(Photo by Reid Haithcock)
Chris Corry, or CC as he’s known to many, has been a pillar of the Boston and national hardcore scene for decades. Whether it’s with Stop and Think, Step Forward, Mind Eraser, Soul Swallower or any one of his dozens of punk and hardcore bands, the guitar player has made a serious dent in the zeitgeist, influencing legions and pushing the boundaries of the genre.
In his search to push his own musical boundaries, Corry has spread his wings into Magic Circle, a doom-meets-traditional heavy metal band that counts everything from Candlemass to Reverend Bizarre to Cirith Ungol as influences. But how did a musician seemingly so dedicated to punk music end up as a guitar player in his own metal band? We put that question to the test, digging into Chris Corry’s upbringing as a music fan to understand where the metal influence comes from.
Hard Noise: How did you get into heavy music in general, whether it’s punk or metal? What was your initial gateway?
Chris Corry: I was born in 1981. My parents had records at the house: Beatles, Doors, Fleetwood Mac and all that. I was kind of coming of age when grunge really hit. I was a latchkey kid in the sixth grade, so there was a point in my life where I watched MTV five days a week from the time I got home until six or seven PM. I probably ingested 20 hours of MTV a week. And when I turned the TV off, I put the radio on. The first band shirt I had was a Soundgarden shirt, which I still have. I remember I stayed up late to watch them do promo for Superunknown on Headbangers Ball, which wasn’t really a heavy metal show anymore. That was seventh grade, and until that point I was just soaking it all in– all genres of music. But by middle school, I was pretty well-indoctrinated into grunge music and alternative rock.
I grew up in Northern Virginia and went to West Springfield High School, and literally two or three traffic lights down is this nightclub. It had a few different names, but when I went there, it was called Jaxx. There was a death metal band at my high school that played there all the time, opening for, and I didn’t give a shit at the time, Obituary, Deicide, Morbid Angel, all those bands at the tail end of the first death metal explosion. They were called Odium, which is Latin for hatred. I have the demo and it’s actually not bad– got it off of a friend maybe 10 years ago.
So in high school you were more of a punk guy?
I mean I was just kind of a poser, man. Probably 10th grade is when I started meeting people and somebody played me Minor Threat, 7 Seconds, all that kind of stuff, so I started to become aware that there was this other world of music. I think I knew who Fugazi was at that point.
You know, we lived 20 miles from DC. So I started hanging out with people that were into hardcore, started going to shows. I wasn’t into drugs or drinking, and a lot of the people that I had met that were into heavy metal were super into that, and it bummed me out. I had a friend who I was really tight with who dropped out of school ’cause he was getting high all the time. So naturally, in ’96/’97 as straight edge hardcore was becoming popular, it was an easy fit for me. I could also play the songs on a guitar, which was huge for me because I’m not a very good guitar player. I felt more connected to it because I could play it and I could go to the shows relatively easily. I never got rid of my Soundgarden and Alice in Chains CDs, but they definitely were put in a box for a long time.
DC is a scene so rich in punk and hardcore history. How much of the DC scene was crucial to your upbringing, whether that’s the Safari Club or Smash Records or even music stores like Olsen’s that leaned heavily into local scenes?
Well, funny story. I was supposed to go to a show at the Safari Club and it burnt down the night before. So I never went to the Safari Club, but I know what it is and I remember. I think the show was a Battery show. I definitely went to Smash a lot, and would always be weirded out because there would be older guys in there and they’d be listening to blues records and stuff. I would think to myself, “Man, I thought this was a punk store… what’s going on?” But DC in general, that all played into my interests and who I was. I’m sure there’s bands that I would not have checked out, except that they were popular around the DC area. I mean, it was everywhere at the time to me. It wasn’t that big, but it felt like it was within a relatively small geographical area.
Who was the first local band that you attached yourself to?
Battery would be probably the first one that that was notable that I knew about. I didn’t see them for a while– I kept missing their shows and I went to Damnation AD Instead. I was perplexed that the two bands could share members, because they sounded so different. The thing that I latched on to about Battery was there was a lot of content there that, if you felt like an outsider and were in high school, you could relate to it. That was a big part of their brand– they were youth crew guys but maybe not on the football team. I weighed like 90 pounds when I was in high school, so that was a feeling for me.
This isn’t really even a hardcore band, but Frodus originated at my high school and they shared members with Battery also. So I definitely saw them early on. Weirdly, there were a lot of bands that were influenced by Frodus in Northern Virginia. I know that that sounds made up and fake, but I swear it’s true. They were very popular at that time.
When did you make the leap towards playing shows?
I was in a couple of bands in high school that never really did much. I was in a band that had a demo, like, not anything special. I figured out I could write songs at maybe 17, and I started taping myself. I moved to Boston for College in 1999 and just hung out and went to shows for about a year.
By the time I was 19, I had met some guys and we were in this band Stop and Think. That was the first band I was in that was actively involved in any kind of music scene. We played a lot of shows even though we were only around for like a year: 25 shows. So that averages to a show every two weeks basically, which is pretty active for young band. Maybe there were more shows to play at the time, but it was cool. It was a good first band, and mercifully, not super embarrassing.
Musically, where were you during Stop and Think? Were you still a hardcore guy? When did you start to venture deeper into metal?
With Stop and Think I definitely ate, breathed and lived hardcore, but I never stopped listening to other types of music. Pretty early on, I started to connect the dots between hardcore and metal. I got that [Cro-Mags] CD with Age of Quarrel and Best Wishes on it, and when I listened to Best Wishes I was surprised that it sounded like Anthrax. And then I got the Bold record with Tom Capone and eventually noticed, “That’s like a Dokken riff,” and stuff like that.
