By Meaghan T’ao
BU News Service
BOSTON — Eddie Shifflet looks as if a Viking hermit had tried his very hardest to blend into the society of present-day Boston and largely succeeded, but not entirely. He is tall and broad-shouldered, but not imposing in the slightest. Shifflet’s feet are bare. He’s dressed conservatively, in jeans and a navy v-neck that covers up a faded tattoo on his right bicep. The tattoo is a mishmash of images – his first Dean guitar superimposed over a treble clef that has sprouted Valkyrie wings.
His full, brown beard is where the disguise begins to give way, but there are other small hints: two tiny silver hoops on his right earlobe, and flashes of rings from his hands as he kneads them together.
Shifflet is firmly entrenched in Boston’s metal scene, where he plays lead guitar in the bands Ice Giant and Vivisepulture. He first picked up an acoustic guitar at the age of 13, and began writing music at 14. Now, at 25, contributing to both the business and creative ends of both bands seems like continuing on a natural trajectory he has been following since a young age.
Both his bands have seen local success, playing small to mid-size venues like Brighton Music Hall, as well as opening for international touring bands. With two shows at Wonder Bar in Allston already under his belt since the beginning of 2019, Shifflet is poised to open a show for the Italian symphonic death metal band Fleshgod Apocalypse at the end of March. With Vivisepulture, Shifflet will have opened for international bands playing both The Palladium’s upstairs stage, which has a capacity of 500, and the main room, which holds upwards of 2,160 people.
Shifflet’s current success can be attributed in part to a long history with the genre; his parents introduced him to his earliest musical heroes at a young age. “We were all on the 80’s metal train,” he said. “But then, I started getting into stuff like Bullet For My Valentine and Death. It all meshed well together for me, especially with metal having so many moving parts that come from different influences.”
When he describes Ice Giant, it’s clear that all the aforementioned influences factor in. Shifflet mentions thrash metal influences (ripping, roaring riffs and screaming vocals), folk music (harmony work and big clean vocal sections), progressive metal (more melodies, more solos!) and low, bellowing death growls.
It’s the same way for his other band, Vivisepulture. Shifflet is at the nexus of the local metal scene, connected to an infinitely diverse array of sounds, people, and bands, and even the layperson can tell that much simply by hearing his music.
It’s Friday night inside Wonder Bar in Allston. The place is packed, a pleasant surprise for the organizers, who have taken a gamble on a few local metal bands, and the bands themselves. Shifflet and a bandmate are loading their equipment into the bar before the show; his family has made the trip from Maryland and will be seeing him play with Ice Giant for the first time. Groups of show-goers mill around inside the bar – some of them friends, some fans, and some just there for the booze.
Mere minutes after he has led his parents into the bar, one of the patrons retches and vomits all over the floor. Shifflet, bringing his equipment indoors, enters to a look of absolute horror and disgust on his mother’s face.
“Welcome to Allston, mom,” he chuckles.
Shifflet knows his place on stage well. For more animated bandmates, this is a blessing – they are given a wide berth of space to run and jump without fear of collision. Shifflet is also a meticulous player and always accurate, even in the view of discerning fellow guitarist and bandmate Nicholas Gallop.
“It’s so comforting to know that [the] dude who knows all that stuff is next to me, because I don’t have to worry about it,” he said.
For Shifflet; however, being on stage is an entirely different experience. He admits to the unavoidable pre-show anxiety – is my gear working? Is the sound guy on check? Is the merch table set? Does the band have it all together? – but the nervousness dissolves as soon as the music starts up. At some point, he falls into the music and connects with the crowd on a visceral level, and suddenly it doesn’t even feel like he’s playing anymore. It’s also hugely gratifying for Shifflet to see music that he has brought into existence giving people a good time, especially if they mosh.
In spite of that, his immersion in his performance can translate to a lack of contact from a drummer’s perspective.
“He’s the one who looks back the least,” said bandmate Colin Frecknall, who plays drums in Vivisepulture.
This is true. Often, his bandmates steal quick looks backward to acknowledge Frecknall’s steady assault on the drums behind a row of stage scrims as Shifflet stares steadfastly forward. His movements are smaller and less pronounced as well. During the first few songs of his set, he shifts his weight from one foot to another periodically while his bandmates headbang to the beat, all flying hair and wild gestures.
Almost too soon, the frontman announces to the crowd that these will be their last three songs, and Shifflet appears to be hit with the realization that the set is drawing to a close. Suddenly, he is animated – bouncing on his toes and mouthing the lyrics, and the band finally moves in unison.
Vivisepulture’s members hold practice on Thursday nights, but this week turns out to be more of a brainstorming session. The boys pile into Shifflet’s Brighton apartment one by one: first, the vocalist, Daniel Wilson, then the drummer, Frecknall. All the while, Shifflet is seated in the corner of his bedroom, a lone figure framed by the posters that stretch wall to wall. From above him, four skeletal figures clutching red chalices stare down at the assembly like unholy guardians. “Death,” reads the logo at the top of the poster, and at the bottom: “Scream Bloody Gore.”
With every additional member that enters the room, Shifflet’s voice lowers a notch in volume. He interjects every now and then to answer a question or crack a joke, but mostly sits in silence. However, at moments he does take the lead – proudly explaining an addition he made to a track, or mimicking an instrument to demonstrate an idea.
Even when his bandmates abandon him in search of chicken pot pie for dinner, Shifflet doesn’t seem shy. He twists quickly from left to right on his office chair in front of the desk in his room as he remembers sharing a bed with a session musician while on tour. “I just look over and see a bare Frenchman thigh hanging off the bed. And I’m thinking – how much contact did I have during the night?”
Shifflet chuckles, half-amused and half-uncomfortable. “Then he gives this horrible cat smirk. I think he threw a wink in there. He only had on his weird little European underwear.”
When the band returns, the scene devolves into familiar camaraderie. Now deep into the conversation, Shifflet becomes lively and involved. Frecknall tinkers with his host’s computer for a moment, and Judas Priest comes blaring out of the speakers. They sing snippets of the music and hum. Someone tells a joke, and everyone fizzes into laughter. The mood has turned, and Shifflet joins his bandmates as they reminisce about old times.
Although they agree that Shifflet is taciturn, his bandmates have clearly developed deep, meaningful bonds with him.
“Sometimes I do have trouble articulating what I’m feeling to people,” said Gallop, “and music is such a great way to alleviate that. It’s like speaking a different language, if you will. Because I can speak that language with Eddie, I feel a stronger connection with him.”