There’s something to be said for purity. With many musicians meshing influences, styles and sounds into their output, it’s refreshing to see a band raise one single flag and wave it with all their might. War Curse, Cincinnati’s Thrash Metal stalwarts, has done exactly that by concentrating on crafting pitch-perfect Thrash-revival bangers.
With one release under their belts (Final Days, recently re-released on CD via Static Tension Recordings) and a second in the works, the band has one goal — to write heavy songs that get young heads banging and old-school fans back into the pit.
One needs only to walk into War Curse’s practice space to realize that the quintet is genuine. Parked outside is the band’s tour vehicle, a reworked neon green school bus. The space’s bright orange walls are adorned with flags, posters, old show bills and a wall of guitars. Vocalist Tarek Puska, guitarists Joshua Murphy and Justin Roth, drummer James Goetz and bassist Eric Payne don’t agree on many musical genres, but Thrash is where the group’s tastes meet.
“There’s not many bands that I think we all agree on, but if you were to narrow it down and we had to decide on a song to cover or whatever… Testament, Exodus, Overkill, bands like that, that’s our common ground,” Roth says. “I think that’s why we’re a Thrash band — we didn’t set out to be a Thrash band at all.”
So, how did a band whose members have such disparate tastes as Entombed, Cinderella, Sepultura and Dale Watson come together to create Cincinnati’s premiere Thrash outfit? The answer, as it often is nowadays, is Craigslist. Goetz was moving back to town in mid-2013 and placed an ad to which Murphy and Roth, good friends and frequent bandmates, responded, as did Puska after quitting his former Death Metal band. Payne initially entered the picture as a replacement when, in the studio, War Curse realized that their former bassist couldn’t actually play the songs, and he eventually signed on fulltime. It was an easy choice to make, as Payne’s other band, Verment, practiced in the same building as War Curse.
“We were lucky that he was right across the hall. He wasn’t good looking or talented, he was just 10 feet away,” Roth jokes.
After the lineup was locked in, War Curse dove into writing and practicing, placing heavy emphasis on crafting a live show that was more than five guys standing in one place.
“We realized that we had to start letting loose at practice, because if you don’t do it at practice, you don’t do it onstage,” Murphy says.
Each member has taken steps to translate the energy of the songs directly into their performances. Murphy and Roth both have Punk Rock and Hardcore backgrounds, so they know the value of using every inch of stage space and getting the crowd involved.
“When you’re running around, and the fans know you’re having fun, and you’re hitting them with your guitar, sweating on them, it gets people fired up,” Roth says.
War Curse’s live show is ratcheted up by Puska’s onstage presence. Puska casts an imposing figure with his bald head, massive beard, patched battle vest and fingers adorned with massive silver rings. When he’s roaring into the mic, absentmindedly playing Pokémon GO at the bar becomes an impossibility. Puska, a former pro wrestler, has an intensity that comes easily.
“It’s kind of a persona, just flip the switch,” he says. “It’s all natural to me.”
“We all learned to flip that switch,” Roth says. “During the day, we’re boring. But you get on stage and you go into kill mode.”
An explosive live show doesn’t add up to all that much if the recorded material doesn’t have any staying power beyond the next day’s ringing ears, and that’s where War Curse’s songwriting comes in. Each song is constructed music-first, with each member’s performance under a microscope by the others. There’s no room for ego in between Goetz’s precise rhythms (perfected through constant use of a metronome) and no solo, riff or vocal delivery is above reproach.
Once the song’s foundation is built, it’s up to Roth to create a very pissed-off temple to the Thrash gods of old. “Thrash Metal has always been political,” he says. “If you’re a Thrash Metal vocalist or songwriter right now there’s no fuckin’ shortage of material. Goddamn, you’ve got material for days.”
Exploring themes of religion, police brutality, political corruption and the like is nothing new for Thrash, and Roth isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel. He just wants to make listeners use their brains as they bang it around their skull.
“I just want to provoke a thought, that’s what it comes down to, even if you don’t agree with me,” Roth says. “I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind, but I am trying to tell a story of what’s happening in the world that makes you sing along even if you disagree with me.”
War Curse’s work ethic and dedication to crafting unrelenting, blistering Thrash ragers has earned the band slots onstage with old-school legends, including Havok, Raven and Anvil, as well as several tours with Solstice. The band has built up a dedicated fanbase across the region. But the members aren’t even close to being satisfied. They want to lure old-school Metal fans back to the scene and show them that true Metal is alive and well in Cincinnati.
“I think a big focus of this band is bringing back the casual fan,” Roth says. “I would love to get these casual fans to see that there is real Metal happening in this city.”
That mentality is what fuels everything War Curse does: Every show played, every song written, every tour taken and album released is meant to draw in more and more fans into the world of War Curse. The world is loud, fast, heavy and evil. But most of all, it’s real.
“When you come to a War Curse show, you’re being treated to a fucking show,” Roth says. “We’re going to fire up Marshall full stacks, we’re going to run around onstage, we’re going to play the shit you want to hear in a style you grew up with and you don’t think anyone’s doing it anymore. We’re doing it and we’re doing it in your city.”
WAR CURSE plays Saturday at Everybody’s Records in Pleasant Ridge as part of the store’s Metal Saturday celebration. More info: warcursemetal.com.