Many, many names have come up in metal over the years. Even with the various tropes and standards that tend to be heard and seen across all walks of metal, it somehow remains a never-ending deep dive of intrigue and intricacies. Regardless of how similar as any two bands may be of the genre, each possesses a style and flavor that can, and usually will, help them stand out in some way. For this week’s edition of Weekly Featured Artist, we are exploring how all the above translates to none other than Crucial Rip from Richmond, VA.
Spawned in the River City as a slam death metal act with technical prowess to their compositions, Crucial Rip have been dominating stages on the East Coast as far back as 2015. With some line-up changes, plethoras of shows, and a strong work ethic being among the building blocks of their legacy, the band has solidified a name for themselves in the metal scene, and there’s truly nowhere to go but up. As they have recently released their newest record, Violent Retribution, buzz for the band is only continuing its growth. Despite how busy Crucial Rip has been lately, they were kind enough to take some time to chat with me about the message of the band, some history, life before, during, and after COVID lockdown, and even some other interesting tidbits; Let’s start below with what the band sees as their main message!
Russell: ‘Smoke weed and mosh.
But in all seriousness, it’s not something I have ever given much thought. Most of my lyrics are just a creative expression of my thoughts and feelings at the time of their writing. They serve as an outlet for a lot of negative feelings I have towards both the world and myself, but I try to frame some of these internal struggles in a motivational context, because everyone is dealing with the same shit. And at the end of the day we just have to fight to make the best life we can, cuz no one is going to do it for us. So I guess that would be the central message, if anything. That and punch your local bigot.‘
For those who have followed the band prior to this article, you may recall their monumental 2018 release, The Object of Infection. Given the gap between that and the latest, March 31st released album, Violent Retribution, it’s safe to say the band has been through a lot and worked their asses off to continue on strong, all the while carefully defining their sound. With line-up changes, plenty of strong releases in the last couple of years at least, and so much going on in the world (good and bad) – one has to be curious of what all goes into the process of an album of this caliber and anticipation.
Shouvik: ‘The way we recorded this album was very different from what we have done in the past. We recorded everything remotely and sent our tracks over to Ryan Wolanski to do his studio magic to put it all together. Pretty much all the guitars and bass were recorded at my place and Russell recorded his vocals at his own place too.’
Russell: ‘Recording everything at home was definitely a first for the band, but it honestly made for the most comfortable recording sessions possible. I had already gotten pretty used to recording myself over the last year, so it was super easy for me. It wasn’t an easy road to get this record out, as we had seemingly an endless series of obstacles in our way. This heavily factored into our decision to record the album the way we did; but at the end of the day, we knew that Ryan (who produced our previous 2 releases) would make it sound incredible.‘
Beyond the general process feeling different, as guitarist Shouvik described, the band now also features the percussive lunacy of none other than Roman Rodriguez (of Black Matter Device fame) behind the kit. While songs from prior releases such as The Object of Infection and the Desire to Disembowl split exhibited the band’s trademark mix of hardcore styling and technical death metal, particularly of the ‘slam’ persuasion, Violent Retribution is an absolutely grounded monolith of the band that maximizes their versatility as well as their strengths in songwriting. Tracks such as “Oppressor’s Hammer”, the title track, and “Entombed By Malevolence” blaze through a blend of hardcore, blackened, slam, and even technical metal styles.
Song after song packs a punch of titanic instrumentation and anthem-worthy vocal work more prevalent than the last. Given Roman’s experience with a band that is known for going off the rails, his work on the album truly matches the dynamic energy of Crucial Rip above and beyond expectations. It seems to be a further enhanced form of something that was already great, as earlier material already proved the band to be a force to be reckoned with. As Shouvik and Russell point out, fortunately, even during times of change-ups and new and old blood making way into and out of the fold, it seems to only aid in their solidarity as band all the same.
Shouvik: ‘We have had a few lineup changes in the past few years. We have gone through 2 other drummers before Roman, Chris stepped down on bass which brought back our original bassist, Atreyu. Overall, the lineup changes have been very positive and I feel like we all work together a lot better now.‘
Russell: ‘We are definitely more in sync than ever. Roman has brought alot of great energy to the band and has just been a blast to work with. Having Atreyu back has been great too, as he was a part of our original lineup and is a stellar bass player.’
