Ringworm’s Death Becomes My Voice is the latest offering from the lone wolves in the vast world of extreme music. Formed more than a quarter of a century ago, the Cleveland veterans are showing no signs of getting softer with age. The diabolic and airy intro of the opening title track is merely a precursor to the thrash fest that is about to begin. The new album hits like a ton of bricks, though it is a more appropriate soundtrack for unapologetic headbanging than for a bunch of uncoordinated 19-year-olds to practice their spin kicks. Even songs such as the fast-paced “Carnivores” and the angst-ridden “I Want to Tear the World Apart” merely tease a breakdown before transitioning into a grind section. This album also contains some of the gruffest and most vicious vocals that Human Furnace has ever recorded.
In preparing to interview Ringworm’s vocalist, the most challenging part was figuring out how to address him. What’s the proper protocol? Mr. Furnace? HF? James? Definitely not the latter. One wouldn’t call up King Diamond and ask for “Kim.” Maybe it’s like in professional wrestling, where a person — be it a co-worker, newbie, or civilian — is expected to address the wrestler by his or her gimmick name? (For what it’s worth, his business card reads “James Bulloch” in large black font.) After a long day of work at one of his two tattoo shops, Human Furnace was direct and overly generous with a stranger who promised “just one more question” at least a half dozen times.
The New Album
Death Becomes My Voice is the third full length on Relapse Records, however unlike the previous two records, this time there were no early vinyl releases with alternate versions of album tracks to give fans a taste of what the band has in store. Human Furnace explains how there was never any grand scheme to this as much as it was just a matter of practicality and timing. “We did a lot of touring for Snake Church. We spent a lot of time writing so… we didn’t have an opportunity to get in the studio to do anything that would come out before [Death Becomes My Voice]. So we just focused on the new record rather than any other new releases we wanted to do.”
Relapse vs. Victory
Less than a decade ago, Ringworm’s labelmates were Alt Press darlings A Day to Remember and Aiden and now they are on the same roster with fellow extreme metal bands such as Obituary, Dying Fetus, Full of Hell, and their old hometown allies, Integrity. “It’s better and it’s more appropriate,” Furnace casually answers when asked if Relapse Records is indeed better, as well as more appropriate, than Victory Records for the band. Instantly, his voice gets more enthusiastic about the label change: “It’s way better! Way better!”
Ringworm’s first release on Victory Records was Birth is Pain in 2001, at which point the label was transitioning into something that was almost unrecognizable to the '90s hardcore kids who considered the first three Victory Style compilations quintessential releases. Hatebreed moved to a major label, Earth Crisis played their farewell show, Bloodlet and Strife were about to release their final albums, and Integrity were now using the moniker Integ2000. In their place, Victory Records signed more accessible artists such as Atreyu, Taking Back Sunday, and Thursday. Furnace elaborates on how out of place Ringworm felt on the label without throwing any shade at any of the acts.
“Maybe at one point when we first got on Victory, we had a little more in common with what that label was about as far as the other bands that were on that label but pretty much when we got on that label, a lot of those bands were gone. I don’t think they even knew what to do with us.”
Despite being oddballs on the label, Ringworm released four full-lengths on Victory Records throughout the course of one decade. Furnace does think his band’s sound might have made it difficult for the label to properly market them: “We always seemed too hardcore for metal and too metal for hardcore.”
Hardcore vs. Metal
Ringworm certainly have associations with the hardcore scene, but, sonically and conceptually, it would be somewhat dubious to categorize them as a hardcore band. “If you look at the songs that we play, and what we’re about, 70–80 percent of our songs are mostly just thrash,” Furnace insists. “Very fast, very thrashy, and then you got some breakdowns.” And it is those signature breakdowns by Ringworm that the hardcore fans salivate over, which has not gone unnoticed by Furnace. “When you play a hardcore gig, everyone just stares at you for your whole set and they just wait for that one riff so they can spin around in circles and crowd-kill. And I’m not really about that. So when you play a metal show and you play thrash riffs and headbanging riffs, then metalheads respond to that and it’s a fun thing. I definitely relate more to that scene because that’s what I am. I grew up a punk rock kid, a metal kid, so I have a lot more on common with that scene… these days, anyway.”
