In plenty of small towns dotting South Texas, the only real chance for success lies underground. Life tends to revolve around the oil patch: Money has to be pumped out of the dirt, and if you’re not out working in the oilfield, you’re out looking for work in the oilfield. That’s just the way things are in Alice, Texas, a town of fewer than 20,000 people nearly 80 miles south of Victoria where singer Marcos Leal grew up.
“It’s all about oil fields — that’s the life down here, and that’s what you do,” Leal says. “Then you die! You do that for your whole life.”
Working the oil patch was never how Leal wanted to spend his life, but his destiny still lay underground — not in South Texas’s massive shale deposits, but in the state’s heavy-metal underground. Leal and his bandmates in Shattered Sun spent years plugging away in the rock clubs studding the landscape between Amarillo and Corpus Christi, honing their chops and dreaming of bigger, better stages far away from home.
There was no shortage of naysayers in their hometown. Alice is known to some as the birthplace of Tejano music, but it was born a long time ago. Heavy metal? Forget about it. Often, Leal says, it felt like there might be no escape from the oil fields, especially a couple of years ago when many riggers were making $60 an hour or better and the band was making dogshit. And then, all of a sudden, the band hit a gusher.
“Finally, there came a time when I think we were getting a little bit older, and it just kind of seemed like now was the time, and if we couldn’t make it happen now, we were going to break up,” Leal says. “That was kind of the ultimatum behind it all. We got in the studio and decided, hey, we’re going to put everything we have behind this album and go all in. If it works, great. If it attracts some attention, great. If not, well then, at least we went out swinging.
“For some reason, the stars lined up,” he adds.
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The record that Shattered Sun created, Hope Within Hatred, found its way to the desk of Adrenaline PR CEO Maria Ferrero, who just so happened to be forming a new music-management company with ex-MegaForce Records owners Jon and Marsha Zazula — the folks who signed Metallica and Anthrax — and Testament singer Chuck Billy.
The new company, Breaking Bands, LLC, was looking for bands with a modern metal sound ready for the masses, and they liked what they heard from Shattered Sun. The six-piece band’s polished guitar riffs, melodic keyboards and powerful vocals instantly recall 21st-century acts like Killswitch Engage and Shadows Fall. Breaking Bands signed them within a week.
“I think what caught their attention was that we were ready to do anything it took,” Leal says. “I love where I come from, but coming up, there was a lot of people to tell us that there’s no way the six of you can do it from this small town. I’ve heard everything in the book. That was kind of our motivation to keep pushing forward.
“There’s a difference between wanting a future and being willing to work for a future,” the front man continues. “I think they saw we were willing to work for a future.”
With their debut album in the can and ready to drop, things began moving very quickly for Shattered Sun. Last February, they signed with independent powerhouse Victory Records. Hope Within Hatred was released last April, and management had Shattered Sun hitting the road hard to promote it. Last year, the group opened for Testament and Exodus on tour and scored a coveted slot on the New England Metal & Hardcore Fest before trekking across the country on the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival and then hitting the road with Soulfly.
It’s been a whirlwind, to say the least. Now, Shattered Sun is back traveling some familiar roads before it all starts back up again. Tonight at the White Swan, the band kicks off its tour of Texas and surrounding states that will take them back to some of the places they played when the likes of Chuck Billy and Mayhem Fest were still only fantasies.
“It’s really awesome for us, because when we did those big tours with Testament and Exodus or Mayhem, every time we’d come to our home state, it’s usually one and done: We’re gonna go and play Austin and we’re out, or Austin and Dallas and we’re out," Leal says. "All the cities like Abilene and San Antonio and Corpus Christi — all these places that have supported us since way before we were signed with Breaking Bands or Victory — we’ve never gotten a chance to go back.
“Now that we have the album, now that we seem to have established ourselves a little bit more, to come back and headline our own run is very humbling,” he continues. “It’s awesome. I can’t wait to get out there and give it everything I’ve got.”
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While the new tour practically begs Shattered Sun to take a fond look back at the old days, the fact remains that the prime of their career together lies in front of them, not behind. Last year was crucial for the group, but 2016 will be just as important. There will be more big tours to come, and a new record that’s due by early next year.
“We’ve got some big plans,” Leal says. “We’ve got a very big agenda that we’re trying to tackle right now, and it’s just awesome. I love the challenge. We’re all big music fans, so just incorporating ideas from all six of us makes for something really unique.
“Now that we’ve been doing the writing for the new album, I think that with Hope Within Hatred, we were just scratching the surface,” he adds. “I think the next album is going to be above and beyond anything anybody expects from us.”
Shattered Sun opens its "Texas Ragers Tour" with Darkness Divided, In One Breath and Solomon tonight at the White Swan, 4419 Navigation Boulevard. $10. Doors open at 7 p.m.