F. Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote that there are no second acts in American lives. The members of the New Orleans metal band Eyehategod would likely disagree. Even though their last album — Confederacy of Ruined Lives — was released a decade ago, they're on a hot streak in 2010.
The group recently completed a three-week European tour and played a triumphant set in Baltimore over Memorial Day weekend at the annual Maryland Deathfest. Now they're heading out on a headlining U.S. tour with Nachtmystium and Brutal Truth.
The band made its name with a trilogy of albums — 1992's In the Name of Suffering, 1993's Take As Needed for Pain, and 1996's Dopesick — which combined the murky rage of Black Flag's My War with Paranoid–era Black Sabbath's heaviness, dragging thick layers of noise and feedback over it all like the Spanish moss of their native Louisiana. Singer Mike Williams' incomprehensible howling added a jittery, disturbing edge to the mix, and evocative song titles like "Kill Your Boss," "My Name Is God (I Hate You)," and "Hit a Girl" created impressions of unremitting hostility, poverty, and degradation, both physical and spiritual.
The band's reputation for offstage debauchery added to its mystique and affected performance. At one 1997 show in New York, Williams looked like he might topple over at any second, as his bandmates glared at him. These days, Williams smiles, jokes, and interacts with the audience. He's a surprisingly upbeat frontman.
"When we first started back in the late '80s, nobody moved onstage — we would just stand there," says Williams. "It was so slow, you couldn't move to it. But I've learned how to be more of a person that's gonna be out in front. You have to talk to the crowd and be, not like David Lee Roth or anything, but you're there for the people to watch."
But has the music become more disciplined over the years as a result of all that touring? Eyehategod's lurching, nihilistic roar, with each song introduced and closed out by shrieking feedback, was always the point, after all. When they cleaned up their sound (relatively speaking) on 2000's Confederacy of Ruined Lives, some fans bristled.
Williams says they have nothing to worry about. "Definitely playing shows tightens you up, but with Eyehategod there's still always that sloppy, drunken way to it," he laughs. "We might get tighter musically, hitting notes at the same time, but we're still gonna be sloppy in that sense — the chaotic sense we've had."
The singer (who's also published a poetry book, Cancer As a Social Activity) says about a half-dozen new songs have been written, in instrumental form anyway. Now it's up to him to come up with lyrics. "It's just about having the time to sit down and put together a new album," he says.
Williams and the other members of Eyehategod have also been pretty busy with side projects. Everyone but guitarist Jimmy Bower is in Outlaw Order, whose debut CD, Dragging Down the Enforcer, was released in 2008, the same year Williams joined Down singer Phil Anselmo and Hank Williams III in the hardcore punk band Arson Anthem.
Part of this flurry of activity can be attributed to changes in the band's legal status. Both Williams and bassist Gary Mader are able to leave their home state, which wasn't the case for several years. Williams also quit heroin during a 90-day jail stint a few years ago. Fortunately, the lifestyle change hasn't affected him creatively.
"When I was strung out before, I used to think, What would happen?" recalls Williams. "Would I lack in the writing, would I have fewer ideas? But being clean, I still think the same way. I still have the same attitude. I still write the same style. It's all the same. I've found out that I am who I am — it wasn't the drugs talking."
Eyehategod's second act is, in a way, a return to their strengths. They recently hopped on the nostalgia train and performed In the Name of Suffering and Take As Needed for Pain in their entirety live. Williams says it's much more important to stay loyal to the fans who've stuck with them through the lean years than it is to try to win over potential new ones.
"If that happens, it happens, but we're not gonna write an album directed at those people," he says. "We're gonna write an album that is reflective of our old stuff and the way that we were thinking back when we did Take As Needed for Pain. "
That and maybe some hometown recognition. New Orleans' metal scene has never received the critical love its jazz and hip-hop stars have earned. It's extremely unlikely that a character based on Williams or his Eyehategod bandmates or the members of Crowbar, Soilent Green, or Down will show up in an episode of HBO's New Orleans-set Treme.
But there's been some recent thawing, says Williams. "They have these Big Easy music awards, and this year Eyehategod got nominated along with Down," he says with some surprise and quite a bit of pride. "It was in the metal category, but it was cool that they're kinda starting to notice it, [even if] it's taken twentysomething years to get recognized in your own city."
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Eyehategod, WITH Keelhaul, Atlas Moth, Strong Intention, AND Own Weather
9 p.m. Thursday, June 17
Now That's Class
11213 Detroit Ave.