.

SR: Yeah. Especially with horror movies today, they'll try to up the gore and they'll add all these CGI splatter effects. It's really noticeable and really annoying.

WC: Would you consider adapting myths outside of Greek ones?

SR: Hmmmm....that's interesting. Not at this time, I'm plodding forward with the Greek myths. I have thought about branching out and doing different things, but there are still so many things you can do within the Greek myths. It's our little niche.

WC: It's not like the Norse mythology, which has been overdone in metal because of all the Scandinavian bands. There is a song on your new CD, "When The Ice Giants Slayed All", that made me think of the Vikings. Is that Greek?

SR: Yeah, that's actually about Boreas, the God of Winter. It's all about him.

WC: Is a concept album a possibility for you in the future?

SR: That's kind of what this record is. It's loosely based on Ares. All of the songs are either about battles or his offspring. There were some writings that described Ares more as a "will to kill" than as a person. They'll say that when carnage was on the battlefield that Ares was with them that day. I thought that was a cool concept. I actually started working on this album when "Carnage" came out, in the beginning of the band. So I've really been working on this album as long as the band has been around. Some of the songs are older and some newer.

WC: Is Ares the "Doomtrooper"?

SR: Right, right. That song is about his ascension to becoming a god but at the same time, it about the evolution of a very peaceful time to a very violent and murderous time.

WC: One thing I like about the disc is that each song has a nice little illustration that goes with it in the booklet. How did that come about?

SR: That was something I actually wanted to do on "The Ultimate Destroyer" but we didn't really have enough time to do it. I wanted to make sure we had the proper time to do it this time. Jeremy Muller, the guy who did the illustrations, I had met him at a comic book convention here in Chicago and I really loved his work. He had a tone to his work that I thought was exceptional. It had elements of modern comic art but had a serious tone to it. Basically, I gave him all the lyrics and descriptions of what I wanted the illustrations to be. It took a period of months to get it finished and then we handed it off to Selden Hunt, who's done stuff for Jesu, Neurosis, Isis and bands like that. He finished the design on it.

WC: It makes it a whole package. It's like a graphic novel accompanied by brutal music.

SR: Yeah, with the booklet and the video, I really wanted to bring a visualization of the songs on the record up front more. The lyrics are very visceral, almost like a horror movie. Very descriptive. I thought it would be cool to have a visual counterpart to the music. Anybody who's seen this stuff, they're like "this is exactly what I see when I hear your music!" (laughs)

WC: It is very visual music. When I used to hear oldschool stuff like Venom and Celtic Frost, images would pop into my head. That's what Lair's music does, too.

SR: Cool. I'm definitely a big fan of that older stuff. Nothing that we do is really in line with what's popular in metal right now. When we started the band, I didn't think anybody was going to really dig it! I thought we'd record a demo, play a couple of shows and that would be that. But it really seems there is this core group of metal fans who are really thirsting for something different than what's being offered. We hear from people when we're on tour and also through email. They say they don't like a lot of bands that are out right now, but they like us.

WC: They're hard headed fans who stick to what they like.

SR: That's the thing with this kind of metal. There's been so many subgenres like grunge or rap metal or glam metal or metalcore or whatever the fuck. These fads come around, but this raw, oldschool metal from bands like Slayer still has its audience.

WC: The new Obituary is a great example of that. It was one of their best.

SR: Dude, I love that album. "Xecutioner's Return", that's my second favorite, after their very first one, which is one of my favorites of all time.

WC: I just got the new Grave album.

SR: How was that?

WC: I think it's the most grim and morbid since their very first record. The guitar sound is totally murky and I don't think there's one bit of melody on the entire CD. The old Swedish death metal bands are kicking it really hard these days. The new Dismember is also killer. The new Unleashed is also one of their most aggressive. I could see those bands making good touring partners with Lair of the Minotaur.

SR: Yeah, definitely!

WC: If one of the larger metal labels like Nuclear Blast or Metal Blade approached you, would you consider the offer or would you stick with Southern Lord?

SR: Nah, we're happy with Southern Lord.

WC: What kind of tour plans have you got?

SR: In about two weeks, we're going to go on tour with The Ocean, from Metal Blade Records. Kylesa will be going out with us,too. Withered will be with us on some of those dates and also Intronaut. After that, we'll be going out with Boris and Torche...

WC: Those are some really diverse bands!

SR: Yeah, that will be a very diverse tour. Boris are labelmates of ours. I'm a huge fan of Floor and also the Torche stuff. We're negotiating for some tours after that, but I can't really announce anything yet. But we'll be busy the rest of the year. We'll be going back to Europe.

WC: Do they seem to go more for you in Europe than in the States?

SR: Yeah! (laughs)

WC: That's often the case. It's often the opposite of the way things are done over here.

