In just a few days, The Red Chord's Fused Together in Revolving Doors turns 20 years old. It was released by Robotic Empire Records back in 2002, while all other The Red Chord releases after it dropped via Metal Blade Records. I guess that makes me feel old even though I'm in my early 30's, but then again when I first heard this release thanks to my much older brother I was just 13 at the time.
Time flies and this is one of those legendary releases that still holds up and feels fresh in the present. Fused Together in Revolving Doors is certainly a product of its time, a strange and chaotic amalgamation of technical-minded death metal, mathcore, grindcore, and hardcore served up in a way unlike anything else out at the time it was released in 2002.
Much has been said and will continue to be said when it comes to the bands' influence within multiple styles of death metal, but the more important point is that a band this jarring ended up becoming as influential and well known as they have is pretty special. Something I don't think anyone, including the band, could have foreseen when unleashing their debut album upon the world twenty years ago.
So to help celebrate this notable milestone for a noteworthy technical death metal release, we've got an interview below with vocalist Guy Kozowyk and guitarist Kevin Rampelberg who played on Fused Together in Revolving Doors. The first couple of questions aren't specifically tied to their debut, they're just ones I wanted to ask before getting into all things related to the album. If you haven't listened to the album in a while, it's embedded below for anyone interested in doing so.
Is the upcoming 2022 live date where the band will play Clients a one-off only event? Or, will the band maybe make a comeback one day with new music?
Guy: "Right now we have 2 shows lined up for this year. We always talk about getting together and creating. I think it's something we are all interested in doing, and seeing what happens."
When it comes to the origins of The Red Chord, I'm not sure I've ever heard that explained. How did the band come together?
Guy: "Kevin and I were in the earlier incarnation of the band from when we were still in high school together. We crossed paths with guitarist Mike 'Gunface' McKenzie, Mike Justian (Drums), and Adam Wentworth (Bass) while playing in other bands at local shows together. I always stayed engaged with people I thought were doing something exciting. I remember trading phone numbers and basically called Gunface out of the blue at his parent's house.
"We played a show with Gunface's band called Sheol at a Battle of the Bands in Winchester, MA where he sang. He had a great voice. When I called him, he told me about his solo project where he played everything. I got a copy and it was wild and all over the place. We realized he was an exceptional guitar player. I was already begging Mike Justian to join, and theorizing on what we could do to really take everything to the next level. I remember talking to the guys about how much of an addition Gunface would be. We invited him over to meet everyone and jam in Mike J's basement. He was hilarious and everything clicked.
"Oddly, this local Battle of the Bands we also played with Adam Wentworth's prior band, Archaic which featured one of my lifelong best friends from childhood in drums. Adam ended up in Beyond the Sixth Seal with Gunface. That random show is also where I crossed paths with Aaron Heinold of Hivesmasher for the first time. Small world."
Kevin: "Guy and I went to high school together. He was one grade ahead of me. He was in some terrible bands and I was in some terrible bands. When those terrible bands disbanded we started a new band. I played drums but I was not good enough to play what we wanted to. So I bought my first guitar at 19 years old (a red Ibanez S series)and started playing guitar and writing songs for The Red Chord."
For those unfamiliar with what the band's name signifies, please share with our readers out there what The Red Chord means? What other possible names were floated or in the running besides it?
Guy: "The band name was inspired by a line from an opera. When I was in college, I took a class on the history of music to fulfill an elective. In one of the lessons we covered an Austrian play by the composer, Alban Berg called Wozzeck. During a scene, the main character has an episode, becomes enraged at his lover, and slashes her throat. Our professor talked about the character coming back to reality immediately following this incident and asking 'My love, what is that red cord across your neck?' in reference to her slit throat.
"I used to scribble random things in my notebook that I found inspirational. This was the late 90's and at a time when everything wasn't Google checked for accuracy. The doodles morphed from 'cord' to 'chord' partially because I thought it looked cooler, and also due to the relevance of musical chords.
"At the time, Kevin Rampelberg (one of the guitarists on Fused Together) and I had been in a band called Ictus with some friends. Kevin historically played drums in all of our bands, but wanted to play guitar and was already writing lots of the riffs. We were courting our friend, Mike Justian, to join on the drums. Mike recorded some of our demos on his basement 8-track and was really just a next-level musician. Mike J was really appalled by the old name. One of Mike J's demands was that we change the name or he absolutely would not join.
