Art should confront and challenge convention, but Cane Hill take it one step further. The New Orleans heavy metal quartet—Elijah Witt [vocals], James Barnett [guitar], Ryan Henriquez [bass], and Devin Clark [drums]—offer up a new set of commandments on their full-length debut album, Smile [Rise Records].
“There’s such a fucking terrible problem with the way people think about themselves, the sex they have, and the fact that everyone’s just living to die,” exclaims Witt. “Lyrically, the entire album is about these issues. Instead of falling prey to the status quo, have all the fun you can. Go where you want to go. Fuck who you want to fuck. Believe what you want to believe.”
They encase that ponderous, provocative, and passionate message within a “swamp metal meets groove rock” sound that initially enticed both fans and press on their 2015 self-titled EP. By 2016, Cane Hill became nominated for “Best New Band” at the Metal Hammer Golden Gods Awards, “Best International Newcomer” at the KERRANG! Awards, and “Best Underground Band” at the Alternative Press Music Awards. They would tour with the likes of Bullet for My Valentine, Asking Alexandria, Hollywood Undead, Atreyu, and many others in addition to turning festival crowds into believers at Carolina Rebellion, Welcome to Rockville, Rock on the Range, Warped Tour, and more.
In the midst of it all, they cut Smile over the course of five weeks in Los Angeles with producer Drew Fulk [Motionless In White, Fear Factory, I Prevail]. Respectfully nodding to the likes of Pantera, Alice In Chains, Rob Zombie, and other classic influences, they crafted a style that’s equally steeped in malevolent melody, literary lyricism, and a hammering hypnotic groove.
“We didn’t want to write flaccid songs with flaccid lyrics,” explains Witt who was on track to achieve a PhD and pursue a career in academia before Cane Hill signed to Rise Records. “Working with Drew, we really solidified what we are on Smile. He’s easily our fifth member. He understands us—which is something difficult to find. Making the record, we all shared the vision of being more of a rock band.”
Smile is a monster all its own. After the downright incendiary opener “MGGDA,” the first single “(The New) Jesus” seesaws between a pummeling chug and an infectious choir-style chant.
“I’ve been so goddamn over religion ruining everything,” sighs the singer. “Most of the negativity towards homosexuality and the LGBT community is because of religion. Misogyny and sexism are caused by it. I was trying to say, ‘Fuck everything you believe. It was written thousands of years ago by people in a different time to help them in their lives. It has no application anymore. It’s outdated bullshit. It’s time to revamp that, so why not be a (New) Jesus?’”
Elsewhere on the album, the eerie hum of “St. Veronica” and the schizophrenic snap of “Cream Pie” confront sexual inequality, while the ominous airy closer “Strange Candy” espouses the merits of testing one’s chemical limits on top of an entrancing sonic backdrop cast in six-string intricacy and rhythmic darkness.
“It showcases everybody’s ability to play a different style of music,” he goes on. “It’s about overindulgence and the chemical addiction that can result from feeling that way.”
Taking their name from an old asylum in London, known as one of the most haunted places on earth, Cane Hill ultimately find truth and freedom within madness. Listeners might just do the same…
“When people hear Smile, I want them to contemplate the insides of their minds,” Witt leaves off. “Think about the way you’re living. You can do so much more if you want to. Do it.”