Jared Kiess – Vocals,Guitars
Aaron Gericke – Guitars
Dustin Fugere – Bass
Sid La Tray – Drums
What is the musical background of the band?
We’ve all been pretty much self-taught on our instruments. I (Jared) have been playing the guitar for around 8 years now, as has Aaron, our other guitarist. We’ve also each taken a few lessons in some capacity. I’ve played in classical ensembles in college and Aaron and I both played in the ensemble in High School. Dustin is still taking private bass lessons. In terms of the history of Judgment Hammer, I founded the band in late 2004 under the name “The Four Horsemen.” Early in 2005 we recruited Aaron (a guitar player by choice) to play bass for us. We released two demos in 2006 before winning a battle of the bands and playing enough paying gigs to be able to afford our own recording equipment which led to the recording of AOF. We had a few lineup changes in 2009 which brought Sid (drums) and Dustin (bass) on board, and moved Aaron over to the other guitar spot; we then released the album, and have been playing shows since then. I think we are now playing live shows at our highest level yet and we’re always working on material for a second release.
I’ve listened to your cd many times and I have noticed that the songs possess a detonating charge. The flavour of eighties is quite present, (Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeth) but your own personality is also strong. Are there tracks that better represent the musical direction of the band? if yes, which and why?
I think our musical direction is best represented by our most recent compositions. The songs “Judgment Hammer,” “Lightning War,” “No Surrender,” and “Join or Die” best indicate the direction we’re moving in. Nevertheless, all our songs possess the same type of structure. I feel that you get the most out of a song when you combine a catchy melody to capture the initial attention of the listener with long instrumental passages to give the listener a reason to return. That is pretty much what we’re striving for.
I think that your cd is the proper continuation of the Metallica-era, post …And Justice For All, what feedback have you received from fans and critics?
Just that. Many critics compare us to Puppets-era Metallica, which I find to be very flattering as I feel that early Metallica and Megadeth, as well as Testament, Anthrax, Exodus, Vendetta, Vio-Lence, Death Angel, Overkill, and the like provided some of the best music the genre has to offer. Although we are to a large degree influenced by Metallica, we also take influence from a lot of obscure 80’s thrash metal and even some of what may be called “power” or “death” metal from the old days. To some extent, our variety has limited us. We have received a few reviews from critics expecting a more simplistic hardcore punk-type thrash sound and who were not very enthusiastic about our complexity or about the length of our songs. For the most part though, the reviews have been extremely positive. We’ve garnered the attention of many overseas review zines, local websites, papers, etc… and I have been pleasantly surprised by the positive reaction. Despite this, we don’t pay close attention to the critics, and we will preserve our style on into perpetuity regardless of what others may think.
How do you write a song?
For us, songwriting is a continuous process. We’re always coming up with riffs, sections, melodies, etc… which we save or remember. Over time, certain riffs start to fit together and we’ll realize that certain riffs sound better in certain keys or work better with certain melodies. After grouping these fundamental parts into a basic structure we’ll add to it, refine it, add solos, transitions, and lyrics.
How are important the lyrics and which themes do they treat?
The lyrics are the least important aspect of the songwriting process. I basically regard lyrics as a vessel for the melody. I make sure to write the lyrics last to avoid the mental mistake of writing a bad riff just because it fits some thing I’d like to say. I’d much rather have a good riff and struggle fitting the lyrics to it then have a great lyric with a regretful riff. I find that people can much more easily disagree over how good a songs lyrical content is than over the immediate intrigue of its musical structure.
The thrash movement is now living a second youth, any thoughts about the scene? (Local and World scene).
I absolutely love it! I’ve been listening to thrash since before it recently became cool again and I absolutely love the fact that record labels are re-releasing long out-of-print items and making great underground albums of the 80’s available to the masses. It feels like I have been waiting to get some such albums forever, and now they’re finally available! I also think that looking back on the initial wave of thrash metal now gives its current adherents a better perspective from which to write the second wave. We have the ability to incorporate the best elements from each strain of the genre and this gives us the potential, at least, to do it better than ever before. I think bands like Fueled By Fire, Mantic Ritual, and Dread, among others, are really doing this well and I look forward to what each of these bands, and countless others, come up with in the future. It’s very cool, and I hope it lasts for a long time to come!
What is the meaning of playing this genre for you?
Well, it definitely gives the sense that I’m carrying the torch in a continuous process of refinement and improvement. There aren’t many genres this specifically defined that have lasted for as long as thrash metal has, and I’m proud to say that I’m a part of it.
What is underground now?
The underground has definitely expanded with the increased ease in producing music. Just about anyone who plays now can easily afford the means to record. This has expanded the scope of music being released and gives the listener a wider choice. On the other side of the coin, however, it also makes it harder for any single act to stand out. So, the recent underground scene has its pros and cons.
Is there anything that the recent thrash scene has failed to appreciate?
I think for the most part, the recent thrash scene has done a good job appreciating the many nuances of the genre’s initial sound. We seem to have every brand of thrash out there, from the crossover D.R.I. type stuff, to the more classic sounding Show No Mercy type stuff, to everything in between. I just hope the recent thrash movement avoids an overreliance on gimmicks. Fake production was no part of the original wave of thrash and it should have no part in the second wave. With how easy it is to obtain clear production these days, bands should have no trouble producing a great sounding album without resorting to artificial devices.
What kind of relation do you have with your supporters? What do you think of virtual communities and social networking sites?
I think it’s great that we can communicate with overseas fans as easily as we do these days. Social networking certainly enables a large portion of that. I also think the ability to sell music online is greatly improving our connections and expanding our horizons. Without this technology, it would be very hard, if not impossible, for a thrash metal band from Missoula, Montana to get as far as we have.
How does metal today compare with that of the eighties and nineties?
It is more refined. A lot of bands are now taking advantage of musical software which enables musicians to save and rearrange parts in ways that were unforeseen by the bands of the 80’s and 90’s. This can be good, and bad. If overused, this mode of composition can remove a lot of the human element. No one wants to hear a guitar pro file for an album, and bands need to be extra careful now to avoid that sound. I think, on balance, however, the modern changes have been for the better and the resurgence of thrash exhibits a perfect example of how to incorporate modern technology to improve upon an already great genre without fundamentally altering its best elements.
Can you tell us the best things that happened to you on-stage? Do you have a live performance you would like to repeat?
The best show we’ve played so far was a show just last month in Albuquerque, New Mexico, called Thrashageddon. It was the culmination of the best in our genre on one stage for 10 hours straight and it was a lot of fun. We opened for thrash metal legends Exciter and got the chance to play with Fueled by Fire, Dread, and Metal Blade’s Ravage. It was a lot of fun and I hope more large thrash festivals like this are put together.
Would we ever see you live in Italy?
I’m sure you will. It’s just a matter of time!
Thanks for the time you spent with us, the last message for our readers is up to you.
I suppose this is where I get the chance to plug our album, “Arbiter Of Fate,” which is now available at our website, www.judgmenthammer.com. Thanks for taking the time to read our interview and hopefully we’ll see all of you in the pit very soon!!!