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Loathe want to change metal. But does metal want to change?

Loathe
(Image credit: John McMurtrie)

Drake changed Loathe guitarist and co-vocalist Erik Bickerstaffe’s life on the 10A bus from St Helens to Liverpool. Granted, the Canadian rapper wasn’t physically there on the seat next to him as they chugged through Dovecot and Knotty Ash, but his creative spirit was.

It was 2014, and Erik was still a member of Our Imbalance, the band that acted as a precursor to Loathe. Until that point, he had been a militant metalcore fan: if it wasn’t Attack Attack! or We Came As Romans, he wasn’t interested. “I was: ‘Fuck hip hop, fuck country music, fuck Behemoth, fuck everything else,’” he says.

That bus ride upended everything. “I was like, ‘Actually, I’m bored of this Attack Attack! album, I’m going to listen to Nothing Was The Same by Drake,’” he says. “I didn’t know any of his music, didn’t care about that stuff. But the artwork interested me.”

As Erik listened to Drizzy’s 2013 high water mark, the scales fell from his eyes. There was more to life than crabcore and sideswept fringes. In fact, there was a whole world out there that he’d shut himself off from.

That literal journey was the start of a longer metaphorical one that changed the direction of Erik’s life and that of his band. Walls crumbled, boundaries dissolved and a whole new future opened up in front of them. It has brought the Merseysiders to a place today where they’re not only the most exhilarating young band in Britain, they’re doing more than most to drag metal into a future it doesn’t know it needs to be in. In a scene that can get wrapped up in its own comfort zone, Loathe are agents of change.

“I sometimes feel like people see us in a light that we’re not,” says Erik. “I don’t see us as a metalcore band. I don’t see us as a metal band. We came from that world, and maybe we have traits that connect us to it, but that isn’t what this band is. We don’t want to be pigeonholed.”

“We want to try anything, but keep it within the realm of Loathe,” says his bandmate, singer Kadeem France.

And what is the realm of Loathe?

Kadeem mulls it over for a few seconds, and then a few seconds more. “I’ll get back to you on that,” he says.

Loathe

(Image credit: John McMurtrie)

Loathe have released two of the most striking albums of the last few years. The first was 2020’s I Let It In And It Took Everything, a record that felt like 49 minutes and 19 seconds of evolution in action. The second was last February’s out-of-the-blue The Things They Believe, which dispensed entirely with metal’s defining characteristics – guitar, drums and vocals – in favour of meditative electronic ambience. It was released alongside candles and incense for the full mid-lockdown flotation tank experience.

“It is an experience, man, 100%,” says Kadeem. “We want people to live in the universe of Loathe. For us, this has always been just bigger than a band.”

We’re sitting in a dimly lit East London pub amid the bustle of an early evening drinking crowd. The four members of Loathe – Erik and Kadeem plus bassist Feisal El-Khazragi and drummer Sean Radcliffe – still sport the stylish black suits they wore for Metal Hammer’s cover shoot. They look like designer blags. “I wish,” says Kadeem, laughing. “It’s all ASOS. Cheap.”

The suits are more than just an image. They’re a signifier of who Loathe are, an against-the-grain uniform designed to set them apart. “Our original style started to get so played out within the scene, so we thought, ‘OK, let’s try something different,’” says Kadeem. “We’re big on rebranding ourselves when we get to a certain stage.”

As the clothes indicate, Loathe present themselves as a unit. Songwriting is collective and collaborative. No one is wedded to their instruments, at least in the studio (Kadeem might play the drums; Sean sometimes plays guitar; they all pitch in with loops, beats and electronic textures).

Today, though, it’s just Erik (long-haired, bespectacled) and Kadeem (tall, dreads tied up) on the other side of the tape recorder, albeit separately. The former is focussed, attentive and not short of confidence in his band’s abilities. “Do I know how good we are?” he says at one point. “Yes.” 

In Kadeem’s telling, Erik is Loathe’s arse-kicker-in- chief. “He’s non-stop, constant,” says Kadeem. “You need someone who’s going to do that. If Erik wasn’t giving us a kick up the arse, no one would.”

But Erik is a worrier too. “I’m the one that’s there hunched over and fiddling with stuff and worried that things aren’t right: ‘Oh, that graphic might be a little too far to the left,’” he says. But I just think, ‘We’ve got something special, don’t fuck it up.’ Kadeem lets things flow over him more. It seems that he enjoys everything.”

This is true. The singer seems more at ease in himself than his bandmate. It could be something that was instilled by an early career in the performing arts. He was a child actor who did work as an extra in Grange Hill and Hollyoaks, as well as appearing in several pantomimes. “I was Happy in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs,” he says without a twinge of embarrassment.

He still has a hankering to return to the theatre at some point. Not long ago, his agent got in touch with him and asked if he wanted to audition for anything, a by-product of his raised profile. “I’d like to think I could do two things at once, like Jared Leto or something,” he says. Then he adds: “I’m not saying I want to be Jared Leto, but it’s doable. One thing would help the other.”

But all that’s for the future. For the now, Kadeem and Erik are focused entirely on Loathe. “There are times when I think, ‘Why aren’t we further along in our career?’” says Erik. “Then I realise what we’ve achieved so far, and it blows my mind.”

Loathe

(Image credit: Kevin Nixon)

Kadeem France first crossed paths with Erik Bickerstaffe in a Funeral For A Friend moshpit in 2011. “This is a shit pit,” Erik told the lanky kid he’d just bumped into. “Do you want to start another?”

They did, but it would be another few months before the pair met properly. Kadeem was drumming in local metalcore outfit Escapists. When they turned up to record a session at the house of someone a friend had told them about, it turned out to be the guy from the moshpit. “Even then, I thought he was the most incredible musician I’d ever met,” says Kadeem. “I still do to this day.”