This is probably not a huge revelation to anyone who has seen Ringworm perform in recent years. For instance, at the This Is Hardcore Fest in 2014, the vocalist sarcastically told the crowd of hardcore kids: “There’s going to be weird things in between the mosh parts. Those are called solos.” Later in the set, Furnace announced, “this is one of those [songs], you can beat each other up to,” before the band broke into an explosive rendition of “One of Us Is Going to Have to Die.” After bringing up his playful on-stage banter, Furnace confesses, “I like to joke around.”
But any good joke has a bit of a seriousness behind it. And it’s indicative of why Ringworm sometimes do not play “Justice Replaced by Revenge,” which is arguably their most well-known song. “We’ve done that a couple of tours where we decided not to play that song. And it’s not because we hate the song. Obviously, that’s a popular song. Sometimes there are songs you gotta play. If that’s your ‘Ace of Spades,' then you gotta play it,” Furnace concedes.
And yet, Ringworm still do not necessarily always play it. “Sometimes it is annoying because when you play a whole set of stuff, no one does anything but then you play that one song and everyone goes nuts and then they go back to doing nothing because it’s either too fast or thrashy. Or headbanging or circle pitting or regular moshing just isn’t cool so you just gotta sit around and wait for that one riff so you can punch people in the face and stomp on people’s heads and kinda ruin a pit. So sometimes we’re like ‘fuck it, lets not play it.’ If they are going to stand around the whole time, then stand around the whole time.”
That sounds pretty fucking punk rock, actually. It’s reminiscent of Black Flag in the post My War era – except while Flag ditched a lot of their early hardcore punk songs or decided to play them in half-speed, Ringworm cram as many breakneck, fast-paced songs into a set as possible. “We’ve been doing this for so long. We don’t really give a shit who we offend. What’s going to happen? You’re going to stop seeing us play. Well, who gives a shit?” Furnace laughs. “We like to have a good time but we don’t really take ourselves too seriously. So doing stuff like that is just to humor ourselves.”
Such critical comments elicited an inquiry into how Furnace feels about the trend and overall acceptance of crowd-killing at shows. “That’s strictly, for the most part, a hardcore thing. You don’t see that at an Obituary or Municipal Waste show. Those types of crowds at metal shows, they can police that stuff because there’s a lot of people who pack up front who want to bang their heads and pump their fists and they won’t put up with that shit. But at a hardcore show where it’s kind of accepted and that’s what hardcore dancing has evolved into now.
"Basically, you’re playing a show and then you have an open circle with two guys who are pretty much making it so no one wants to come up and watch the show. And even if you don’t want to come up… even if you want to stand on the side, you can’t even pay attention to the band because the minute you look at the band and just watch the music, you’re going to catch a foot or a fist to the side of your face and break your teeth just for trying to watch the band.”
Furnace then imitates a kneejerk response from someone who would defend this behavior: “Oh, well then you shouldn’t have been there.” In an era where hardcore dancing was confined to the pit, maybe such a response would be warranted. And while shows were never a safe place altogether, the ability to watch a band from the back or the side and not have to constantly be on guard seems like a relic from the past. “I’m like ‘shouldn’t have been where? Shouldn’t have been on the side? Shouldn’t have been on the back? Because you can get hit in the back.
“From my vantage point, when I see stuff done, there are people who say ‘well that’s just how it is.’ It’s like ‘no man, I was watching you the whole time. And you knew a dude was standing there and you fucking ran backwards into him and threw your fist where you knew his face was going to be because you wanted to just hit someone in the pit.’ I’ve been on tours where I would see this stuff go on every night and I’m not going to stop a show because I realize that’s how things are but I don’t have to like it. Because it just ruins stuff for people who just want to have fun and they don’t go there to get their fucking teeth knocked out.
“I’ve seen stuff in the pit that genuinely could be first degree assault, that’s not just dancing. I’ve watched people purposely just smash people because they want to smash people. And that type of stuff gives them a platform to almost do that, I don’t want to say legally, but to get away with that shit. Because I’ve watched stuff where I’m like, ‘dude, you fucking punched that guy for no reason. Just because it’s tough.’ And I’m not into that all. Shit, I’m nearly 50 so I’ve seen pits get rough and… it just gets so stupid. It takes away from people who are wanting to watch a band.”
