There’ isn’t any ambiguity about whether or not a harsh, metalcore band named meth. make confrontational music. But that level of confrontation isn’t properly understood unless you’ve seen them live, where their unique hybrid of metal, hardcore and noise rock achieves an even more intense, abrasive presence.
Take, for instance, their 2018 song “You Are Home,” the closer from their EP I Love You. On record it’s a relatively brief but nonetheless scorching metalcore song, whereas live it becomes a shrieking juggernaut, a test of the audience’s endurance as much as a marathon of cacophony from the band’s two guitarists, Zack Farrar and Michael McDonald.
“It’s a two-and-a-half minute song on the record, but when we played it live it got up to 15—the longest was around 20 minutes. And it was just taking that middle section that’s just a noise wall, and we’d walk off stage and the only people up there were our two guitarists who would just swell the entire time,” said vocalist Seb Alvarez via a Zoom call from his home. “It was really interesting to see people react to that, because some people would stay the whole time and I’d just be like ‘How the fuck are you doing that’ and sometimes it would weed out the whole room. And it’s like, this hurts them. I get it either way.”
The artful sculpting of piercing noise in the evolving live version of “You Are Home” in part inspired the sonic direction of the band’s new album, Shame, which was just released via Prosthetic Records. It’s less accurate to describe Shame as a metalcore album as a supremely heavy permutation of noise rock—crushing, grinding, and absolutely relentless. It’s an album as much about dissonance as it is discomfort, with Alvarez’s lyrics addressing everything from trauma inflicted by religious fundamentalism, mental health struggles and addiction.
Shame isn’t always an easy listen—nor, necessarily, is the band interested in making a record that is. But they’ve delivered something arguably much more important than that—it’s a record that’s honest.
“We’re just trying to write something that means a lot to us as individuals and wouldn’t feel 100 percent comfortable if we didn’t feel it was an authentic representation of who we are,” Alvarez said. “I hope it gives people that weird knee-jerk reaction.”
We spoke to meth.’s Seb Alvarez about the band’s new album Shame, unpacking religious trauma, working through addiction, and making noise.
When you began writing the material for Shame, did you have a specific direction in mind?
Seb Alvarez: When we initially kind of dove in, I think we had “Give In” written. That was the first song we had written for the record. And it was right after we had finished writing everything for Mother of Red Light. But we didn’t really know the direction we were going. When we were first writing stuff, I had expressed that I had kind of wanted to do non-harsh vocals, and as we were writing, I was like, “oh, that’s not gonna fly.” (Laughs) We pieced together ideas. There were also a lot of failed ideas, too, that we tossed around. We definitely wanted to steer away from Mother and more like the mathcore, metalcore elements a little bit. I think all of us have played in a lot of those bands, too and were ready to dive in and try something different. And Zack (Farrar), our guitarist, was like, “I don’t even really want to play guitar, I just want to make sounds and textures.” So that’s what a lot of the writing was, just trying to make these horrible sounds.
We wanted to branch out, and anytime we approach an LP, we want to evoke something we haven’t before in other projects, and make it challenging. And a lot of it is just kind of writing out a lot of the simplicity within a lot of the songs. Some of them are just one riff over and over sometimes. There’s a lot of repetition and trying to get as much life out of certain parts as we can while keeping it interesting and not just drone on in a way.
It’s a pretty intensely personal album, too. What drew you to dig deeper into those personal challenges?
SA: Dealing with alcoholism, especially. It’s a huge struggle I have. I go back and forth in a lot of ways. I can get myself sometimes to be three months, four months sober, and I feel like I’m on top of the world and like, why would I ever get out of this? And then something happens and snaps me out of it, and I would find myself spiraling out, where I’d go down this week, two week, even month long rabbit holes where I’d go out and buy a half-pint of something in the morning just to get through the day. When I was doing that sometimes, I’d feel very out of body. And I’d wake up sometimes and say, “I don’t want to do this. I’m not going to do this.” And then I’d just find myself autopiloting and getting in my car and driving to pick something up.[Writing about it was] a lot of self-exploration. I started writing the lyrics to Shame when I was sober, and I wanted to explore it. I have a lot of pent-up negative feelings about myself and…I have trouble addressing things in an open way, even to myself. It’s weird. But I need to be able to talk about it. I just felt it was the only correct way. When I started going into it, I didn’t really know what to write about, and I had tinkered with diving into different weird elements and on previous records I would deep dive into a topic and just kind of live in it. And I just couldn’t find that, so I thought what if I wrote about myself. It’s more that I wrote everything in a sober mindset and kind of went back after I wasn’t sober and kind of re-approached it.
Do you feel that you’ve undergone some degree of change in this process?
SA: I think I’m aware of what needs to be changed. But enacting it and staying the course is really fucking hard. I still go through a lot of the same just feelings of wanting to get away from things or wanting to be healthy and speak up when I’m feeling certain ways, but it’s hard to talk about my feelings in any sort of capacity. I actively have been trying to talk about things that are bothering me and not feel like if I’m talking about my personal life that I’m burdening the other person. Long story short, there’s a lot I need to work on.
There’s a religious element that creeps in, particularly with the idea of being haunted by guilt or shame. Is that something you grew up with?
SA: When I was growing up, my dad had converted to evangelical Christianity. I’d grown up Catholic. I’d gone through communion and everything as a young kid. But we weren’t the most religious family, I guess. From the Catholic standpoint, we’d go in, but there’s always that feeling of, I don’t know, that you don’t want to disappoint people or avoid that guilt or shame. In general, I feel like it’s so instilled in Catholicism and Christianity, that doing anything off the path is seen as secular or however the fuck you want to phrase it. I just never felt comfortable growing up, as a kid, but when my dad converted, it was just a stark contrast. He was just super, super religious. He’d give us bible study and lecture us once a week. And he’s a past of a church now. He’d talk a lot about revelations and endtimes and it just seemed like the world was going to end soon. We needed to have Jesus save us and have some sort of forgiveness and atone for our sins all the time.
It felt really fucking terrifying. My dad was telling us the world’s gonna end and if we don’t atone or we don’t follow the path of Christ, we’re gonna go to hell. And I’m 11, 12 years old and don’t know what the fuck is going on. People at church would speak in tongues and pass out and convulse on the floor. Just like, what the fuck? I didn’t understand it, but I didn’t think too heavily on it. It’s just what this church is. Mine and his relationship has been up and down for most of my adult life. And it kind of brought in a heavy interest in how people interpret religion and what religion and how it can feed into cult mentality and then taking that to manipulate people. I always found it super interesting, because what is the difference between organized religion and cult mentality? I feel like I want to respect people’s religious beliefs, and if people are Christian, I can accept that and be OK with that. But it’s not for me. I’m not someone who could ever identify with being a Christian.
Do you get some therapeutic release in addressing some of this through music?
SA: I do. I think more so with these new songs, in a lot of ways. Especially live, I feel like I can kind of just get away from my life and the negativity or my stressors and the things I really don’t want to approach. And I feel like my issues with drinking are from me heavily trying to escape the shit I don’t want to deal with on a day to day basis. Music’s always kind of been a way for me to do that. I can put my whole body into it, but I can also also get out of my own head, and become a character or something—whatever the fuck I turn into when we’re playing. That’s who I am for those 30 or 40 minutes that I’m playing. It feels like I can get up there and get away from everything.
Treble is supported by its patrons. Become a member of our Patreon, get access to subscriber benefits, and help an independent media outlet continue delivering articles like these.