|There's a reason fans have come to their shows wearing Viking helmets and brandishing both real and plastic swords. Born out of a love for pure metal, weaned on a diet of fantasy and mythology, 3 Inches of Blood have been slaying the infidel and defending the faith for nearly eight years.
In that time, they've released two albums and splattered the ground with crimson streaks while on tour with Satyricon, Black Dahlia Murder, Motorhead and Cradle of Filth. These are mighty accomplishments for dedicated warriors from Vancouver, British Columbia, a region that's not exactly the Camelot of heavy metal. And with their new album, Fire Up the Blades, 3 Inches of Blood have surpassed even their own manly exploits, crafting a baker's dozen of anthems and stormers that crash, rip and roar like a Medieval skirmish.
"With this album, the blacksmith is heating up the blades and we are preparing for battle," says vocalist Jamie Hooper. "We are forging the steel that we'll use to annihilate the heavy metal posers, and in every town we play, the streets will run red with their blood."
Throughout Fire Up the Blades, 3 Inches of Blood demonstrate that the best way to stay ahead of the heavy metal curve is to write music that comes from the heart and sounds nothing like the horde of bands tapping into the latest trends. To that end, they draw fuel from their favorite artists, including Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Mercyful Fate, Manowar and Enslaved and compile it all into their own lethal potion. Once more, 3 Inches of Blood demonstrate great skill for riding galloping steeds into fiery realms of crunching riffs and banging heads, but Fire Up the Blades is darker and more aggressive than 2004's critically acclaimed Advance and Vanquish. "Demon's Blade" starts with a crushing, technical thrash passage and peaks with twin guitar harmonies over throat-shredding vocals and "Infinite Legions" features hailstorm blast beats and orchestral swells between martial riffs.
"This album is heavily influenced by low quality beer, bong rips and listening to black metal in the dark," Hooper says. "It doesn't sound blatantly black metal, it still sounds like us. But it's a faster, more intense version of us."
Fire Up the Blades marks the recording debut of four out of six of the bandmembers. Hooper, who co-formed the group, and co-vocalist Cam Pipes are the only soldiers to return from the last battle, and they're joined by guitarists Shane Clark, Justin Hagberg, bassist Nick Cates and drummer Alexei Rodriguez. But even though the lineup is different, the aesthetic remains the same, and the skill level actually eclipses that of the last record.
"Sometimes when bands change members it seems like big step backwards, but this was a major step forwards for us," Hooper says. "Everyone new who came in was at their best, which forced everybody else to pick up their game a little bit and we came up with things we just couldn't have done before."
Also adding to the skull-splintering vibe was Slipknot drummer Joey Jordison, who produced the record. Jordison became a fan of 3 Inches of Blood in 2004 when he filled in for Satyricon on tour and 3 Inches of Blood opened. "When he found out we were doing another record, he offered his services, and we were like, Dude, of course!" Hooper says. "He added a fresh perspective to the songs and helped us work on some parts and arrangements. Also, he's a beer drinking encyclopedia of cult black metal, so we sat around drinking Pabst Blue Ribbons talking about necro black metal the whole time, which was awesome."
3 Inches of Blood started writing Fire Up the Blades in late 2006 and composed many of the songs in a house they rented in Tacoma, Washington early this year. They entered the studio with Jordison in October and recorded at three locations in Vancouver -- The Armory, Mushroom Studios and Hipposonic -- before finishing up at London Bridge Studios in Seattle.
"Our engineer saw a ghost, but other than that, everything went smoothly," Hooper says. "No one was tearing their hair out or yelling at each other. We were just drinking, having a good time and churning out the metal."
Hooper co-formed 3 Inches of Blood in Victoria, British Columbia in 1999. In addition to a batch of musicians who are long gone, he recruited singer Cam Pipes, whose high pitched shrieks both contrast with and compliment Hooper's vicious growls. In 2001 the group released its debut, Battlecry Under a Winter Sun, which was released by a label owned by a local record store. When the shop closed, 3 Inches of Blood self-financed additional pressings of the album, which laid the foundation for the band's epic style of music with songs like "Destroy the Orcs," "Skeletal Onslaught" and "Headwaters of the River of Blood."
"When we started, a lot of us came out of this DIY scene where most of the bands had some sort of message," Hooper says. "I support that, but we wanted to be band that was just about good times, and would just cut loose. The music that we love and puts smiles on our faces is classic metal. And, we're all fans of shitty movies and fantasy novels, so we decided to use that stuff as well in our music."
Compelled by the band's dedication and determination, Roadrunner Records signed 3 Inches of Blood and in 2004 released Advance and Vanquish, an album that brought to mind the best of bands like Running Wild, Grave Digger, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Diamond Head. As triumphant as it was, its creation was a long and bloody process. "We went through about 12 records worth of bullshit making that," says Hooper. "On the first day of recording, our drummer and bass player quit. So we had to replace them with guys who basically learned the songs as we were recording them. And, after we recorded, our two guitar players quit. But then our new guitarists [Hagberg and Clark] joined and we were like, Alright, it's go time.'"
Which brings us back to Fire Up the Blades, an album that combines fist-tight musicianship, rib-sticking riffs and more monsters and mayhem than a game of Dungeons & Dragons. No longer, do 3 Inches of Blood sing about pirates and cyborgs, now they're more rooted to a dark, mystical era when great beasts roamed the land, and a man was defined by the strength of his armor and the power of his sword.
"The general theme of the whole thing is that we are all united in battle," Hooper says. "But a lot of the songs are also about the imagined Christian demons coming forth from their imaginations and reaping the whirlwind, so to speak. It's more of a post-apocalyptic doom scenario. 'Mad Max' barren wasteland, everybody's fucked kind of stuff."
While 3 Inches of Blood are eager to see how fans react to their new album, and are even looking forward to the return of the kids with swords and shields, they're also curious about what new kinds of lunatics will pop up at their shows. "The music's more extreme now, but I don't know how much more extreme some of these fans can get," Hooper says. "In Cincinnati, we had a fellow come onstage with a pig's head on a stick. He fell down and dropped the head and we had to soccer ball kick it off the stage. Then, in Fargo, North Dakota, a guy came on holding a severed deer's head over his head. The tongue was sticking out and blood was dripping all over his face. How much more metal can you get than that?" Take a running dive into The Blades, and find out.