EP PREMIERE: Wilkes-Barre thrash metal band Cruel Bomb drops ‘Man Made’ destruction
Much like the destructive weapon they are named after, Cruel Bomb packs a lot into a little package.
The Wilkes-Barre band’s new EP, “Man Made,” has only five tracks, but it contains all the fierce firepower of a full album of old school trash metal with only three members – vocalist/guitarist Brandon James, bassist Kennie Barto, and drummer Kyle McKeown.
When asked to describe their classic sound, James had simply two words: “Heavy and fast.”
“Take Slayer, add a little bit of hardcore, make it catchy, and you have a Cruel Bomb song.”
The first single, “A-10,” embodies that description and gave headbangers an early taste of the devastation when it dropped last July.
“It’s about a big ass plane that is the heart of the U.S. Air Force. The inspiration was Kyle and I really like the Flying Tiger artwork and inspired us to write the song about the airplane,” James explained.
“We’ve had a couple veterans tell us they enjoyed the song because they’ve seen the A-10 up close and saved their hides in the past. People really liked it, I think, especially the midsection.”
Now, after a year and a half of writing and recording at JL Studios in Olyphant, “Man Made” is premiering today on NEPA Scene as well as on all major streaming platforms and physical formats like CDs and cassette tapes.
“The COVID restrictions really changed how we wrote these songs, and it was definitely a challenge,” James said.
“We worked really hard to bring these songs to life, and we genuinely hope people will enjoy them even more.”
This is the trio’s third EP in three years, so the chemistry is definitely explosive. Their collective influences include the Big Four (Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax), of course, as well as Power Trip, Hatebreed, Biohazard, Amon Amarth, and Sabaton.
“Back in 2017, I stopped waiting to find people to make the music I wanted to make. I started making demos for my idea, ‘Manhattan Mischief.’ Kyle, one of my best friends, said he’d love to record those song professionally with me. Something came up with Kyle’s band with a show. We were ready to play and hit the ground running. We needed a bass player, and I recently bought my Explorer off Kennie Barto, who was already a friend in our circle. I hit him up and showed him the songs. He agreed to join us and we haven’t stopped running since,” James recalled.
“[The band name] comes from the emperor in Japan when they surrendered after the atomic bomb dropped. ‘The enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb.'”
Since then, they’ve sold CDs all over the world, including in almost all 50 states, and have had reviews written in languages they can’t even read, which they’re quite proud of. Their favorite places to perform include the “Alternative Gallery, Curry Donuts, Lucky 13, Irish Wolf Pub (RIP), Bones Bar (RIP), The V-Spot, some barn in Ohio, Black Forge Coffee, Voltage Lounge (RIP), The Depot and, last but not least, Century Bar,” he continued.
“I personally enjoy our local metal scene, but in a way, we don’t fit at all, and that’s perfectly OK. We play a genre of music with its glory days behind it but want to be a band that continues those traditions with our own spin.”
That creative spirit persevered even as the music industry shut down in 2020 and much of 2021, leaving them unable to tour behind their second EP, “Trinity Terror,” which was released just two months before the pandemic took over the United States.
“We had Midwest dates planned that took a lot of time and effort on our part. We genuinely felt we lost all of our momentum and missed out on all the hard work we put into that EP. Luckily, we took a step back, rebounded, and put that same time, effort, and passion into ‘Man Made.’ We did most of the writing while the lockdown and restrictions were in place. Once the restrictions lifted, we were ready to record,” James said.
“We were able to still play a couple shows under strict COVID guidelines that were still memorable and fun. We felt it was something people needed to see as much as we needed to play. We got to relax and spend time on writing future songs, jamming, and practicing.”
As with any good band, their process involves a little banter before they can get serious.
“I will write a riff, send it to Kyle. Kyle will write drums and send it back. This process will continue for a week due to Kennie not willing to participate. Kennie finally participates and wants to scrap the song. Cruel Bomb puts ‘searching for new bass player.’ They find no one and reluctantly keep Kennie. This process repeats until the song is written,” he described with a laugh.
“In all seriousness, we send riffs back and fourth and use DAWs [digital audio workstations] to piece the song together. When we agree, Kennie and I will sit down and write some lyrics to the song. The band gets together and performs the song. If we like it, it stays.”
They don’t write with any particular themes in mind, but one that often comes up in their music is war and the sinister intentions that are often behind it, such as “Dogs of War” on the new EP.
“It’s something that every country and almost human encounter whether they want to or not. We also play a lot of video games,” James admitted.
This theme runs through all of their striking album artwork as well, which was illustrated by Karl Dahmer of Dahmer Art. Leonardo da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man” was incorporated into the cover of “Man Made,” and that piece ended up inspiring the name of the EP.
“I was watching ‘Samurai Jack.’ There’s a haunted mansion episode where people are locked in these cages that looked like atoms. The original idea was a bunch of atoms, but the band came up with the final design together,” James noted.
“The melting hands represent the technology that we have created that now controls us, also the advancements in creating devastating weapons. Now we are all locked in those consequences for the rest of humankind.”
This collection of songs opens with the instrumental track “Keystone Mosh,” a nod to their Northeastern Pennsylvania roots that carries over into some of their branding and merchandise sporting the keystone symbol.
“We’re three guys from working class families with deep roots in Pennsylvania. There’s no one really carrying that torch in heavy music showing Pennsylvania pride. We are the people we are today because of the communities we grew up in,” James observed.
That made its way into “Bombed Squad,” a title that their fans share.
“The lyrics came from our partying in our 20s, going to metal shows and losing our shit at our friend’s house. We want people to feel that same energy that we felt and still feel today. Our goal is to make our fans feel like they’re at party with their friends.”
This is followed by “Stronger Than Yesterday,” an encouraging and motivating track with a positive message.
“I think everyone needs positive message right now. Whether it’s waking up and facing the day or going to the gym to push some weights around, the bands that we love wrote uplifting lyrics that got us through hard days – now we want to be that band for someone else. Cruel Bomb has your back.”
That attitude is also carrying the band forward in 2022, especially after a rough couple of years.
“‘Optimist views only in my mind.’ You gotta just keep moving forward. I’m really excited to see what 2022 brings to us,” James emphasized.
“We have a pretty busy February to promote the EP. We have lyric videos coming out, guitar play-throughs coming out. As for goals, play more shows than last year, get a big break, have fun, sell more merch, play Full Terror Assault, travel the country!”
He added that their friend Gene may have summed it up best.
“‘The real question isn’t if Cruel Bomb blows up – it’s if you’re coming along for the ride!’ Join the Bombed Squad today!”
Photos by Rich Howells/NEPA Scene
by Rich Howells
Rich is an award-winning journalist, longtime blogger, photographer, and podcast host. He is the founder and editor of NEPA Scene.