DISCOGRAPHY DEEP DIVE: Lair Of The Minotaur (including old Terrorizer interview in full)
Bludgeoning charge-into-battle thrash/sludge/black/everything metal. A song called 'Let's Kill These Motherfuckers'. Remind me why this isn't the greatest band in the world?
If you’re into metal, real, hard as nails, balls to the wall metal, you’ll be into Lair Of The Minotaur. That’s really all there is to it. Whatever it was that appealed to you in the genre in the first place, they probably have it. Was it the over the top, horror/fantasy hellscapes you create in your mind while listening? Or was it the more real horrors of battle, depicted as a documentary? Was it a more purely musical thing, like the mighty cavalcades of thrash, or the sinister atmosphere of black metal, or the feeling of being dragged through the mud of doom and sludge, the irresistible need to raise your fist and headbang of true heavy metal, or just simply good old Tom G.’s “UGH!”? Or the way that you can channel your rage through that of these songs, and don’t have to punch walls anymore? Was it the amazing artworks that you want to frame and put up on your wall, was it seeing a band live and feeling like you also want to pick up a guitar and shred out mighty riffs, just as soon as your sweat dries up and your ears stop ringing? Or was it, let’s face it, the fact that you’re completely aware that this isn’t music that will appeal to a lot of people, and that aligns perfectly with what you always felt anyway, that you’re a bit of an outsider that doesn’t really sync with a lot of the “normal” world?
Well, Lair Of The Minotaur offer all of that, and more, through the course of the four albums they have done so far. Yes, the last one was twelve years ago, but the band is technically still active, they have released a couple of short EPs in this long meantime, and (excitingly, I have to say) they have just recently showed up on Instagram, of all places, hilariously describing their page with “We finally gave up and started one. Always showing up at the party at 4am since 2003.” They’re not a band that will ever join any kind of rat race, and in many ways that makes perfect sense. So let’s on one hand imagine that a new album is still possible and forthcoming, and on the other hand celebrate the great body of work that already exists. I mean, I once did a feature on Terrorizer magazine that I constructed as a series of evidence in the “Lair Of The Minotaur are the ultimate metal band” case. Nerdy and just a little stupid? Sure. But also true. So, come along. Let's fuck them all again. Let's kill these motherfuckers!
LAIR OF THE MINOTAUR
There’s really no way to quickly talk about the origins of the band other than to quote their Wikipedia page verbatim. “Lair Of The Minotaur was formed by vocalist/guitarist Steven Rathbone in 2003 after his other band, 7000 Dying Rats, became a studio-only project. He enlisted 7000 Dying Rats bandmate Donald James Barraca on bass, and longtime friend Larry Herweg (of post-metal band Pelican) on drums,” it says there, and, well, that was it. Larry left the band in 2006 and Donald in 2008, leaving the band with the line-up it has had ever since, Nate Olp on bass and Chris Wozniak on drums accompanying ringleader Steven. A quick note about 7000 Dying Rats, a really awesome and very unsung death/grind band, totally unusual in their approach and unafraid to weird it up. If you need a stronger reference to check them out than “they had two Lair Of The Minotaur members in their line-up” then I really don’t know what to tell you. Just listen to it.
But ANYWAY, Lair Of The Minotaur had a demo out and quickly jumped to their debut, where most of their main characteristics were already in place. So we begin.
(2004, Southern Lord)
Even though this is my least played Lair Of The Minotaur record after all these years, unlike so many other bands where unintentionally I end up being a variation of those annoying I-only-like-the-demo kind of people and latch on to the earlier releases, is still nevertheless a perfectly good blueprint of all the great things that would come. A bit rawer and more unpolished, both soundwise and in terms of the songwriting itself, it doesn’t quite have the same repeat value, but it already offers some brilliant highlights, such as ‘The Wolf’ (a song for which Steven announces the title at the beginning before everything else kicks in, which is something I somehow adore - he also does it, though screaming, with ‘Warlord’) or ‘Enemy Of Gods’, with its fantastic messy and noisy stop-start intro and bludgeoning mid-pace + buried vocals dirge throughout.
If the other records are fully armored warriors striding mightily into battle, this is a naked, unarmed berserker throwing himself alone at a horde of enemies. He’ll be the first to fall, but he’ll take a bunch of them down with him, and you’ll always remember him. And again, like we described earlier, it set the tone and image for the rest of the band’s career, the unmistakable truth that this is what metal is all about. Putting this on is like taking a journey to the very fundaments of metal and its associated lifestyle and cultural references - Black Sabbath, Celtic Frost, mythology, Dungeons & Dragons, Conan the Barbarian, everything you love about all of those is here.
