Throughout time, the arts has had a deep, intertwined relationship with political climates. So much so are the two entrenched that they form their own sort of arts & culture form of linguistic relativism. Politics influences art, which influences culture, which influences politics- each sides bearing their equal measure in a sturdy trilateral system of endless cyclical begats. It follows such that art in various forms- theatre, film, painting, and music, stood both as outlandish commentaries and also succumbed to works of propaganda. Of course, none of this should come as any surprise: Leni Reifenstahl’s filmography was dedicated to pro-Nazi-propaganda pieces such as Triumph des Willens (1935); Pete Seeger’s “We Shall Overcome” came to symbolize a figure of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement; YG & Nipsey’s “FDT ( F*ck Donald Trump)” is exactly as it reads. Woody Guthrie’s anthemic “This Land Is Your Land” dances between staunch patriotism and political broadside. Picasso subscribed to French Communism; Renoir and Charles Dickens (despite his particular pro-social advancements) weren’t the kindest of fellows- and that’s putting it lightly. Endless examples both past, present, and futuristic, will prevail in relevance across time exactly as they are: reflections of current times, of desperate measures, and of winds of change.
Frederick, Maryland post-hardcore/metalcore outfit Hostile Array is yet another group to be added to a long list of notable figures.
Hostile Array- formerly known as My Ransomed Soul- presents itself as a challenge to and defiance of domineering strangleholds of a kakistocracy and its surrounding abhorrent cultural trends. Dynamic and dissonant, Hostile Array’s methodologies of poignant political commentary and direct-action-via-artistry are every bit of menacing as their namesake suggest. Relentless insturmentation reflects restless lyricism that bespeaks a further restless life in the wake of geo-political turmoil; furiousness and ferocity prevails in a manner that will make your blood rush and pound in your ears as all human senses become heightened to a gripping extreme. However, the band’s unapologetic aural assault and its deliberate representation of the desolate and despairing cultural climate that surrounds our daily lives is far from a Sapir-Whorf circle-jerk of chaos and anguish that begets chaos and anguish. Rather, they streamline their politically-motivated music in a digestible, albeit torrentially tormented format that almost always offers a solution: the solution being that, perhaps when we open our ears and our minds, we may induce change. Hostile Array seeks one thing: to incite and entice empathy in the hopes of exacting change.
I had the great pleasure of talking at length with Hostile Array’s frontman, Brendan Frey, about the looming political uncertainty at hand, the band’s involvement as world-stewardship narrative in a fearful climate surrounding U.S. involvements in the Middle East, and the process of prioritizing any listener’s digestion- all the while looking for clarity in the whirlwind.
Ouch That Hertz!: Hey, Brendan! How’s it hanging?
Brendan: Doing well, thanks for taking the time to talk with us.
OTH!: It’s been a while since we’ve heard from you. I believe the last piece of new material I had heard from you guys since the rebranding was your single (and its accompanying music video) “Herd Instinct,” released last fall! It’s nice to see that your train of political activism is still steadfast and headstrong, particularly in this new release of “Warmonger!” I’m curious- why such a gap in timeline? Did you run into a writer’s block amidst your creation of new material?
Brendan: We actually have been sitting on this album for a while now. Our first two singles were recorded alongside the rest of the album in February of 2017 with Chris Galvez of Good Fortune Audio, but there is a lot of planning that goes into getting all of the necessary resources for an album release. Things can move even slower when you’re independent. Another delay was that we decided go a different direction mix wise, so the album version of “Herd Instinct” and “Devoid” are actually mixed differently than the single versions.
OTH!: Previously, in your first single “Devoid,” Hostile Array tackled the hypocrisy surrounding the U.S.’s shameful foreign relations within the Middle East. Following that was “Herd Instinct,” in which we listened to you challenge rampant nationalism. This time around, in “Warmonger,” we listen to you challenge the deliberate fabrication of false information that is disseminated by media outlets and politicians for profitable gain. It’s overtly clear that these are issues that you, as a band, care deeply about in addition to your steadfast penchant for exposing corruption on either side(s) of the aisle. What you’re touching on- all these dubious corrupted aspects of human rights worldwide- is unbelievably dense. Have you ever considered segmenting these topics and subjects into their own concept albums?
Brendan: It’s definitely crossed my mind. It’s kind of hard for me to pinpoint which issue I am most passionate about. For this album I started off with about 15 topics and just worked on trying to make them as comprehensible as possible, without missing any key points. I wrote most of these songs during the 2016 election cycle, so I had plenty of inspiration, but as you could imagine it was hard to narrow it down.
OTH!: For instance- I don’t know that you’ve seen this yet (or even if you subscribe to The New Yorker)- there’s a fascinating article by Dexter Filkins, titled “The Ascent,” which focuses on Jared Kushner’s business ties to Mohammed bin Salman and the Trump cabinet’s overarching financially and ethically troubling business dealings within Saudi Arabia, as well as a bit more background in the dubious foreign policy relations in Qatar and the plot to coerce both bin Nayef and Saad Hariri- all of which is in a dastardly and tense government and economic initiative to “reshape the Middle East” in a Saudi favor. That alone, I’m sure, you could comment upon for entire albums! Would you ever delve deeper into that sort of thing and maintain it as the focus of an entire album?
Brendan: I’m familiar with Filkins’ article. The article is just a glimpse at the long oil-centric alliance between the US and Saudi Arabia which started with FDR. I could write an entire album about US relations in the Middle East and its ethical complexities while barely scratching the surface. We have been destabilizing the Middle Eastern since the 1953 coup in Iran. Most people don’t realize how far back our history goes in this region.