Nearly everyone reading this has probably had their eyes fixated on the band on stage and then had to turn their heads and focus on the boorish antics emanating from the pit as the action now could presumably extend anywhere within the premise of the venue. “When you’re doing that, you don’t even [get to] watch the band, you’re watching the two meatheads swinging their fists around. That’s what you’re watching; you’re not watching the band.”
As for the people who think that swinging their fists into a crowd of unsuspecting bystanders is something they are entitled to do, relax. Human Furnace is not out on a crusade to take it away from you. “I understand that’s how it is,” but he goes on to add, “just on a pure aesthetic level, I think it looks dumb.”
Ringworm will always have strong ties to bands from the hardcore scene where this style of dancing has become more prevalent, but tours with EyeHateGod, Napalm Death, Voivod, Goatwhore, among others, have broadened their fanbase to metalheads who do not necessarily understand the etiquette – or lack thereof – at modern hardcore shows. “For us, it’s even weirder because at this stage we have a lot of straight-up metal kids who come to see us. If we roll through town on our own, or even with another band, we still get a large share of hardcore kids, and I’m not ripping on them. If they still listen to our songs, that’s totally cool. But you still always get a couple of knuckleheads that are there, going: ‘Man, I can’t wait until you play 'Justice.' I’m going to beat some fucking ass.’ It’s like ‘dude!’ And then you get some metal kids who aren’t used to that. They don’t know anything about that world. I’ll be up there trying to get people to circle pit or bang their heads, and next thing you know they’re getting kicked in the back of their head. And they’re like: ‘What the fuck? I just came to a metal show and all of the sudden, I gotta activate my dental plan.’”
Without any prodding, Furnace addresses whether as a bandmember, he feels any blame. “Sometimes you feel responsible for that type of aggression that you can draw out of people. It’s angry music for angry people so it makes people that want to do that anyway more aggressive but that’s not really an excuse for people to just start smashing people. That’s pretty stupid.”
The 1991 Demo
Ringworm’s first recording, which is now informally known as the 1991 demo, has been repressed and re-released on various formats several times. But the history behind that demo is as punk rock as the songs themselves. When the band formed in 1990, they had the desire to release a demo but there were a few obstacles: they had only one fully written song, there was no bass player to fill in the bottom sound, and the already existing members were strapped for cash. “None of us ever had any money and when we did, we’d buy beer with it… So what we did was we ran an ad in Maximum Rocknroll, selling our demos for four bucks. We said it was hardcore/grind because we were more influenced by early Earache and grindcore bands, like Carcass, than any hardcore band that was around.”
The story about the band’s origins deviates into discussing the glory days of Earache Records. Furnace confesses: “Shit, if we could have sounded like Slayer or Carcass, we would have but we were young and just weren’t as talented. So basically when you hear [early] Ringworm songs, it’s us trying to do our version of that stuff and maybe mix some hardcore.” In 2019, anybody can check on the internet to see if such a description is accurate, but such a luxury was inconceivable in the early 1990s; and the quest to generate interest in this demo was going to be dependent on traditional means of ad placements and the distribution of flyers. “I went to the Milwaukee Metal Fest and I was passing out all of these flyers for a demo that didn’t really exist yet because we were tying to get the money to make the demo,” Furnace laughs.
Despite relying on a publication based out of California and promoting this demo across state lines — never mind the fact that an actual demo didn’t even exist yet — it was a fellow Cleveland native who ended up being the first person to pay for the demo. “The first person who actually ordered the demo was Chris [Pellow], who’s from Cleveland. He sent four bucks in the mail. He said: ‘Sounds cool. I’m really into that shit.’ He’s into Spazz and Infest and all those West Coast grindy bands. That was his scene… Not even a week later, we ended up auditioning him.” Apparently, Pellow thought he was going to replace an already existing bassist. “He just assumed that we had one and we had a demo out and that we were looking for a new bass player.”
After Pellow’s first practice, which consisted of one song, “Blind to Faith,” he was told that he was in the band. But when the newly appointed bass player wanted to jam some more, prompting him to ask about the other songs that presumably are on that demo he recently ordered, he was informed that the band did not have any other songs. Catching on to the fact that he paid for a phantom demo, Pellow asked about his four dollars, only to learn that it had been spent on beer. Nevertheless, this was not some low-level scheme to dupe gullible metal or hardcore kids for extra beer money; the goal of creating a demo was sincere and this practice session eventually led to the first legitimate Ringworm recording, which became known as “The 1991 Demo.”