THE ULTIMATE DESTROYER
(2006, Southern Lord)
If this is/was your first contact with the band, then ten seconds into it, and you already knew you’d made the right choice. Opener ‘Juggernaut Of Metal’ is just that, an unstoppable charging behemoth of fat riffs, gruff vocals and epic violence both in the music and lyrics. The faster parts really tie into the sludge/thrash tag that has been attributed to the band often, and are tremendously effective. The guitar tone is just right, with enough gain and distortion to make it nasty but not so much that it detracts from the overall dense, meaty feel. But the songwriting is, mostly, the biggest upgrade regarding the earlier material. Though it all still feels simple and straightforward, there’s a great more deal of though shows behind each part and what it’s conveying, and a lot more dynamics too. The dread transmitted by that initial section of ‘Behead The Gorgon’ and its subsequent fantastic choppy pace, the relentless pounding of ‘Cannibal Massacre’ (notice the monster catalogue feel of it all - there’s also the ‘Grisly Hound Of The Pit’ or the ‘Lord Of Butchery’, for instance) or, above all, the devastating giant that awaits you, end-of-level-boss-like, at the end of it all - a seven-minute, slow-churning, heavier than bricks doom monster called ‘The Hydra Coils Upon This Wicked Mountain’ (more mythology!).
I’d call this a perfect metal album, if they hadn’t been able to further refine the formula on the next records.
WAR METAL BATTLE MASTER
(2008, Southern Lord)
The first time I interviewed Steven Rathbone was during the promotion cycle of this record - and what the hell, have a free OLD PAPER feature to go along with this, just scroll to the end and thou shalt receive - and it was a blast, he was both serious and funny and told a me a whole bunch of awesome stuff about the album, so much that we were hard pressed to pick the best pull-out quotes from the lot. But this bit really sticks out: “All the songs on this album are about Ares, the god of war. There are some writings that describe Ares as not so much a person but as the will to kill itself. I thought that was a cool concept, and it was actually something that I came up with before our first album came out. Our inspiration comes from the lyrics in a lot of ways. Our music is heavily rooted in ball-busting metal, and all our lyrics deal with mythology. Some of them are direct interpretations of some of these myths and on some of them I just make up my own stories with the characters. Mythology is total fodder for metal lyrics, there's everything you can ever want as a metal fan – war, monsters, blood, sex!” So, on this album you get stuff like the ice giants, the bestial legion, the black viper barbarian clan, the assassins of the cursed mist or the doomtrooper, among others. The title-track even offers actual sounds of battle before it kicks in (and it inspired their first video, check it out here as its age restriction won’t allow me to embed it - yes, there’s naked women on it)! It’s the sort of lyrical/conceptual scenario that gets you all excited about it even before one note has been played. Fortunately, this amply succeeds where many others fail, and it’s an album that more than lives up to its Conan comic book background.
The most dense and constantly in-your-face record of the bunch (this song I just posted is the anomaly, the slowest and heaviest of the album), it feels a bit wall-of-soundy when you compare it, but it doesn’t lose dynamics because of that, and Steven’s riffs are more inspired than ever. In a way, this is Lair Of The Minotaur at the height of their powers - it’s really not possible to keep pushing in this same direction further than this without repetition. Steven told me in that interview this was “about as complex as we’re ever gonna get”, and he was right.
(2010, The Grind-House Records)
’Evil Power’, which signals the switch from Southern Lord to their own record label, The Grind-House Records, is substantially different, at least now looking at the whole oeuvre in hindsight, and I have to say it’s turned into the record I return to the most, and probably the one that has gotten the most plays overall as time has gone by. Lair Of The Minotaur might seem to the uninitiated like a sort of knucklehead-music band, just ughs and monsters and dumb metal brutality, but there’s a clear, thought out evolution throughout these albums and none of them really has the exact same approach as its predecessor. With that last quote in mind, it was clear that the music needed a bit more space to breathe, and perhaps a sort of return to basics approach, and ‘Evil Power’ is, more than thrash or sludge or death/black, very much a true, proper heavy metal album at heart. The sound, though still gritty and grimy in sufficient measure, is cleaner and more perceptible, the guitar leads and even the vocal lines are catchier than ever, and the songs are more actual real songs than they’ve ever been before. Just the opening pair alone justifies the price of admission, while also providing budding metal DJs with a couple of gems that will raise the roof in any occasion, regardless if the crowd recognises them or not (hint: they won’t). ‘Attack The Gods’ and ‘Let’s Kill These Motherfuckers’ are rousing anthems that no metalhead will be able to resist whether it’s their first or their millionth listen.
They totally set the tone for the rest of the album, and even if you’ll risk complete throat annihilation, you will end up singing/screaming along with it. Prepare to raise your fist and howl to the skies stuff like “I HEAR VOICES!” (the title-track), “GOATSTORM! CLOVEN SAVAGE! GOATSTORM! HORNED ASSASSIN!” (‘Goatstorm’, naturally, a neck-breaking 1:42 little ditty) or “WE ARE THE END OF DAYS!” (the rousing ‘We Are Hades’, perfect for gang-chanting). It’s almost a party record, if your party consists exclusively of hardened metalheads, that is.
(2013, The Grind-House Records)
Thus 2010 and ‘Evil Power’ ended Lair Of The Minotaur’s full-length discography so far, but we still have two little blips on the radar to keep giving us hope that a fifth album might arrive at any point. Hey, arriving at the party at 4m since 2003, right? ‘Godslayer’ isn’t even classified as an EP, just a single - it was in fact a 7” released for Record Store Day, commemorating the band’s tenth anniversary -, but it did offer two new songs. The title-track is a typical LOTM rager, mostly mid-tempo with a few flourishes here and there, with mentions of Gaia, Deia and Herakles in the lyrics, and wonderful as it is, the highlight of this release actually resides once you flip over to side B, and you’re hit with ‘The Black Heart Of The Stygian Drakonas’.