"As for could be names- we had some bad ones. I'm sure there were some bladed weapon references. Mike J liked Onward to Pi Omega. One of my suggestions which had also come from that History of Music class was Sprechstimme which I 'think' (remember pre-Google everything era) had to do with a vocal style where the vocalist would follow wild highs and lows while following the music. That name stood out as a possibility if we were going to be more like early Fantomas, and the vocals would've been more about rhythms and sounds than lyrics. I don't think anyone else really cared for that, though."
What do you all make of The Red Chord's continual influence among modern death metal bands? Exciting, odd, or indifferent?
Guy: "Maybe? I know we’ve gotten lots of feedback over the years from people saying they were inspired. I’m excited to inspire anybody in any way. We had way more opportunities as an extreme band than I would have ever imagined. But I also think we probably inspired some of the early adopters who were more influential on a wider scale when they put their twist on things. But that’s always been the cycle.
"For instance, Entombed inspired Hatebreed. Hatebreed explodes and inspires tons of bands. Now bands are influenced by Entombed and don't even know it. Or Rorschach inspires Converge. Converge is a much more renowned band. Rorschach isn't necessarily getting the credit.
"We took influence from all of those bands, and many, many others who aren't given nearly enough credit. Bands like Human Remains are relatively unknown from whom we took a lot of early influence. We didn't create any of these extreme genres. We just put our own twist and passed it along. We had a lot of energy live and we played constantly. I think we lucked out and got to play our style of extreme music outside of the basements and VFW halls to larger groups of people from tours like Sounds of the Underground, Mayhem, and Ozzfest."
Kevin: "I'm somewhat aware of it. Over the years I've seen and heard things from others that state the band helped pave the way for a different audience. Guy and I started The Red Chord in 1999. We listened to all kinds of heavy music. We wanted to mix grind/death/hardcore and see what happened. Turned out to be influential without us even trying to be such. It's an honor some think of the band as influential."
Can you explain what the cover art on Fused Together is all about and how that ties into the album's themes and lyrics?
Guy: "Adam Wentworth (bassist) came up with the cover and did the layout. He was really the driving force of all things visual during that timeframe such as the layout for both our album, our demo, and our early shirt designs. He is and has always been an amazing and professional graphic designer.
"The handprint is supposed to be the seared, burnt impression of a hand against glass. The title was loosely based on the Cocoanut Grove fire in Boston that claimed the lives of 492 people.
"Similar to the band name, I used to come across things from classes, books, television shows, train rides…then jot notes down. Fused Together… was something I remember writing down. There was a theme being that humanity tends to trample one another instead of letting someone else get ahead.
"There were a few things like that, but that similar dark theme popped up again in songs such as 'Like a Train Through a Pigeon.' Birds flock around crumbs on the train tracks, pecking away at scraps. They wait as long as possible for the extra second of scraps, even when the next train is rolling in. They get that extra morsel even if it may cost their lives."
What do you remember about writing, practicing, or recording when it comes to Fused Together?
Guy: "The first songs we ever wrote with Mike J behind the kit was this joke track that later ended up in a re-issue, 'Jar Full of Bunny Parts.' Then we wrote 'Catalepsy,' and re-learned 'Breed the Cancer' from the old band. I was so used to seeing Kevin behind the drums, it was just different seeing him rocking with a guitar. When Mike Justian started blasting followed by big breakdowns I remember getting very excited at just how brutal and professional this project was going to sound.
"Fast forward- when we got further along in the writing with more intricate songs like 'Dreaming in Dog Years' and '16 Bit Fingerprint,' I remember watching all of the guys just practicing the time changes and stops repeatedly. We started adding Gunface riffs into our writing style, which changes the dynamic. I just remember feeling like something really special was happening in that basement.
"I also remember thinking that I had to really step up what I was doing lyrically, and vocally. I was surrounded by immensely talented musicians. I started getting my act together more on the day-to-day operations and organizational side. I wanted to pull my weight somewhere because all of the musicians were just so incredible at what they did."
Kevin: "I specifically remember recording this album. We had a massive budget of hundreds of dollars. We spent 3 days recording and two days mixing. But to be honest it was one of the greatest memories I have with the band. We recorded on reel to reels. Which I still have in my possession. The excitement and the motivation were unforgettable. We had such a good time recording this. No expectations."
