Hot Pockets and heavy metal: You wouldn't think such bizarre bedfellows could find common ground anywhere, let alone in a band called Lair of the Minotaur. But when Steven Rathbone isn't shredding on guitar or screaming about mythological Greek cannibals, the Lair of the Minotaur frontman writes advertising jingles.
"You'll see it before movies this summer," he says about the Hot Pockets job. "I'm conflicted about that, though—you pay all that money and they show you ads; it's horseshit. Although I had no qualms about cashing the check."
It's hard to imagine someone who writes songs like "Cannibal Massacre"—all heart- attack-inducing rhythms and heavier-than-gravity riffage—composing ditties for Bally Total Fitness and General Motors. But nearly everything about Lair of the Minotaur feels like some retaliation against the stagnancy and stereotypes associated with modern heavy metal, from their unorthodox poly-metal sound to the Greek mythology retold in their lyrics.
"I didn't think the world needed another band screaming about Satan," Rathbone says. "These days, saying you worship Satan is about as shocking as a fart." LOTM spurns that routine and instead name drops Lycaon, werewolf king of Arcadia; Ixion, father of the centaurs; and the Laestrygones, a tribe of gigantic cannibals—esoteric legends even the most hardcore dungeon master would find geeky.
"That's why I decided to write about Greek mythology," Rathbone says. "I like the sword-and-sorcery aspect of metal. And over time, it's been widely construed as being corny. So I wanted to make something that hailed metal's past, but was also a breath of fresh air."
Initially, Rathbone believed the LOTM concept was so different—not to mention hellishly heavy and lyrically obscure—that it wouldn't go anywhere. "I didn't think anyone would like Lair of the Minotaur because of the subject matter and because it doesn't sound like current, popular metal," he says. "I thought we'd record a demo, play a few shows, and that would be that."
Instead, within months of the band releasing 300 CD-R copies of their demo, Greg Anderson, head of Southern Lord records, offered to release their debut, 2004's Carnage. Their inclusion in the Southern Lord roster was a surprise, as it usually revolves around more experimental artists such as SunnO))), Earth, and Oren Ambarchi. Sitting snugly amid the metal avant-garde, Rathbone says he feels happy with the band's unique position.
"I think metal is the starting point of a lot of the Southern Lord musicians and bands, and experimentation has taken them on different paths from there," he says. "Maybe Lair of the Minotaur represents the roots of metal on the label," he says.
Anderson himself, renowned for the guitar drones he unleashes in his band SunnO))), originally called LOTM's throwback sound refreshing, saying he was "fucking blown away" when he first heard them.
"Although I find it difficult to pinpoint a particular style or sound that fits in with the Southern Lord roster, I will say that if the music is heavy and intense, and hits me the right way, I'd like to be a part of releasing it," Anderson explains. "Lair of the Minotaur is a perfect of example of a heavy, intense band that captured my attention from the first time I heard them."
Heavy and intense indeed. Lair of the Minotaur embody all that is potentially great about heavy metal: a lack of pretension, conceptual lyrics, a totally eviscerating, frenetic sound, and, ultimately, a love for the music—Hot Pockets jingles included. As Rathbone puts it, "I'm haunted by the riff."