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Death, Injury and a Global Pandemic: How Mutoid Man Made the Metal Album of the Year

Wednesday, 26 July 2023 Written by Matt Mills

“It’s like the radio edit of all things heavy music,” Stephen Brodsky says with a laugh. The singer and guitarist of Mutoid Man is reviewing his band’s new album and has instantly hit the nail on the head. ‘Mutants’ is a whirlwind of sludge, stoner, thrash and progressive metal that rages for only 38 minutes but leaves you feeling wrecked for much, much longer. For acolytes of all caps METAL, it’s an obnoxious, mangled, hideous must-listen that’ll cement itself as the album of the summer, if not the year.

Unlike so many rage-filled metal masterpieces, though, ‘Mutants’ is not the work of youngsters seething with piss and vinegar. Brodsky is 44 and, having helped reshape post-hardcore with Cave In over the past three decades, surrounded by musicians of similar weather-beaten pedigree in Converge drummer Ben Koller and newly installed bassist Jeff Matz, of High on Fire.

Today, clad in a simple black hoodie and glasses while sporting a jet-black beard, he seems like the most laid-back man in the world. When he talks, he is measured and softly spoken. Perhaps that’s because he’s turned all his demons into ‘Mutants’. “A lot happened between [the last Mutoid Man album, ‘War Moans’] six years ago and the present day,” Brodsky explains. “Lineup changes, death, injuries…this little thing you may have heard of called the global pandemic.”

From the second Call of the Void opens the album in a flurry of dissonant harmonics, ‘Mutants’ is delivered with all out commitment to brute force. After the single trades high-octane melodies for athletic guitar leads on top of Koller’s hardcore drumming, Frozen Hearts casts Hetfieldian howls against squealing solos and lightspeed rhythm work. Demons channels classic sludge with its intensely fuzzy bass, Siphon starts with an out-of-nowhere aggro roar and Setting Sun finishes with the mightiest ’80s Metallica hook that ’80s Metallica never wrote.

And yet, this is a beast with intellect and a tender heart. Although Graveyard Love revels in macabre metal fantasy (“I’m in love with my gravedigger”), the stoner rock riffstravaganza Memory Hole is about the modern world’s increasing reliance on the internet, despite online information being edited all the time. Brodsky took influence from now-disgraced rapper Ye (formerly Kanye West) repeatedly editing his 2021 album ‘Donda' post-release, as well as Taylor Swift taking a problematic lyric out of her early hit Picture to Burn.

Even more striking is Call of the Void’s very real exploration of grief and its lingering effects. In the spring of 2018, Cave In bassist Caleb Scofield died in a pickup truck accident. He was 39 years old. “Call of the Void touches upon the darkness that comes [after such a loss],” the frontman says. “Nature abhors a vacuum so, when we feel emptied by someone being taken away like that, all kinds of things rush in: darkness is very willing to take up residence in your mind.”

Scofield’s death carved a chasm into the New England metal and hardcore scene. A member of Cave In since 1998, he was mourned through the music he loved: his band reunited for a string of benefit concerts, raising money to support his wife and children with Converge’s Nate Newton playing bass. Crowdfunding for his funeral expenses amassed more than $45,000 from heartbroken fans and his last recordings were immortalised on Cave In’s ‘Final Transmission’ album.

Brodsky grieved through performance, darting between Mutoid Man and Cave In for the remainder of 2018. But life only got harder. In the new year, Mutoid Man were slotted onto a European tour with Mastodon and Kvelertak, then Koller broke his elbow and had to miss the shows. “He slipped on some ice and landed full force on his left elbow,” Brodsky remembers. “We were actually together, hiking up Mount Overlook in upstate New York. We made it about 80% of the way, we were coming down from the summit and he took a nasty fall. He went straight to the ER. It was a rough afternoon.”

Although Mutoid Man played the dates with fill-in drummer Chris Maggio, bassist Cageao was also suffering. “That was around the time when things with Nick started to feel like they were on shaky ground,” says Brodsky. “Without Ben there, it was tough, because I was feeling like we might have to address that situation sooner rather than later.”

He elaborates: “Nick really struggled being on the road and he dealt with that in different ways. He acted out in different ways, expressing his displeasure for that type of lifestyle, and it came to a head. We felt like we couldn’t deal with it and I feel like Nick was, in his own way, saying he didn’t want to live this type of life anymore.”

With Koller injured and Cageao increasingly miserable, Brodsky became the linchpin of what was ostensibly a three-figurehead supergroup. And he hated it. “I definitely felt like [breaking the band up] at times,” he admits. “At some point I said to myself, ‘Goddamn, I’m the only member of the band that’s been at every show.’ But, with the quality of the music we had written, I felt that it was too good to let any personal demons or outside struggles ruin that.”

Mutoid Man endured through the pandemic, frequently collaborating with the essential metalhead lockdown viewing that was Two Minutes to Late Night. Brodsky also released two albums with post-metal darlings Old Man Gloom (replacing Scofield as their bassist/vocalist), continued chipping away at Converge crossover ‘Bloodmoon: I’ and wrote Cave In’s 2022 album ‘Heavy Pendulum’. For a man that seems to be so laid-back, he’s obviously restless.

Mutoid Man officially parted ways with Cageao in 2021 with Matz coming recommended by  Maggio. Even though Brodsky has nothing but lovely things to say about his new bandmate, he admits the turbulence of the past half-decade “must have played a role” in how ferocious ‘Mutants’ sounds. “That’s the beautiful thing about art,” he smiles. “It’s a place where, any grievances about life that cloud your day-to-day and hit you hard, you can hit back just as fiercely on your instrument. I feel like that’s a shared thing with everybody in this band, and it must contribute to the intensity of the album.”

Now, all Brodsky wants is some focus. It’s been five years of heartache and project-hopping for the heavy metal polymath, but at the minute he’s not working on anything. The sole thing on his to-do list is to tour Europe with Mutoid Man in September, and he sounds  relieved that he has nothing else to sweat. “I’ve oftentimes forced my hand into making creative situations happen,” he says. “It doesn’t always pan out great. So I’m just laying back at the moment. All I have to think about is trying to present these songs live as good as they are on the record.”

Mutoid Man’s ‘Mutants’ is out July 28 on Sargent House.

Mutoid Man Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Fri September 08 2023 - LONDON Oslo
Sat September 09 2023 - MANCHESTER Bread Shed
Mon September 11 2023 - GLASGOW Stereo
Tue September 12 2023 - LEEDS Brudenell Social Club
Wed September 13 2023 - BRISTOL Exchange
Thu September 14 2023 - TUNBRIDGE WELLS Forum

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