No longer a bunch of skater punk kids trying to figure out how to get noticed, Human Furnace and the rest of Ringworm have plans to tour this summer in support of Death Becomes My Voice. Furnace takes some pride in admitting the band has built a reputation for being party animals but now that he is in his late 40s, there are more precautions to take when going on the road. “I’m old and beat up. I’ve got bad knees. My back is always in fucking severe pain but I just go out there and do it. So I try to take care of myself a little bit better.
"I’m not a fucking fitness nut but I don’t get shit-faced hammered every night because one week into tour and you’re going to be a fucking trainwreck and people are going to see you play and they’re going to be like, ‘god, I saw them last night and they looked old and out of shape and tired.’ So the past 10 to 15 years, I’ve toned that down, not because I don’t like to party but I want to make sure that the performance is there.”
Although Furnace was still a teenager when Ringworm formed, he explains how the band never toured much in its early days. In fact, the first time Ringworm made it to Europe was in 1995, when they were not even an active band anymore. “We had broken up in early 1994 because Frank [Novinec] left to join Integrity. So when they were going to Europe, Integrity was basically two-fifths Ringworm because Frank was in the band and Bob Ziegler, who was playing drums, he was in Integrity as well… I don’t know who came up with the idea but it was proposed to the guys that brought Integrity over. And Blaze [Tishko] was going as just a roadie. So someone came up with the idea of buying one more [plane] ticket for me and then Frank could do double-duty, Bob could do double-duty, and Blaze could play bass. So they had Ringworm and Integrity for just one more ticket.”
But in 1998, Furnace and founding guitarist Frank Novinec, who was then known as Frank 3Gun, reformed Ringworm. Blaze joined them again, but this time on second guitar; his sole recording with Ringworm was on the legendary Madness of War demo. Over the next two decades, Ringworm remained active, churned out consistent records, and established themselves as a global powerhouse within the underground of heavy music. Far from rock stars, but opportunities for national and international tours, which had eluded them during the first incarnation of the band, became a possibility for them to expand their audience outside of Cleveland.
Back to the late '90s, after Ringworm had broken up and while Frank 3Gun was busy with Integrity, Human Furnace started Holyghost. In addition to handling the vocals, Furnace started playing guitar towards the end of the band’s run, making Holyghost a triple-axe threat. “The songs that I was writing were quite a bit different than what you would hear on the demo. And we had about 10 other songs that weren’t on that demo. We had enough for a full length but we never got to that point to record any of them.” Furnace insists that the newer songs were going to go in a direction that would be more similar to Godflesh or Neurosis than the thrashy metal that Holyghost were producing. This might not be so surprising as Furnace notes, “I wrote one song, the last song on the demo, you can tell that it’s a little bit different than the others.”
Although a cursory online search of the band’s status will reveal that the band is broken up, there is still Holyghost material being created. “When the band broke up, I just kept writing. And I still write and I got about 15 to 20 songs… Someday, I’ll try to put a band together and record them.” So if there are still songs being written and there is a realistic possibility of a future recording, then the notion that Holyghost is finished must be a huge misunderstanding. Just for the sake of clarity, Furnace says: “It’s not really done… I’m writing it under the thought that it will be a Holyghost record.” Furnace admits that finding time is a huge hinderance on the project’s progress. Despite such setbacks, he sounds liberated with this project as there is no pressure to make the music conform to a particular sound or style. “There’s no rules with this. I’ve got stuff that’s written for piano and string instruments. There’s sampled stuff. It’s all over the place… There’s some acoustic stuff on it too.”
As far as Human Furnace’s other non-Ringworm band is concerned, Gluttons is still quite active. Last November, Gluttons released their first full-length CD/LP titled G.F.F.G. “We started off playing as a three-piece punk band and then it kind of morphed into more straight-up rock n’ roll stuff, but still pretty heavy… It’s certainly a fun band and we got a shit ton of material. We already got enough for a second record.” Although Furnace provides backing vocals and writes the songs, he is mainly a rhythm guitar player for Gluttons, which has a lineup that includes former Ringworm skinsman Chris Dora on drums and current Ringworm bassist Ed Stephens. “He’s just a fucking a monster, no matter what style of music he plays. He’s just a fucking sick bass player.” The remaining members are Damien Perry, from the stoner metal band Red Giant, and vocalist Kevin Orr who also sings for the Cleveland rock act Strange Notes.
