BULLET FOR MY VALENTINE
Rock ain’t dead, but the Welsh shredders are breathing new life into it anyway.
What’s the first thing you envision when Bullet For My Valentine pop into your mind? Aside from, “Oh man, I need to bust out my Poison 12-inch again,” you probably conjure up a sweat-and-beer-stained image of a gruff, leather jacketed gang from the alleyways spewing thick, visceral, no-f***s-given rock’n’roll, the likes of which your mum would wish you’d turn thebloodyhelldown,Jonathan!It’saschoolnight!
But alas, that was the Bullet of yore. Math class is over, you’ve long clocked out of your last shift at Maccas, and the Bridgend blokes are now a shimmering bastion of heavily caffeinated pop-rock. But y’know, a good one. The kind you’d actually want to show your mates, and not just furtively bop along to in your rundown ‘06 Mitsubishi Lancer (it’s okay Johnny, your secret’s safe with us). Their first record in this scary new landscape – where glittery synths mingle flirtily with raw guitars and pounding bass – is Gravity, 40 inescapable minutes of the band’s most paralysing music yet. It begs the question: how the hell did Bullet end up here!?
“It just came from dissecting where we are in our career,” explains (the inhumanly charismatic) Matt Tuck, Bullet’s longtime vocalist and resident rhythmic badass. “Y’know, analysing what we’ve done in the past and what we’d like to achieve in the future, and not wanting to stand still and be stale or uncreative. We’ve had a very specific writing formula for the last 20 years and five records, and that has done us very, very well – y’know, we’re never going to be ungrateful for that and we’re never going to forget it – but we needed to look towards the future, and we didn’t want to write music that we’d already done in the past anymore.
“We asked ourselves, ‘What haven’t we done, and how can we do it better than anything we have?’ It took a lot of time to get to Gravity! It took about three months of writing before we settled on a single track at all, so the shift in style wasn’t something we took at all lightly. It was something we really took our time about to make sure that if we took our time about to make sure that if we were going to take a bit of a direction change, we would do it in the right way. And personally, I think we’ve done it. I think the balance is spot on – there’s nothing too crazy or too different, but it is different enough that people will bring it up every time we talk to them.”
It comes at a strange point on the timeline for the three-time Kerrang!Award recipients. Their last two records – 2013’s TemperTemper and 2015’s
Venom – both delivered some of Bullet’s most intense music to date, the latter especially diving deep into a world of spine-shattering thrash and tooth-pulling metalcore. But to hell with making LP6 a predictable notch on the board, said the foursome. There’s no such thing as the “perfect time” to take a risk that could change the course of your life thereafter, after all, and so 2018 seemed as good a year as any for Bullet to shake things up. But of course, such an earthquake didn’t come without a few shattered glasses.
“I just knew that it was the right time to take a leap like this,” Tuck asserts. “I had a very clear vision of where I wanted to go on this record. Trying to explain that to the boys, but not having an example of what the vision actually was – that was obviously quite a difficult process and a difficult thing for them to understand. And a lot of the stuff that [Michael Paget, lead guitars] and Jamie [Mathias, bass] were writing recalled a far older version of what this band used to be. It was very flashy and riff-based – which is great! Y’know, they were great riffs and it was a massive vibe, but… It just felt like every other band had been there and done that – and us especially.
“I wanted to change and I wanted to be pushed. I want to step out of my comfort zone and challenge myself as a songwriter, and nothing that was happening were any of those things. It was just the same old shit, and it was really scaring me to go down that road again. So yeah, it was difficult. And it upset people – there were a lot of egos being dented in those first few weeks – but it was something that I just felt so passionate about. And thankfully, after we wrote a few songs and started to get some skeletons together for this album, that’s when the penny dropped and the lightbulb moment came for those guys.”
With a new sound in their pocket came some new recording techniques. Namely – and this is a bit of an ironic one, given the electronic slick that coats
Gravity at every turn – the band were eager to keep instruments unscathed in the mixing booth. They’re distinctly raw, with guitars unfettered by outlandish pedals and Tuck left surprisingly bare with his talents on show.
“We tried a lot of our old tricks and we used a lot of the old effects, just for a little bit of ear candy on certain parts,” Tuck says, “But we ended up stripping it all back in the end. It just felt a bit too gimmicky. We did use some effects when we thought it would be necessary, but we took a lot of them off because we felt that they kind of interrupted or got in the way of the song’s foundations. The simplicity of the music is actually what makes this album so f***ing heavy, and it became apparent really quickly that when we tried to mess with that by putting in different sounds and messing with other techniques, it just didnt sound right.”
Of course, one thing that remained the same was Tuck’s impenetrable love for the guitar. And like all great guitarists, there’s one specific category of axe the young punk froths especially hard over: the humble Gibson Les Paul. Tuck owns a whole suite of them, most equipped with custom specs – almost always demanding some variation of an EMG pickup.
“It’s just the heritage,” Tuck gushes of his love the Les Paul – we can almost see him drooling at the chin from over our shoddy phone line. “It’s the name, the history, the way they feel when you play them, the sound… That snap you get when you open the case! Mate, it’s everything. It’s the holy grail of guitars, y’know – you’ve got your Les Pauls and you’ve got your Strats; those are the only two guitars that really matter when you think about it. When I was a kid, those were the guitars I never thought I’d be able to own. I used to dream about it every day when I was playing my shitty Encore and the kind of thrift shop guitars you have to have when you’re growing up and you have no f***ing money. And the Les Pauls… They’re just icons of what we do, and they’re that for a reason.”
Anyone else feel like they need to burst into a standing ovation?