How did the band link up with Robotic Empire for the 2002 release of Fused Together?
Guy: "Mike Justian was already in a bunch of other bands. One of those, Hassan I Sabbah was getting some hype. They were playing shows all over the place and already had an LP release lined up with Robodog/Robotic Empire Records. Andy Low who started and ran Robotic came up to Boston to hang out. We had a weird night out which resulted in Mike J having his hands bit during a brawl with some drunk guy. At some point, I got talking to Andy and managed to slip him our demo. We connected, got along, and arranged to work together."
Kevin: "I believe it was our demo that caught Andy from Robotic Empire's attention. We also played a show in Philly in a basement that he was at. He may have put the show on. He really gave us our first shot. Awesome guy."
To my ears, it sounds like every The Red Chord album offered up something different. Given that Fused Together was the group's first, was the decision to switch things up on Clients (and on releases after that as well) done to not repeat yourselves? Or, was it solely an organic part of writing those releases solely?
Guy: "Fused was really a collection of the best material we had from that era. Some of those songs were written at the tail end of the old band and were being played live because that's all we had for songs. We never made a decision to switch styles up. We just got together and things would happen organically.
"Fused to Clients was probably the most prominent shift because we also changed drummers. We wrote early, demo versions of 'Fixation on Plastics' and 'Upper Decker' with Mike J. We toured with those in our live set in 2003. Then Mike left for Unearth before Brad Fickeisen joined the band. Clients would be the first time any of us had ever said we need to create an album.
Kevin: "On Fused Together we were just a bunch of friends playing music. We just wanted to play heavy music. Clients was more thought out and structured with a purpose. The first two songs written for Clients were shortly after Fused Together… was released. 'Fixation on Plastics' and 'Upper Decker.' To me, those two songs could've fit nicely onto Fused Together. But I'm also glad they made their way onto Clients. The writing always seemed organic. If we were happy then that's what mattered."
Similar to the prior question, at the time the material for Fused Together was being written, was there a feeling within the band at the time that you all were tapping into something new? Or was that more something that you all recognized later on?
Guy: "I definitely think so. Don't get me wrong… I don't think we were completely re-inventing the genre. Bands we all enjoyed already existed, like Cryptopsy, Dying Fetus, Skinless, Cephalic Carnage, and of course, Suffocation and Death, who are like the parent bands.
However, Kevin, Mike J, and I all had some substantial roots planted in the hardcore scene. Our live shows felt more like the energy and vibe of a Converge/hardcore show even though our music was more akin to death metal. We definitely had more early adopters from the hardcore scene than we would get from the metal scene. At least in the New England area, there were way more opportunities to play hardcore-based shows than death metal fest. But we tried to play everything we possibly could."
Kevin: "When the band started getting some traction I started to realize that promoters didn't really know what shows to put us on. Then I started seeing people labeling us 'grindcore' or 'technical death' or 'metalcore.' No one seemed to know what sub-genre to put us in. 'Deathcore' wasn't really a thing back then. It wasn't until many years later that I started hearing about the band starting something new."
How did the mathcore-meets-death metal-meets grind split focus of Fused as heard on the debut album come to be?
Guy: "We all loved so many different extreme bands and genres. Kevin and I were fairly obsessed with Buried Alive and Hatebreed, so anything we did we knew had to contain the fast hardcore parts and breakdowns. Gunface really brought the death metal musical influence and guitar gymnastics, which was great because I was excited about that stuff, too. The combination generally came as a result from someone bringing most of a song to a practice session and then the jamming taking it the rest of the way.
"Suffocation was THE band for me. I went from singing in a band during high school that resembled Rage Against the Machine. I remember hearing Frank Mullen's low, monster voice on 'Liege of Inveracity' and thinking, 'that's a person? How can he do that? I want to do THAT.' And as I started getting my voice in check, I still wanted to do all of the hardcore stuff like singalongs and chorus parts that were legible.
"As for the mathcore, we enjoyed and got compared to bands like The Dillinger Escape Plan…but we never wanted to be the The Dillinger Escape Plan. I don't think any of us ever wanted to write tech parts for the sake of being overly technical. There were already bands out there like Cromtech and The Dillinger Escape Plan that were doing that stuff better than anyone. Our confusing, intricacies happened naturally, but the focus had always been making sure things remained a song."
