During the 1990s, Poison the Well were among the bands who'd been at the forefront of an evolving sound, and in time, this fresh strain of unadulterated heaviness was tagged "metalcore" — a genre that fused elements of heavy metal with those of hardcore punk rock.
It was a style the Miami-based collective helped to forge, along with the likes of Killswitch Engage and As I Lay Dying. While countless metalcore bands followed, with much commercial success, Poison the Well lagged behind the rest of the pack and was eventually written off as a band that came awfully close, but never truly exploded — at least not in the way everyone expected it might.
Despite the backing of a major label, Poison the Well's Atlantic Records debut, 2003's You Come Before You, was considered a commercial flop, selling 115,500 copies to date. Late last summer, it was announced that Poison the Well had parted ways with Atlantic because of "creative differences." It was a grim time in the band's short history.
"We actually had broken up for a week," explained frontman Jeffrey Moreira. "We broke up for a week, and I was like, 'All right — I'm going to get a job. I'll be that guy who used to be in a band and then ends up working in a shoe store.' We did that for a week, and we just had to deal with the realization that this thing we did every day for five years was done. But then, [guitarist] Ryan [Primack], [drummer] Chris [Hornbrook] and I were like, 'We can't just stop. I still want to play music with my friends and make records.' So we decided to keep going. Most bands don't get the chance to come back, put a record out and have people still remember who you are."
On April 3, Poison the Well returned with a new label (Ferret), and what some are dubbing the band's comeback LP: Versions. And once again, Poison the Well are braving uncharted territory and effectively launching a new sound — one no other band has ever dared toy with. On Versions, which was recorded in Sweden with producers Eskil Lovstrom (Refused, Nocturnal Rights) and Pelle Henricsson (Cult of Luna), the band fuses heavy metal with elements of country, with surprisingly successful results.
"On paper, it doesn't sound like it could work," Moreira admitted. "Some people have been skeptical about it, but it seems to work with our sound. On You Come Before You, we kind of experimented a little bit with that sound, and I think that [guitarist] Ryan just went nuts on this record." The album features horns, slide guitar, mandolins, and banjo over gnarled riffage and punishing percussion.
"We've always tried to push ourselves to do different stuff," Moreira continued. "I think Ryan just wanted to entertain himself and do something different. It's something you don't hear a lot, especially in the music we play. As long as it fits with the song, we went with it. I don't think it's commercially viable, so, I don't know if it's something that will impact as much as [the band's 1999 debut] The Opposite of December... A Season of Separation did. This just shows you can be creative with music. Even though you play heavy music, it doesn't always have to be formulaic."
Well, somebody bought the album: Versions claimed the chart's #147 slot, with sales of 7,700 and then some. Moreira said he was entertaining the idea of shifting his vocal style to emulate the Cuban singers featured in the documentary "Buena Vista Social Club," but the band simply didn't have time to push the envelope that far.
"Next time," he laughed.
On April 3, Poison the Well kicked off their first full U.S. headlining tour in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with support acts Heavy Heavy Low Low, Fear Before the March of Flames, the End and Portugal. the Man. That trek is scheduled to run through May 12 in Nashville. The band's also been tapped for this summer's Warped Tour and will take the stage starting with the July 25 date in Washington, D.C. The Well will remain on Warped through its August 25 finale in Los Angeles.