ANY METAL BAND WORTH ITS WEIGHT IN GRIT, GROWL, AND GRIND SPENDS
a lot of time on the road, and Cleveland, Ohio’s Chimaira is certainly no
exception. They’ve proven their, er, mettle, over a decade chock-full of album/
tour/album/tour cycles that have forged the group into a formidable metal
monolith. So, it comes as no surprise that the band would eventually release
a live album to document its triumphs on the road. Chimaira’s new threedisc
live CD/DVD package, Coming Alive [Ferret], shows the band at the top
of its game.
Guitarists Rob Arnold and Matt DeVries form a
fearsome and ambitious guitar duo. Chimaira’s tunes
exhibit an obvious devotion to wicked, speed-oflight
thrash riffing, with both DeVries and Arnold
drawing inspiration not only from the usual suspects—
Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax—but also death
metal stalwarts such as Deicide and Napalm Death.
Arnold’s solos deftly twist and turn—harmonically
and rhythmically—over the crushingly fast blast
beats, displaced stop/start motifs, and body-bludgeoning
groove riffs, which offer some reprieve from
the metal assault. Its no wonder the dude has his
own Rock House instructional DVD, Metal Guitar:
Song Writing, Riffing, and Soloing. Meanwhile, DeVries,
who has been in Chimaira for eight of the band’s 12
years, is a true metal rhythm specialist, anchoring
the proceedings with the sledgehammer-like delicacy
of his wicked picking hand—the result of hours
of metronome work—as well as challenging himself
to get riffs faster, cleaner, and heavier. Coming Alive
was recorded at the 10th Annual Chimaira Christmas
Show at the House of Blues in Cleveland.
It must be nerve wracking knowing that you’re making an
album and a concert film when you walk onstage.
Matt DeVries: Yeah, I was nervous knowing there were 13 cameras out there, all of our
amps were miked, and our producer was
backstage with a console tracking us for a
live album. That’s tough not to think about,
but I managed.
Rob Arnold: Its no big deal. Honestly, it
seems like there’s been a guy with a camera
following us around for eight or nine years,
and at every show we play you look down
and see video cameras and photographers,
so you get pretty used to it. Also, knowing
that we were making an album pumped us
up and motivated us even more.
Coming Alive has a nice cross-section of tunes
spanning Chimaira’s career. How has the writing
process evolved for you throughout that time?
DeVries: We’ve written together long
enough now that we can say to each other,
“Hey man, that’s not very good.” It wasn’t
always like that. When someone works on
a tune they love for a long time and you know
it’s not happening, you don’t want to hurt
their feelings—but if you let it go, you run
the risk of ending up with a crappy tune. You
don’t want to proclaim an idea unfit too soon,
however, which can be tough if you’re not
seeing someone’s particular vision. That’s
when trust and patience come in.
Typically, Rob and our lead singer [Mark
Hunter] have always brought in more complete
or nearly complete tunes than me. I
focus on the riffs, whereas they have verses,
choruses, and bridges. We mix and match a
lot. Rob will have a tune that needs a bridge,
and I’ll have a lot of riffs ready to go. It makes
for some eclectic tunes. We will also email
riffs and song ideas back and forth when
we’re not together.
How much layering do you guys do on your
DeVries: It depends on the producer.
Early on we did quite a bit—maybe up to
four rhythm guitars per guy, per tune—but
now its usually just two guitars each. And
sometimes we used to record the same parts
with different amps, but now we pretty much
stick to our road setups.
Rob, how do you compose your solos?
Arnold: Typically, I’ll loop a riff in Pro
Tools and improvise over it until I find something
I like. After that, it’s all about building
up the original theme, and then honing it
until it’s ready to track. Sometimes I get
lucky and an entire solo comes quickly. Other
times it takes longer. I’m actually a really
good whistler, and I’ll often whistle my ideas
and then work them out on the guitar. Sometimes
the stuff I come up with is too hard
for me to play on the guitar, but it can still
lead me down some really cool roads.
Your guitar sounds have been remarkably consistent
over the past few tours and albums.
DeVries: We’ve each basically been using
the same rigs on the road and in the studio
for the past four album/tour cycles: Peavey
6505+ heads through Mesa/Boogie 4x12
cabs loaded with Celestion Vintage 30s. My
only nitpick with the Peavey is that the clean
tone isn’t the best. To differentiate our tones
a bit, I typically scoop my mids a touch, and
Rob boosts his so his solos cut more. But
it’s subtle. We also both run ISP Decimators
to cut back on noise, and I sometimes use a
Boss chorus on my cleaner tones.
Arnold: In the past, I used the least
amount of gear possible to minimize opportunities
for error. But since I added a few
textures on the last couple of records, I wanted to be able to replicate them live, so
lately I’ve been using a DigiTech GSP1101
multi-effects preamp and processor in the
effects loop of my amp. I mostly use it for
delay and modulation, but I also use it for
wah and as a boost on solos. I’m looking into
the Fractal Audio stuff now, however, so we’ll
see how long I keep using the DigiTech.
You’ve both also been insanely loyal to ESP
DeVries: Yeah, I played a Viper for a long
time, but now I play my signature model
MFA-600, which is based on the Viper. All
I really need is an EMG 81 pickup in the
bridge position and a volume knob.
Arnold: I used to play an M-1000 and
now I use my signature model RA-600. I
basically took an M-1000, got rid of the neck
pickup, the toggle switch, and the tone knob,
and moved the volume control to where the
tone knob used to be because it was too
close to my hand. I’m also excited to try
those new EMG passive pickups, which will
be a departure because I’ve used 81s my
whole life. But we’ve been having some
serious noise issues and I’m hoping going
passive will help.
Which picks, strings, and cables do you use?
Arnold: We both use InTune GrippX
picks and Dean Markley .011-.052-guage
string sets, though I substitute a .056-guage
string on the bottom because it’s more stable
feeling with the Floyd Rose. We use
cables from Guitar-Cable.com.
How would each of you chart your growth as
guitarists in Chimaira?
DeVries: I’m always trying to fine-tune
my right hand. From the time I started playing
guitar at 14, the badass right-hand
rhythm guys like Scott Ian from Anthrax and
Mitch Harris from Napalm Death have been
the players who inspired me the most. I’m
always focusing on my downpicking. I’m also
trying to develop my left hand, and Rob gives
me tips on that stuff. I do some metronome
work, but it’s mostly down picking slow then
fast, alternate picking slow to fast, then
tremolo picking slow to fast.
Arnold: I think I’ve improved over the life
of the band, mostly because I play all the time.
We tour a ton and I practice as much as possible
when we’re off the road. It’s no secret—
the more you play, the better you’re going to
get. Having a guitar just sitting around collecting
dust doesn’t help anything. I listen to
older Chimaira stuff and I’m still proud of
what I played, but my skills and knowledge
of the fretboard have improved greatly.
What are you learning from?
Arnold: Matt Wicklund from God Forbid
turned me on to a website called guitardreams.
com that I’ve been going to for several
weeks. That guy has a cool way of getting
you to memorize patterns across the neck.
Matt said he’s been playing for 20 years and
it changed everything for him. I also watch a
lot of YouTube videos. And this is kind of funny,
but I’m a huge fan of old Schwarzenegger
movies, and there’s one from 1986 called
Raw Deal. The opening scene features this
amazingly cool bluegrass tune, so I scrolled
through the credits at the end and found out
it was Ricky Skaggs. “One Way Rider” is the
tune, and for the past week I’ve been obsessed
with trying to pick up some bluegrass techniques.
That’s really opened up my mind as to
how many different ways you can speak with