When I asked about how intentional they are with what I keep calling a trademarked style of blending hardcore and death metal, Russell and Shouvik went on to summarize what kind of goals the band looks to meet when approaching anything that represents their sound, as well as inspirations typically involved:
Russell: ‘I think the only thing we have ever really set out to do, musically, would be to just write whatever we think is going to get a room moving.‘
Shouvik: ‘I have always felt that this sound came naturally to us. A lot of us grew up listening to both hardcore and death metal so I feel like that has a huge influence on our playing style. We just want to play riffs that make people want to mosh.’
Russell: ‘I think we are all constantly inspired by all the amazing bands that have been coming on the scene in the last few years. Some of my recent favorites are definitely Peeling Flesh, Corpse Pile, Kruelty, Snuffed on Sight, Bashed In, and Cycle of Abuse. Just so many people bringing their own unique take to the slamming style of music and I love it! The genre is absolutely thriving now and I think we are just really stoked to be a part of it.’
I’ve personally been following Crucial Rip since around early 2016, and for that I feel especially grateful given it is almost like a case of watching a really cool band you like grow in real-time. Everything they have accomplished over this 7 year span is unquestionably well deserved. But as anyone who follows any sort of band with even the smallest portion of a DIY mindset would know – progress tends to come with its tumultuous moments as well. Most, if not all bands, have had to weather through the ever-changing tides of trends, the industry, historical events, and plenty of personal struggles.
No band was immune to the stresses and uncertainties of the pandemic lockdown. But even as much of a setback as it proved to be, to say the least, the surplus of opportunity that has come about since seems just as rewarding as it does perhaps over-saturating. I asked Russell and Shouvik about what the worst of 2020 looked like for them, as well as made note of some of the involvements they had outside of Crucial Rip. Particularly their vocalist, Russell, remains quite busy with his visual media and photography business, Crucial Media, as well as producing beats and releasing music under the moniker Da Krypt Keepa.
Russell: ‘It was a terribly frustrating time for the band as we parted ways with our original drummer and kinda spent a year or so in limbo trying to find the right replacement. I was also just really angry about alot of shit at the time, so I just wasn’t in the best head space. Fortunately, those feelings translated well when it came time for me to write lyrics for the record.‘
Shouvik: ‘For me, the worst part of navigating through 2020 and 2021 was the uncertainty of everything going on at the time. We were dealing with a lot of internal conflicts in the band to the point where I felt like the band was over and the new record was never going to come out. Luckily we were able to reconvene and get things going again. This is where we ended up having a few lineup changes and a couple set backs on the release of the album. We have come a long way since and I am very happy where we are at now. I believe we are a better band now and I feel very satisfied with our new release, Violent Retribution. I look forward to the future of the band more than ever.’
On the current state of Crucial Media as well as Da Krypt Keepa’s conception and successes:
‘Crucial Media has slowed down a bit but I still do videos and photos whenever I can. In the last year I did 2 music videos for a rapper from Hampton named Lewis Carpenter, which were super fun projects! I really want to do more music videos, so I’m hoping some cool opportunities come up. Da Krypt Keepa was a project that I created during the beginning of the pandemic when we were having lockdowns and shit. CR was in a weird place at the time since we parted ways with Alex and hadn’t found a new drummer and I was itching to make some music. Having recently taken a deep dive into ’90s Memphis rap, I became really into the idea of producing beats so I decided that’s what I’d do to pass time. So I traded some weed for a MPK keyboard and got a bootleg version of logic and got to work. I never intended on rapping ever, I just wanted to make spooky beats like the ones I heard from my favorite Memphis tapes. But once I started, I realized that it was alot of fun to play with this different persona. I think it was a bit after I released my first tape Talez From Da Krypt that J Da Unknown, hit me up to be a part of his label, Level 1 Records. I’ve been making tapes and doing collabs with them ever since!’
With a fresh album hot out the oven, it’s certainly peak time to hit the road. Asking about upcoming plans for the band, they revealed to me that Crucial Rip plans to decimate a stage near you as early as this summer, 2023! Additionally, it appears a split can be expected as apart of those future plans. While the band they plan to do aforementioned split with has not yet been disclosed, Crucial Rip are champions of picking who they work with…so long story short, we’re in for quite a treat, without a doubt.
Shouvik: ‘As of right now we are planning a bunch of out of town gigs. A tour in July is being planned currently and will provide more details when everything is set in stone.‘
Russell: ‘We certainly are not slowing down anytime soon. We are trying to play out of state as much as possible and already have plans for a split with another band, later this year. Rest assured it won’t be nearly as long as a wait for the next release.’