Gluttons have performed in the Cleveland area and they hope to hit the road in the not-so-distant future, but each member has priorities with at least one other band. As to how a Gluttons gig differs from a Ringworm show, Furnace rejoices: “There’s no one beating each other up.” Elaborating on how distinct performances with the two bands are, Furnace explains: “It’s weird because there’s chicks in the front row. It’s a nice, refreshing thing from Ringworm where it’s usually 17-year-old boys sweating and shit.” When asked if the crowd-killing idiocy is a repellent for females that further precludes them from attending Ringworm shows, Furnace shoots that assertion down immediately. “No…[it’s] because of what I do on stage. I’m not the most appealing… I’m fucking sweating and gross and spitting everywhere and blowing boogers out of my nose. It’s not the most attractive performance to watch… But with Gluttons, it’s a little different. I’m not the frontman there. There’s chicks dancing. It’s pretty cool. We can play bars and not worry if there’s going to be a pit.”
With Ringworm no longer active by the mid to late 1990s and their debut album The Promise becoming increasingly hard to find, it was a guest vocal appearance on “Hollow,” the second track on Integrity’s 1996 classic Humanity is the Devil that became a lot of people’s introduction to the tortured screams and distinct vocal approach of Human Furnace. But when the collaboration is brought up, Furnace simply states: “Dwid just asked me if I wanted to sing and I said ‘okay.’ I went down there and that was it.” Such a cavalier response was a bit perplexing, but the artist always sees it differently from the fan. Although “Hollow” is not part of Ringworm’s catalog, Furnace’s contributions were essential to the magic that was captured on record and preserved over the years.
Furnace does not quibble about the quality of the song, but, as far as the creative process went, he is a bit in the dark there. “It’s a great tune. Especially the way it comes out of the first song ['Vocal Test']]… It was a fun thing to do. Frank was in the band at the time and I wasn’t really doing anything so maybe [Integrity] was just throwing me a bone or something because they cherry-picked our guitar player. Who knows? Because Ringworm pretty much broke up when Frank left to join that band. We were done. So maybe [Dwid] was like ‘I feel bad, why don’t you come down and play on a song?’” Then sounding amused with his own speculation as to what might have preceded his invitation to perform guest vocals, he stops himself and admits, “I don’t know.” In fairness, outside of agreeing to perform, Furnace was not involved in the decision-making process and he was singing lyrics that Dwid had written for him.
There also seems to be a bit of fatigue for having to discuss anything related to Integrity in nearly every interview or reading about them in every column that is supposed to be about Ringworm. “Every time someone mentions us, they have to mention Integrity. Which is cool because Integrity is a cool band. But for some reason, we’re always joined at the hip. I don’t think we sound like Integrity. I don’t think we ever really did. We always thrashed out; we did a lot of grindy stuff; they never did any of that. And we always kinda got lumped in with them.” It’s important to stress that Furnace has a great deal of admiration for Integrity as people and as a band; however the constant comparisons have become a bit excessive and often seem gratutious. “I’m friends with all of those guys and they’re a cool band but I always thought [Ringworm and Integrity] were two different entities.”
This is a valid point as one would be hard-pressed to find an article on Ringworm that does not also mention Integrity somewhere (just see this column as exhibit A). “Oh, every time,” Furnace claims after it’s acknowledged how frequently the comparisons are made in zines or online. He laments at the album reviews that never cease to suggest that “the new Ringworm sounds just like Integrity” and how he then wonders: “What the fuck record were you listening to?”
However, it’s also not a situation that is entirely unique to these two bands. Whether it’s Agnostic Front and Cro-Mags or Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, there are often a pair of bands whose careers are intrinsically linked. Ringworm and Integrity seem to fall into that category as well, despite playing different styles of heavy music. Nevertheless, Furnace does acknowledge that the two bands still have stuff in common.
“We were around at the same time. And we both were anti posi-core and sang about the devil instead of friends stabbing you in the back or Youth Crew stuff… So we always sang about evil, scary shit. So I guess I could see how we could get lumped in together.” But, sonically, the two really do not resemble each other any more than any other heavy band with distorted guitars and screaming vocals. At a certain point, maybe near the three-decade mark, consistently being asked about another band understandably could become exhausting. “It’s cool. I don’t get too much in a bind over it. But it happens a lot. Sometimes I’m just like: ‘I don’t know. Why don’t you do an interview with Dwid if you want to know so much about Integrity. If you want to know about Ringworm, I can tell you about that.”
