Since 1989, Cleveland’s Ringworm has been blurring the jagged lines between hardcore punk and thrash/death metal, an almighty mashup of rock’s more extreme subgenres. And while Ringworm is hardly the first band to make that blend, in 2017 it remains one of the more interesting.
Still, 28 years is a long time, and while there haven’t been any radical alterations to the Ringworm sound, there has been a natural evolution. As far as frontman James “Human Furnace” Bulloch is concerned (yes, that is his nickname), Ringworm has drifted further to the metal side of things, playing a little less with punk.
“Over time you get better at what you do, so the sound has evolved in that respect,” Bulloch says. “We’ve always been really heavily metal-influenced, and we had a lot of grind and thrash elements to what we do. But I think as we’ve gotten older and better, we’re more of a metal band at this point. I think it’s evolved that way. We do tend to experiment in our own way without changing our whole style.”
One thing that has changed plenty of times over the years is the lineup. While there have only been three main songwriters within the Ringworm ranks (Bulloch, guitarist Matt Sorg, and former guitarist and current Hatebreed member Frank Novinec), sixteen musicians have left the band.
“Our lineup has been pretty stable for the last two records, at least,” Bulloch says. “It’s true that we’ve had different flavors — each new member brings their own personality — but as far as the overall sound of the band, it’s been me and Frank or me and Matt. We’ve changed members, but not an integral part of the band.”
Since 2013’s Bleed EP, Ringworm has been signed to Relapse Records, the much-loved metal label that is home to Denver band Call of the Void, among many others. Prior to that, Ringworm was with hardcore label Victory Records for the best part of a decade. Bulloch is glad of the change.
“Anything after Victory is gonna be great,” he says. “Relapse has been really good to us. Our last record, Snake Church, was pretty much our last one with them as far as contractual obligations go. We were exposed to a new scene by going with Relapse, and they were really cool. Will we continue with them in the future? I don’t know. We’ll see. They actually kind of get it. This is what we do, and they knew.”
Snake Church is a brutal piece of work, admirable by offering nothing in the way of a respite. Bulloch screams, practically in your face, like a college football fan on game day, and you can nearly smell his boozy breath. The Satanic imagery can get a little hammy, but ultimately it’s great fun. Bulloch has been happy with the response.
“Personally, I look at it as just another record,” he says. “It’s hard to be like, ‘This is the best one yet.’ Bands always say that, but the record before that, Hammer of the Witch, did really well for us. With this one, expectations were high, and I think it met them. Trying to get that new buzz factor back again after being around for so long, people either take you for granted or you’re just not as new and exciting as the new band that’s out there. But we just try to keep putting out good records and let them speak for themselves.”
Ringworm remains based in Cleveland, the city in which the band was born. Bulloch says that there's a healthy music scene there, which includes plenty of metal, though he claims to be too old to be at the center of it all anymore.
“I do my own thing,” he says. “I’m not heavily involved in the scene as far as what’s new and coming out. Over the years, you don’t really need to have that to know that Cleveland still has a very rich scene. There are a lot of things going on. There are always venues to play, which is important. Besides metal, there are all types of music in general. There’s punk rock, all types of rock and roll, so it’s had its ups and downs over the years, but it’s pretty much stayed consistently strong as far as local music goes.”
Once out of the comforts of their home town, though, the Ringworm musicians do enjoy a visit to our state. Denver metal fans tend to be rabid, and visiting bands feed off of that. Ringworm is no exception, and they’re looking forward to getting back and pummeling us when they hit the Marquis on February 28.
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“Denver has been awesome to us,” Bulloch says. “We always look forward to it. It’s a cool venue, we’ve got lots of friends in town, and the past few shows there have been excellent. We’re not headlining this one, so it’s gonna be shorter than what we usually do. Usually within the set, we try to cover as many of the records as we can. We’ll play a bunch of new stuff. We’re all over the map. This time we’re going to pull out some songs that we haven’t played either ever or in a very long time, just to spice up the set a little bit. It should be pretty fun.”
Following this tour, with D.C. metal band Darkest Hour, Ringworm will be preparing for a few summer shows, then starting to think about its next record. Bulloch doesn’t know when the album will come out, or even which label will release it. But you can be sure it will be brutally, uncompromisingly heavy.
Ringworm plays with Darkest Hour, Rotten Sound, Rivers of Nihil and Legion of Death at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, February 28, at the Marquis Theatre, 2009 Larimer Street, 303-487-0111.