James Vincent McMorrow On His Metal Roots

Take a walk on the heavier side...

James Vincent McMorrow has developed a singular sound. A songwriter whose work merges spectral acoustic tones with aspects of electronics, the Irish artist favours subtlety over suggestion, the sketch-like parameters of his work seducing with their enigmatic atmospherics.

New album ‘Wide Open, Horses’ is out on June 14th, and the songwriter hits the road later this year for a full UK headline tour.

Yet there’s another side to James Vincent McMorrow, a side the public don’t often get to see – he’s a closet metalhead. The songwriter grew up on heavy music, and adores alt culture, remaining tethered to some of the groups who soundtracked his adolescence.

Cropping up in odd corners of his catalogue, the singer kindly agreed to detail this shadow side of his musical life with a special playlist for CLASH – iconic favourites, deep cuts and more unite to provide a panorama of his alt self.

James comments…

In terms of why I picked them; most of the songs are the music of my childhood. I know people would listen to the music I make and be surprised that heavy music is a huge part of my life, but I mean how boring would life be if you only listened to one type of music and then also made that music? I love Neil Young, and I love Pantera, those two things can sit side by side in my life and make total sense. 

All these songs I picked because the riffs in them are all timers. Also, there’s some incredible half time breakdowns, the ending of ‘Domination’ is one of the greatest moments ever committed to record. 

So, horns up – and get stuck in below.

Gojira – ‘Stranded’

Just an absolute belter. The riff is just such a good example of simplicity done well, whammy pedal on the four notes at the back end of the riff take it to a higher level. I’m a huge Mario Duplantier fan, absolute groove machine. There aren’t a lot of modern metal bands making stuff that’s super aggressive but still incredibly hooky and clever. 

Deftones – ‘Swerve City’

To be honest I could have picked 50 Deftones songs here, top to bottom my favourite metal band of all time, ‘White Pony’ is my childhood classic album, Abe Cunningham is on my Mount Rushmore of drummers. I picked this song because the riff is just nuts, also I think early 2010’s Deftones gets slept-on a little, this entire album is incredible.

Mudvayne – ‘Dig’

This song just reminds me of my childhood, they’re not a band I paid that much attention to beyond this album, but man it’s just an incredible wild tune, the rhythm section is bananas, all that weird slappy bass. I remember seeing them at the Grammys around the same time dressed in suits and covered in blood and I thought it was amazing. Peak MTV2 era for me.

System Of A Down – ‘Sugar’ 

Again, could have picked 50 songs, a pretty flawless band, the run they went on album wise from late 90’s to mid-2000’s is fairly perfect.

This song is another MTV2 classic, I remember seeing the video for it one night… what’s incredible about this song is it’s the same riff and groove on verse and choruses, but in the verses, it articulates as jazz, on the chorus it’s just pure groove metal.

Also, the lyric is genius, the kombucha mushroom people sitting around all day. Amazing.

Tool – ‘Ænema’

This is another classic childhood record for me, I was obsessed, all my memories of it are in my car driving with my friends singing ‘Arizona Bay’ at the top of our lungs.

I think Tool are closer to like the Grateful Dead and jam bands in a way than they are to most modern metal. it’s heavy but it’s nuanced and it’s long and you need a PhD to understand the time signatures. you either love that shit or you fucking hate it, I love it. 

Meshuggah – ‘Bleed’ 

To be honest I never was the biggest fan of Jens Kidman’s singing, I always gravitated towards metal that was more melodic, but when I heard this for the first time I couldn’t get it out of my head, the riff and the drum pattern obviously are in the Top 10 pantheon of metal nerd fandom, but for good reason, it’s an iconic part, if I was in music college I’d write a thesis about the kick pattern. 

Coal Chamber – ‘Loco’ 

This album to me again just connects me to a beautiful simple time in my life, I grew up in Ireland and it was really hard pre-LimeWire etc to get records like this – you could grab them on import, but they’d cost a fortune.

This song was on MTV2 all the time and we’d wait up to watch it… sounds so naive now in hindsight. Because we couldn’t get the album, this is the only song we knew – fucking loved it, still holds up, still have no clue what the rest of the album sounded like.

Korn – ‘Blind’

I think Korn get slightly lumped in with the cannon fodder nu metal landfill, but they revolutionised metal; the riffs are like Mr Bungle, all diminished weird, traded riffs between two guitar players.

I was also a big fan of Dave Silvera and wish was still in the band, there was something shonky and groovy about this drumming, they replaced him with way better drummers but it all felt too slick, you can really hear how musical the drum parts he brought to the table were on this song, I mean you hear that bell ride at the start and instantly you’re locked in.

This album really opened up an amount of vulnerability in metal that was needed, the stuff he was singing about was so heavy and honest. 

Pantera – ‘Domination’

It feels off not picking a song from ‘Vulgar Display Of Power’. This album is kind of on that transition from them being a hair metal band to the absolute giant they became, and there’s some stuff on there I don’t love.

But ‘Domination’ is perfect – perfect riffs, perfect playing and singing. And then you get to the middle section, the riff is just mind-blowing, and then the guitar solo happens, and you realise you’re listening to an actual genius. A word that gets thrown around way too much, but Dimebag was a genius, it has to be in the top 10 guitar solos of all time

Sepultura – ‘Roots Bloody Roots’

What a weird band nowadays, not a single original member in there, really depressing. What they were in the beginning was this political revolutionary metal force of nature – I only discovered them when I was in school after Max had formed Soulfly.

The Brazilian rhythms in a metal context make so much sense, the riff is amazing, the song is amazing, and again another half time absolute heft of a middle section in this song, if every song ever written had a half time metal groove breakdown I’d be psyched.

James Vincent McMorrow’s new album ‘Wide Open, Horses’ is out on June 14th. It’s not metal, by the way. Just so you know. 

Photo Credit: Rich Gilligan

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