“We really wanted to get a bit more of an aggressive live sound–the kind we get on-stage."
There’s a moment where you almost can’t tell it’s them. As a drop-B riff shreds and snarls against the pummel of double-kick drums and a seething, scorched-earth vocal take, you’re temporarily under the impression that this is the latest offering from a fresh young alt-metal upstart. As ‘Knives’ plays out, however, a double-check of the artist tag confirms the opposite: This is indeed Bullet For My Valentine, the band that (depending how old you are) were once responsible for your MySpace profile song.
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The Welsh quartet have never shied away from heaviness, of course, but when ‘Knives’ cut through the speakers for the first time back in June it was a surprise package for two reasons. The first of these was in the context of the band’s previous album, 2018’s Gravity, which saw them taking a swing at radio rock with results that polarised both fans and critics. The second, more crucially, is that the band have never made music in this specific vein of heaviness—it’s certainly a far cry from the melodic metalcore of their early days, which suggests a drastic reinvention from the band some 15+ years in.
Perhaps the most curious aspect of the roll-out and creative process for Bullet’s seventh album, however, was that the eponymous affair was crafted with none of this greater context in mind. “It was very natural,” insists Matt Tuck, the band’s lead singer and founding member. “We’re always in the moment when we’re writing, and as soon as we find that sound and direction which everyone is on board with, we focus on that.
“We had about seven or eight songs demoed before we came across ‘Knives’. That’s when we knew we had the sound, so the other songs went in the bin and it all started from scratch again. The hardest part of writing a record is finding where the hell it’s going, so writing something which just triggered everything felt very exciting.”
Though Tuck is insistent that Bullet for My Valentine is still very much an album by… well, Bullet for My Valentine… he’s also happy to note the framework within which it was created. Having come of age around the rise of American heavy metal’s new wave, making an album largely inspired by its sound felt like second nature. “Growing up, that whole scene of Roadrunner [Records] bands was was right up our street,” he says. “It’s what we grew up on. Bands like Slipknot and Machine Head were especially important to us, with those far more aggressive and visceral sonics. As soon as we decided that’s where we would go, it was easy to tap into that feeling and the vibe of what excited us when we were kids.”
Bullet–currently consisting of Tuck, co-founding guitarist Michael Paget, bassist Jamie Mathias and drummer Jason Bowld—began working on album number seven in bursts throughout 2020 in-between lockdowns across the UK. Producer Carl Brown was brought in once again, having served as co-producer of 2015’s Venom and the sole producer of Gravity. Having now notched up a half-decade of working with the band, Tuck is quick to assert Brown’s place firmly within Bullet’s inner circle. “He’s a very integral part of the band’s writing process,” he says.
“Every single writing session I did, he was present. He recorded all the demos too, so we were working on this record together for over a year before we started actually recording. He just seems to understand me as a songwriter. He understands the band, what we want, where we want to go, what we want to achieve, the ambitions, the sounds… all of it. It gives me the confidence to experiment when I want to, and not feel stupid or self-conscious. Carl’s integral, just because he’s been part of that entire process for so many years now – and even more so on this record. It’s a very important part of the puzzle for this band.”
Another important piece of the puzzle for Bullet for My Valentine was putting the album’s theory of a rekindled heaviness into practicality. Having done all of the demos on a Kemper Profiler digital amp, Tuck was concerned that bringing the Profiler into the official studio recordings would offer a sound that was potentially too safe and too quantised. “We knew it was going to be visceral and aggressive, with a lot more nasty-sounding tones on the guitar,” Tuck explains.
“We really wanted to get a bit more of an aggressive live sound–the kind we get on-stage. This time around, we brought the live cabs in–we used a couple of Diezel VH4 amps that I got a few years back. They went through some MESA/Boogie 4×12 cabinets, and miked them up to capture it.” Tuck and Brown also found themselves in possession of an MXR Slash Octave Fuzz pedal, which unexpectedly came in handy for when all the guitars had been tracked. “We used it to really enhance certain rhythm guitars, which we’d never done before,” says Tuck.
“It gives it a low distorted, fuzzy, weird sound on to the rhythms which was cool. On its own, it sounds terrible. It’s just a really horrible sounding guitar pedal. I don’t even know how you would use it. To put it underneath the rhythms, though, gives it this really rich, dirty sound, which really enhanced the guitar tones especially.”
Although Tuck wished for the band to translate their live sound into the studio, he didn’t take everything with him. For one, on-stage you’ll frequently see Tuck strapped onto a flying-V guitar–either a Jackson Randy Rhoads signature or his own signature model through BC Rich. When it comes to tracking in the studio, though, Tuck hates playing them. “They’re a real pain in the arse to track, just because of the shape,” he laughs.
“Standing up and playing live is fine–in that department they’re the most beautiful, comfortable guitars I’ve ever played. In a studio, it’s really difficult to settle with them–you have to almost play them like a classical guitar, with one of the fins through the legs and the neck pointing up at the ceiling. It’s just not comfortable to play.” Instead, Tuck optioned for a Gibson Explorer custom, fitted with EMG pickups: “It sounded really mean, so we went with that as the main tracking guitar for the rhythms,” he continues.
“I only got it last summer, so it was the first time it’d been used on an album. I had my trusty old Gibson Les Paul custom with EMGs in there too, which means you really get the best of both guitar sounds. The Les Paul is very smooth and very posh-sounding, while the Explorer adds a little bit more grit.”
A few weeks after premiering ‘Knives’ to the world, Bullet for My Valentine were offered a surprisingly-rare opportunity: The chance to play it live. With the UK slowly beginning the reopening process, the band were offered a spot atop the bill of Download Festival’s smaller-scale (relatively, at least) comeback festival, Download Pilot. Closing out the third day following the previous two days’ headliners Frank Carter and Enter Shikari, the band were able to churn out a greatest-hits set for the first time in nearly two years–an experience that Tuck felt he’d almost taken for granted in the past, given how frequently the band were on the road. Never again, though: “Just being able to play a show again felt magical,” he testifies.
“When the rug was pulled from us, it hit in a way that was deeper than just a tour being cancelled. Basically the entire industry had been cancelled, and there was no real light at the end of that tunnel. It’s still not really shining that bright even now, a year-and-a-half later. To get invited to headline the Download Festival Pilot, and to get back on-stage in front of 10,000 metalheads… we were just blown away. It was a complete honour. We’ve worked all our life for moments like that. If there’s one positive that has come from this whole fucking COVID situation, it was ticking off a bucket list moment for us. The crowd was on fire, all the bands were on fire. Coming together again, as passionate music lovers, celebrating music and life… it was just phenomenal.”