Before we strap on the black armbands for 3 Inches of Blood, let’s reflect on some good times for the battle-hardened metal warriors from Vancouver. Singer Cam Pipes never expected to spend the past decade of his life touring the world and knocking things off his list of things to do before dying. In the beginning, the only thing he was looking for was a good time, something that he found faster than he ever dreamed.
“For me, it was purely fun,” Pipes says, speaking on his cell during a quick break from his day job as a Lower Mainland delivery driver. “I was living in Victoria before I joined the band and was looking for a reason to get out of there. The guys who were in 3 Inches of Blood at the time called me up and said, ‘Hey, wanna do some guest vocals for some songs?’ ”
Pipes not only fit in with 3IOB after joining at the start of the ’00s, but eventually became its creative engine and longest-serving member. And as such, he’s probably hit hardest by the band’s decision to call it a day with a couple of farewell shows at the Commodore this month, even though he’s choosing to focus on the positives. There has been no shortage of them, including touring with icons ranging from Metal Church to Satyricon, opening for and getting to meet Iron Maiden, and getting repeat invitations to high-wattage metal mega-festivals in Europe.
“We played Wacken festival [in Germany] to 50,000 people in 2008,” Pipes says. “That was insane and surreal—people waving Canadian flags and singing ‘O Canada’ at the end of our set. We got to tour with Motörhead. There was a lot of bucket-list stuff that we didn’t necessarily write down at the beginning. Definitely, when I was younger I was always like, ‘Man, how rad would that be to play with Iron Maiden?—they’ve always been my favourite band.’ And then we did.”
3 Inches of Blood exploded onto the Vancouver scene at a time when the White Stripes and Strokes were spearheading a rawk-revolution. Even though metal was considered dead as a mainstream force at the time, 3IOB was embraced not only by Scrape Records thrashers, but also the city’s hardcore ’00s scenesters. As anyone who’s ever screamed along to early classics like “Balls of Ice” and “Destroy the Orcs” will testify, 3IOB was fucking devastating right from the start, with the two-guitar attack of Sunny Dhak and Bobby Froese augmented by the Lucifer-in-a-leghold-trap shrieking of covocalist Jaime Hooper. While unmistakably lo-fi, the band’s 2002 debut, Battlecry Under a Wintersun, remains one of the greatest records ever to bubble up from the Vancouver underground.
“I kind of felt like nothing that we were doing was going on on this side of the pond,” Pipes recalls. “We all listened to a lot of European metal, and at that time, metal was still charting really well in a lot of European countries. We all loved Iron Maiden, so the songs were really gallopy—sort of like Maiden worship. The idea was that it was fun, and that was kind of the point. Going to jam was a new and exciting experience, even when we weren’t writing something new. Everything was so fresh, it didn’t matter. It was like meeting a new girlfriend or boyfriend, where you’ve got butterflies all the time and always want to see them.”
After catching the attention of heavyweight metal label Roadrunner, 3 Inches of Blood inked a deal that led to the recording of a 2004 sophomore release, Advance and Vanquish. The sudden departure of Froese and Dhak would, however, throw the future of the band into question.
“Even before Roadrunner came around, we were taking it a lot more seriously than we initially thought we were going to,” Pipes remembers. “When Bob and Sunny left, there was a lot of doubt. Everything happened so quickly, we were like, ‘What the hell?’ At first it was like, ‘Let’s just tour for this record and see how it goes.’ ”
Guitarists Shane Clark and Justin Hagberg were enlisted to hit the road for Advance and Vanquish.
“Our manager, maybe exaggerating a bit, said, ‘If you guys don’t tour, then Roadrunner will come after the money they put into this record,’ ” Pipes recounts. “I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t want that to happen,’ so maybe it was a bit of fear that kept us going at first. So it was ‘Let’s tour this record, meet our commitment, and that will probably be it.’ That’s how I put it to Shane and Justin when I recruited them. But after a couple of tours, it was like, ‘All right, this seems to be clicking pretty well.’ ”
The band barrelled along for three more full-lengths, Fire Up the Blades, Here Waits Thy Doom, and 2012’s Long Live Heavy Metal, which will now be remembered as 3 Inches of Blood’s swan song.
Pipes quite correctly notes that, over the past half-decade, the music business has changed radically. Unless you happen to be U2 or Beyoncé, odds are good that you’re making no money from album sales. That means you either grind it out on the road tirelessly, hoping to make a little extra money at the merch table, or accept that maybe it’s time to take a day job.
“The very last full tour we did, about two years ago, was in the fall of 2013,” Pipes says. “It was fun, but we came back with not a lot of cash in our pockets, and that kind of prompted the question ‘All right—what are we doing with this band? Let’s go on a break for a while.’ ”
The longer that break went on, the more the members of 3IOB—including drummer Ash Pearson—realized they weren’t having the fun they once had. Pipes suggests the extended break got the band “comfortable not doing anything”. When the idea of jumping on a package tour would come up, getting everyone to sign on was difficult. “I don’t want to get too much into who initiated it all, but it was basically one guy saying, ‘I’m retiring—I’m resigning from the band because I’m kind of tapped out creatively, and I’ve got other endeavours I want to pursue.’ That led to someone else going, ‘If he’s done, I don’t want to do this without him.’ At that point, you’re like, ‘All right, this is almost like beating a dead horse.’ ”
And so 3 Inches of Blood has decided to end it. But that doesn’t mean Pipes isn’t proud of everything the group has done. And, perhaps more importantly, he sees no reason to make a black armband a permanent part of his attire.
“I wanna do something else, but I don’t know what,” he says. “I don’t want to invest any mental energy into it until these shows are done. Once these are out of the way, then I can focus on something else. I wanna keep playing metal. But it’s not going to be 3 Inches of Blood lite.”
3 Inches of Blood plays two farewell shows of two sets each at the Commodore Ballroom on Saturday and Sunday (November 7 and 8).