War Master, perhaps Houston’s most brutal and respected platoon of death-metal shock troops, has broken camp and begun a new campaign of auditory violence across the headbanging battlefields of Central Europe. After a two-year hiatus, the group re-announced its presence within the international scene with a set at the renowned Obscene Extreme festival in the Czech Republic last weekend and has now set out on a tour with its pals in the metallic Japanese hardcore band Palm.
Local fans who caught the group’s set at Destroying Texas Fest 12 earlier this month got their first look at the new reinforcements that have made the tour possible. Founding guitarist Neal Dossey and screamer R.G. War Minister remain on the front lines, but now Oceans of Slumber drummer Dobber Beverly and guitarist Anthony Contreras have been drafted into battle, as has bassist Mat V. Aleman.
Dossey says that the band’s fresh troops have firmly consolidated its headquarters in the Bayou City —previously, the group’s membership had been split between Houston and Austin. They’ve brought a new focus and intensity to the group’s mission, which threatened to stall out because of the departure of the guys they’ve replaced.
“Going on the road and doing tours when you have other people in different cities wasn’t such a big deal — to be able to just come together and then go out on the road together,” the guitarist says. “But we needed to have consistency with practice and having people around. Our old bass player T.A. joined the band Goatwhore, so he was on tour more often than not following the end of our last tour, which was about two years ago. We didn’t have a drummer for a while. Once Jon (West) moved on and no longer wanted to do War Master, we didn’t really do anything for, I’d say, maybe half a year.
“Once we got Dobber playing with us, then it was really just focusing on new material,” Dossey continues. “He brings a lot more speed, that’s for sure.”
The stylistic shifts are readily apparent on War Master’s latest batch of recordings, titled Demo MMXVI. The group hasn’t completely abandoned the more plodding, mid-tempo Bolt Thrower trappings of their previous material, but the new stuff contains a more furious, Floridian death-metal edge as well as a few crushing doom riffs for maximum neck-snappage.
“I would say that people will definitely recognize the band, because it still has that heavy, old-school death-metal vibe that makes you visualize war,” Dossey says. “That hasn’t changed; it’s just maybe a different type of war, you could say! We have more of an American death-metal sound as opposed to the more Swedish approach that I would say that we had in some of our older material, and it’s a lot faster. Overall, I would say it’s more dynamic.”
War Master is planning a more proper, professional release for the new material in the coming months, and, in keeping with the band’s original mission, that means ferocious new artwork must be completed to go with it. Dossey is a talented artist, and since the beginning, the group has long been associated with detailed, monochromatic, pen-and-ink drawings of hideous, undead warriors. For the new record’s cover, though, Dossey says he’s stretching in a different direction.
“This album is really pretty conceptual,” he says. “I don’t want to give away too much about it, but it’s going to be a pretty big production for the art. I’m doing it in oils and laying it out now, just getting it kind of sketched out and doing different color studies and everything. A lot of those earlier death metal bands, they had that full-color, unique, dark artwork. As we’re kind of transitioning to this other style, being a little more professional about the sound and just how much work we put into our releases, I think that’s just part of the evolutionary step — moving on to these more elaborate, time-put-into-it kind of pieces.”
Once all that is in place, Dossey says that War Master plans to shop the album around to labels. War Master isn’t ruling out a completely independent release, however.
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“Now, in 2016, getting signed to a label isn’t really the same thing that it was ten years ago, 20 years ago,” the guitarist says. “It’s not like you’re going to get on a label and they’re going to stock your CD in Warehouse Music, Blockbuster or all these bankrupt stores. It’s more of an Internet-driven thing, and you don’t need a label to put your music on the Internet.
“We’ve been able to do a lot of things that kind of could be considered big-label-type stuff, but we didn’t have to go that route,” Dossey continues. “So, now, we’re really just going to have to wait and see what happens as this whole thing unfolds, what kind of an offer we’re going to get.”
As the group weighs its options, its priority will continue to be a global approach to heavy metal warfare with an emphasis on artistic fulfillment. There will be more tours in the works, including Texas dates. But they will not be rushed. War Master has always been primarily concerned with doing things their own way, in their own good time.
“Really, this band is an artistic expression,” Dossey says. “It’s the kind of music that I like and what I want to do, and then it’s all about the people you’re doing it with and what they bring to it. We definitely have ambitions, and right now, it’s putting this album out. This is the album I’ve always wanted to put out, and I couldn’t be happier with it!”