Back From the Dead, Again: Matt Fox Talks Zombie Apocalypse Resurrection, Shai Hulud’s Future

You could be forgiven for assuming Zombie Apocalypse was dead.

Like, dead dead.

After all, the killer, under-appreciated Shai Hulud side project hasn’t dropped a record since the Tales Told By Dead Men split with Send More Paramedics back in 2005. And the epic This is a Spark of Life — hands down one of the most potent, intriguing, and brutal crossover releases of the aughts — is sixteen years in the rearview mirror.

The fret-hand unexpectedly shot back out of the grave a couple months back with the announcement of a Zombie Apocalypse show supporting Vio-lence in Brooklyn this November and — glorious horror of horrors — a debut full-length album entitled Life Without Pain is a Fucking Fantasy out August 9 courtesy Innerstrength Records.

Life Without Pain is a Fucking Fantasyhas a lot to do with learning how to cope with internal struggle,” vocalist Ronen Kauffman tells Decibel. “We definitely call out some of our least favorite bad actors – political bullshit artists, exploiters, know-it-alls — but even in that there’s a lot of inward reflection. There’s a lot of talk about anxiety and not letting it destroy you. Like in the past, its largely told through a lens of survival; making it out alive as the world continually comes to an end around you- and as spiritual or emotional or psychological death threaten to hollow you out before physical death does. It’s about not becoming the walking dead.”

We spoke with Matt Fox, the revolutionary metallic hardcore guitar player/composer Zombie Apocalypse/Shai Hulud about what it’s like to be back from the dead (again) and where this anything-but-shambling horde is headed next…

So…almost 15 years since the last Zombie Apocalypse record. Were you just trying to lull us into a false sense of security? Or were there other extenuating factors?

It’s hard to believe it’s been that long! Speaking for myself, it feels much less time than half that. No lulling or false senses of security intended. I think the gap between releases/activity had a lot to do with Shai Hulud signing to Metal Blade Records, writing and recording our first album for the label, and subsequent touring — the aforementioned, plus normal life stuff for all the members. Also, it was understood Zombie Apocalypse was established as a project and not a full time band from the outset.

Did you ever begin to think yourself that the band might be dead-dead?

That may very well have crossed all our minds at some point during the unofficial hiatus. Though I’m not sure if any of us would have actually confirmed such. Paraphrasing George Carlin,”That’s the thing about zombies — they’re unreliable.”

One thing that I’ve always loved about your work — both in Zombie Apocalypse and, obviously, Shai Hulud — is the devotion to nuance and detail within the chaos. I mean, you truly are a master metallic hardcore craftsman. And Life Without Pain is a Fucking Fantasy is stacked top to goddamn bottom with that brilliance. So I’m curious about the writing arc for the record. How long did it take?

Thanks so much for your kind words! I can only take half of the credit for this current release, however. Musically, fifty percent of the record was written by one of our two singers, Eric Dellon, who also plays guitar and writes killer riffs.

When it’s all boiled down, musically speaking, it probably didn’t take all that long. Having said that, both Dellon and I wrote and tinkered with our collective riffs and ideas for well over six years — the resurgence and notion of a new release has been discussed for quite some time. It’s safe to say we took our time piecing everything together as there was no label or external pressure.

Was there perhaps a particular song or riff that let you know the “spark of life” was back and ready to be unleashed?

The overall “spark of life” definitely came from Dellon. He would send over these great riffs he was writing, and at some point I said they would be awesome for Zombie. From there we slowly but surely started assembling a collection of our mutual ideas that eventually became Life Without Pain Is A Fucking Fantasy.

One song in particular that really excited me about working seriously on a new Zombie release is “We Still Might Be Dying,” which Dellon wrote. When he sent over the original riffs I was blown away. Of my own stuff, I was pretty excited when I wrote “Bullshit Destroyer.”

You’ve got such a unique and influential style.What was your path into heavy music? Any particular band or record that really sealed the deal? Why did you pick up a guitar?

It may have started with Kiss, though I originally loved them just because of how they looked and the fact they included temporary tattoos in the Kiss Alive II LP. Sadly, I never didget those tattoos. The first album I bought with my own money was Escape by Journey — arguably the “heaviest” music I heard in 1981 at eight years old. From there I found Def Leppard, Led Zeppelin, Kiss — for real this time — Van Halen, Quiet Riot, Twisted Sister, and W. A. S. P. But it was Motley Crüe — specifically Shout At The Devil,which transcended everything when I heard it.

At around 10, it was pretty clear to me I preferred hard rock and heavy metal over any other music. So the deal was really sealed fairly early on, but hearing Master Of Puppets in 1986 opened up a door to heavy music I simply did not know existed. Metallica was everything I wanted in music. There was no turning back. Metallica and
Master Of Puppets changed my life and 80’s Thrash Metal is still my first love as a genre of music.

How did you transition from observer to participant in the scene? And why do you think your playing evolved in such an original and left-field kind of way?

I started out playing drums, regularly picking up the guitar in maybe 1990 or so. I began playing guitar because I was inspired to write music after falling in love with Bad Brains, The Misfits, Descendents, Circle Jerks, Minor Threat, Suicidal Tendencies, D. R. I, and other hardcore/punk bands of the era.

