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 albums?
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 guitars.
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 the instrument.