Shortly after forming in 1998, local metal band Chimaira would sign a deal with Roadrunner Records that would effectively launch the group's career. It achieved national and international fame as albums such as 2003's The Impossibility of Reason and 2005's Chimaira were every bit as heavy as anything by Slayer or Metallica. The group was on Ozzfest in 2003 and joined the European Road Rage tour that same year. Even after parting ways with Roadrunner in 2006, the band was still a major draw on the metal circuit and its albums still sold well. But earlier this year, the band splintered, leaving only Mark Hunter as the sole original member. In a recent phone interview, Hunter talked about the split and why it was so important that the band still play its annual Christmas show, which will mark its only U.S. appearance in 2012.
Take me back to the first Christmas show. What was that one like?
Yeah, we were still a fairly new band. We started in 1998 and our first Christmas show was in December of 2000. We had started playing Peabody's and Phantasy. We always wanted to play the [bigger] Odeon. A lot of bands that we had liked while growing up had come through there. That was a huge goal for us. While we were filming for the TV show Farm Club, we had an opportunity to rent the club and perform there. The promoter Dan Kemer asked us back and said we should call it Chimaira Christmas and make it an event. Here we are 12 years later. We went from drawing 150 kids at the Phantasy to playing the Odeon and almost selling it out. The first time we thought it was a fluke and that people just wanted to be on TV. We didn't think the Christmas show would do well but from that point forward, the show has always been sold out or damn close to it. Some years we get screwed with the weather. I think six years ago we had an awful blizzard and we were just 40 from a sell out.
What do you have planned for this year's show? Do you go back into the catalogue and try to dig out some deep tracks?
Definitely. We appreciate the fact that there are lots of fans who have stuck with us from the beginning an gone through all the ridiculous changes. It's important for us to go back and play songs from the back catalogue. We want to please all eras. We have a catalogue of seven albums and we pick and choose the hits for lack of a better term. We're not a Top 40 band but we play the metal hits for the kids.
Looking back on it, what has the year been like for the group?
It's been all about rebuilding. We had a lot of line-up changes over the past two years for various reasons and I'm basically the sole remaining founding member, which is fine with me. It's been exciting to see through all the shit we went through to rebuild everything and all the progress we have made without even touring is just great. I feel like I'm holding on by the seat of my pants and it can collapse at any moment. For the most part, it's been very positive and it's all about rebuilding. We want to continue the tradition of what was and maintain who we are now. That's a parallel in life. You lose your job or something and you have to pick up the pieces and move forward. That's what we're doing. The whole industry is shifting. You used to know everything that was coming around the corner and now it feels like the Wild Wild West. I have no idea what's coming around the corner. The year has been spent writing new material with plans to get into the studio in February. We did a little bit of touring at the beginning of the year. The first show with the new line up was in front of 12,000 kids in Australia. We had to climb a big mountain to get there but we got to stand on the top of it and smile so that was cool.
How's the new album coming?
We're about 70 percent in as far as having written songs. We did preproduction and demos. I haven't done that in seven or eight years. I didn't know if it was going to sound like Chimaira or not. There's no doubt in your mind who you're listening to. I played some for my mom who has heard this band from the start and after the first song all she said was "Wow. That sounds like old school Chimaira. How did you guys pull that off?" She recognized it was a return to form that offered something new.
You're clearly a national band but it wasn't always that way. What was the key to breaking out of Cleveland?
Honestly, it was not playing in Cleveland. We tried to play as many regional and out of town shows as possible. If we played Cleveland, we wanted to play with national acts. You can be part of a scene that's up and coming and get lumped in with a pack of bands or you go out nomadic style and we chose the latter and didn't associate with the scenes going on at the time. We represented Cleveland all over the world and then celebrated it once or twice a year with our fans in our hometown.
Why is Cleveland such a good town for metal?
As a fan growing up, we had great shows and a great local scene. I have to thank the bands. Bands like Integrity made a local and national impact. That was inspiring. You see that and it's inspiring.
Who's your favorite new local metal band?
Um, to be honest I wish I had more knowledge of the scene. I desensitized myself from all things music this year. Without sounding like some crazed hippy, I haven't been listening to metal at all. It's been a journey inward, and I've been listening to sitar music. I wish I knew. I'm looking forward to seeing Affiance on the bill. They have a lot of steam. I was unfamiliar with them until our booking agent suggested them and then I looked them up on Facebook and realized they had quite a following. I realized I was definitely out of the loop and I need to see what is going on in the city.
Pretend as if another hugely popular Cleveland metal band is playing the same night as you are. If a fan can't decide which show to attend, what can you say to sway him or her?
I'm not going to say it's the better option. I don't feel like I'm in competition with Mushroomhead [who's playing a Christmas show at Peabody's]. I know some folks like both bands. This is a special show for many reasons. It's the first with the new line-up and it's the only in the U.S. for 2012. You can see Mushroomhead any day of the week. If you're the most diehard Mushroomhead fan, I can't persuade you. If you're having a hard time, we have a little more to offer. What's different about it? I don't know if they have anything special planned for [what seems like] their fifth show of the month. I wouldn't say it wasn't intentional that their show landed on the same day of the month as us. To me, that's bad business for all.