Given that Nate Newton is a self-described "hardcore kid at heart," becoming the bassist in Converge—one of the most essential bands to merge metal and hardcore—would seem like the ultimate fulfilled wish. But while he's enjoyed that gig since 1998, he's living out his real rock dreams as the frontman of his side project, Doomriders.
For example, Converge album covers feature singer Jacob Bannon's hauntingly oblique artwork: a disembodied hand, a faded female face. By contrast, Doomriders' debut disc, Black Thunder, depicts a red-eyed reaper brandishing a multipronged lightning bolt while straddling a winged demonic steed. Green flames ominously border his hooded skull, like an eerily luminous anti-halo. The packaging couldn't get much more heavy-metal-parking-lot unless the group sealed each disc inside a miniature van airbrush-emblazoned with this image.
"Our bassist Jebb [Riley] painted it," Newton explains by phone before a Converge concert in Baltimore. "We wanted our cover to make people decide right on the spot—before they even hear it—whether they hate us or love us. I wanted people to pick it up at the record store and say, 'Who the fuck do these guys think they are?'"
Having achieved that goal, Newton addressed another item off his to-do list. A substantial cross section of the counterculture dreams of singing like Glenn Danzig. Newton supplements Bannon's wounded-monkey shrieks in Converge, and he produced his own ungodly screams in his previous group Jesuit, but Doomriders' moodier material called for him to channel the master of the melodically macabre. So on "Midnight Eye" and, aptly, the Danzig cover "Possession," he breaks out the bellow.
With graphics and sound covered, Newton confronted lyrics, writing a perfect my-first-rant number called "Fuck This Shit" that runs through every standard target (landlord, boss, teacher, cops, family, friends).
"That sums up punk and hardcore," Newton says. "I hate school, I hate my job."
Even in that song's 60-second window, Doomriders traverse vast musical territory, alternating noisy thrash with slow, sludgy riffs. An increasing number of extreme groups, many of which cite Converge as an influence, clutter their compositions with technically daunting fragments until their albums become misguided mosaics, hideously ugly upon first glance but masterpieces under a microscope. Converge stay relatively tethered to blues-based rock, but Doomriders actually revel in it, recalling such thick, groove-heavy groups as Deep Purple.
"I grew up with an appreciation of country, classic rock, everything," Newton says. "I just liked music. I feel like everyone is trying to be a metalcore band, or whatever stupid genre is 'in' this month. I wanted to do something that was rock, hardcore, metal and blues at once, but never just one of those things."
Black Thunder's strongest selling point might be its soaring dual-guitar harmonies, which dominate lengthy, slow-winding, and wordless stretches.
"That's the Thin Lizzy in me," Newton says. If he were a vocals-only frontman like Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson, who has witnessed more guitar harmonies than any active singer, "I would sit there twiddling my thumbs or just headbang really hard."
This sort of intertwined axwork rarely appears on an inaugural effort, but Newton and fellow guitarist Chris P started playing together four years ago, before Doomriders formed. Several album cuts date back to this primordial period, and the fact that the group recorded Black Thunder direct-to-tape preserves the raw jam-session feel.
"Instead of a polished turd, it's a really rough, dirty turd," Newton clarifies.
As an accurate representation of the group's stage show, Black Thunder captures everything but Newton's banter, usually some variation on the phrase "this is a party—rock 'n' roll!"
Crowd reactions mirror the musical differences between the groups. Converge fans unveil Crouching Tiger choreography, with precisely timed moves coinciding with every neck-swiveling time-signature shift. Doomriders supporters drink beer and shout.
"No one makes music for the sake of having fun anymore," Newton says. "I have fun playing in Converge, but it's more musically challenging. It's a different energy altogether. Doomriders is all about being a loud asshole with my friends."