See masked U.S. maniacs Swollen Teeth rip it up live in new video
The Sid Wilson-produced metallers Swollen Teeth sound even heavier than ever on Empty...
Swollen Teeth found their soul-shuddering frequency long before they’d written their first song.
Shifting in the shadowiest corners of the internet for apparently the best part of a decade now, snapshots of masked men in black overalls – looking like Bughuul from Sinister, headed out for some really dirty work – and distended snatches of sound beckoned those who stumbled into their domain down a deep, dark rabbit-hole. Upside-down metal horns, typed as ‘/W\’ on countless comment sections and message boards, acted as calling cards. When coherent music finally arrived, its shrieks and screams, rumbling percussion and neck-wrecking riffage lived up to fearsome expectation. Connecting with the collective’s mysterious frontman Megaa for his first-ever interview, however, we’re told how their ostensibly chaotic art is, really, all rooted in compassion.
“It’s about love,” he laughs from behind that nightmarish avatar. “It doesn’t have to be pretty. It doesn’t have to look like it does is in the movies. It’s just a whole other atmosphere, one that a lot of people don’t understand. We’ve been able to send messages in this world, this dimension, since 2013. Every single soul on this earth has crossed paths with Swollen Teeth at some point or another, whether that’s through the metaverse, AI, or the World Wide Web. Swollen Teeth isn’t just us, it’s all of those people combined. And we want to say thank you to all of them.”
Through all the distance and distortion, it’s difficult to know whether Megaa is messing with expectation, playing a Charles Manson-style Pied Piper leading listeners down a road to hell, or an angelic other who merely appears monstrous to unknowing eyes. It’s easy, too, to get tangled up in their dense lore, which blends primal timelessness and with terminology from technology’s cutting edge. Fortunately, he’s joined by two esteemed spokesmen to help connect his world to ours.
Sid Wilson stumbled across Swollen Teeth while trawling Instagram for new artists. Settling into his position as one of heavy music’s elder statesmen, the Slipknot turntablist spends hours staying up to date with heavy music, but something about the crew brandishing inverted horns grabbed him.
“It was the way that they were communicating,” he remembers. “They’re so disconnected from this world that their music is a real representation of what they’re feeling inside, rather than just a reflection of something they’ve seen somewhere else. It was how they left so much up to the viewer to decide what they were, too. I had to let them know I’d seen what they were doing. They had this image, these sounds that seemed to be fishing for me and forcing me to pry deeper. Maybe they didn’t know I’d be watching, but they knew someone would be paying attention.”
Sid had already signed on as a producer and been enveloped in the world of Swollen Teeth when he introduced them to his old guru Ross Robinson. Coming together at a memorial following the passing of their friend, Slipknot drummer Joey Jordison, in summer 2021, there was sadness, but also nostalgia for their time together recording the ’Knot’s earliest releases, an appreciation of the inexorable passage of time, and an urgency that perhaps the baton needed to be handed to a new generation to carry on the sounds with which Sid, Ross and Joey had made their names.
“It was a really emotional time for both of us and we got to connect really deeply, and be with our friend that we love so much in our hearts,” Ross picks up. “When Sid started to play Swollen Teeth, it somehow matched with that. I’d just started a label called Blowed Out Records with Ghostemane and [SideOneDummy founder] Bill Armstrong, and we agreed to sign them up for what would turn out to be our first release. When I eventually met the guys, they were great; givers, not takers, with their heads in the right place and a ton of that empathy and ‘lifer’ conviction that real bands always tend to have. Plus, they are the youth. Look at me now – I’ve got grey hair. All the festival headliners seem to be old and grey. We need new blood. I’m so passionate about providing a space for [young artists to emerge] to have someone there to carry our torch.”
True to form, Megaa views the sudden support of two of the biggest names in modern metal not with surprise but as a matter of cosmic, cryptic inevitability. “Sometimes you hit that ‘cue’ button and end up crossing paths. It’s art: what we do, what they do, what everyone does. As long as you love and respect everyone around you, there are no rules about what’s possible in that.”
Quite. But what exactly was it like actually going into the studio with bandmates Sun (vocals/bass), Skutch (percussion) and HOG (guitars) to wring out new sounds under Sid’s supervision?
