“You know it’s a good riff when you shake your head at the other guitar player,” says Random Acts of Violence guitarist Matt Hooker when I sit down with him, guitarist/vocalist Andrew Schnitzer, and drummer Phil Dubois-Coyne to talk over whiskey, beers, and cigarettes in “the saloon” — the second floor of the barn that lies adjacent to Hooker’s Quincy home. Hooker is explaining the one-upmanship that he and Schnitzer thrive on when writing songs together, but he could have been describing the sort of stupefied, I-can’t believe-they-just-did-that feeling that pervaded the Middle East upstairs a week ago Thursday at the CD-release party for the band’s new Cathartes Aura EP (Pino Bros. Ink) as the near-capacity crowd tried to comprehend what it was hearing and seeing: four guys playing their instruments with such ferocity and technical proficiency that it was almost too much to take. (They’ll be back at the Middle East upstairs this Saturday, April 8, to compete in the Rumble.)
At first glance, RAOV are a typical ’80s-style thrash band, trafficking in breakneck guitar solos and double-bass drum beats of the shake-your-head-in-awe variety. But a closer listen reveals subtleties — an unconventional guitar harmony here, a rhythmic curveball there — that set them apart from your average metal band. “Originally, you’d play as fast as you could and as crazy as you could because it hadn’t been done before and the novelty of it was impressive in itself,” explains Dubois-Coyne, describing the early thrash MO. “But after it’s been done and people try to regurgitate that same sort of thing, it just gets kind of old.” Although RAOV aren’t “reinventing any kind of wheel,” as Hooker puts it (shades of Iron Maiden, Exodus, and early Metallica can be heard throughout their music), they do bring a formal ingenuity and a fresh approach to the genre.
Schnitzer formed Random Acts of Violence in 1998 with bassist Jeremy Levenson and drummer Chris Lawler in the southern ’burbs of Boston. This incarnation of the band, which leaned more toward the hardcore/punk side of the thrash spectrum, was short-lived. Levenson and Lawler quit not along after RAOV released a split CD with a band called ADD, who broke up around the same time. Schnitzer eventually hooked up with ADD’s rhythm section, bassist James Delahanty and drummer Chris Guy, forming RAOV Version 2.0.
The trio were looking for a second guitar player in late 1999 when their friend Jon Hills suggested they talk to his roommate Matt Hooker. The two guitarists bonded over bands like Hate Plow, Iron Maiden, and Slayer, and Schnitzer invited Hooker to audition. Hooker quickly learned the four songs on the split CD note for note, and whenever a guitar solo came up at the audition, he took it and ran.