After 23 years, Ringworm has retained its credibility as a genre-defining powerhouse of hardcore metal through a simple formula: the perverse onslaught of listeners' ears. The Cleveland outfit clobbers through speed-picked, palm-muted riffs -- following in the steps of thrash gods Kreator -- and conjures half-time breakdowns that elicit the hellion mosher in hardcore fans. Vocalist James "Human Furnace" Bulloch spews offensive lyrics like his blood is boiling. Touring behind its latest full-length, Hammer of the Witch, Ringworm is expected to aggravate the audience with tracks like "Bleed" and "Psychic Vampire," along with such classics as "Justice Replaced by Revenge." Ringworm, along with supporting acts Death Before Dishonor, Relentless, and Let It Burn, play Thee Parkside this Sunday, April 13 at 8 p.m. for $10. Bulloch took a break while on the road to speak with SF Weekly about the hardships of touring after 20-plus years in the scene, the new album Hammer of the Witch, and the transition to Relapse Records. Check out their album while you read.
James, thanks for your time. You're already touring behind your new album Hammer of the Witch; how's it going so far?
On any tour you kinda keep your fingers crossed. We've already had a van take a shit on us, and all other kinds of shit happen. We're hoping for the best of luck for the rest of the tour. But it's been awesome so far. We played Southeast Beast, which is a huge fest in Jacksonville, and the show in Boston was crazy.
What happened with your van?
Well we did South By Southwest: two shows leading out there and two shows leading home. On our last show we were heading back to Cleveland and the whole transmission completely dropped out and that was on St. Patrick's Day. So we had to leave the van there, rent a van, come home, get that van fixed before we left for this tour. We had to rent a car, drive out back to Indianapolis, pick up the van, bring the van back, pack it up, and get on the road to do two shows. But the transmission completely took a shit again in Baltimore.
And what wasn't fucked up on the van already, the tow-truck driver fucked up -- the drive train and everything. So we hopped a ride with the Aussies (Relentless), played a show in Erie, and rode back with them to Cleveland where we were lucky enough to find someone to rent us his van for the remainder of the tour. So here we are. We've got another tour coming up, so we've got to get something new. It's always an adventure man, you never know.
Sounds rough, but you've mentioned you've had some good shows? Any favorite moments yet?
You know, this is our first tour for this record, Hammer of the Witch, and we're used to our records taking a good couple of years for people to hear. Whereas this one, we say ok we are going to play a new song, and everybody already knows it, because they already have the record, which is awesome.
We played a show in Boston, and that's Death Before Dishonor's hometown. And we've played Boston a million times, we've been touring for so long. Sometimes you go there and it's dead, and sometimes it's really good. The show we just played -- I've seen a lot of crazy things -- but this one was out of control. It looked like a bunch of Orks playing rugby, it was nuts. I looked at the guys in the band kinda saying, "Are you seeing what I'm seeing?" -- it's just crazy. That was definitely a moment where I was taken aback. That's the highlight so far that sticks out in my mind.
Speaking of your new album, Hammer of the Witch, you've left Victory Records, and this is your debut on Relapse. How has that been?
It's been excellent. With Victory, I've never been quite about the fact that we weren't happy there. I just thought that what we were doing, and what that label is and what their agenda is, their audience for that label, we [were] a mismatch. Your average Victory-hardcore kid is not really going to appreciate what we do. We are mean and ugly and loud and screaming and nasty. I thought that [Victory was] unwilling, or couldn't find that audience that we really needed. Whereas Relapse, that's obviously a metal oriented label. The instant transition to that label has brought our visibility and exposure up to a completely different level, to people that have never heard us before, that may have loved us for all of our records if they had gotten the chance to hear us before. Relapse has exposed us to a whole new crowd base, just by who they are, and the type of label they are, and by all the hard work they are doing to promote their records
In recent album reviews people have said that this is your heaviest, most intense record to date. Does the shift to Relapse have anything to do with that?
I've read reviews that [say] now that we're on Relapse it sounds like this, but before, when we were on Victory we weren't "allowed" to put out a record like that, which is bullshit! You know, we were excited to work with a metal label, and this new record is proving that it's working. We definitely wanted to come out of the box swinging, that's for sure. But we didn't put any more work into this one than on any of our other ones. But I think what we were fortunate with this time, is that the production is raw and representative of what we're like live -- which is intense and in your face -- and that makes a huge difference. It's just that this album is getting a lot more attention, and the production is really good on it.
Ringworm has been around for 20-plus years. As time has passed, and now with the new label behind you, has the scene changed?
You have to be realistic about this type of music, and that gets you to understand this scene or how this stuff works. Being older gives us the advantage of just rolling with the punches. It hasn't been easy. There are peaks of when people are interested in it. You also question why you're doing it. We never fell into any trap, or trend, or jumped on a bandwagon, because when you do that, you become dated yourself. We grew up on '80s thrash and skate rock, early death metal and shit like that. So that's what we've been sticking with the whole time. We've seen a lot of bands come and go, a lot of genres come and go, generations of young kids growing up and then moving on to the next phase of their lives and leaving metal, hardcore behind. It's definitely targeted for youth audiences.
You said you sometimes question why you continue to do this. So, why do you?
If you're out here for fame, money, or pussy -- whatever -- that's going to get old really quick. Those things are few and far between, if you see it at all. For this band, a lot of us are in our early 40's, and we all have responsibilities at home. We all have jobs. I myself have a couple of businesses, so it's like we could be making way more money if we stayed at home and worked our regular jobs. But for some reason we like to do this. You learn a lot. Good and bad. That's how you question what you're doing. If you're going to be in a touring band, you've gotta love to do it. As cliché as it is, just let the shit roll off your back and don't sweat the small stuff. We're lifers, and we feel like we have to do it. It's something that you ultimately love to do.