My excitement for so many chances to catch them live again exceeds what I can express in any gathering of words, phrases, or sentences here. But, I need to make you excited for them playing out, too, because Crucial Rip is an act that shines brilliantly in their live act. Strong metal music generally translates to a stronger live performance, more often than not maybe. But, the energy and atmosphere of their live set is an integral part, in my opinion, to what keeps them so relevant and set apart from others like them.
Paired with being essentially a must-see metal act, vocalist Russell Pompa is a devastating force behind a microphone. Belting some of the sickest low, guttural screams I’ve ever heard, backed by skillfully written and executed string work and high-intensity drumming, Russell’s presence and calls to action from the crowd make the floor of any venue into an instant wrestling ring every time. The power of Shouvik Sarkar and Michael Marino’s harmonious riffs, Atreyu Warek’s earthquaking low end on bass, and Roman Rodriguez big-brain approach to holding the beat for headbangers and hardcore dancers alike, all concocts into an intoxicating elixir of pure adrenaline. You don’t just go to see Crucial Rip live, you hit the gym for at least a few weeks leading up to the show in preparation to see Crucial Rip live; So that way you may survive seeing Crucial Rip live!
Speaking with Russell about the discourse of, basically, rules of engagement, as they see it, for the mosh pit, we touched on a bit of what a Crucial Rip show normally looks like. Russell went on to point out that educating oneself about the nature of a band’s live act is vitally important, so as to know what the attendee is getting into. While everyone probably has their own substantial piece on this subject, especially avid showgoers, I always like to hear the wisdoms of those who have been apart of the scene both as a member of a band and a lover of hardcore music. Russell is certainly no exception to that, as he shares an insightful take on the discussion:
‘I think people need to be informed about the kinda shows they go to and what they sign up for. Because the standard for behavior is gonna vary between a metal show versus a hardcore show. For us, our shows are more hardcore affiliated, so if you come to a Crucial Rip show, you might get hit. That’s just the nature of the environment and most everyone there will know what’s up. We play violent music and expect a violent reaction. You just gotta know when to duck! I think the best crowd is a crowd of people who are informed about the type of show they have signed up for, whether it be a hardcore or a metal show, because all of those people are going to have a great time.’
On recounting some of their wildest stories as a band or craziest shows they either played or went to:
Shouvik: ‘One story that comes to mind is when we played a show in Northern Virginia at a place called 3 Monkeys (not the RVA one) and during our set a good friend of ours got hit in the face which shattered their eye socket. After that we played a benefit show to help raise money for their medical bills. So basically, if you get hurt at a Crucial Rip show, we will play your benefit show and that’s how we stay in business.‘
Russell: ‘The amount of knockouts and fights at that show was absolutely hilarious. Definitely one of the most memorable shows and fortunately we did end up raising a good amount of money to help [with] our friend’s medical bills. That exact benefit show itself was actually probably just as memorable too, now that I think about it. There’s a video on YouTube of it and when we play “Signs of Suffering” that room just fucking explodes. It was really incredible and sticks with me to this day. When I really stop to think about it, there have been a lot of really wild instances we have encountered over the last 9 years of being a band. I can remember watching Billy Miller put Zach Beard through a merch table at Fearcliff. Then someone literally throwing a bunch of plastic lawn chairs at everyone in the crowd during Mercy Blow’s set. The best part about that one was the venue owner specifically put the chairs in the back before the show and someone went out of their way to find them. Good times!‘
I also took a moment to ask Russell about his technique and any particular tips he could give to upcoming vocalists aspiring to get into the genre:
‘I just always experiment with the various sounds I can make and go with whatever sounds coolest. The best advice I can give anyone who is trying to learn vocals, is to learn how to breathe and properly project with your diaphragm before you really do anything. That and use classic vocal exercises before practicing to warm up your vocal cords.’
Crucial Rip are a crucial force within the East Coast metal scene, and have no intentions of slowing down any time soon. As they branch out into further territories, lovers of virtually any type of metal or extreme music will find promise in their sound. Don’t sleep on Crucial Rip, hop aboard the riff train and check out their newest album, Violent Retribution, via their Bandcamp. Be sure to keep up with all their upcoming events via Facebook, their website, and Instagram.
I will now leave you with one final quote about the band from vocalist, Russell Pompa:
‘I hope when people hear us for the first time, they get the urge to start a fight in the Waffle House parking lot.’
Crucial Rip are:
Michael Marino – Guitar
Shouvik Sarkar – Guitar
Russell Pompa – Vocals
Atreyu Warek – Bass
Roman Rodriguez – Drums