In a rapidly growing underground metal scene that’s overrun with expensive-looking haircuts, tight pants, and a million throwaway riffs per song, Chicago’s Lair Of The Minotaur instead focuses its songwriting primarily on the almighty riff and lyrics about mythological creatures. Initially formed in 2003 by guitarist and vocalist Steven Rathbone, bassist D.J. Barraca (both formerly of metal supergroup 7000 Dying Rats), and Pelican drummer Larry Herweg—who has since been replaced by Chris Wozniak—Lair Of The Minotaur recorded a demo and were signed to California’s Southern Lord Records the next year. After releasing its debut, Carnage,in 2004 and the follow-up, The Ultimate Destroyer, in 2006, the band now finds itself poised to release its bluntly titled third album, War Metal Battle Master,on March 25. The A.V. Club spoke to Rathbone about Dungeons & Dragons and, well, metal.
A.V. Club: A lot of metal bands seem to be trying to out-technical one another, musically speaking. Your music is pretty straightforward, though. Why?
Steven Rathbone: It’s very intentional. Our original demos were actually a response to some songs I had written for 7000 Dying Rats. Those were about as technical as I like to get. Most of the stuff I listen to is pretty simple stuff. I really like AC/DC and Black Sabbath. Roots-type stuff: Celtic Frost, Slayer. I wouldn’t consider them technical bands, compared to some of the shit that’s done now. I can’t count the number of people who have said that to me, “This is the kind of music I want to hear, but there’s not bands making it!”
AVC: Aside from the music you listen to, does Lair Of The Minotaur’s sound have anything to do with the fact that you’re from the blue-collar Midwest?
SR: Definitely. I’m originally from Detroit, and I moved to Chicago 10 years ago. I’ve lived in the Midwest my whole life. I think there’s a lot of Detroit in there. Look at the bands that have come from there: The Stooges, MC5. There’s a raw, rock-’n’-roll energy in that city. There’s a different tone to the Midwest.
AVC: Are the crowds at your shows generally older metal guys, or do you get young kids, too?
SR: It’s hard to judge, because we really haven’t played enough all-ages shows. That’s one thing we’re really focusing on with this record, is exposing ourselves to children, as we like to say. [Laughs.] We had a song on a Tony Hawk video game, and I think that was the first time that younger kids got to hear us. Someone at Activision was a fan of the band, and they contacted Southern Lord. We got a lot of response from that, and it was the first time I started getting weird text messages with bad spelling, like, “SND ME MP3!” Oh, the kids are listening now! [Laughs.]
AVC: Where does your lyrical focus come from? The battling and crazy creatures all sound very Dungeons & Dragons.
SR: You just said it! [Laughs.] I started playing Dungeons & Dragons at a pretty young age, and was always interested in horror. When other kids had Ghostbusters posters on their wall, I had posters from Motel Hell and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. [The lyrics] were also part of the reaction to the music that was coming out at the time. After hair metal happened, metal had this bad stain on it. Most [metalheads] never considered that metal, but to popular culture, that’s what metal was. Fucking Britny Fox. A lot of people shy away from the name “metal.” It seemed like there were all of these bands that were basically metal bands, but it was “metalcore” or “rap-metal” or “this metal.” No one would just say, “We’re a fucking metal band!” What’s the fucking most metal thing you can think of? It’s a fucking Minotaur with a big axe! There’s a well of fodder for metal lyrics within mythology. If I’m going to do this, there’s no shying away from it.
AVC: Do you still play Dungeons & Dragons?
SR: I do not. I’d say the last time I played was ’93 or something. Horror movies are still an issue, though.
AVC: So why the dedication to metal?
SR: I’ve been listening to metal my whole life, and most people that have still do, and will continue to. That’s why out of all genres of music, balls-out heavy metal is still doing well. I can’t remember who exactly I heard say this, so I’m stealing this from someone else, but you’ve never talked to someone that says, “Yeah, I listened to Slayer for one summer.” Metal is this music where you’re in or you’re fucking out.