What the American hard rock and metal scene needs right now is an infusion of youth and some new blood coursing through its veins. Enter ANTI-MORTEM and their upcoming debut album, New Southern. An Oklahoma quintet whose combined average age is just 21-years-old, ANTI-MORTEM were raised on southern rock & heavy metal and driven by a hunger to make an impact. The band dole out bottom-heavy and groove-laden heavy rock anthems, and as with all the metal greats they've learned from, a modern sense of melody infuses every track. Also present and accounted for is southern swagger, courtesy of the band's roots and upbringing.
Singer Larado Romo, whose vim & vitriol is that of a younger, more virile version of Megadeth's Dave Mustaine, and the range of Disturbed's David Draiman, reveals the simplicity of the band's goal: to drag rock 'n' roll back to the forefront. "Hard rock is stagnating," he acknowledges. "We want people to think, 'Rock has balls again.'"
That's quite a bold statement, but ANTI-MORTEM have the musical cajones, the chops, and the songs to back such a claim up. It's not just lip service or bravado. It's their M.O. and what drives them.
ANTI-MORTEM - whose name is derived from the Latin "Antemortem," which means "before death" - can trace their humble beginnings back to 2008. Larado was a middle-schooler and the rest of his now-bandmates were in high school. He was drafted into the mix by his older brother, guitarist Nevada. Despite the difference in age, the members meshed because underneath it all, they were merely music fanatics who loved playing their instruments and enjoyed listening to classic rock. They were fully immersed in the rock of the '70s, '80s, and '90s. Then they discovered metal and the rest is ANTI-MORTEM history.
The band spent formative nights and weekends woodshedding their sound on the concert stage they built themselves in the Smith family barn (originally intended to store an old car collection). While Smith’s parents were away working on the weekends, ANTI-MORTEM would turn their barn rehearsal space into a makeshift venue and honed their live show by inviting friends and family in Chickasha over for many afternoons of gravel-throated vocals, crunch-laden riffs, thick grooves, and some good ol’-fashioned Southern hospitality.
Before long, they found themselves on real concert stages opening locally for the likes of Black Label Society, Killswitch Engage, Five Finger Death Punch, and even performing at the destination event Rocklahoma. But they are itching to hit the road and earn their road warrior scars to recruit fans into the new church of rock that is New Southern.
For New Southern, ANTI-MORTEM worked with veteran producer Bob Marlette (Shinedown, Seether, Black Stone Cherry), who helped them to channel their varied influences and inspirations into a cohesive and seamless mix. Incredibly prolific, the band have penned a whopping 100 songs to date, and continue to come up with a new song or a new riff every week.
"We have so many writers in our band and we all have different tastes," Romo says. "Me and [guitarist] Zain [Smith] will write a song that's pretty metal, and then all three of us write a song that is like southern metal or like it was from the '70s. None of us have ego about writing. We don't question if it's soft or heavy. If one of us says, 'I believe in this riff,' then it becomes, 'Let's write an ANTI-MORTEM song around it.'"
Smith clarifies, "It's not that anyone doesn't like the same style. I listen to the most brutal metal, which the other guys might not get into. We just don't limit ourselves."
On New Southern, the band challenged itself with a song like "Words Of Wisdom," which was written in a tune similar to that of Mastodon. "That was my first time experimenting in that tuning" Smith says. "It's heavy and it has a good message."
Adds Smith, summing up the track and its theme: "The message is to question authority. People who tell you how to live your life don't know how to live their own. It is about realizing that no one knows any more than you do. No one has the answer of life, but they will try their hardest to make you believe that they do and you have to be able to stand up for yourself and say 'No, that's not for me.'" In essence, it's a song for the disaffected and put upon members of our society.
Then there's "100% Pure American Rage," a song whose title does not mask the band's intentions and pretty much tells you what it's going to sound like from the get-go. It’s a moshy anthem that meshes extreme heaviness with a classic style of songwriting and guitar sound. "It's brutal but accessible," Smith explains. "It's very political. The solos are tasty. It’s new-day metal, but it has a Led Zeppelin-esque guitar tone and solo. There's nothing that sounds like this song out there."
Other key tracks include "Black Heartbeat," which is about "understanding that the only answer is to move on and sometimes to move on, you have to be cold to the one who hurt you," while "Wake Up," with its razor sharp, buzzsaw riffing, is about unlocking doors latched by the government and spreading the word. "Path To Pain" is about "someone not knowing when to leave well enough alone and when you finally have to snap to get somebody out of your business…" and it's built around a guitar groove that's so deep it reaches marrow.
Once you get through a full listen to New Southern, you will find yourself not believing that musicians as young as the members of ANTI-MORTEM could craft such a solid album. They play with the skill of seasoned vets, yet they have the fire in their guts that defines up-and-coming bands determined to make a go of it and to be heard.
While ANTI-MORTEM are confident they’re armed with an arsenal of heavy-as-balls songs, live is the band's most natural state and where they truly burst with life. Once on stage, they adopt a laser-like focus… no one else exists in that moment but ANTI-MORTEM! Their aim is to lay waste to stages and win fans over in the concert setting. "You may hear the album and think it's good," says Romo, conceding that the stage is where ANTI-MORTEM are truly in their element, “but when you see us live, you will be crushed. We don’t want you to just listen to the album. Fuck the album. Come see us live."
Smith concurs, "Our goal is to get out there and play better than anyone else. It's not a competition but we want to get out there and crush. You have to have that attitude that you are the best and look like it. We keep that mindset. When we get on stage, we think we are the baddest band in the world."
ANTI-MORTEM’s other goal is to inspire people to recall, revere, and respect the power of the riff and the guitar. "We want to inspire people to pick up guitars," adds Smith.
Explaining the band’s debut album title, Romo concludes: "New Southern describes our way of life and our mindset. It's the same attitude, the same anger, and the same resolution of the rebels that have lived before us, that always stood up for what's right, not what's easy. When I say rebels I mean revolutionaries like JFK, Ghandi, and John Lennon. From a musical standpoint, I would love to carry on the legacy of all the greats like Pantera, Metallica, etc. Those bands made an impact because of how they carried themselves and the messages they gave us in their music. New Southern is a NEW spin, OUR spin, on the southern mentality and how we aim to carry on the torch."