Two years after the long-awaited release of ‘AVALANCHE UNITED’, I Am The Avalanche are coming at us with their third album ‘WOLVERINES’. It is, to use an obvious yet totally appropriate metaphor, a beast of an album, ten songs full of heart, ferocity, relentless passion and, of course, struggle. It wouldn’t be an Avalanche record, after all, without struggle, without the band being somewhat bloodied but very much unbowed. Last time around, it was record label woes that delayed the release of ‘AVALANCHE UNITED’, so much so that the album came out six years after their self-titled debut full-length was released. This time around, the trouble was more physical and personal in nature, one that shot literally right through the spine of the band.
“I was making my solo record,” explains Vinnie Caruana, the band’s singer and one of its founders, “and I injured myself. I went to a specialist – well, first I didn’t go to a specialist and I tried to live with it – but I herniated a disc in my spine. I was walking with one crutch, I was bedridden for three months, my girlfriend would have to tie my shoes for me and help me get out of bed to use the bathroom if that was even possible. So I started writing the Avalanche record in the most excruciating pain that I could ever imagine. My brain was getting fried because the pain was just so agonizing. I finally went to specialist and got an MRI and they told me what was going on. They told me I needed to get surgery and in the meantime I basically had to take painkillers all day every day, just so that I could move. So for about four or five months I was taking painkillers and muscle relaxers and this and that and it was brutal. And then Hurricane Sandy hit and I was laid out and could barely move and my town, I’d look out the window and it was all destroyed.
Only one song on ‘WOLVERINES’, ‘The Shape I’m In’, directly addresses Caruana’s injury – specifically, the stupor caused by all the painkillers – but the pain and frustration of the situation lyrically runs through the entire album. Yet the record, recorded and produced by the band’s own drummer, Brett ‘The Ratt’ Romnes, burns with urgent defiance against those external (and internal) forces. ‘Where Were You?’ is Caruana’s reaction to the devastation that Hurricane Sandy unleashed on his hometown and his guilt about not being able to be there for his family and friends then and during many other occasions over the years when he was away on tour. ‘My Lion Heart’ is a powerful ode to seizing the day and not giving up, even when the cards are stacked against you, while ‘Two Runaways’, which opens the record with a staggering burst of determination and youthful hope and vigor, is not just a tale about love but one about America, too, a Kerouacian story of hope and defeat that sees its two central characters taking on the wide expanse of country that’s stretched out before them, determined to giving it a shot despite the obstacles that have stood, and still stand, in their way. The famous Beat author also gets a name check on ‘Young Kerouacs’, a song of beautiful, undying love, albeit one set to a tune that’s pumped up, aggressive and anthemic.
Indeed, anthemic is a word that can be used to describe the album as a whole, which vividly reveals the band taking bold steps forward in terms of their sound. “Our fans now have a chance to hear the natural progression of the band,” says Romnes. “It feels a lot better putting a record out after two years. People didn’t get to see the full transformation before, and why we did ‘AVALANCHE UNITED’ the way we did. Since this one is much closer, I think people will understand the transition. A lot of the stuff that strikes me is the stuff that really pulls out an emotion from you, that when you listen to it, you get the butterflies. And that’s where the anthemic comes out, making sure the chords really push behind the story. Because the story needs to be heard. And it’s very real. Every song is true to Vinnie. Not every song is 100% factual, but they’re coming from somewhere inside of him and I know that they’re real because I watched him sing all the tracks in the studio and he’s feeling it all.”
‘WOLVERINES’ is certainly the most cohesive and complete Avalanche record to date, something the band are very aware of. That’s not surprising. Their first record was the sound of a band finding themselves in the context of the scene that, through their associations, couldn’t help but define them, even if they didn’t want it to. The second was written across that long, drawn out 6-year period, and the uncertainty of their situation during that time pierces that record’s constructs. There were no such problems with WOLVERINES. It’s a powerful record through and through, a cohesive, complete set of songs that each play a specific and vital part on the album.
“I think it’s the most well thought out and least rushed record,” says Caruana. “That was a big part of it. No one felt rushed. We were going to record it when it was ready. We don’t operate in a way where we feel pressure from people to make us do stuff. This time around we had so much time to write. I think rushing a record is when a wrong song, or a few wrong songs end up on a record. I don’t think we have that. Every little thing we did writing, putting the record together, mixing and then taking the songs that were actually going to go on the record – all this stuff has taken months because we gave ourselves that time. And in our eyes, it’s just perfect. It came out exactly the way that I pictured it.”
Brandon Swanson, the band’s lead guitarist, concurs. ”This record was a lot of fun for me this time around. Our living quarters were located on a lake, and the studio (The Barber Shop in Hopatcong, NJ) was just a short walk across a parking lot. Everything we needed was readily available. I get a kick out of listening to the songs on this new album now, just thinking about the different guitars and amps we were using. I feel like we got the best tones we have ever gotten while recording. And to have the Ratt produce the record is amazing. I’ve known the guy for almost 10 years, so the vibe while recording was pretty stress free but still very productive.”
“We’re all very deep into the whole process of making sure that there isn’t a single thing left out or not done exactly how we wanted” adds Romnes. “In the past, I think we were a little more just on the road, because we were younger and on the road for the party. That’s not the case anymore.”
Of course, getting older means change is inevitable. And while ‘WOLVERINES’ was recorded with four of the original five members – Caruana, The Ratt, Swanson, Michael Ireland and Kellen Robson – Ireland and Robson are no longer active members of the band, and John Oliva has stepped in and joined Avalanche’s lineup. What’s striking, even with these changes, is that on ‘WOLVERINES’ you can hear that I Am The Avalanche now know more than ever who they truly are as a group. “We’ve been a band for almost ten years,” says Romnes. “Our first show was Halloween 2004 and back then, it was a rollercoaster. Things were happening and I was just riding it. Now I feel like I’m still on that rollercoaster, but that we now have control of it and are going the route that we want to go.”
Caruana agrees: “We have a firm grasp on who we are and the way we want to present ourselves. I want people to understand that this is what I do and I love to write and I’ll keep making records. I’m in my thirties now, so it became a little urgent to me. As a guy in my thirties I’ve reacted the opposite way to most people, my friends who are settling down and starting families and buying houses. I’ve gone the opposite way, but I’m doing what I feel I should be doing. Quality of life and happiness is probably the most important thing and I’m happy doing this. I know I’m doing the right thing. I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.”
‘WOLVERINES’ is the sum of all those parts. It’s a culmination of all the members’ of the band’s time together, of the blood, sweat and wasted years and personal struggles and the sound of heightened confidence and certainty. It’s the record that I Am The Avalanche have been working towards making for a decade and from the first time you listen to the first track on the album, it will tear you apart.