It’s early in the year, but Richard Christy has already released two masterpieces. First, there’s his epic rearranging of Sarah Palin’s audio book—one of many pre-recorded bits he provides for The Howard Stern Show—wherein the comedian turns Going Rogue into Penthouse Forum, cutting and splicing Palin’s voice so she’s describing an indefatigable orgy that includes, among other things, her inclination to “jerk off a caribou.” But don’t forget Charred Walls of the Damned, the self-titled debut of his new songs-in-the-key-of-Maiden metal supergroup.
The Stern affiliation often outshines Fort Scott, Kansas’s favorite son’s nearly 20 years in the heavy-metal scene—including bygone gigs as drummer for death-metal pioneers Death and the concept-album-obsessed Iced Earth, among many others—but Christy is comfortable with that. “I work on the greatest radio show in the world,” he exclaims. “I get paid to goof around.”
Christy developed the Charred Walls of the Damned project at his Brooklyn rehearsal space when he wasn’t penning love songs to Stern co-host Robin Quivers’s breasts, and finally recorded last summer with his metal-vet friends: producer/guitarist Jason Suecof, alongside fellow Iced Earth alums Tim “Ripper” Owens (vocals) and Steve Digiorgio (bass). It’s his first proper return to metal since joining Stern in 2004. “One of the reasons I wanted to form my own band and not join somebody else’s is because I wanted to be able to work around my work schedule,” Christy explains at the kinda classy, very tasty Ted’s Montana Grill just a few blocks from the Sirius Satellite studios in the McGraw-Hill building. “The most important thing to me is my job at The Howard Stern Show.”
Charred Walls’ name owes a debt to his radio gig, actually—it’s a quote from an irate preacher Christy pranked. “He was saying how [prank callers] were sinners and how we were gonna go to hell. He said, ‘We’d love to see you at the marriage supper of the lamb and not in a sinners’ hell where you’ll be putting your nails into the charred walls of the damned.’ ” Like that, he had a name. Christy immediately Googled the phrase, made sure nobody had it, and trademarked it.
The overall CWOTD sound is easy to describe—the fun-heaviness of Iron Maiden or King Diamond—but there’s an endless shifting in sound and sensibility, a casual virtuosity to it that makes overall categorization tough: the near-black-metal explosion of opener “Ghost Town,” a sliver of funk bass in “Blood on Wood,” the just plain weird mix of death-metal blastbeat drumming and operatic vocals on “Manifestations,” the random-ass beautiful piano on “Darkest Eyes.”
“There should be no limitations on music—you should do whatever you want,” explains Christy between bites of bison meatloaf. “What I love is that some people I’ve talked to really don’t know how to describe what our music is. Like, what type of heavy metal it is. I would just like it to be called ‘heavy metal.’ “
As for the lyrics, Owens delivers Christy’s sentiments as pure metal melodrama, but the topics are less rote and more personal—closer to post-hardcore sincerity than badass bluster. Stirring album closer “Fear in the Sky” is actually about how Christy “just gets so scared on an airplane,” while “Blood on Wood” is violently celebratory: “I was playing the drums, and I see my drum stick is covered in blood,” Christy recalls. “I don’t mean to be gross, but one of my blisters had popped on my drum stick. And I just thought about how, wow, it’s pretty neat that I’m so into drumming that I’m willing to bleed for it and keep going.” It’s a song about giving a shit. Really giving a shit.
Chunks of any and all kinds of heavy, dark music race through Charred Walls—it’s a post-everything style. Songs wander into a foggy wave of noise, then suddenly lock into place with a beer-metal chug. There’s plenty of classic power metal here, but also the in-quotes catharsis of Neurosis or the all-over-the-place goofball intensity of HORSE the Band. Neither regressively throwback nor the sort of mannered metal that often passes for “avant” or “experimental,” Christy’s project inhales every type of metal out there, with no patience for formula and no interest in what’s expected. These are a bunch of guys who really care about what they’re playing, and yet don’t insufferably act like it. “It—it kinda makes a statement,” Christy says modestly. He takes another bite of meatloaf.