Bullet For My Valentine: Fang Warfare

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No other British metal band since Maiden have come close to the explosive rise experienced by Bullet For My Valentine.

Whatever you may think of them, the fact is that, after that first, self-titled EP set the UK underground ablaze 11 years ago, Bullet became, quite frankly, fucking unstoppable. Cynics who sneered at the ‘Next Metallica!’-isms splattered all over the rock press’s pages looked on in horror as the Welsh foursome shot up festival bills, blazed through charts and headlined venues most metal bands wouldn’t even bother dreaming of. The Mean Fiddler became The Astoria. The Astoria became Brixton. Brixton became Wembley. World domination wasn’t so much imminent as already in the bag. Their fans adored them. Their haters couldn’t touch them. Nothing could derail them.

That all changed two years ago.

“It was inevitable,” admits frontman Matt Tuck today, as we chat to the band on the sunny rooftop of Hammer HQ. “Everyone – me included – took everything for granted and lost perspective on what’s important. In a way, it was tainted before it had even begun…”

Let’s backtrack a moment. At the end of 2012, Bullet had finally wrapped up the wildly successful but physically gruelling touring cycle for their chart-smashing third album, Fever. Faced with a band that was totally knackered and beset with personal, generally alcohol-fuelled issues, Matt made the contentious decision to abscond to Thailand with drummer Michael ‘Moose’ Thomas to write and record the follow-up, leaving his fellow axeman Michael ‘Padge’ Paget and then-bassist Jason ‘Jay’ James at home in the UK. Eyebrows were raised before a note had even been written. And the result? The big aforementioned “it”: Temper Temper.

Otherwise known as the album that finally threw the previously unrockable Bullet train off course.

“When things need to be done, I’m not afraid of making decisions that aren’t going to be popular,” asserts Matt defiantly, on his decision to split the band in two. “It’s always in the interest of and for the good of the band, not just me as an individual, and there were certain things going on that people needed to sort out. That was more important than anything, but at the same time, we needed to get work done.”

Ultimately, though, the results were far from enthralling; Temper Temper was met with a lukewarm response from critics and fans alike, halting the band’s impressive upwards chart trajectories for the first time and throwing a rare moment of doubt into the minds of those who had fanatically supported them from the start.

“It really pissed me off, to be honest,” admits Padge now. “Being told over email that you’re not going to Thailand to record an album with your band… I’m sure it’d piss anyone off. I was fucking confused, hurt, and just didn’t understand it. Do I think it was for the best in the long run? No, I don’t, because [our momentum] kinda levelled off.”

“It was weird,” admits Moose of recording Temper Temper without his compadres. “I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to be writing and recording an album, anyway. Me and Matt were getting on, but I felt bad for Padge and Jay.”

That Padge and Moose are now willing to openly talk about the negative particulars of that recording process in such a relaxed manner suggests that some much-needed issues have finally been put to bed – something confirmed by Padge when he makes a point of adding that the guys “patched things up” and that he doesn’t “wanna dwell on the bad times because it’s so good now”. That they also still stand by Temper Temper as an album – “It wasn’t a bad album, it was just done the wrong way,” offers Moose, while Matt goes one further, adding, “I still think it’s a great album, but people wanted something heavier” – speaks similar volumes of the bandmates’ willingness to sing from the same hymn sheet once again. Nonetheless, it’d be churlish to ignore the reaction that greeted the album – or the ultra-polished, chart-chasing sheen that it so blatantly strove toward. Just what the hell were they thinking?

“It’s just aiming for the stars, really,” concedes Matt of Temper Temper’s streamlined sound. “Being a bit braver than your average metal band. I’ve never put anything onto a record that I wasn’t genuinely, hand-on-heart proud of. Temper Temper is what we did. It was a speed bump, but it turned out for the best because of what happened next.”

What happened next may well have been the lift that saved Bullet For My Valentine from slipping back down metal’s hierarchal ladder and into oblivion. Prompted by the public’s response to Temper Temper, the band reconvened ahead of their December 2013 UK arena tour, jumping into west London’s famed Metropolis Studios to bust out another brand new track. Titled Raising Hell, it was a shameless leap back into heavier territories, and while Matt insists today that recording the track was “just something we wanted to do”, those disheartened by Bullet’s latest album were nonetheless suddenly given a reason to show interest again. As it turns out, it set one hell of a precedent for the next chapter in the BFMV story, as the band re-entered Metropolis with previous Bullet producer Colin Richardson, full of fire and determined to get back to work. In short, it was time to bring back some Venom.

“We knew we wanted a heavy, aggressive record,” reaffirms Padge, reflecting the harder-better-faster-stronger mentality that has become the lads’ motto ever since they started writing and recording their fifth album. “But, we didn’t know until a few key songs came around that it was gonna be a fucking belter! We spent so long making sure that every note was right and every harmony was correct. We had to be confident going into the studio to just blast it all out, and that’s exactly what happened.”

“We’ve found that fire and anger we need to make a great fucking record,” Matt agrees.

