Malevolence: how the band behind 2023's most viral mosh pit took 17 years to become an overnight sensation

(Image credit: Malevolence/Nuclear Blast)

Malevolence’s Alex Taylor is glaring balefully at the crowd in front of him. It’s a chilly Sunday evening in January, and the singer and his band are opening for Trivium at London’s Hammersmith Apollo. For many, this would be a thankless gig. But not for Malevolence. 

“I know it’s a Sunday night and I know it’s fucking early, but you people in the middle, I need to see something special,” Alex barks. “Open the whole fucking floor up right now. Push it back! Push it back! Push it back!” 

As Malevolence launch into a lacerating version of the title track from 2017’s Self Supremacy album, the crowd obey his orders. Suddenly, the entire floor of the Apollo is transformed into a maelstrom of flesh and sweat. Bodies collide with each other. In the middle of this melee, a dude with another dude on his back begins spinning round and round. On the ground next to him, someone begins doing push-ups. It’s carnage, in the best possible way. 

Within 24 hours, camera phone footage of the scene has gone viral. Social media timelines are filled with posts of the ‘Can you believe this?’ variety. Trivium may have headlined the show, but it’s Malevolence who are grabbing the headlines. 

“You know what, I’m surprised that it took so long for one of our pits to go viral, because we’ve been doing this for the last two years,” says Alex. 

It’s a week later, and we’re sitting with the singer and guitarists Konan Hall and Josh Baines on the band’s tour bus, parked outside Prague’s Fórum Karlín, where the Sheffield band – completed by bassist Wilkie Robinson and drummer Charlie Thorpe – are due to play in a few hours. 

“It’s sick that it got the attention it did, but we did it at Ally Pally, Download and Bloodstock,” continues Alex. “It’s become a thing: that part in the Malevolence set where you get your steps in! Ha ha ha!”

When Hammer meets Malevolence in Prague, they have been on the road with Trivium for nearly two weeks, and they’ve got another month to go (Obituary and Heaven Shall Burn are also on this four-band bill). Luckily, they’re travelling in something approaching comfort. The communal space on their tourbus has leather seats and mahogany furnishings. Alex’s PS4 is plugged into a wall-mounted TV. It all screams ‘band on a serious career upswing.’ 

If that’s the case, it’s been a long time coming. Malevolence are a 17-year overnight sensation. They have been blasting out brutal, barrel-chested noise since their original incarnation formed in 2006 (they ‘officially’ became the Malevolence we know today when Alex joined in 2010). They’ve perfected their mix of distorted groove metal, relentless metalcore and vein-bulging hardcore across three albums, the most recent being 2022’s stellar Malicious Intent

Their music demands participation, from moshing to headbanging to the kind of epic pits that end up going viral. “As soon as I heard [2020 single] Keep Your Distance, I was like, ‘This is fucking insane!,’” says Trivium’s Matt Heafy. “No one is doing what Malevolence are doing right now. They’re an amazing fusion of crossover hardcore and metal. Josh has told me, ‘We’re a metal band,’ but Alex and his style and sound bring in hardcore. It’s a fusion that doesn’t come out as ‘metalcore’ as we know it.”

The Trivium frontman isn’t the only one who knows how good this band really are. Alex Taylor knows it too. “I think we deserve to be one of those bands that is a household metal name,” he says with casual confidence. “When you think of metal, you think of Malevolence. We want to be up there with your Lamb Of Gods and Hatebreeds.” 

Progress towards that lofty goal truly started as the pandemic hit hard. Although Malevolence had released two albums before then, 2013’s Reign Of Suffering and 2017’s Self Supremacy, it was April 2020’s The Other Side EP that reached the furthest. It dropped just weeks after the UK entered lockdown, a time when people needed cathartic music, and lead single Keep Your Distance subsequently soared its way to millions of Spotify streams. 

Once Covid restrictions were lifted in 2021, Malevolence made their mark on British metal’s big three festivals: the Download Pilot, Slam Dunk and Bloodstock. A stint opening for Architects in arenas followed in early 2022. 

“We went into the pandemic playing 500-capacity rooms, then all of a sudden were playing to 10,000 at the Download Pilot and going on an arena tour,” says Alex. “We started playing bigger shows and by no means took any of it for granted.” 

Malevolence live 2023

(Image credit: Jake Owens)

As grateful as he claims to be, Alex admits that the decade between him joining Malevolence and their post-pandemic upswing was frustrating. As we talk about the band’s origins – they were formed by Wilkie and Charlie when the pair were just 11 – a hint of exasperation creeps into his voice. 

“It’s a conversation we’ve had with people for six, seven years,” he says. “We’ve been grinding for a long time and I feel like there’s an element of not getting that recognition.” 

