“I was sitting here before thinking: it’s a Friday afternoon, the album came out today, we’ve got a sold out show tomorrow at Amped Festival – life’s pretty good,” gushed guitarist and founding member of Melbourne’s metal merchants Frankenbok, Aaron Butler.
The album he speaks of is Vicious, Lawless, the eighth album to come from the Frankenbok stable since their formation in 1997. Over that period, they have been a band that has always stayed true to their metal roots and have become affectionally known as a band of which you know what you are going to get musically (although they do aim to spice things up and alter things with each release).
“We’ve done things a bit differently on this album,” stressed Butler. “Other albums, we recorded with people and had it mixed by either Reggie Bowman or back in the day DW Norton, and we often walked away very happy with the product we got from those people. But it was definitely their version of what they think we should sound like, whereas this time it was recorded by our ex-vocalist Dan McDougall; but it was recorded by people within the band. When Ricky, our new guitarist, joined the band he said he’d have a crack at mixing, so it was mixed by the guitarist in the band and it’s the first one I believe truly sounds like us and what we sound like in the jam room, so it was very much home built.”
While taking away the outside element and opportunity to have a fresh set of ears on the project, Butler says the benefits of producing an album yourself far outweigh the negatives.
“It’s less stressful because when you are recording, a lot of people record guitar tracks and stuff in their bedroom these days, and you can come down to the studio and say I’m gonna lay that solo down today and you go, it’s just not happening,” he offered. “But when you are doing it yourself you have the luxury of going, you know what, I’ll come back tomorrow and you go back the next morning and smash it because you’re in the right head space whereas when you’re in a studio it’s like, I’m not nailing it, and the clock is ticking over, and it costs money the whole time and there are six other people in the room, and I’m not getting it. It only gets worse, the tension and anxiety from not being able to perform on the day. When you’re on your own you can pretty much go well I can walk away now because I’m totally happy with it, that’s the best I can do. That’s a massive plus.
“I recorded all of the guitars myself on this one, and I have always wanted to do that on a Frankenbok album: mirror both guitars, and have them played exactly the way I wanted them to. So to be able to do things that you wanna do -rather than put your ideas to other people and have it discussed and trying to get your way – is cool. It was just us doing whatever the fuck we wanted to do, and it was a real treat. I think that’s why out of every album we’ve done – and it’s pretty common for bands to say this is our best album and best work because it’s their newest – I think it’s the one that sounds the truest for us. Normally, I won’t want to hear songs after putting so much time onto them – it would have been five years with some of these from writing and managing and getting them to this point – and I’m usually sick of hearing them, but this one doesn’t give me that feeling. Every time I put this record on, I still really enjoy it and it gives me that teenager with a hard-on, fired up metal thing that I used to get. I don’t get that with a lot of other albums.”
The front cover of Vicious, Lawless depicts a Rottweiler in attack mode about to tear into an unseen person, but, unfortunately for Butler, this situation was all too real.
“It’s actually from real events,” he revealed. “That’s me on there. That’s a picture of what happened to me. I had a massive Rottweiler come out of nowhere that’s trained to kill, and a couple of more seconds of the situation, and I might have been taken out of the equation! I ended up in hospital and surgery that night. It was just this dirty, great big, pre-historic Rottweiler that was supposed to be a guard dog at the place and not supposed to be out, and it was, and it found me. I’m 100% now, but I tell you what: when I was sitting in the back of that ambulance looking at my arm, I could see my bone and bits of stuff moving around in there on both arms, and I was thinking, ‘Well, there goes playing the guitar’.
“I was working on the side of the freeway pulling down these flashing signs, and I was picking up one of those, and I got that feeling I was being watched, and I turned around (I was completely alone) and I saw him walk out of the bushes. He came up, and he was friendly for a while. The first thing I thought when I saw him was: I hope you’re friendly because he was the biggest one I had ever seen. He came over to me, and I was patting him and he was totally cool, but it looked like he was gonna get run over, so I called him back to the direction of where he came from, and I was gonna take him home because he was cool. He followed me and took the lead, and we got back to this little industrial area, and I saw a woman and asked if the dog belonged to her. She said no, he belongs next door, and then she said he has been known to be quite aggressive and then WHACK, he’s got me. I didn’t see him coming because I was looking at her face, and from nowhere, he took one arm and grabbed me and started – like a shark would – grabbed hold and started thrashing and dropping his body weight, basically trying to get me down to head height for his next move like a UFC fighter (laughs). I managed to get that arm out, and then he grabbed the other arm and did the same thing, and I thought he’s big enough and strong enough to get me down on my knees, and I’m using all the strength I’ve got just to stand up. If he gets me down, it’s curtains. And I heard a voice behind me that said: ‘quick come in here,’ and it was the woman holding open a door. So I managed to break free again and run in. Another few seconds, man, or if I was a foot shorter, it could have been curtains.”
And the real life stories don’t stop there. The single, “Stalker/Stalker”, is another case of art imitating life with the stalker at the centre of the story also targeting Butler.