If Venom is the main event to Raising Hell’s promising prelude, then fans whose hopes have been raised again are likely to feel rewarded. From the ferocious opening barbs of lead single No Way Out, there’s no doubting that this isn’t only a far heavier beast than its predecessor, it’s much, much better; more focused, more in line with Bullet’s earlier albums and bursting with confidence. While some of Matt’s lyrics stray into typically angsty territory that won’t do much to win over his detractors (lines like ‘These scars won’t heal’ packing more than a sniff of self-pity, in fairness), they do at least reflect a man who’s single-minded about what fans want from a Bullet For My Valentine album. Crucially, his admission that it’s taken Temper Temper to rediscover what that is indicates how much the singer has grown into his role as the band’s Commander-In-Chief.

“I’m still learning how to do my job, even now,” he admits. “I’ve always been a Mr Know-It-All, and in the last three or four years my eyes have definitely opened to the fact that I’m not perfect.”

Indeed, the Matt Tuck of 2015 is a refreshingly open, no-nonsense character, far removed from his reputation as being difficult, defensive and overly precious. There’s a touch of wariness about him, sure, but then this is a man who’s been shouldering responsibility for the 21st century’s biggest metal band for over a decade now – not to mention remaining a bullseye for much of the delirious hatred that is still regularly spewed Bullet’s way.

“Being in a band like this, you’re automatically up for being shot at, and you have to take it on the chin sometimes,” he shrugs on the subject of ‘da haterz’. So he’s not in the business of kicking off when someone cusses him or his band any more?

“It depends on what’s being said and how it’s said,” he offers. “I don’t mind anyone being critical, but when you’ve got people being derogatory and sarcastic… it’s like, ‘Fuck you, man. If you’ve got something to say, that’s cool, but have a little bit of tact and respect.’”

“It must be hard for Matt, and he does take it quite personally,” adds Moose, thoughtfully. “I read the comments on Facebook, and there are some people who are just fucking cowards. They wanna slag us off, and that’s fair enough, but sometimes there’s no need to go into such depth on that stuff.”

If Matt is protective of Bullet, then it’s fair to say that his bandmates are every bit as protective of the man Padge describes as their “General”. “Bullet’s his baby,” stresses the guitarist, “and we’ve all grown with the band looking up to Matt and trusting his decisions. We all respect him for what he does, and being the main songwriter, he must have a clearer vision of where he wants to take Bullet.” He pauses with a smirk, before adding, “But, yeah, he’s a bit of a hard-ass sometimes. Ha ha ha!”

With camaraderie at an all-time high and a new album in the ranks that should win back a fair few doubters, it seems like life is finally good again in the Bullet camp. There is, however, a rather noticeable elephant currently tap-dancing its way across the roof terrace. Metal Hammer was specifically asked by the band’s PR not to enquire about what happened with Jay, whose departure from the fold was announced in February. While his replacement, ex-Revoker man Jamie Mathias, has evidently helped in revitalising the band, with Padge in particular noting that the new boy is “stepping up everyone’s game”, it would be unbecoming of us to not at least poke the lads for an answer on the one casualty who didn’t make it out of the Temper Temper era.

“Everyone’s just moved on from it now,” shrugs Matt, an air of nonchalance creeping back into his voice. “We have said what we wanted to say. Jamie is here now and we’re moving on.”

If that is as far as Bullet are willing to delve back into the past for now, then what about the future? Is Venom the album that’ll put Bullet back on track for greatness?

“We’re still hungry,” insists Padge. “We levelled off on the last record, so with this new one we wanna start pushing again.”

“It’s no holds barred now,” adds Moose with a grin. “We took a dip, and hopefully this album’s gonna take us where we should be.”

And where is that, exactly?

“If we don’t go anywhere else and we stay at Wembley level, then hey-ho, I’m not gonna lose any sleep!” Matt reassures us with a chuckle. “But the sights are set on the O2, and we still wanna headline Download and all the big European festivals. We’re focused, and we’re determined. There are still some boxes left unticked, and there’s no fucking way we’re stopping until they are.”

Given what they’ve achieved thus far, you’d be hard-pressed to argue with the man.

VENOM IS OUT AUGUST 14 VIA RCA. BULLET FOR MY VALENTINE TOUR THE UK IN OCTOBER

MEET THE NEW GUY

New bassist Jamie has known the Bullet boys a lot longer than you might think.

SO WHAT HAPPENED WITH REVOKER, THEN? THEY WERE TIPPED FOR BIG THINGS…

“We had a deal with Roadrunner! There was a bit of hype, everyone was on board… then what happened with the label [downsizing] meant that they couldn’t push us like they wanted to.”

YOU’VE KNOWN SOME OF THE BULLET GUYS FOR AGES, RIGHT?

“Yeah, I’ve actually been friends with Padge for years! When everything happened with Revoker [ending], I had to get a job working at a car shop in Cardiff. I was working a night shift in the car shop one night and I was miserable, and Padge texted me asking if I wanted to audition for Bullet. So I sent over three songs, the boys liked them, and now here I am!”

WERE YOU A BIG BULLET FAN GROWING UP?

“Yeah, absolutely. I was 14 years old when the first album [2005’s The Poison] came out, and that was the album in my school. I remember that the first time I saw Bullet For My Valentine, I was on a family holiday in Florida, and I saw that they were playing the House Of Blues. I was 16 then, and I managed to meet Matt outside, and I said to him, ‘In the future, you’re gonna hear my band!’ To now be part of his band is just nuts.”