“You know that sensation when you go to the edge of a balcony, throw one leg over, then the other, and force your self to go over?” he ponders. “It’s about that feeling in the split-second between jumping off and hitting whatever’s underneath, having no idea whether you’re going to be okay or not. But you do land safely. It’s letting go of every single thing that will ever bother you and just doing it. It’s being locked-in, saying, ‘Again! Again! Again!’ until the sun is coming up.”
The five tracks of Swollen Teeth’s self-titled debut EP reflect that heart-in-your-mouth, seat-of-your-pants bedlam and exhilaration. But with the unsettling masked aesthetic at the forefront and a sound packing down-tuned guitars, scratched vinyl and overflowing angst, it also demands that those obvious comparisons to Slipknot be addressed. They’re not similarities any of these three want to dwell too long on, though.
“It’s not about who we are – the hosts behind the masks,” shrugs Megaa. “It’s about everyone out there throwing their horns down and supporting. It’s an out-of-body thing, beyond this world!”
“There’s less ego behind a mask than trying to exist in the face you were born with,” reasons Ross. “The mask represents freedom of expression. Look how happy kids are at Halloween. They’re free. Without it, they’re just normal. And I used to hate the term ‘nu-metal’ with a passion. People would call me ‘The Godfather Of Nu-Metal’ and it would make me sick. But recently I’ve come to terms with it, embraced it and grown proud of what we did. The common qualities uniting most nu-metal tracks were the slamming grooves, sick riffs and great songwriting. The hunger. The talent. The willingness to hit record and capture real, life-or-death emotion. If that’s nu-metal, I’ll take it!”
“Life moves in cycles,” Sid continues. “People called our generation nu-metal, but I listen to Slipknot, Korn and Limp Bizkit and they sound like they’re bands from three different genres. Regardless, there’s a new generation who’re all about creating new, hybrid versions of whatever it was we were. Swollen Teeth are just the first of a new wave. Maybe we should call it ‘tru-metal’.”
Importantly, this music isn’t just a well-intentioned rehash. That aforementioned honesty has bred innovation. Hit play on the EP and you’ll by struck immediately by Megaa’s emo/scream vocal on opener EMPTY: ‘Let’s make some sense of what’s going on / We can feel the pain we caused you.’ Likened by Ross to what it would sound like if legendary Glassjaw/Head Automatica frontman Daryl Palumbo found himself fronting a “molten metal” outfit, it’s a heady blend. Rather than reverting to what the uber-producer bluntly describes as the “cowards’” heavy vocal – where arbitrary growling and distortion can mask the ecstasy and agony (or lack thereof) within – every time Swollen Teeth scream it’s an authentic release of the violence and vitriol boiling in their guts.
“Is it emo?” Megaa asks, wryly. “I don’t know. I wanted to be emotional. I wanted to be louder. And one of the most valuable lessons is that ‘loud’ doesn’t just mean higher volume.”
“Megaa wears a mask,” Sid concurs, “but there’s no disguising the feeling in his voice.”
And it’s a voice we should expect to hear a lot more of over the coming years. “There is a future,” he teases, abstrusely, “Even after our conversation ends, time will go on…”
Headline dates in Detroit, Harrisburg and Brooklyn as well as tantalising slots at the returning Milwaukee Metal Fest and Tennessee’s massive mainstream gathering Bonnaroo are next in the diary. More tantalising is Sid’s tease that the EP was just an appetite-whetting preview of a far bigger picture to follow. They’d recorded enough during those sessions to release an album and an EP, but everything from the sequencing of singles to the release on the album has been calibrated to lean away from the “existing” Slipknot/nu-metal/Sid Wilson fanbase to let Swollen Teeth become their own thing.
“We’ve basically dangled a key to a doorway,” Sid signs-off. “When the album arrives, fans will be able to come see the world that exists on the other side of that door. Because Swollen Teeth really do have a whole world going on. At this point, you’ve just stepped over the ridge to see a battlefield raging in the distance. If they’re victorious, you’ve got to see where these guys are headed next!”
Swollen Teeth is out now via Blowed Out
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