For the first time in more than 13 years, the award-winning metal band will unleash its aggressive, raw and melodic assault at The Pyramid Scheme this weekend. The back story at Local Spins.
“Hopefully, this doesn’t turn into a piece about how f—ing dysfunctional this band is,” says Daine Hammerle, as he stacks a snare drum into the cargo hold of a black SUV and shuts the door.
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It’s rehearsal day for If He Dies He Dies, the Grand Rapids metal band that once carved out a reputation as a wrecking crew, known (and sometimes feared) for its wild stage antics, incessant partying and internal discord.
With only a few days before their sold-out reunion show at The Pyramid Scheme on Saturday (Nov. 18), there’s still work to do. (Doors open at 8 p.m.; DJ Snax and I Believe in Julio will open the show.)
As a hard-touring crew, the band crisscrossed the country in their mid-20s, landed the cover of Recoil Magazine in 2008 and performed alongside acts such as The Black Dahlia Murder, Mastodon, Bear vs Shark and La Dispute. The band even won the 2009 WKLQ Heavyweights band competition.
“We got a reputation for being the heaviest band in Grand Rapids. We were addicted to partying. We would drink all the other bands’ booze, destroy property and we would talk a lot of s—,” says Hammerle, who still plays drums with a vengeance, and barefoot.
Eilers says that touring “was a trip to say the least. Some of the best and worst times of my life. I am a homebody, so it was a culture shock, yet I wouldn’t trade those times for anything. It softens the blow when you are touring with artists you’ve admired since middle school. I consider myself very lucky for that — Phil Anselmo, Jimmy Bower, Trevor Strnad, Mike Scaccia, Matt Pike, the list goes on.”
Hammerle rides shotgun as bassist Ephraim Rosalez wrestles with rush-hour traffic on the way out of town. We’re headed to Montague, where guitarist and vocalist Tommy Eilers hosts rehearsals at his home. But not before a couple detours.
The car rolls onto a hidden driveway where Brent Eckhardt is waiting on the front steps in his “new gig clothes,” which he phoned Hammerle about earlier. He’s particularly amped about some boots: a pair of sleek Doc Martens that’ll be crushing guitar pedals in no time.
Our next stop is a questionable gas station. Loaded up with an assortment of snacks, we continue north on U.S. 31. Eckhardt shares his gummy bears with me as the bandmates reminisce, mostly off-record, about the early days.
UNRAVELING AND GOING DOWN ‘THE DEEPEST DARKEST HOLE’
Despite its professional success, the group began unraveling internally around 2008. Frequent arguments eroded morale. Plans to record an album were shelved. Tours canceled. Substance abuse crept in and addiction followed. The band eventually imploded and disbanded in 2010.
“We were overdoing it. Just completely self-destructing. We couldn’t handle it,” says Hammerle. “It didn’t fit with the music or our ability to have a relationship as bandmates. We ended up resenting each other for sure.”
Eckhardt, who served a seven-and-a-half-year prison sentence shortly after the group disbanded, remembers the uncertainty of those years.
“I went down the deepest, darkest hole I’ve ever seen. I bottomed out and saw what the devil of addiction looks like. I lost everything. I didn’t know if I’d ever see those dudes again,” says Eckhardt.
“It was a process of forgiving myself. Letting go. Coming home was very overwhelming, but in a good way. When we all got back in each other’s lives, it was beautiful to say the least.”
Now in their early 40s, the musicians balance death metal with domesticity. Rosalez is an ASD coach for Kent ISD. Eckhardt works for a signage company. Eilers is a construction inspector. Hammerle is a session musician. They’ve significantly dialed back the rock-star lifestyle. Just not the volume knobs.
LISTEN: If He Dies He Dies, “Detroyer” (2008)
“Heavier music is my favorite to play because of the energy,” says Rosalez.
“The ‘If He Dies He Dies’ stuff in particular is a good match for me — like on the surface it’s aggressive and raw, but when you get to its core, there’s a lot more than that, melodically and emotionally. I like the challenge of writing heavy songs that convey more feelings than just anger. We definitely have angry songs, but the newer stuff that’s been thrown around is almost more of a tragic optimism sound.”
We reach Montague at dusk, just in time for the streetlights to flicker over a sleepy neighborhood. The car slows down in front of Eilers’ house. Friendly scarecrows adorn the lawn. An assortment of children’s toys fill the garage. But most importantly, it has a basement.
Moments later underground, the room is buzzing with amplified anticipation. Soon, sludgy guitar riffs, thunderous instrumentals and a foundation-rattling rhythm section test the structural integrity of a Midwest basement. It’s a school night, so curfew comes quickly. The actual reunion show however, will be a late-night exhibition of soul-churning crescendos, perfectly timed breakdowns and brotherhood.
“Flash forward 10 years or so. The parts feel way different now that we’re actually locked in and give a f— about every aspect of it,” Eckhardt says.
“It means something to us. But the most important thing about any of this is that the four of us are still in each other’s lives.”
He adds: “I get genuinely excited to see my friends. I mean, I know that’s kind of a softy old man thing to say, to feel something about these guys. But the fact that we can just plug in our instruments and hang out. Those are beautiful times. We all care deeply for each other. This band is about being in each other’s lives and making music for ourselves. It’s more beautiful now, given all we’ve been through and where we are headed.”
VIDEO: If He Dies He Dies (11/12/23 By Enrique Olmos)
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