And yet despite the annoyance, Integrity were inspirational to Ringworm — just not in the way that is typically depicted by zine writers. “We’re tight with those guys and we used to run with those guys all the time. It was kind of weird because they were from East Cleveland we were from the sticks, out in the West Side of Cleveland… They were around before us and we all kind of looked up to them.…. When they first came out, it was pretty magical stuff… Here’s a band that’s playing music that doesn’t have to sound like Youth of Today. Here’s a singer that’s not singing about your normal stuff… It was a good band to look at and be like: ‘Wow, here’s a band doing something that’s different.’ And we were like, ‘well we could do something different too’ – not ‘we want to be like them.’ We just took our own influences and did our own thing.”
Featured Guest Appearances
When Human Furnace recorded guest vocals on “Hollow” in late 1995, he was not so well known outside of Cleveland circles. But a decade later, Ringworm were making a name for themselves within the underground metal and hardcore scenes throughout the world. And Furnace would subsequently make more guest appearances on other artists’ albums, except now the sticker on the front cover would highlight this as a selling point. These featured appearances include Terror’s debut record, both full-lengths from the somewhat elusive Pitch Black Forecast (which features LA thrash metal legend Gene Hoglan on drums), and even on Massachusetts metalcore act The Acacia Strain’s Continent.
There was a bit of apprehension to ask about another appearance he made outside of his own band so it seemed best to inquire about the most unlikely guest spot, the one with The Acacia Strain. “Oh, that was just out of the blue. The singer, Vincent [Bennett], hit me up. I knew who the band was but I don’t think I ever technically met those guys. And he called me up and he was like: ‘Hey man, I like Ringworm a lot. Would you like to come down and do backups on the record?” The Acacia Strain was recording at Zeuss’s recording studio in Boston. Furnace admits that he was not familiar with their music, but he knew Zeuss, the producer, pretty well and the band made the offer quite enticing.
“They flew me down to Boston and bought me a 12-pack and a pint of whiskey, which none of them would drink with me because they weren’t drinkers.” Furnace wasn’t even entirely clear what his role would be until he arrived in the studio. When he finally asked what was expected of him, he was given the lyrics. “So I went in there, blasted it out first take. They’re like ‘that’s fucking perfect.’” He told them that he was more than willing to do additional takes, but the band was quite adamant that they already captured what they wanted. According to Furnace, that experience helped forge a kinship with The Acacia Strain, and Vincent in particular, that has persisted over the years.
“These Are All Love Songs”
The Acacia Strain clearly selected Human Furnace to perform on the album because they are genuine fans of Ringworm. And Furnace’s vocal approach is unique, even when compared to other frontmen who primarily scream and avoid any clean vocals. So regardless of which band’s album Furnace would provide additional vocals for, there would be a contrast. An even greater juxtaposition would be to hear Ringworm’s vocals and then read the lyric sheet (though even as abrasive as the vocals are, often the lines are still decipherable). Furnace concurs: “I joke around about this on stage but I’m not really joking at all... These are all love songs. Every single one of them is a love song. I kind of laugh when people want to get hard and beat people up and get all mean and I’m like ‘that was a love a song.’”
Although Furnace does not offer a concrete example or even point a specific song, he mentions that fans have come up to him and shared how the lyrics to a particular Ringworm song have helped them in their lives because they felt as if he was writing about a nearly identical experience. “That makes me feel good but at the same time, I think, ‘wow, that’s not even close to what that song is about.’ But if it helps you out in a way that makes you feel better or takes tension off or you’re like ‘wow, here’s someone who fucking gets me,’ that’s totally cool.”
The Professional Artist
In addition to being the sole lyricist for Ringworm, he has created a large majority of the album artwork, t-shirt designs, flyers, and other visual images that the band has used throughout the years. But despite the multiple roles he plays in Ringworm, it is his tattoo business that pays the bills. Human Furnace, or James Bulloch, as his clients likely know him as, owns two tattoo shops and two t-shirt companies.