The first time I met Justin, who was the singer of No Tolerance and Mind Eraser and plays in Magic Circle, was in my friend’s dorm room, and we talked about Best Wishes. At the time, very few people were interested in that album… everybody was like, Age of Quarrel and that’s it. Justin and I sort of bonded on that. Later on, he was one of the first people I knew with a lot of mp3s, which now seems probably like a crazy ancient idea. I’d ask him what other bands sound like Black Sabbath, and he’d send me Cathedral or Trouble or something like that. He was the guy who was indoctrinating me the most.
The other thing is in college I started to buy more records, and I had a limited amount of money to spend on them. It was way cheaper to buy metal records at that time, so I’d buy a lot of Iron Maiden records for like five bucks because no one wanted them. I would just maximize my dollar, and by virtue of that, I ended up hearing a lot of stuff that falls on the metal side. Metal people were really into CDs at that time, so the vinyl used to be ever-present and cheaper.
Kind of a pointed question, but I feel like when Relapse reissued the Pentagram material in 2002, that led to a bunch of people going backwards and digging for weirder and more obscure stuff. Were you one of those people?
I do remember that being a thing, the first collection on Relapse, and I remember I wasn’t aware of it. I was only kind of interested in it. I heard someone say, “It’s just like Black Sabbath,” and my response was, “Yeah, well, I’ve heard that before.” Eventually I got it. I think around the same time I had gone through my aunt’s records and took a bunch of Stones records, but she also had the first Blue Cheer LP. I remember thinking, “That sounds like Blue Cheer and Cream.”
Not long after that is when the first Witchcraft LP came out, and those two things in tandem, I think, turned a lot of metal and punk people onto stealing their parents’ records.
Was there ever a time that you were into modern metal? As in, contemporary to the time.
I love the first three High on Fire records… they were a big one for me. I know they became a little bit unfashionable, but those were cool. They really deliver that stuff live. Cathedral was still putting out new records and so was the first era of Electric Wizard when I was into them. I wouldn’t say I was engaging with that world, it always seemed very inaccessible to me. Eyehategod was another that I was really interested in at the time. But I was also listening to a lot of Wino’s projects, whether it was older or newer– from Saint Vitus to The Obsessed, Spirit Caravan, The Hidden Hand…
Did you ever have a slam phase? Dying Fetus was from the area and a lot of hardcore guys latched onto them and started listening to Internal Bleeding, other bands like that.
The short answer is no (laughs). I remember when Dying Fetus was just opening 25 to Life shows. I mean probably around the same time I was checking for all those doom / stoner bands is when I checked out Entombed, Obituary, Dismember….
When death metal was sort of dead…
It was super dead! There was an article in my school paper about Morbid Angel’s Domination because they were playing Jaxx that week and I was just like, “Fuck this shit.” I didn’t care. I wasn’t into worshipping Satan. I used to have vivid dreams about going to Hell when I was little. So I was always, “I don’t want anything to do with that shit,” you know? But I was also just like, “These guys are fucking lame,” because you’d look at them and they seemed like someone you wouldn’t want to hang out with. It seems cool to me now, but then I just thought the wrist gauntlets and shinguards were so lame.
So I wasn’t interested in any of that, and slam metal might as well have been free jazz to me– just no interest. Death metal was super dead, but that was definitely stuff that Justin was really into, and he’d show me tons of it. A lot of those bands weren’t really touring either, aside from Cannibal Corpse, Deicide and Morbid Angel, but probably the thing that crossed me over to death metal was, not a big surprise, but Napalm Death’s Scum. I heard Infest really young, and that was the best shit I’ve ever heard, which led to No Comment and Crossed Out. But I remember hearing Scum and then going to Harmony Corruption and that’s probably how I found interest in extreme metal kind of stuff.
When did you decide to start a metal band? What was the catalyst behind that?
It was kinda gradual. Justin, Brendan and I were in Mind Eraser. That started out as a Citizen’s Arrest / Infest type band. So we’d incorporate as many different ideas as we could that wouldn’t change the basic DNA of that band. We would doom out on parts and do blast beat type stuff, and that was like a weird, overlapping moment where we all decided to play in a doom / heavy metal band– not as much like the other ones that are around right now.
I had been listening to Pagan Altar’s Volume One. It’s a really important record for me because it’s such a specific vibe and it, the presentation is so spartan compared to almost anything else from that time– it’s just such an island unto itself. That album is so much more restrained, but it has soul in a way that a lot of other records didn’t. At that point I was like, “I can’t play as good as this guitar player, but I think I could do something like this.”
When we made the recording, it was done in a basement with very few effects on anything other than some reverb on the voice. I didn’t really think of it this way at the time, but it was sort of economical, the way that a lot of punk bands are economical. You get down into the dirt a little bit, and get a more interesting recording as a result. And that’s still pretty much where I come from on everything.
As a guitarist, who are your favorite heavy metal players?
I mean, Tony Iommi is number one for me, and I know he’s not the most technical guy, but I like the way he plays. He’s actually an underrated soloist, and I really liked the way he made his solos do a stuttering thing. You can hear that on records and live when he’s improvising more. I like Ritchie Blackmore a lot– these aren’t super interesting answers, but he’s really sick. For me, he’s like the number two even though he’s a little more technical. I like the really simple sustain-driven stuff where he’s almost playing the guitar to sound like a violin.
Dave Murray from Iron Maiden is insanely underrated– they don’t put him up there with the top tier of guitar guys. He is really fucking good, and was really, really good early on. And Kelly Johnson from Girlschool. Girlschool is my favorite hard rock band in general because she wrote good, economical riffs that structurally work so well. She was a really cool soloist too, just in the way she played well but didn’t need to show off. When you watch old videos of them, most of the time she’s not using any effects, which is really unusual for the time.