At the start of 2020, Cage Fight vocalist Rachel Aspe was restless and unhappy. It had been three years since the dissolution of the French singer’s previous band, Eths, and now the world was on the brink of a global pandemic.
“It was lockdown and I was super-frustrated to not be in a band,” she says. “I was doing nothing. I just started trying to do some covers and put them out on the internet.”
At the same time, on the other side of the English Channel, James Monteith had a musical itch of his own that he was aching to scratch. As the guitarist with Tesseract since 2006, he’d spent a decade and a half on the prog-metal frontlines. But now he wanted to play something simple, direct and brutal – the exact opposite of his day job.
“I have a real love for aggressive, hard riffs and visceral power,” he says. “When I was young I got into bands like Hatebreed and Terror. Jon [Reid, Cage Fight bassist] and I had been getting together to write some stuff, have a few beers and have fun playing this music we loved.”
Their worlds collided in early 2021, when James saw a YouTube video of Rachel covering The Black Dahlia Murder’s Statutory Ape. The singer had actually appeared on the French edition of The Voice in 2012, blindsiding the judges with a fearsome rendition of a song by Swiss industrial-metallers Sybreed, but this was next-level stuff. Figuring her vocals could work well with the music he and Jon were writing, he sent her a demo of one of their tracks.
“He said, ‘You might not like it,’” says Rachel, whose intricate ink gives away the fact that she’s also a qualified tattooist. “But I listened to it and I loved it. I thought it was really original. I was sick of being sent typical deathcore.”
“She sent it back with her vocal on it, and that was when I realised we were really onto something,” says James.
She was right to be excited. As songs such as Hope Castrated and Shine Don’t Fade show, Cage Fight weld together the best parts of their influences to create a set of modern metallic hardcore bangers that’ll appeal as much to hardcore kids as they do grizzled thrash vets. “We aim for the brutality of Hatebreed, the rhythmic propulsion of Rage Against The Machine and the speed of Slayer,” James tells us.
It’s more than just the desire to be in another band that’s prompted the members to pursue Cage Fight further. As James explains, their classic-sounding, old-school hardcore and crossover thrash sound gives them the perfect outlet to vent their collective frustrations at the state of society.
“It’s driven by the frustrations that we have in the world right now,” says the guitarist. “Tesseract are a very apolitical band, but with this music we have all been able to pour in ideas about things that piss us off. We touch on the state of politics in the UK, and around the world, we have an anti-monarchist song, we had so much inside us that we wrote an album in six months. It all just clicked between us, musically and thematically; we had the same ideas about what this band should be saying.”
James insists he’s not worried that Cage Fight might alienate any Tesseract fans who like that band precisely because they check their politics at the door, and he’s not going to dilute Cage Fight’s message for anyone.
“Thrash and hardcore are very direct styles of music,” he says. “There’s no beating around the bush. There’s no multiple layers or depths to get lost in, it’s the perfect music to get a message across. Yes, we make angry music, so we’re going to have an angry message. Look, we have a t-shirt with Boris Johnson getting punched in the face, and we see a pretty big spike in sales every time he misbehaves. We’re not sugarcoating anything for anyone.”
While it’s Rachel who delivers this unsugared pill in a throat-shredding roar, all the members of Cage Fight pitch in with the lyrical message.
“English isn’t my first language, so I maybe don’t have the vocabulary to express that as well as the other guys,” says Rachel. “But I talk a lot about my frustrations, and the guys take that into consideration when they are coming up with lyrics. In a way I like the fact that I’m playing this part and being the one who gets to find the voice for all of the things that make us so angry.”
It’s an approach that is working well. The band’s upcoming self-titled album delivers on the promise of furious crossover thrashcore with a political conscience, while the bandmembers’ chemistry has proven so strong that Rachel has even relocated to the UK.
“It’s been wild,” she smiles. “A year ago I had no idea what I was going to do with my life and now I’m in a different country, with a new band, a record deal and an album that I’m really proud of. It’s no exaggeration to say that this band’s completely changed my life.”
Cage Fight’s self-titled debut album is released on May 13 via Candlelight