Talk of the buzz currently surrounding British metal – from the success of relative veterans such as Bleed From Within to the excitement surrounding new bands like Loathe, Sleep Token and Conjurer – only aggravates his agitation. 

“I feel like we’ve been at the forefront of the ‘new new wave of British heavy metal’ [for years] and don’t necessarily get the props we deserve,” he says. 

His gripes are understandable. Malevolence spent most of their first decade grinding away on metal’s frontlines with some recognition but little reward. 

They started out playing bars and clubs in their native Sheffield, occasionally travelling further afield to nearby towns such as Doncaster and Leeds. Their first two albums came out on underground labels Siege Of Amida Records and Beatdown Hardwear Records, but they eventually started their own imprint, MLVLTD, because, says Alex, “we couldn’t get any offers from any good labels”. (Malicious Intent is licensed by independent powerhouse Nuclear Blast). The nadir came in 2018, when the band embarked on longer tours in support of Self Supremacy

“We did four weeks in America, slept in a van for 22 nights straight, ate only takeaway food and didn’t even make enough money to pay for our visas,” says Konan. It didn’t help that they weren’t exactly looking after themselves at the time. 

“We went on a five-week tour [of Europe], and I broke my ankle on the second day and got wasted every day,” remembers Konan. “When we were in Prague on that tour, we walked out of a bar so hammered that, that night, we played the worst show we’ve ever played. I couldn’t tell you to this day what I was playing, and I saw Charlie crawl to his drum kit.

The band realised that operating like this wouldn’t help them take the necessary step up to the next level. They decided to drastically change their attitude. 

“Since then, we’ve been making a conscious effort to get enough sleep, eat right and exercise,” says Alex. “People have the idea that touring is all rock star shit and partying, and some bands do that, but I look at them like, ‘You guys are still stuck playing the same shows and same venues.’ I don’t wanna be like that. I want to keep progressing and keep improving.’”

Proof of their approach to self-care comes after our interview. The band – minus bassist Wilkie – swap their street clothes for shorts and white tees, and converge around a bag of kick-pads, footballs and yoga mats. 

They’re joined by their merch guy, Ewan, who does a lot of jiu jitsu and mixed martial arts in his downtime. As someone cranks up a club-style Spotify gym playlist, they begin to stretch, throw punches or do keepy-uppies for three minutes. There’s a 20-second break, then they’re back into it. Rinse and repeat. 

“Ewan suggested the idea that he bring his pads and boxing gloves, and I was onboard from the start,” says Alex. “It’s been good having him: having someone to train with and who can motivate us.” 

After training, it’s soundcheck and showtime. Malevolence open the night at 6:15pm sharp, yet are met with a crammed 3,000-capacity club. They ignite a moshpit immediately, before Higher Place exposes a tender side with its clean guitars and Konan’s sung melodies. Alex even commands his crowd to move forward and “light this place up like a Drake concert” with their phones, and they close the pit to comply. 

Over half an hour, Prague gets everything it could want from a metal show and the crowd responds in kind. Afterwards, though, the mood isn’t as triumphant as you’d expect. While Charlie is calmly positive as he dismantles his drum kit, Alex and Wilkie bemoan the crowd-killers that flung themselves about in the pit all set. 

“Hardcore dancing at a metal show?” the singer complains. “There’s a time and a place, lads.” 

From the outside looking in, it’s pretty clear why Malevolence aren’t bouncing off the walls with adrenaline. They’ve paid their dues for a decade and a half, perfected a professional routine on the road and transformed entire audiences into human whirlpools. 

Opening a four-band bill is fine as far as it goes, but right now it feels like they’re more than capable of headlining rooms this big. And they want to do it as quickly as they can. 

“I want people to look back on us the way they look back on Lamb Of God and Pantera and those big metal bands of the last 20 years,” Alex had said on the tour bus a couple of hours earlier. “But I also don’t want people to look back in 50 years and be like, ‘Oh shit, these guys are actually sick! Why didn’t I go to a show?!’ I don’t want to go under the radar for our whole career. Life’s short. I’m not gonna be 70 and doing this, so get onboard.”

Malicious Intent is out now via MLVLTD/Nuclear Blast. Malevolence play Slam Dunk on May 27/28 - the band also tour the UK in November.

Matt Mills
Contributing Editor, Metal Hammer

Louder’s resident Gojira obsessive was still at uni when he joined the team in 2017. Since then, Matt’s become a regular in Prog and Metal Hammer, at his happiest when interviewing the most forward-thinking artists heavy music can muster. He’s got bylines in The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Guitar and many others, too. When he’s not writing, you’ll probably find him skydiving, scuba diving or coasteering.