It kinda looks at first like it’ll be an updated ‘The Hydra Coils…’, doesn’t it? But then you play it and it explodes into one of the fastest and most brutal songs the band has ever written, even reaching Revenge heights of destructive power at one point. Until it slows down to Hydra pace again, that is, offers a delightful Steven “UGH!”, and finishes with a creepy minute of dungeon synth doom. Fuck yeah.
DRAGON EAGLE OF CHAOS
(2018, The Grind-House Records)
The most recent we’re-still-alive the band threw up was this two-track digital EP, which appeared on their Bandcamp as part of “an effort to release everything that was written for this band”. If it feels a bit more grimy and old style Lair Of The Minotaur than the material on ‘Evil Power’, then your ears are in full working order, because both the title-track (check out that doomy intro!) and ‘Kunsult The Bones’ are in fact old songs, one never properly recorded and one recorded, but never released. We get Donald on bass again for one of them, and it serves as a sort of nostalgic take on the good old day when we used to get a new Lair Of The Minotaur album every two years.
And hey, 2023 will mark the 20th anniversary of Lair Of The Minotaur. How about a proper celebration? Hint hint.
OLD PAPER: Lair Of The Minotaur (Terrorizer #172, Jul 2008)
If we ever send out a tape into space for the aliens to find and understand what metal is all about, the hands-down choice for complete and perfect description of it would have to be Lair Of The Minotaur. Do you still have any doubts? Vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Steven Rathbone will gladly crush them for you.
“The concept of the band alone is enough,” he says, when prompted with the possibility of having any sort of elaborate stage show. “Having a band called Lair Of The Minotaur is a fuck you to all these bands who steal from metal but who don’t really want to describe themselves as metal. A minotaur with a big axe is the most metal thing you can think of! The whole intention of naming the band like that was to scare away posers. If they don’t like the name or our image they can fuck off. There’s a lot of talk in the metal scene about who’s metal, what’s real, and I think that wearing what you wear when you wake up in the morning, that’s real. We won’t be putting on costumes and lycra and all that shit.”
Take that as exhibit A in the “Lair Of The Minotaur are the ultimate metal band” case. Exhibit B will be presented below, in the form of the justification for the choice of subject matter for all Lair Of The Minotaur lyrics since their debut ‘Carnage’ up to the newest album, ‘War Metal Battle Master’, a title which shall obviously serve as exhibit C.
“All the songs on this album are about Ares, the god of war,” he explains. “There are some writings that describe Ares as not so much a person but as the will to kill itself. I thought that was a cool concept, and it was actually something that I came up with before our first album came out. Our inspiration comes from the lyrics in a lot of ways. Our music is heavily rooted in ball-busting metal, and all our lyrics deal with mythology. Some of them are direct interpretations of some of these myths and on some of them I just make up my own stories with the characters. Mythology is total fodder for metal lyrics, there's everything you can ever want as a metal fan – war, monsters, blood, sex! On Greek mythology, some of the stories that we’re familiar with have actually been toned down for television, for family viewing and whatnot, but the original tellings of these stories were very graphic and very brutal.”
Something that is quite obvious in exhibit D, the unbelievably awesome video for the title track of the new album.
“It’s some of the toughest work I’ve ever been a part of!” Steven says, excited about the final resutls. “Compared to it, making a record is a cakewalk. The amount of time and work we put into it, for a three and a half-minute video… but we’re really happy with how it came out. What we wanted to do was try to visualize one of these stories correctly, not hold back anything, and it’s definitely something for the hardcore metal fan and also for the horror fans to enjoy. It’s nice to watch the fruits to your labours, and people have definitely reacted to the video, even more so than we imagined. “
It also serves as a perfect summarization of what the relentless new record is all about, even more so than the previous metal hymn collection ‘The Ultimate Destroyer’.
“The music is more aggressive this time,” he states. “it doesn’t go into blast or total death metal stuff, but I think it’s a reflection of the lyrics and the whole concept of war. There’s more aggression, but also a lot of victories and triumph in some parts. It feels to me like there is a core of people out there craving something a little different from what is popular in metal right now, something raw.”
And raw is what you’ll get. If you still need a final bit of evidence, Steven’s take on the band’s future is the perfect closing speech to the case.
“’War Metal Battle Master is about as complex as we’re ever gonna get. We’re not really about making technical metal. As a musician I appreciate the technical stuff, but as a listener, I really don’t want to listen to it. That’s not what we’re about. We like to pound and headbang. The kind of metal we’re doing has been going on for a long time, and there always seems to be that core of people who are into it. metalcore, doom metal, whatever else flavour of the month that goes by, we’re not pigeonholed into this one scene. We’ve played with a huge cross-section of bands, in play in places where we probably shouldn’t be playing, like art galleries even, and it seems that there’s this sort of old school metal that people will always be into.”
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