Efrem Schulz of Death By Stereo is interviewed by Mean Street

By Roberto C. Hernandez

Being in Death By Stereo has its perks. Recording in the same studio where Fleetwood Mac laid down tracks is one. Playing at your favorite places --- Orange County and New Jersey. Being able to keep a consistent "death" theme with your album titles. But there are risks.

Like being punched in the jaw by a too-exuberant fan in the mosh pit during a recent show in Germany, Death By Stereo vocalist Efrem Schulz recalls.

"I ran around and all the kids were looking at me, freaked out," he said. "I turned around to see who did it and I was thinking 'Why is everybody staring?' I grabbed my chin and a huge piece of skin was hanging out." But the band soldiered on and performed one more song before closing down its set.

"I just apologized to the crowd," 28-year-old Schulz recalled. "'Somebody hit me,' I said. 'I have to go to the hospital.'"

But Schulz healed, the band (rounded out by guitarists Tito and Dan Palmer, bassist Paul Miner and drummer Todd Hennig) regrouped and Death By Stereo set out to record Into The Valley Of Death, a more muscular, grimmer punk-metal follow-up to 2001's Day Of The Death.

"It's a lot darker, a lot heavier," Schulz says of the new album, scheduled for release on April 22. "It's a bit more focused. It's definitely a reflection of what's been going on in our personal lives and the world in the past year."

Valley (Epitaph) makes no qualms about staking out a place for itself among the field of social and political causes: Belting out a venomous tirade against the Bush administration on "Good Morning America" and lambasting sexual abuse on "Shh, It'll Be Our Little Secret." No time for feel-good anthems on this album.

"Not everyone is caught up thinking about girls and maybe we want to talk about issues that affect us," Schulz says.

The band (which formed in 1998 from the ashes of several Orange County punk outfits) complements its heavy subject matter with foreboding thrash and fist-pumping hardcore, suggesting a middle ground between Merauder and old Agnostic Front.

On "What I Can't Hear, Touch, Taste, Smell Or See Can't Hurt Me," the band combines defiant, teeth-gnashing lyrics ("It is a hate I can't erase/It is a face I can't escape"), jack-hammer drums and fast-and-furious thrash riffage.

And Death By Stereo takes time to dabble with its sound, such as the gospel-like vocals in "Let Down and Alone" and the shimmering guitar arpeggio intros to "Unstoppable" and "Wasted Words." But tracks such as "Good Morning America" prove the band can still deliver intense, no-nonsense songs.

"It's definitely angry," Schulz says. "They're serious songs."

And the whole "death" theme?

The title for Valley was Palmer's idea, Schulz said.

"We're trying to keep a theme on all the records," he said. "Our first record we made before Epitaph was If Looks Could Kill I'd Watch You Die. We were new. We were pissed. It's kind of what the title was all about." But after signing with Epitaph, the band opted for a less angry, more purposeful title.

"That record was finally our chance," Schulz said. "It was our day. That's why we called it Day Of The Death."

For Valley, the band recorded partly at Sound City --- where Fleetwood Mac recorded Rumors. "That's kind of why we went there," Schulz says. "That room at Sound City --- it just sounds so amazing."

Schulz says the band went over each track with a fine-toothed comb.

"We really nitpicked at anything," he recalled. "We would listen to the record, like, 300 times. We would say 'we can do that better' or 'I could play that better.'"

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