"I remember driving round listening to Jane Doe by Converge and being so inspired": How members of Biffy Clyro, Oceansize and Slayer teamed up to make one of 2023's most extreme metal debuts

Empire State Bastard
(Image credit: Press)

We'd heard rumours of an extreme metal project from members of Biffy Clyro, but the cat was finally let out of the bag in March. 

Empire State Bastard is the brainchild of Biffy frontman Simon Neil and the band’s live guitarist and former Oceansize man Mike Vennart, with the pair joined by bassist Naomi Macleod of Bitch Falcon and thrash legend Dave Lombardo on drums. We grilled Simon and Mike about their debut album. 

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You have said you were influenced by everything from Slayer and Mr. Bungle to Siege. How keen were you to get to the heaviest point possible? 

Mike Vennart: “I think you just make what you make. I started writing riffs with a specific vibe in mind; Siege were a big influence – although I’m not a big hardcore guy, I kept coming back to those riffs. I had a nasty experience with the far right and it made me so angry. I channelled that into music. That fast, detuned metal thing was all I felt. I was inspired.” 

Simon Neil: “When Mike started sending me stuff, some of it was a bit [UK experimental group] Cardiacs and some was a bit [US post-hardcore band] Blood Brothers. When he got into that mindset he hunkered down and was writing this incredibly intense music.”

How did this project come together? 

Simon: “We’d often sit up and listen to the most extreme music possible. The old Subterranea part of Hammer would turn me on the most, because it was just the most revolting music. Initially we were gonna just try and be this pure mathcore thing, but we didn’t want to stick to a conceit of what this should be. As men who’ve spent our entire lives in bands, let’s have all of the influences come in. At first, we didn’t have much time, but the pandemic opened up this gaping wound in our schedule and we started to take the idea more seriously. It felt like the healthiest thing to do was to pour that poison into this music.” 

There’s a lot of material from over that time knocking about, then? 

Simon: “Definitely, but these are the 12 songs that we felt were the most together. The riffs and the energy have been pouring out of Mike; I kept getting all this gold from him and we felt like we had to give it oxygen. The hardest thing, to be honest, has been keeping this stuff to ourselves.”

This sounds like far more than just a supergroup or a side-project. 

Simon: “It absolutely is; we don’t want to just tour it for a month and then leave it. This matters to us. Initially it was a flight of fancy from five or 10 years ago, but now it feels really essential. I remember driving round my hometown listening to Jane Doe by Converge and just being so inspired by it, and thinking, ‘One day, I’ll make a record like this!’ and that’s what this is: it’s a return to our first love. But Mike is really the driving force behind it all.” 

And it really sounds savage. You guys are clearly more familiar with heavy music than many people who listen to your day jobs might have assumed. 

Mike: “Yeah. A lot of the modern metal that I get exposed to, it’s just not heavy to me. It’s too perfect – what I call CGI metal. It’s neat little packages, it has no intensity, and fuck me, just turn on the news and look at what is going on in the world! A Radiohead album can’t cure you of feeling angry about some of the things going on, but a good metal band, a real hardcore band, it’s tantric. You can push through and feel energised by it, rather than have it all collapse in, and that was the aim for me. Can we create that necessary intensity? I think we have.”

Empire State Bastard's debut album Rivers Of Heresy is due September 1. Read more about the album in the new issue of Metal Hammer, on-sale now.

Empire State Bastard feature Metal Hammer 378

(Image credit: Future)
Stephen Hill

Since blagging his way onto the Hammer team a decade ago, Stephen has written countless features and reviews for the magazine, usually specialising in punk, hardcore and 90s metal, and still holds out the faint hope of one day getting his beloved U2 into the pages of the mag. He also regularly spouts his opinions on the Metal Hammer Podcast.