SR: Yeah, there's more of an enthusiasm for music over there. I don't know if we've become desensitized over here but the culture is so screwy now. There's so much in your face...TV, Internet, movies. They have the same stuff over there, but they don't seem to be as bombarded with it as we are.

WC: It's like living in a kind of electronic fog. Half the people seemed to be doped up on legal drugs. They seem to be in a daze and accept anything that comes down the pike.

SR: Over there, metal is so much bigger than it is here in the States. We play a lot of large venues over there. They don't know English at all, but they know all the fuckin' lyrics to your songs! (laughs)

WC: I've heard it said that heavy metal is the national music of Finland. These crazy Satanic war metal bands can get a song placed in the Top 10 there! Have you had any offers to do some of the festivals over in Europe?

SR: Yeah, we almost got to do the Hellfest over in France. We would have been playing the same day as Carcass. We had to turn it down, the schedule just didn't work out this time. But we definitely plan on making it over there next year.

WC: I saw the line-up for Wacken this year. That's the single greatest heavy metal event that has ever been held in the history of mankind.

SR: (chuckles) So I've heard. Who's in it?

WC: The list goes on for two pages and it's the heaviest hitters you could think of. It's the Carcass reunion, the At The Gates reunion, Iron Maiden plays, Obituary plays. Who could see all of it? It's mind-boggling! Moving on, what was the last CD you bought just because you wanted to check the band out?

SR: Ummmmmm....probably the last thing I bought was "Victory, Intolerance, Mastery" by Revenge.

WC: What was the last gig or show you checked out just because you wanted to?

SR: When you play so many shows, it's kind of hard to remember. (silence) It's horrible, I can't even think! (laughs) Oh, I know! I'm friend with the guys in Goatwhore so I checked them out when they played with Exodus here not long ago.

WC: That had to be a great show.

SR: I really didn't even watch that much of the show. I was backstage hanging out drinking and being a dork. You know what I didn't see at that show...there was some sort of riot where security got involved. They were going to kick out some kid for slamming and the band stopped and protested.

WC: Good for them! One of my writers went to see Chicago Powerfest at the Pearl Room a while ago. He wanted to check out Testament. He said the band was great, but the staff is horrible and he won't be back. He's tired of being treated like an animal.

SR: That place sucks! It like an hour and a half away from Chicago and for you in Rockford, it would take three hours for you to get down there.

WC: The guy has a photo pass set up way in advance but they didn't honor it. They treated ALL the journalists that way. Isn't the music business in enough trouble without assholes like this making it worse?

SR: It's funny, because all the national and international magazines say "Chicago has a great metal scene, doesn't it". Well...not really. There's a lot of bands, but all the shows get shipped out to the fuckin' suburbs. I don't understand why these shows can't go to the House of Blues or The Metro. Could it be these venues don't like metal shows???

WC: That could be. A lot of it is just prejudice. They get jarheads to work security. The first time they see a kid moshing, they want to show their toughness so they rough him up. They make money from us but don't respect us. That's too bad, because they get a lot of great shows down in Mokena.

SR: There's nothing around there, either.

WC: They almost treat it like a porn store. They have to stick it in the middle of a field where it's not near a school or a church.

SR: You know what's hilarious, too? They have this huge, huge parking lot in front of it and they won't let anybody park there. There's a small elite club on top of the place and they let the people who use the club park in front. The people who went to the Exodus show had to park like a half mile away!

WC: I'll bet all the people in the little club were a bunch of coke-head disco fans.

SR: Yeah, yeah, it was like a rap club.

WC: Chicago does seem to have the most hardcore metal fans of anywhere in the States.

SR: It's definitely one of the largest metal markets. A huge amount of metal CDs are sold in the greater Chicago area.

WC: What was the most memorable Spinal Tap moment in the history of Lair of the Minotaur?

SR: (long silence) Sometimes it seems like everything is a Spinal Tap moment when you're on tour. It's ridiculous. We just recently did an in-store here in Chicago that actually did really well. We thought it was really funny. That in-store in "Spinal Tap" was in Chicago, right?

WC: Yeah, the one where nobody showed up.

SR: (kaughs) Well, at least people showed up for ours. Yeah, definitely, we've had some funny moments. On our last tour, we played this show in Pittsburgh. The show was listed in the paper at a different venue than the one we were at. The one we were playing at had never done a show of any kind before. It was on a Sunday night and the fucking Steelers were in town that night playing a game. And it was raining like a motherfucker! (laughs)

WC: That was probably like a practice...

SR: I think there were four, maybe five people there.

WC: Somewhere on the road, that happens to just about everybody. What can you do except laugh?

SR: Well, we did get paid that night!

Lair of the Minotaur's Official Website