Erik grew up in St Helens, 10 miles east of Liverpool, playing in school bands and at his local church (his mother is devoutly religious; Erik no longer considers himself a Christian). By his teens, he had his own group, Our Imbalance. “Crabcore, skinny jeans,” he says with a laugh. “We wanted to be the new Attack Attack!”

Kadeem came from the working class Liverpool suburb of Toxteth. “It was a rough area, but I feel lucky to have grown up there,” he says. “Liverpool’s a very white city, but Toxteth is a very multicultural place. I felt comfortable there.”

Kadeem’s dad wasn’t around growing up, a subject he addressed on Loathe’s single Two-Way Mirror. He was raised by his mum and his grandad. “He was pretty much my dad,” he says. Kadeem and his father have since reconciled; the pair were up all night drinking following Loathe’s last London gig pre-lockdown, in February 2020.

Kadeem devoured hip hop as a kid before pivoting to heavy music after hearing friends jam in the school music room. “I went from hip hop to ‘Metal, metal, metal, metal!’” he says. “I didn’t listen to anything else for years. 

He says that he stuck out like a sore thumb in Toxteth. “I had a massive afro, and I’d straighten it down to the point where I’d have a side fringe and all of that,” he says. “I’d get a few dirty looks. It was unheard of for a black kid to listen to metal.” By contrast, the metal scene was welcoming. “No one cared about where you came from or what you were wearing,” he says. “We all just had this love for the music.”

Kadeem left Escapists in 2011, and joined Our Imbalance the following year. The latter released an EP before changing their name to Loathe; by then Sean Radcliffe was also onboard. “That was the big leap forward,” says Kadeem of the name change. “That’s when we started to think the sky was the limit with what we could do.”

Their first EP under their new name, 2015’s Prepare Consume Proceed, featured Kadeem in a Slipknot-esque hockey mask on the cover. As of right now, it’s the last clichéd thing Loathe did.

We need to talk about The Death Of Genre. It’s a notion that’s central to what Loathe are about. If their 2017 debut album, The Cold Sun, still bore metalcore’s DNA, I Let It In And It Took Everything was partly an exercise in dismantling boundaries and The Things They Believe went even further. 

“A lot of people don’t do much with their music,” says Erik. “They stay in one lane. We don’t want to do that. The idea of the ‘genre’ is dying.”

He says “a lot of people”, but he could be saying “a lot of people within the metal scene.” For much of its 50-year lifespan, metal has followed the set of holy scriptures pinned on the inside of the walled garden in which it exists: thou shalt sound like this; thou shalt not work with people like that; thou shalt never, ever cross the streams.

Recently, though, things have started to shift. A generation of heavy bands are cracking open the gates and letting everything flood in and wash over them. Loathe are right there, front and centre. Erik has been listening to ABBA and Simply Red recently. “Holding Back The Years,” he says admiringly of the latter’s sappy 1985 blue-eyed-soul hit, a song released several years before he was born. “I really want us to do a ballad. I don’t think you should ever rule anything out.”

Unsurprisingly, the rest of the band think along the same lines. Kadeem would love to collaborate with rapper Earl Sweatshirt or psychedelic hip hop/jazz guru Flying Lotus. “We want to try a lot of different things we wouldn’t be allowed to get away with in the metal world,” he says. “It feels like we can be anything we want.”

They’ve had little pushback from their own fans, but they know there’ll be resistance from sections of the wider community. “Change is inevitable and it’s good, especially in a genre like metal that isn’t as successful commercially as it could or should be,” says Erik. “Bringing in influences from other genres and blending them into metal is going to broaden the landscape, and broaden the people who are into it. People won’t like it for a while, but I believe it’s necessary.”

Other people have recognised this in Loathe. In 2020, Deftones frontman Chino Moreno gave the band his papal blessing. “This song is better than all your stupid music and mine,” he said, posting a link to the video of Two-Way Mirror, blowing Loathe’s collective minds (Deftones are an acknowledged influence; their thumbprint is visible on I Let It In And It Took Everything).

As we speak, Loathe are in the early stages of writing material for their next album, though they’re frustratingly cagey about what it will sound like. Or maybe they just don’t know themselves. 

“I like our music being a mystery box,” says Erik. “I like people not knowing what it’s going to be. We don’t want it to be: [causally] ‘Oh, here’s another song, here’s an album.’ These are offerings from us that are very personal and take a lot of time to create. It actually hurts to take it out of us sometimes. If we just put it out there willy-nilly, it decreases the value.”

Kadeem is marginally more illuminating on where Loathe are heading next. “It’s way more raw, but it’s not stuff a typical, quote-unquote, metal band would go for.”

Will it come out in 2022? “I don’t want to say yes,” says Erik firmly. Then he gives in. “But it’s probable.”

It’s getting late and Loathe have to get a train back up north. We finish our drinks and shake hands. Then Kadeem remembers something.

“That thing you asked about what is ‘the Realm of Loathe?’,” he says. “It changes all the time. I feel like we’re never really the same band for more than two years, or more than a year even. We’re just continually evolving. And it feels like we’re going through that metamorphosis right now.”

And with that, Loathe head out into the night, and into whatever future they decide. 

Metal Hammer line break

Dave Everley has been writing about and occasionally humming along to music since the early 90s. During that time, he has been Deputy Editor on Kerrang! and Classic Rock, Associate Editor on Q magazine and staff writer/tea boy on Raw, not necessarily in that order. He has written for Metal Hammer, Louder, Prog, the Observer, Select, Mojo, the Evening Standard and the totally legendary Ultrakill. He is still waiting for Billy Gibbons to send him a bottle of hot sauce he was promised several years ago.