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Introducing Irist: The Ambitious Crew Out To Push Metal Forward

Monday, 30 March 2020 Written by Matt Mills

Photo: Susy Irais Reyes

“Ultimately, I want our legacy to be that we pushed the heavy metal genre forward,” Irist frontman Rodrigo Carvalho says, laying out his band’s mission statement in one simple sentence.

It’s a goal that many artists struggle for decades to achieve, and only a tiny handful ever actually get there. But on their debut album ‘Order of the Mind’, the quintet set the groundwork for a career where that lofty ambition is very, very attainable.

Despite only being the band’s first full-length offering, ‘Order of the Mind’ finds Irist carving a distinct path through the sometimes oversaturated groove metal subgenre. As Carvalho roars throughout the LP with the ferocity of Jamey Jasta, his bandmates unite the primal yet slyly melodic riffs of Gojira with the hammering, off-kilter drumming of Decapitated. 

In an era when so many want to cash in on early-2000s nostalgia, Irist capture the sound of that period’s heaviest metal, while also imbuing it with a technicality that’s distinctly modern. ‘Order of the Mind’ represents groove metal at its most extraordinary, and Irist’s backstory is similarly unconventional. 

Despite now being based in Atlanta, Georgia, the five-piece’s members hail from all across the Americas. Carvalho himself grew up in a small, isolated town called Iúna, a community of barely 25,000 people, located in the rural forests of south-east Brazil. “There’s only one traffic light there, and it doesn’t work,” the singer laughs. “But it’s quite idyllic and naturally very pretty. It’s in the mountains. Brazil doesn’t have a lot of high mountains but it’s 2,000 metres up, and there are coffee trees everywhere.”

With an economy largely centred around coffee-harvesting and its nearest major city, Vitória, being over a hundred miles away, Iúna offered Carvalho nothing in the way of musical inspiration, bar one nearby record store. For him to discover what was destined to become his biggest passion, it required his best friend literally travelling halfway around the world.

“Her father lived in Iúna, and her mum in Rio,” he remembers. She left for England for school, later returning with a newfound love for the country’s long and legendary history of punk rock, a love quickly passed along to the young Carvalho. “It was entirely through word of mouth,” the frontman continues. “And, one weekend, I went to Vitória and saw my older cousin. She had a Sex Pistols compilation album and I loved it. Every time I went there, I’d just sit in her room and listen to it.”

As a teenager hooked on punk’s angst, Carvalho began to journey to Vitória on a monthly basis. He’d make the three-hour-plus pilgrimage to spend the weekend in the city, immersing himself in the bustling hardcore scene, led by local legends Dead Fish. “As the hardcore got heavier and heavier, I got happier and happier,” he smiles. He also became a regular at Iúna’s one music store, where he’d discover the more metallic noise of Roadrunner Records stars like Type O Negative and Sepultura.

Concurrently, starting at age 14, Carvalho was in a young punk band of his own, playing guitar while his brother manned the drum kit. “It was very heavy,” he recalls. “Poorly played, but a lot of fun. At one point, we sounded a lot like [Roadrunner stalwarts] Biohazard.”

Carvalho would jump between projects for 10 years, addicted to playing music. He followed whatever opportunities came his way, going from his teenage punk duo to being the bassist of a goth-rock outfit, before finding his groove as a vocalist in a nearby cover band. “I gave up playing and started singing,” he says. “I started sucking and everybody else was just getting better. I didn’t want to spend all my time playing scales like a crazy person.” He adds: “At that time, I was listening to a lot of power metal. Angra was really big in Brazil and I thought, ‘I wanna sing like that!’”

Sadly, in his 20s, Carvalho was forced to quit his passion cold-turkey. He emigrated from his native Brazil to Georgia to continue his education, studying for a master’s degree in Linguistics in the USA. Such a titanic change of scenery meant a fresh start for Carvalho. Despite meeting his future wife while studying, he struggled to find a tribe to call his own.

“I stayed 10 years without even touching music,” he says. “It drove me crazy! I thought I’d never find people with similar tastes, or people I’d connect with musically. I just gave it up and was so dedicated to school. I was living a miserable life. I just listened to Brazilian music because I was so homesick. It was awful.”

After a decade of dejection at not finding a new outlet for his creativity, Carvalho turned to the advertising site Craigslist, searching for potential new comrades. Through this he met guitarist Pablo Dávila and bassist Bruno Segovia. Like Carvalho, they were both South American immigrants, emanating from Argentina and Chile respectively, with a deep love of hardcore and heavy metal. According to the singer, the pair came to the USA as young children, arriving with families that sought to escape South America’s economic crises in the 1990s.

“When I saw the ad, all they had written was the first verse of a song called Painting With Shadows,” Carvalho says. “I tracked vocals for it, they loved it, we met and we’ve been friends ever since. They were still under the band’s old name at the time, which was Toro.”

The trio of musicians had a clear chemistry from the very off. In spite of this though, Carvalho surprisingly declined the invitation to join this fledgling band. “I was super unfit,” he explains. “I had gone so long without making music that I decided, ‘I’m not ready for what you guys are.’”

So, amicably, the two parties split. Toro filled out their lineup with second guitarist Adam Mitchell, drummer Jason Belisha and vocalist Zack Hembree, before recording an EP called ‘Departure’, mixed by acclaimed Mastodon and Isis producer Matt Bayles. Meanwhile, Carvalho honed his vocal prowess by forming his own industrial rock project. It took two years for him to find his mojo once again, at which point he officially joined Toro to replace the outgoing Hembree.

By the time Carvalho had re-entered the fold, Toro had begun attracting some very welcome attention. Bayles had sent the quintet’s demos to Monte Conner, an A&R executive for Nuclear Blast Records, previously responsible for first discovering the now-iconic Slipknot.

Conner quickly swooped on the up-and-coming Georgians, who then changed their name to the less generic Irist. “It’s a word with no meaning,” Carvalho explains. “We wanted it to be a new word, and we wanted our sound to define that word.”

With the ink on their Nuclear Blast contract still wet, Irist jetted to Southampton, UK, in early 2019 to record ‘Order of the Mind’ with producer Lewis Johns. There they tracked 10 taut groove metal anthems, sequencing the songs in the order in which they were written, giving their debut an organic and natural flow.

“It might look like we’ve been given a lot,” Carvalho says, acknowledging Irist’s enviable worldwide record deal and working with one of Britain’s finest producers. “But the reality is, I sold my house for this to happen. We’ve invested a lot of time and money. One of the reasons why we recorded at Lewis’s studio is because they have a place for you to stay. We didn’t have to pay for a hotel, we couldn’t afford it.” He adds: “We feel like we’ve paid our dues already. So, we’ll take that support!”

One spin of ‘Order of the Mind’ will reveal why Irist have gathered their momentum at such a radical pace. It’s an original and crushing, yet also accessible, disc that loudly tells the world just how fantastic a long-term investment these five are.

‘Order of the Mind’ is out now via Nuclear Blast.

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