Fourteen years into his two-decade tenure with acclaimed Greenville, South Carolina technical death metal band Nile, guitarist and vocalist Dallas Toler-Wade was itching to explore new musical and lyrical frontiers. So he hooked up with some old buddies from his hometown Fayetteville, North Carolina and started writing old-school death metal inspired by some of their favorite bands, including Gorguts, Immolation, Incantation and Suffocation.
“There was something really powerful about those bands, especially Gorguts,” Toler-Wade says. “They had these twin guitar compositions that felt different than the kind of death metal other bands were doing. So, Narcotic Wasteland is partially my way of rediscovering what I first loved about death metal.”
Narcotic Wasteland self-released their self-titled debut in 2014. Then in October 2016, Toler-Wade left Nile and Narcotic Wasteland became his main priority. “It was just time for me to do something different,” he says.
After talking to several companies, Narcotic Wasteland signed with Megaforce, which historically has launched the careers of Metallica, Anthrax, Testament, Overkill and others. Narcotic Wasteland’s second album, Delirium Tremens is a dramatic musical evolution from the band’s first release. Not only is the production better, the chemistry between Rhone and Toler-Wade is impeccable, each feeling out and feeding off of the other’s playing. Coupled with trenchant grooves and impacting vocals, Delirium Tremens is more than an homage to the band’s favorite musicians, it’s a new style wrought from some of the best pages of the past.
“Maybe knowing that this was going to be my main band made me think about it a little more carefully about the songs,” Toler-Wade says. “I had a bit more direction and the stuff I was writing seemed more focused. The first record established a sound and this one definitely took it to the next level.”
On Delirium Tremens, Narcotic Wasteland exit the starting gate with guns blazing on “Introspective Nightmares,” a brutal feast of angular riffs, enticing licks, blast beats and scathing vocals. “Life Revolted” is slower, but impacts just as hard, juxtaposing staccato riffs and melodic guitar lines with double-bass drumming. Then there’s “Self Immolation,” one of two atmospheric instrumentals on the album; it consists of haunting organ, synth, piano and strings and would perfectly compliment the next Evil Dead sequel. Bassist LutaChrist Dupre wrote “Husk,” a death metal stormer that features acrobatic guitar lines and contrasts infectious chugging riffs with amphetamine-fueled blast beats; Dupre also collaborated with Toler-Wade on the lyrics to “Pharma Culture.”
Narcotic Wasteland named their new album after the title track, which is about delirium tremens, the medical term for symptoms an alcoholic suffers after about three days without a drink. These include uncontrollable shaking, shivering, sweating, heart palpitations, confusion and hallucinations.
“All these things are going through your brain and there are voices in your head,” says Toler-Wade, who admits having had problems with alcohol in the past. “It feels like you’re going crazy. It can happen with opioids, too, but most of the time it’s from severe alcoholism.”
Over the years, many of Toler-Wade’s friends and family have fallen into the abyss of addiction. And some never returned. It’s a tragic byproduct of growing up in Fayetteville, North Carolina, a military town where male residents have a PTSD rate as high as 75% and there are the most reported incidents of shaken baby syndrome in the country. Lots of Fayetteville’s disenchanted population chooses to escape misery through street drugs, prescription medication and alcohol. Instead of remaining silent about the scourge that has surrounded him, Toler-Wade addresses it throughout Delirium Tremens.
“You waste your life trying to forget reality with booze, pills and cocaine/ I will not remain silent while you piss your life away,” he screams in the meaty, riff-saturated “Bleed and Swell.” And in the torrential, hyper-speed guitar-fest “Faces of Meth,” he growls about amphetamines “slowly killing you while robbing your youth and beauty” and laments those who “never had a chance at a normal life” and are “raised from generations of total ignorance.”
“I’m addressing all the bad stuff that goes on with addiction and making statements about what I see,” he says. “There have been a couple of people that have said we're an anti-party band, but that’s not true at all. I don't give a shit what people do with themselves. And, you know, if they can handle it, that’s fine. I’m really just interested in talking about addiction and some of the toxic human behavior that comes along with it.”
Unlike Nile, which wrote album after album about Egyptian history, theology and the works of H.P. Lovecraft, Narcotic Wasteland isn’t purely a concept band. The unrelenting, blast-beat powered and rhythmically eclectic “We Agnostics” questions the existence of a higher power, the triumphant “Return to the Underground” is a statement of dedication to the pure strength of metal and “In Memoriam” is an acoustic instrumental that serves as a touching dedication to anyone who has passed away.
“I couldn’t write every song about the same thing,” Toler-Wade says. “But I didn’t want to have a bunch of vague stories and songs that don’t mean anything as a whole, even if they might sound good together. I prefer to be very straightforward and blunt, almost in a punk rock fashion. And I've had people actually message me saying, ‘Man, this song you wrote really hits home with me. I've had similar issues myself or with a friend of mine.’ Having someone connect with what we’re doing like that is a really powerful thing.”
The most political song on Delirium Tremens is the closing cut “Pharma Culture” a slower thrash/death metal number that blends lethal chugs with sharp, melodic guitar lines and addresses how the medical industry is more intent on producing pills to ease symptoms than it is in curing diseases. “It’s talking about how we’re being enslaved because there’s such a high addiction rate,” he says. “Everyone’s hooked on their pharmaceutical drugs, and it would cut into their money if there weren’t so many people that were dependent on their product.”
Toler-Wade wrote four songs for Delirium Tremens before he left Nile, then, with new motivation and more time to work, he powered through the rest of the tracks in early 2017, finishing all 12 songs by March. Joining him in the writing process was lead guitarist Edwin Rhone, who engaged in a friendly competition with Toler-Wade to see who could come up with the coolest parts. Then the two had a blast creating the best songs out of what they had. The main reason for the strong chemistry between Toler-Wade and Rhone is they’ve known each other since 1991.
“I was playing in another band at the time called Dukallian and some of my friends were like, ‘You gotta check this guy out,’” Toler-Wade says. “He was one of a group of guitarists I knew of. So we started jamming and trading licks. We became good friends and then our bands started playing shows together. When my band fizzled, I joined him in Teratosis. We did a couple of demos, but couldn’t really get anything going. I realized it was going to be really hard to have a career in North Carolina, so I moved to Greenville, South Carolina to join Nile. But at the end of the day, the chemistry I have with Ed is really special. It’s not something you can just have with any musician. We really connect on the same level.”
Narcotic Wasteland self-produced and mixed Delirium Tremens at Vegas View Recording and at Dallas’ home studio. Grammy award winning producer Neil Kernon mixed the album at Auslander and Alan Douches mastered at West Side Music.
“We’ll play anywhere,” he says. “We don’t mind doing shows at small bars. We just want to get as many shows as we can and to take this around the world if we can. I’m just excited to get out there and see what happens.”