OTH!: Regardless, your ability to touch on any topic and bear so much passion and poignance to it, does inspire a listener such as myself to want to dig deeper. Is that what you hope to inspire within your fanbase? Perhaps an inkling to also peel back the curtains after subjecting themselves to teeth-shattering breakdowns?
Brendan: I think you pretty much hit the nail on the head. I would never be able to fully explain a full coherent analysis of most of these topics in a 3 to 4 minute song. I see my role as someone who can simply spark interest in a topic. I want to establish an emotional connection with the listener that will inspire them to look deeper into these topics so that they can educate themselves and those around them.
I want to incite empathy.”
OTH!: So, I have to ask, in a previous interview with Antihero, you mentioned that you’re constantly taking notes on current events- marking your reactions to them as well as the facts. As I’m sure that you are more than aware, an overwhelming amount of activism is unfortunately mitigated or halted by burnout and depression. When you spend so much time immersed in current affairs- especially in tumultuous times like these- what do you do to step back from it? How do you know when to personally and musically pull yourselves away from it all before you completely lose it?
Brendan: I am the definition of an overthinker, so I definitely have to cut myself off from current affairs at times. I am not much of a physical note taker, I keep a lot of this stuff in my head, sometimes I’ll write stuff down in my phone, but it can get mentally exhausting. I find myself shutting down when I focus for too long on a heavier topic and I’ll usually have to refocus my attention on something completely unrelated. It’s an imperfect coping mechanism, but it works for me most of the time.
OTH!: Can you name a particular moment in the making of the album in which you had to break from it, lest ye be lost in the madness of it all?
Brendan: I think I hit a wall during the recording process. We were reworking a lot of the material to get it just right, I was getting very little sleep trying to balance work and recording, so I ended up just crashing. I was recording vocals one night at about 1am and I had to stop and lay down due to unrelenting stress induced migraines.
OTH!: In an effort to not just fixate upon your breadth of work within reporting-via-metalcore in terms of political activism, I’d love to talk about your artistry. Specifically, your dichotomy between your audio output and your visual output. What I liked about My Ransomed Soul was the raw determinism in the voice and instrumentals of the album. Hostile Array, however, takes on a whole new form- it’s neo-barbaric in its full-frontal assault, but the music has more dynamicism and punch to it! Admittedly, I experience more of the anger and distress in the music, which seems always focused on the theme and/or concept. When you adapt it to a visual component- as you have in your music videos- the tone becomes unnervingly tangible. Brendan said in an official press statement that the “Warmonger” video “focuses on a subject that has lost a loved one to war, all while struggling with uncovering complex lies and cover ups through leaked documents.” From my perspective, this split invites a whole different kind of experience for fans, listeners, and viewers in terms of accessibility. The personal is, indeed, political. Was this a decisive split between the audio-visual representation of your music thus far? If so, it’s brilliant!
Brendan: I think it’s a lot easier to understand a concept when you have something personally invested. A lot of people don’t care about the politics until it personally affects them. I wrote the lyrics and the initial video concepts with this in mind. I want to incite empathy. I want each viewer or listener to see these topics from a new perspective, as if they have been directly impacted.
OTH!: If there’s one thing I like the most about Hostile Array’s music is that no part of it feels like it stems from any form of misdirected energy. Phrases are better flushed out, but the instrumentation is far from oversaturated. The tonality has also, taken a much sharper turn. It feels bolder and yet more refined- in fact, it reminds me very much of Architects. To what do you attribute this particular structure and quality? What interpersonally prompted this shift as you built Hostile Array?
Brendan: It was more of a natural shift for us, we really just wanted to do something different from what we had been doing. When we first started writing for this project, lyrically we knew we wanted to address a variety of topics that we were passionate about. Musically, we decided to pull influences heavily from bands we grew up listening to such as Underoath, Norma Jean, etc. We’ve gotten a lot of Architects comparisons, which is funny because I don’t think our music really sounds anything like them, just my vocal approach at times. I wanted to experiment with my vocal techniques, and this is the first time I had ever done something like this, so I think Sam Carter was definitely an influence for me, but if you stripped away my vocals I don’t think anyone would make the Architects comparison.
OTH!: So, I know it’s early in the game for you all and that this is an elephant in the room in its own way, but what’s next for Hostile Array? I feel like I’m going to see you all start a slew of grassroots campaigns for elections in various offices.
Brendan: Honestly, I’ve played with the idea of eventually running for some type of political office, but not anytime soon. I’m a big believer in making the change you want to see happen yourself, but there are plenty of other goals in my life I want to achieve before I would ever seriously consider that route.
OTH!: In all seriousness, since you’re writing material is centered around current affairs- a topic that endlessly generates itself- what becomes Hostile Array’s next move as a band- especially after such an enriching and personal-energy-sapping release?
Brendan: I think right now we just want to focus on touring when we can and trying to connect with those who may be interested in what we’re doing. We should be announcing some tour dates for this summer shortly, if everything goes as planned. Obviously our album will be out June 1st, expect some more videos to accompany the release as well. We’re always casually talking about the next step writing wise, but no definite plans have come to fruition as of yet.
OTH!: Oh, man, you don’t suppose that y’all have wound up on a watch list yet, have you? (I wonder if I will by the end of this interview!)
Brendan: With how prevelent mass surveillance is, I’m sure I am on someones list at this point.
OTH!: At any rate, thank you for your constant contributions in the narrative of geo-political politics! Unfortunately, this is about all the time I have for you. Before I let you go, is there anything else you’d like to add?
Brendan: I really appreciate you taking the time to dig into what we are doing here. This is our passion, so giving us an opportunity to go deeper into these topics means the world to us. For any readers out there that like what we’re doing and would like to support us, please pre-order our album via iTunes, Amazon, or Bandcamp. If you’re more of a streaming person, our album will be on Spotify and Apple Music on June 1st.