Destroy the Puppy Inside?!
(Also Sprach Zoroaster)

“It’s not for pussies,” declares Will Fiore. “It’s for smart people.”

You’re probably already assuming Mr. Fiore is boasting about his band, Zoroaster, in which he plays guitar and sings. He is not. He’s actually referring to the practice of wearing ear protection during shows, which is a reasonable thing to consider since Zoroaster has been called “the loudest band in Atlanta.” Of course, I don’t think anyone’s actually brought a decibel meter to any of their shows, or conducted some sort of scientific, case-by-case study. It’s just kind of assumed. Suffice to say, their shows are louder than fuck, in a way that feels like they shift architectural foundations and rearrange inner organs. So you’ve gotta imagine what it’s like onstage, playing the stuff. Even though he acknowledges the prudence of ear-gear in such a situation, Fiore prefers to go commando – for the time being.

“I totally don’t look down on anyone for wearing earplugs,” he stresses. “I think it’s smart, and I just happen to be dumb about that right now. I know I’m killing my hearing, and [drummer] Dan [Scanlan]’s cymbals, these big 24-inch cymbals he has next to my head, you know, that’s what does it more than anything. I’ve tried to wear earplugs before, but it just really, especially with singing, it sort of changes it, and makes it really hard for me to understand what I’m doing. It probably just takes time to get used to it. I don’t know…eventually I need to start, because it’s definitely not good.”

Huh? Did somebody say something? Anyway, if you’ve been to a few Zoroaster shows, and been reduced to a quivering puddle of primordial goo by their sprawling barrage of molten, face-melting psychedelic stoner-doom, which only seems to let up long enough to take another bong hit, you may be taken aback a notch by their new album, Matador. In a positive way, I’d hope! Oh, it’s heavy, alright. Roaring, rumbling and fugg-dupp trippy. But song lengths have been chopped in half. They come in briefer bursts, there are more of ’em, and dare I say, they’re significantly more melodic than anything they’re recorded previously. The volume knob can’t go high enough on these suckers. It is, by far, Zoroaster’s most accessible album to date, and their best.

“With [2009’s] Voice of Saturn, I think we went a little overboard, and all the songs ran into each other, and there ended up being some confusion on song titles. The local radio stations, they’d play a song and they’d say ‘That’s such and such,’ and they’d call it the wrong song,” explains Fiore. “Our records, we always kind of wanted them to be like our live show, where they never stop, they just keep going, but we were so fed up with all that confusion. [Now] there’s a definite end and beginning to every song. Just to be different, too. We don’t wanna make the same record over and over. The [songs] are a little more straight to the point. We did a couple of tour packages where we were the openers last year, where you get like 25, 30 minutes to play, and we were like, ‘Wow, that’s only three songs! Kinda sucks…’ Ha ha ha!”

So yeah, the riffs are mammoth, the bass and drums are like hell-thunder, but most of the vocals are distorted to the point of incomprehension. As with a lot of heavier bands, it’s almost like they’re just there to sound scary. So I asked Fiore if lyrics are something they labor over, that they intend to be heard and understood, or do they consider vocals just another instrument to make crazy noise with.

“It’s definitely more just another aspect of, like, another instrument, first and foremost,” he tells me. “Not to say that the lyrics aren’t important, but it has to fit within the song. We go back and forth. We’ve got very aggressive, over-the-top vocals, and then we’ve even got some kind of spoken stuff. It’s just what the song calls for.” He then relates his own version of the “‘scuze me while I kiss this guy” syndrome. “We had a show, I think in Albuquerque, where I remember a few years ago we came through, and it was right when [Zoroaster’s first album, 2007’s] Dog Magic came out, and people were asking us about lyrics, like the song ‘Tualatin.’ This kid, I guess he was having an argument with his friend. What did he think it was? ‘Destroy the puppy inside,’ I think. And we just started laughing! ‘What? Destroy the puppy inside?! What does that mean?’ And they were like, ‘The album’s Dog Magic, and we thought…’ We were, ‘Hmm, no, that’s not it, but that’s real funny!’ Things like that, I think it’s kinda cool when it takes a little effort, maybe, to kind of figure out some of the lyrics. And who knows, what people think they [are] might be cooler. Ha ha ha!”

Maybe drugs would help those dudes figure things out. Not that I’m advocating any sort of psychoactive substance experimentation, but it’s not a secret that you often hear certain things more clearly while tripping your nuts off. Remembering whatever it was when you come down, that’s the tricky part. Since Zoroaster’s intense, hallucinatory onslaught would seem to lend itself well to acid-altered senses, has Fiore ever listened back to his own music while sky-high and heard things he hadn’t noticed sober?

“No, I actually haven’t even listened to any of them since we’ve done them,” he answers. “But the title track on Matador, we actually recorded that when we were really high on mushrooms. That was weird. Because originally, going in, the song was gonna be just super aggressive, just kind of straightforward. We laid down the basic tracks, and then took all these mushrooms, and then all of us went in and did this vocal line in this angelic kind of voice, and all of a sudden, weirdly enough, the song got all trippy sounding, and started inspiring all this stuff, and we just spent hours tripping, recording the song. And then we went out to a bar and got super drunk, and I remember being at the bar after coming down off of mushrooms, I was just drunk, and I was like, ‘Man, what if we go in tomorrow and that sounds like utter fucking bullshit?’ ‘Cause all day we were like, ‘Oh man, that sounds great!’ On mushrooms, of course it sounds great. But luckily, we went back in there and listened to it, and were a little nervous, and finally said, ‘Oh – it sounds good!'”

I suppose at this point I should go over a bit of the band’s history. Though Zoroaster is the first band any of them have been in that’s made any significant mark, Fiore, 36, and bassist/vocalist Brent Anderson, 37, mutual fans of bands ranging from Godflesh to Swervedriver, have been friends since their high school years, and have done time in and out of various groups for nearly as long. “There was a band called Rot, that was like a grindcore/death band or something,” Fiore elaborates, “and that kinda fell apart, and then two of the guys and my brother started Terminal Doom Explosion. And Brent kinda had his time in there, and I had my time in there – it was just a band for all our friends to kind of revolve around. Sometimes there’d be eight people, sometimes there’d be three, you know, playing shows at like the Liquid Bean, and just getting booed off stage and stuff.”

By the summer of 2003, the band – by that point called Pop – had shifted to where the drummer had left, Will’s brother Rod switched from guitar to drums and Anderson came back on board on bass. At that point, they decided to change handles again – to Zoroaster, named after an ancient Persian prophet and philosopher for no apparent reason whatsoever – and finally began putting genuine effort into songwriting and touring. Several of the songs on Matador actually hail from those formative days of the group.

“We were just a bunch of fuckups that liked playing music,” Will says. “We never really got serious about shows. We’d play a show and end up breaking stuff, and being told we couldn’t come back. It wasn’t until Zoroaster that we really started going, ‘You know, let’s try and take it seriously, and actually do something productive.'”

With current drummer Scanlan, 31 – who joined the band in 2006 after moving to Atlanta from Virginia – the trio has put its collective nose to the grindstone, digging and clawing for shows, releasing much of their own music themselves (with Matador, they’ve signed to New York-based E1 Music), touring their asses off, earning respect and building a solid following in the process.

Fiore does have one minor grievance, however.

“A lot of places are frowning on smoke machines these days. Sometimes we can’t do our full light show, with smoke and all that… You know, when I grew up, going to see Maiden and Judas Priest shows, and it’s like lasers and smoke and explosions, it’s like all your senses…

“I just wanna be blown away by it.”