Still, it is somewhat surprising that his distinguished artwork with the band has not parlayed into a new business venture. Certainly with the oversaturation of heavy bands in the world, there must be some who have tried to solicit Furnace for an album cover design. “I get asked all the time. I’m actually working on the new Shed the Skin record right now.” Shed the Skin is a death metal band featuring Ringworm guitarist Matt Sorg and bassist Ed Stephens. But that’s still within the family. “I get asked a lot. Besides tattooing, I do tons of graphic art. I do t-shirt designs. And I get asked to do record covers pretty often but that style takes me a tremendous amount of time. The last Shed the Skin record or even this newest Ringworm record took 250 hours… It’s like another full-time job.”
And while he was monetarily compensated for the Shed the Skin record, a close friend is never charged the same as someone who is strictly a client. When asked if going outside of his circle of friends might be more lucrative, Furnace explains that it’s not so simple. “Record labels don’t really give you a budget anymore. They give $500… $5000 would be worth 250 hours of my time but nobody has that money. So unless it’s a friend or something you really want to do, then it’s kind of hard to justify.” Furnace acknowledges that his style of designing artwork is extraordinarily meticulous and, therefore, quite time-consuming whereas other visual artists might complete a cover in a quicker amount of time. However, that is not how he operates. “Even the Ringworm record, I finished that the day before it had to be done. Or the record wouldn’t come out on time… So the last week before it needed to be turned in, I worked a twelve hour day, then the next day was 14 hours, and another 14 hour day, and then a 17 hour day… Just to get the fucking thing done.”
As if writing lyrics, being a vocalist, playing guitar, designing album covers and t-shirts, and tattooing was not enough, Furnace is involved in another project. The recent music video for “Acquiesce,” which Furnace co-directed, was more than just a companion piece for Death Becomes My Voice. “The video itself is a part of a short movie that I’m working on right now.” Furnace reveals that the “Acquiesce” video is the third in a trilogy, which includes the videos for “Justice Replaced by Revenge” (2005) and “Shades of Blue” (2016). While the songs themselves are not necessarily connected as part of a linear storyline, in the way that the videos are, Furnace says that all three songs do relate to each video.
But putting aside the music, the three videos are sequentially connected. “It’s one long story that’s told 15 years apart. We’re basically shooting this as one long story that’s separated into three music videos… We’re going to release a director’s cut and eventually it’s just going to be a short movie, all on its own, without any musical input. It’s just going to be a short movie. So on top of everything else, I’m writing and scripting and storyboarding.” At the time of discussion, Furnace’s upcoming weekend plans involved reshoots for the film, and then going straight to Ringworm practice, before going to work. If anybody is wondering when he finds time to sleep, he says he gets roughly four hours a night. “[I’m] spread real thin but it’s all cool, fun stuff that not too many normal people get to do.”
The Human Furnace
As to how James Bulloch got the name Human Furnace, that is going to remain a mystery. “I don’t ever answer that one,” Furnace states. Still, he was gracious enough to explain the rationale behind using it.
“There is definitely a meaning behind it. It’s a pen name that I started using in 10th grade. It’s my stage name. It’s my stripper name. But there’s a meaning behind it and it kind of stuck. I was using it before the band.” At a young age, Bulloch was in awe of musical artists who had stage names, such as Alice Cooper and King Diamond, so when he started his own band, it seemed like an obvious decision that he would go by Human Furnace. “It seemed only natural to use that for the band. It was just another form of expression, or another art project.”
While discussing musicians from bands who had stage names, the 47-year old business owner brings up Venom and enthusiastically recalls the impression that they made on him as a young fella: “They all had fucking cool names. They weren’t Joe Brown.” Indeed, Cronos, Mantas, and Abaddon were infinitely more intriguing names than whatever it says on their birth certificates. Furnace adds: “It fit with the band and imagery… and there was still a bit of mystery to it.” But the one and only Vinnie Stigma does not address him by any of these names. Furnace recalls a European tour that Ringworm did with Agnostic Front, and how the band’s founding guitarist and legend from the New York hardcore scene, started referring to him as “little Undertaker.”
As a lifelong Agnostic Front fan, Furnace was honored and finds the nickname quite endearing. Although the tour was a while back — he can’t recall the exact year — Stigma and Furnace remain in touch and when he contacts him, it’s still “little Undertaker.” And although Furnace does not have any formal rules about what to call him, it is strongly advised not to address him as “little Undertaker” — unless you are Vinnie Stigma.