Kevin: "Myself and Guy wanted to play music that we loved. We just wanted to mix it all together without it sounding forced. When Gunface joined the band he brought more diversity to the mix. Every member added something that attributes to the sound.
"I was definitely bringing more straightforward death metal and hardcore and quirkiness. Gunface brought more technique and talent to the mix. He added a lot of layers to our sound. Mike Justian brought hardcore hitting drums and chaos to blast beats and breakdowns."
Although I was able to catch you all live on a release tour tied to your second album, Clients, I didn't get to see you live in support of Fused Together. Can you fill us in on who you toured with in support of Fused and any personal observations and memories of those tours that you still remember?
Guy: "That era was an exciting circus of shows. We got to play with so many interesting bands. Tours were difficult to come by, so we ended up hopping on random dates with random bands. Our first two-week tour, we played a couple of venues but more halls, basements, and random spots. Some notable shows included a date in FL with Eighteen Visions, a show in Memphis with Severed Head of State. Later we started doing more organized things with some of our best friend bands like Between the Buried and Me, Premonitions of War, The Black Dahlia Murder, and A Life Once Lost.
"Some of our early shows were with MA and New England area bands like Blood Has Been Shed and Eternal Suffering. We crossed paths with a bunch of bands in that early Robotic/ Willowtip like Pig Destroyer, Circle of Dead Children, Creation is Crucifixion, Phobia, Page 99 and we played with As the Sun Sets (the pre-Daughters mosh metal band) a bunch. We played at this tiny venue in Boston alongside Killswitch Engage and From Autumn to Ashes to about 70 people. Our local Fused album release in Boston was with Shai Hulud. We hooked up with Mastodon sporadically around that timeframe while they were still touring in support of Lifesblood.
"Huge huge shout out to the first band that actually said they would, and followed through with taking us on our first proper support tour- Bleeding Through. I met Brandan Schieppatti during our first tour in 2001 in FL while he was in Eighteen Visions. He told me that someday, he would get The Red Chord out to the west coast. In 2003, Bleeding Through took us out to the west coast along with Himsa for our first actual support role. That still means a lot."
Kevin: "We opened up for Jackass. Yes…those guys. Steve-O, Ryan Dunn, etc. That was interesting. Those guys just hurt themselves on stage.
"One of my favorite memories was playing Japan. The festival had the Misfits headlining. On our flight home, we switched flights and ended up on an empty plane with the guys from the Misfits. Jerry Only sat with us for a while. Before he left he turned to us and said 'I know what's it like to be a band struggling to make ends meet. Here's some money…drinks are on me.' It was one of the most amazing gestures and coolest things from someone I've ever witnessed. Let alone a legend like Jerry fucking Only."
What is your favorite song on Fused Together in Revolving Doors, and why?
Guy: "Probably 'Nihilist.' I felt like it encompassed a lot of the new direction of the start of the band. It was something that was purely written by the group and wasn't a leftover. Blasts, spastic parts, a mean breakdown, and a weird bendy Immolation-styled riff at the end which showed the start of Gunface's influence on the band."
Kevin: "This might sound cliché but I'm going with 'Dreaming in Dog Years.' Not because of its popularity. But because it was the song we wrote that had all of our input and really defined what we were going for. It really encompasses The Red Chord at that time."
How do you feel about the album now in 2022?
Guy: "The album takes me back to a young, exciting, and formative era that was more than half of my current life ago. It was crammed into a four-day session, and there were lots of unpolished things that were left in. I think the raw nature of it is part of the charm.
"It was my first time doing anything in a real studio. I wrecked my voice so bad before the end of the session. We had this monster growl thing at the beginning of 'Catalepsy' that I was simply incapable of doing by the time we had to do the take. It makes me cringe when it pops up on the recording because I remember being like whisper-hoarse. But generally, I think it holds up. It came from a time when every riff, every time change, and every lyric held more value because it was coming from our youthful passion."
Kevin: "The recording is raw. But that's meant to be. I wouldn't change a thing. It was an era of young kids just playing music and knowing nothing about the industry. Just having fun and with no worries…no expectations. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I wouldn't change it for the world."
We’re at the end here. If there is anything you’d like to say to the fans, go for it?
Guy: "Thank you."
Kevin: “I can’t believe people got a tattoo of the band's name on them. You guys are nuts.”