If I owe my style of playing to any one thing, it’s Bad Brains’ “ROIR” cassette. Playing along to that album taught me fluidity. That foundation of playing along with being moved by aggressive music with melody probably put me on maybe a different path than others at the time, my writing heavily influenced by the likes of Bad Brains, J. F.A, Metallica, Voivod, Megadeth, Testament, and later, heavier hardcore bands like Burn, Chain Of Strength, and Strongarm.

Regarding transitioning from an observer to a participant — that seemed the natural course for me. I was always drumming along, using drumsticks on a mattress, to the music I loved, “Red Hot” by Motley Crüe being a favorite of mine to play on the mattress. Upon first sitting behind a real drum kit, instinctively I had a rudimentary understanding of how to play. Once I knew I could play, I couldn’t not play. And once I
started actually creating music, I was hooked.

Are there any particular sonic touchstones in your heavy metal or hardcore past to which you see Zombie Apocalypse paying homage?

The genres of thrash metal and hardcore/punk. In a word, crossover. But not to any bands in particular, aside from the cumulative influences I previously mentioned and the influences of the others in the band.

Coincidentally, however, “Bullshit Destroyer,” does remind me of Napalm Death. And we did refer to the slow riff in “Undead Burnbrght” as the Black Sabbath riff for a while even though it doesn’t sound much like them at all. I also have a new riff that reminds me of Metallica, but that’s bound to happen. Practically unavoidable.

Aside from the number of songs, what do you think sets Life… apart from the previous Zombie Apocalypse EPs?

This record keeps you guessing musically. You never know where we’re headed from song to song as they all vary in sound and style. We’ve flirted with variety before, primarily with the song “Tale Told By A Dead Man” and the split release Tales Told By Dead Men, but Life Without Pain… takes deeper and divergent leaps into thrash, punk, and grind — much more so than we ever have before. And, indeed, as you mentioned, this release does have the most songs compared to our others — ten songs clocking in at a whopping fifteen minutes!

What did producer John Naclerio bring to the table?

As long as I’ve been recording, I still don’t know shit about mixing and music production… All I can say is John has always done great work with us. We recorded This Is A Spark Of Life and our Guns N’ Roses cover with him way back when.
and, most importantly, we enjoy working with him. Life Without Pain… is easily our cleanest and best sounding release to date, thanks to John and his excellent mixing, mastering, and production skills. There’s already talk of another release, and I’m sure we’ll be working with John again.

I admire willingness to let it take however long it takes complete a collection of songs — no one would accuse you of being on the “normal” album cycle treadmill. You don’t have any bad apples in your legacy barrel, so to speak. But I am curious if
that’s been a difficult path to navigate, either out of fan/label pressure or your own desire to have material out there?

Procrastinating is second nature — first nature, really — to me; it’s a very easy path for me to navigate. Ha! But seriously folks, we’ve never had any label pressure. We’ve always been let alone to write and sit on our songs for as long as we felt we needed to, which sometimes isn’t such a great move, truth be told. Thinking of people who may have long waited for new material, I’ll admit both Hulud and Zombie may have done themselves a disservice by the long gaps in-between releases. Had either band adhered to the typical album cycle, maybe we would have been better served, Having our names fresher with more consistency. For a myriad of reasons, it just never happened
that way.

Speaking for Zombie Apocalypse, it’s doubtful our next release will take an inordinate
amount of time to be realized. But who knows what life will throw at us. Zombie not being a full-time band and not counting on itself to support its members makes it much easier to not feel pressure about the timeline of our releases. Overall, I’ve never felt the need to rush just to have something out.

Zombie Apocalypse has an amazing show with Vio-lence booked later this year. How active are you planning to be after the record release?

It was more amazing before Slayer announced they are playing Madison Square Garden the
same night we play with Vio-Lence in Brooklyn! Maybe we can combine shows! Ha!

I would love for Zombie to be active somewhat regularly. How active we will actually be is tough to say. I guess it depends on how much of a demand there is. I can’t imagine our door will be broken down to play live consistently. Additionally, the three core members are all involved with other aspects of life. As much as I would love to conclusively say we’ll be able to play regularly and in other areas outside our own, things are stacked against us. That’s not to say we won’t try or entertain opportunities. Anything is possible, and I can tell you in theory we would all love to be an active band, and hope to play all across the US and other continents.

Finally, gotta ask: What’s the status of Shai Hulud?

I appreciate you asking, thank you. Shai Hulud has very tentative plans for some shows next year. I would love for them to happen, and it’s highly possible they will. We’ll keep everyone updated on our social media pages.

Though I would never consider the band as broken up, as far as a new album is concerned, there are no plans. At this point, I couldn’t say whether or not there ever will be. Is it possible? Absolutely. It’s also equally possible the unused material written for Shai Hulud could materialize under a different name altogether. I really don’t know for sure. But, again, in regard to new recordings, there are currently no plans.

Lastly on this subject, I don’t ever intend on ending Shai Hulud — universe willing. Playing sporadic shows and limited touring would be lovely. For those interested in the band, please stay connected with us on our social media pages and hopefully we’ll see you soon.

May love and misanthropy be with you.