No one was meant to hear Beartooth’s first album. Recorded by Caleb Shomo following his departure from electro metalcore band Attack Attack!, it was an exercise in catharsis and returning to his roots. Encouraged by the few friends that had heard those crushing anthems, Beartooth released their debut EP ‘Sick’ in 2013 with their first full-length ‘Disgusting’ following in 2014.
Since then, Beartooth have become a formidable live band (touring with the likes of Slipknot, A Day To Remember and Architects) while their music has never shied away from raw, honest conversations about mental illness. Debut single ‘I Have A Problem’ is a soul-baring rager that sees Shomo talk about the use of alcohol as a crutch while the self-titled track from 2018’s third album ‘Disgusting’ captures him feeling hopeless after suffering from depression his entire adult life.
Written over the course of 2020, new album ‘Below’ found Shomo wondering if he’d gotten “too dark” with his frank lyrics. As he tells NME though, “If I’d have dialled it back and sugarcoated what I was feeling, it wouldn’t be a real Beartooth record.”
We caught up with Caleb Shomo in his practice room to talk about deliberately not making a radio-friendly album, the future of Beartooth and the renaissance of heavy music. Here’s what we learned.
‘Below’ is deliberately heavier than anything Beartooth have ever done
After three successful albums, Shomo believes now would be the time to “make a really radio-friendly album and go a little more mainstream”, but decided to go the opposite way. “I just thought it would be a lot more fun to make a super heavy record instead,” he says. “I tried to write a few more big choruses at the beginning, just to give it a whirl. But I didn’t like any of it so I just scrapped it all and wrote heavy riffs instead.”
With the music written on tour, ‘Below’ is inspired by Metallica, Slayer, Black Sabbath, and the band’s own “intense live show”: “After every show, we would just go in the back lounge of our bus, turn the lights off, and just listen to metal.” In the morning, Shomo would wake up and write before doing it all over again.
It’s not a hopeful listen though
Lyrically, the album comes out of a period of pain, confusion and anger for Shomo, who poured what he was feeling into the record. “I felt so mad at the world and how things were being handled. It’s really not a positive album. It’s not a hopeful record, but it’s an honest one,” explains Shomo.
“I went as real, as deep and as dark as I could go because that’s what I was feeling but I just want it to be something we can look back on and think, ‘What an insane thing we got through as humanity’.” The album also offers reassurance to those who might be struggling too. “I want people to know it’s OK to feel pain and it’s OK to feel these emotions. That’s something I really tried to depict on this record. You’re not alone in anything, no matter how dark you think it is.”
Despite a career talking about mental health, Shomo doesn’t see himself as a role model
“I don’t view myself as the sort of person to be placed on a pedestal of good mental health because I’m an absolute train wreck. I’m still figuring it out and I have a lot of work to go,” admits Shomo. He is proud of himself for taking positive steps in his life after how dark things got during lockdown, though, including taking therapy seriously.
“I am not some person you should be looking up to,” he adds. “All I want is for those who listen to the lyrics to just understand that someone else goes through it too.”
Metal’s going to come back stronger than ever post-COVID
The past year has been tough for every musician but metal has really suffered, with their blistering sounds not really lending themselves to livestreams and touring their primary source of income. “But what I saw from bands like Architects, Bring Me The Horizon and While She Sleeps was creativity and the willingness to push through, no matter what was going on,” says Shomo, who feels very fortunate that Beartooth were always going to be off-cycle last year.
“What was really cool to see from the metal scene was all the support for each other through all that. Every time a new record dropped or a new single came out, all of my friends were posting about it and other bands were really trying to lift each other up. It was a really beautiful thing that came out of a really terrible situation.”
Looking to the future, Shomo believes that when gigs start up again, “they’re going to be the actual craziest shows that have ever happened,” helped in part by the ongoing metal resurgence. “Some of the biggest records right now are guitar music and you’ve got hip-hop acts topping the charts with pop-punk albums which is really exciting.”
Beartooth is the metalcore version of Friends
Like the popular US sitcom, Shomo wants Beartooth’s first chapter to capture his first decade of adulthood and all the colourful experiences that come with that. “Our first five albums are going to be an era of the band, just depicting my 20s,” he explains.
The 28-year-old has already started to work out the finer details of the last release of that era, saying he’s got everything from the art and colour scheme, to “vibe” and title in his head. Beyond that record, though, he’s drawing a blank. “I know nothing about era two yet. Only time will tell.”
Shomo was initially considering a hiatus after that first era, but lockdown has made him change his mind. “I have fallen so in love with this project, I could never see myself walking away from it,” he says. “I want to go out like Lemmy. I want to go out rocking until I’m forced to stop.”
Beartooth’s new album ‘Below’ is out June 25 on Red Bull Records