Riff Riders

Cincinnati’s Casino Warrior couples Metal intensity with a seriously silly lyrical approach

click to enlarge PHOTO: SCOTT W. HERRIOTT
Photo: Scott W. Herriott
Miguel Richards, vocalist and lead guitarist for Cincinnati-based rockers Casino Warrior, is a man of discerning taste, even if his wife disagrees. His newest endeavor is to grow a “skullet” — envision a mullet but with the business part in the front completely shaved and the party in the back flowing freely. Before that, Richards grew a glorious push-broom mustache.

Both follicle-driven goals were decided upon for two very important reasons: for the hell of it and because they’re funny. It’s this earnest dedication to goofing off that Richards and his bandmates bring to their raucous take on swampy Heavy Metal and Rock & Roll.

The formation of Casino Warrior (Richards, guitarist Billy Buzek, bassist Kevin McNair and drummer Chad Wolary) followed the same template as many Cincinnati bands — each member knew the other socially via years of playing live in previous bands before finally coming together.

“Miguel and I were in a Heavy Metal cover band together,” Buzek says. “Then he left to move to Indianapolis and he said, ‘I’m coming back and you and I are starting a real band.’ So while he was gone, he was sending me demos of music he was writing.”

Richards returned to Cincinnati and recruited bassist McNair, then set his sights on Wolary. And he did so with the utmost professionalism and class when he ran into him at a bar on a cold, fateful night.

“Miguel shows up fucking hammered,” Wolary says. “He’s like ‘Hey, lumberjack! You need to fucking listen to this!’ All I know is Miguel wants me to listen to some guitar parts on his cellphone and I’m like, ‘Fuck man, I just want to get a drink.’ ”

Luckily, while attempting to get Wolary to join the band, Richards also mentioned that McNair was a part of the project, which piqued Wolary’s interest and helped lock in the lineup. All the quartet needed to do now was dive into the morass of riffs that Richards had amassed during his time in Indianapolis.

“We had a motherload of riffs to cull from that we’re still kind of culling from,” Buzek says. “A lot of stock to pull from because (Richards) was sending me everything.”

Of course, for a band so beholden to the power of the guitar riff, having a massive catalog of heaviness at your beck and call certainly has its benefits. 

“The riff is king,” Buzek says. “That’s an ideology that we all subscribe to. The riff that dominates the track is gnarly enough to carry the track; we are slaves to the riff.” 

The band may be slaves to the riff, but the musicians are also masters at constructing songs around them with an expert mix of Every Time I Die’s groove and humor and Black Tusk’s sludgy intensity. Wolary and McNair create a sturdy backbone in the low end, which allows Buzek and Richards to build infectious earworms that stick in your mind longer than the inevitable post-Casino Warrior-show hangover. 

Richards’ lyrics bring the whole package together and provide some welcome brevity to the intense sonic attack, even if he initially needed a not-so-gentle kick in the ass to find his voice. 

“Some of the vocals weren’t even written until the night before I went into the studio,” Richards says. “It was really difficult at first, but after learning that process, I’ll just keep a pad of paper and shit just comes to me.”

Casino Warrior’s lyrics are based on mythical creatures like the chupacabra, Medusa or trolls. But any expectation of scholarly rumination on these subjects is shattered at about a minute and a half into “Centaur,” as Richards proclaims, “Horse balls!” The lyrics are fun, irreverent, hilarious and totally by design.

“I think it’s indicative of all our personalities,” Wolary says. “It makes me happy to be able to laugh still while I’m playing.”

It is this mash-up of serious songwriting, cheeky lyricism and impeccable onstage swagger that has allowed Casino Warrior to make a big splash in Cincinnati’s Rock and Metal scenes over the past year and a half (which included winning a Cincinnati Entertainment Award for Metal last year). The quartet takes live performances and partying very seriously, and those two pillars of the band complement each other. Fans at a Casino Warrior show might see McNair taking breaks from pumping out his rumbling basslines in order to flex his guns for the crowd or steal the microphone from Richards, and it’s almost guaranteed the crowd will get a nice long look at the massive owl tattoo on Richards’ chest. 

When drinking before and during a show, musicians can sometimes ride a fine line between putting on an entertaining and musically sound performance or becoming a sloppy, drunken spectacle. For some, that line gets blurrier with every attempt. But Casino Warrior’s engagingly wild live show is one of its strong suits and a big reason people love the group. 

Musicianship and songwriting are no joke for the band, but when they play live, they really try to put on a “show.” The times the quartet goes off script are the most memorable, but the music itself never suffers. 

“We play Rock & Roll,” Buzek says of the band’s live presence. “Rock & Roll is flawed.” 

While he’s right, Casino Warrior has learned to show the audience only the flaws it wants you to see. The guys know when to buckle down and when to loosen up, and that instinct seems to cut through the numerous PBR cans on their amps. 

Casino Warrior recently finalized a music video for the song “Pigroast,” which appears on the band’s debut EP (check it out below). And the members are currently finishing writing their first full-length release and hope to enter the studio to record by the end of the summer. That means with several months to put on final touches, Casino Warrior’s songs will only get better, the lyrics will get funnier and the skullet will get longer. Richards’ wife’s loss is Cincinnati Hard Rock and Metal fans’ gain.

Casino Warrior's new "Pigroast" music video:


For more on CASINO WARRIOR, visit facebook.com/casinowarrior.

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