Raiju is an anomaly. Formed in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2013, the quintuplet’s roots trace to drummer Vinnie Hecht and guitarist Bobby Carroll, who spent their formative years in San Jose, California garages tending the early seeds of this future juggernaut. As time passed and their school years blew by, they took to Craigslist to find co-conspirators in something new, adventurous and fun before being doomed to the horrors of "normalcy" and "growing up".
Vocalist Scott Wagner was among the first to answer the Craigslist call, after moving from LA where he studied at the Musician's Institute. Scotty cut his teeth on the rock scene on Hawaii's Big Island in his youth with bands like Stella Vicarious, and became a devout student of voice, developing a range and control that makes him far and away one of metal's most singular voices - one which mixes ferocious screams with some of the most heartfelt and melodious clean singing. They quickly realized they were on to something – these heroes of quirk now suspected that they could make something more diverse and beautiful than just metal, something that would resonate with a broader audience and sink more deeply into listeners’ hearts and minds.
Craigslist then yielded a bass savant in Max Coley. Max grew up in Florida and began his musical career as an upright bassist in school symphonies, earning recognition at a state level during his early years. But, once he discovered the Florida Death Metal scene, he embraced aggression with both hands and became the notorious six-string bass player for Demise of All Reason, considered Florida's heaviest band in its time. The act disbanded before his teens were over, and at age 20 he found himself diagnosed with cancer and completely unsure if he would even live to legal drinking age. Thankfully, after an ugly year of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, he recovered, and his irreparably altered perspective revealed to him that life was short and always a gamble, so he packed his proverbial shit and headed West. Where Bobby and Vinnie grew up with a taste for lighter pop-punk fare, and Scott added his tuneful Hawaiian singing voice to the mix, Max infused the music with a swampy Floridian rage and twisting low-end that added a darker edge to their fledgling sound. Brutal Florida technicality mixing with catchy, pop-punk style song structures and singing bordering on falsetto? Would this work? Though questions abounded, the team knew they were creating something really badass, so they pressed on.
After many shows and refinements of the formula, the gang finally found guitarist Sean Johnson while on the road in Chico. Sean left a strong impression on the band by playing a live show for his band Clouds of Fire all by himself while his bandmates partied at Burning Man. His dedication to keeping the show alive and his talent in executing so many moving parts at once led Raiju to ask Sean to come back to San Francisco with them, and he was excited to oblige. Sean added the last piece of the puzzle with a strong ear for composition and a flare for ornamental additions a la Dear Hunter and Between the Buried and Me.
Now fully-formed, Raiju was ready to lay down their first album, "Haunt", and prove their concept: Metal can be beautiful. "Normal" is played-out. Difficult things can be fun. Boundaries are meant to be pushed, and that's exactly what the band did. Raiju peddled their new CD up and down the coast, reveling in the fun of the journey and forming a fan base that rapidly fell in love with the freshness and novelty of their sound. It was fast, catchy, engagingly technical, and it spoke from the heart. The bands they played with refused to believe the lineup had been together for so short a time, and heads everywhere began turning toward this bizarre and talented group bringing such blasphemous levels of colorful songwriting into the brutal, dull-grey world of metal. To look out and see crowds of people moshing and dancing, uncrossing their arms and letting themselves have fun, proved to Raiju that this project was bound to be big, and that they were destined to have good times ahead.
So, Raiju knew their second album had to top all expectations. Feeling this pressure and the burdens of their stuffy "square" jobs slowed down the writing process and caused a kind of creative clog in the ranks. So many ideas began flowing from all corners that the band had to develop an incredibly intensive, detailed, corporate-style (gasp!) workflow for their writing process out of sheer necessity. Patience was tested. Song files were labeled and categorized. Options were presented, itemized and deliberated upon. Tasks were delegated. Massive spreadsheets were compiled - no single note or issue was too small not to identify and bring to a full-band vote, hundreds of items at a time, in a painful display of democracy. Gone were the teenage days of garage-jamming, guessing and hoping for the best. This album became too important to risk overlooking any little thing. Too much was now at stake. During the recording process, engineer Zack Ohren observed, "I've never worked with a band that has spreadsheets and flowcharts to the extent that you guys do…that looks exhausting." Oh boy, is it ever. But from the fires of this organized agony sprung ten razor-sharpened songs, formed into a beastly sophomore release the band has dubbed "Non Sequitur", which aims to push the band's hypothesis even further. The tempos will increase. The brights will get brighter. The darks will get darker. These tracks have been painstakingly lab-tested to bring a smile to the face and a tear to they eye of any listener, be they a teenage Chon fan or a grey-haired Dio fan.
Now, more than ever, Raiju is growing and becoming unabashedly themselves. The band seeks a more profound kind of fun that celebrates all of life, not just the comfortable parts. This isn't another shallow mess of songs about money and drugs, nor is it just heavy for heaviness's sake. Here is a band that mixes playful cheers for the good times with fearless war-cries to confront the bad times. Here are life's hardest lessons delivered with a gentle hand, and our most subtly ingrained deceptions smacked to the floor and shattered violently. It is a freakish mix, an active car crash, an insoluble duality…but then again, aren't we all? Come along.
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