“Yeah, yeah, it’s all about me today,” he laughed. “That was a personal experience, as well. That stalker situation did happen and to me. There’s some artistic licensing in the video but the guy who did it 100% nailed down all of my ideas, and the bits and pieces that were relevant to the actual story. He got it all in there and told the story well. But yeah, I woke up to a stalker one morning and I think for about three or four weeks this terrifying shit went on to the point where it ended up in the hands of the police and the Australian Cyber Police. She threatened to harm my children and all kinds of stuff. Another important part of the video and I think some people are wired a little bit funky but when you add in that drug ice and regular use, people get up to shit like that.”
The video depicts the woman in question, but in between sending threatening and harassing messages, she is seen smoking her crack pipe and as the video progresses and the addiction manifests, she becomes darker in her thoughts and her actions. It is a video that is confronting and honest, and one which is bound to cause controversy in some quarters.
“That was the idea,” Butler continued. “She smokes the ice and has a wicked experience, and it’s all euphoric… if you notice on each take when we come back her attitude is different. From the start, everyone is like, you do it, and it’s amazing, and you wanna do it again, so you do, and it’s not as good; and you keep doing it and doing it and by the end of the video we were nasty to her: like, get the fuck outta my face kind of thing. It’s all about that constant use and chasing the dragon and trying to make it like the first time, whereas, in reality, it either ends up in tears or handcuffs. It needed to be said. I don’t want us to be seen as an anti-drug band because I’m not totally against it, but I am anti that shit. There’s a lot of horrible shit going on in the world today because of that drug, and pretty much all of us know someone or know someone who knows someone who started smoking it and whose lives are now a pile of shit. I thought it was good for a bunch of dirty looking bastards like us speaking out against something like that.”
That song is also a fair representation of the whole album, according to Butler, with the typical edgy Frankenbok sound prevalent throughout.
“Yeah, I reckon it is,” he replied. “It’s probably one of our more ferocious tracks, but throughout the rest of the album it pretty much keeps up that level of energy. Traditionally, like all Frankenbok albums, there’s maybe one or two – but one where we take it back a few years with some driving music; some rock and roll, foot flat to the floor rather than musical acrobatics and crazy-ass drumming. Now and then, I think it’s good to have that one rock and roll song in there as well. I reckon this is one of our more ferocious albums, but it’s also got the colour and the hooks of almost pop writing. There are the repeating choruses, and even amongst thrash metal, there are still these hooks. Honestly, I couldn’t be happier with it. The transition of vocalists as well has been seamless with Daniel White coming into the band. I’ve been playing these songs for a long time, and Dan McDougall was gonna sing on them and I hadn’t heard what Dan did so he joined the band and he could sing all the stuff from before and part of the thing of him joining the band was let’s see what he can write. He started putting his taste and flavour on the album and we knew we’d made the right decision because he fit like a glove and killed it.”
Frankenbok embarks on a national tour in support of Vicious, Lawless in August, and will also be celebrating twenty years of feeding the metal beast, a remarkable achievement in a musical climate that is continually ushering in the next big thing.
“I know when you’re a young cunt, you think you know it all, and I know now I don’t know it all. But that means I know some shit now,” laughed Butler. “I’m aware that at no stage have you got it pegged, but when I was eighteen I was like, ‘don’t fucken tell me to mate, I know how life works’. I’m forty something now and glad to have made it this far. Playing with all the young bands too is fucken amazing. You’ll play a gig, and this dude will walk up and say how you are going, do you remember me? I will be like no, and this dude will be towering above me with a massive beard and dreads and covered in tattoos and looking terrifying, and he would say I used to go and watch you with my dad when I was thirteen and that’s why I’m in a band now, and I’m watching this dude, and he’s up there nailing me; shredding and playing better than I would play in a million years and these young dudes in these young bands are all over it, man. It’s fucken good, and I guess us old bastards can get up there and look a little bit crinkly, but with twenty years of experience, we know how to turn a room with three people in there not digging it into a fucken party! Head down and go for it. You’ve got forty to forty-five minutes to prove yourself. GO!”
With their debut album, Greetings and Salutations coming out in 2000, Butler says Frankenbok have learned a great deal musically in the years following and as such are a much better band going into their twentieth year.
“It’s a little bit more consolidated now,” he measured. “Greetings and Salutations and the band back then was a bit of a heavy metal fruitcake. It was a whole lot of different dudes putting together a whole bunch of music with everybody’s tastes mixed in. Hutchy was very much Mike Patton, Faith No More kind of stuff. I was very much the Morbid Angel death metal dude. Scotty playing the guitar loved playing Metallica type riffs, and Timmy comes from the world of Dead Kennedy’s and Frank Zappa and I think Frankenbok was a label for a business where you do whatever the fuck you want and make whatever the fuck you want whereas the music that we’re making now just seems like five dudes with pretty much a similar vision. It sounds like it’s a little bit more together. It’s not breaking out in samba beats or funk – which I still dig all that sort of shit – but I think when talking about longevity, and all the stuff that we’ve been through you know how some bands eventually lighten up? I think we’ve become more desperate and angrier and more like fuck this, let’s play fast (laughs). Time’s running out, let’s do it quickly (laughs). I guess there’s less fucking around and tiddly winks and all that. We’re just like ten slabs of heavy shit on this record whereas on our other records we had a lot of samples and whistles and bells and baby sounds and dogs and goats and you name it. Now this one is more of an early, I grew up with a lot of punk music, and this album kinda reminds me of an Exploited album. There might be a bit of a sample here and there, but it’s ten slabs of fury which I dig.”