“The People Who Got It Completely Loved It:” 20 Years of God Forbid’s ‘Determination’

Until 2001, God Forbid were a bit of a myth in East Coast metal and hardcore circles. The band’s 1999 debut LP Reject the Sickness had become a staple for local fans, who loved its ferocious mixture of soaring European metal and face-rearranging hardcore. Those lucky enough to catch the New Jersey quintet at Brooklyn’s L’Amours or Clifton’s Dingbatz walked away wide-eyed and ragged, stoked to see what these dudes were up to next. It wouldn’t just be cool, they knew — it would be heavier, weirder, and more exciting than anything else coming out at the time. 

The answer to listeners’ prayers came in the form of Determination, the band’s 2001 sophomore effort. Injecting their already vital sound with a heavy dose of the Tri-State Area’s volatile mathcore scene, God Forbid created an album that was as ambitious as it was punishing. And yet while Determination shook the worlds of those fans ready for its chaotic technicality, the album wasn’t a massive success for the band, and took years to get widely recognized — by which time, God Forbid had moved on to more listenable pastures.

With the album turning 20 this year and seeing a special anniversary vinyl release for Record Store Day 2021, we reached out to former God Forbid guitarist and current Bad Wolves axman Doc Coyle, to learn the true story behind this groundbreaking release. Here’s how Doc divided the band’s destiny…

Looking back at Determination, what’s your gut memory? What’s the first thing that comes to mind?

The main thing that comes to mind for me is that it was completely naturalistic. Our first LP, Reject The Sickness, was put out on a local label run by a couple of friends of ours, called 9 Volt Discs. We got to work with Steve Evetts, who was the big metalcore/hardcore producer in New Jersey at the time. That album was really good, and it was a big thing for us — we went from being a pretty good local band to having a big album. We sent that to Century Media, because Steve and Alan Douches who mastered the record thought it was really good. And they wanted to sign us immediately. They wanted to buy that album. And then they ran into negotiation issues with the other label, and just decided to sign the band to a contract for the next record. So we essentially made a record that we were really proud of, and couldn’t really bask in it — we had to go right into writing a new album. So in a way, we had to spend all this creative energy on one record, and immediately had to go on to the next one, and didn’t really have time to think about it. 

Did that quick transition alter your songwriting going into Determination

Well, how we wrote at the time is, we’d all get together in a room and just jam. And around that time, we were really getting into the most technical stuff around, this combination of abrasive-but-musical. So we were trying to figure out how to be musical, how to be dynamic. And given that we were signed to one of the biggest metal labels at the time, we were comparing ourselves to the Arch Enemys and the Nevermores. We were like, It really has to be on that level. This was also at a time before before ProTools was normal. You couldn’t just go in with a good producer. It was two-inch tape, no click — everything was just there. Studio time was limited, too, as opposed to now, where I do all my guitar solos at home now, and I can take as long as I want! I edit them myself! I have all this gear! Back then, we weren’t thinking a lot — we were just going and doing. We all worked for the same landscaping company, so we’d be in a truck all day, listening to the radio, hearing all these bands we were mad at and jealous of — Why’s this band on the radio? They suck. It was the peak of nu-metal. And then we’d just rehearse after we were exhausted. We were just hungry. We wanted to be great. 

It’s interesting that you were these landscapers from New Jersey, but you were holding yourself to the same standard as these European fest-metal bands.

Honestly, the biggest influence on Determination was the band The Haunted. The reason why God Forbid sounded like it sounded like was a bit of everything — Suffocation, this Chicago death metal band Oppressor. Dillinger Escape Plan was a band we’d play with all the time, but we also looked up to them, because they were always three or four steps ahead of the entire scene. It’s different when you have a great band who are legendary, but are from a mythical land like Sweden. But we’re playing bars with this band, and when you have a front-row seat to genius, it really affects you. Candiria were a big influence on us, who we were friends with and got to do shows with, but also who we revered. I think people forget in that era there were so many bands in that scene, whether it be a Candiria or a Coalesce or Cave In, bands like Codeseven, Poison the Well…there was a diversity of spirit that made you think that you weren’t limited by creative choices. At that time, everything was a bit more avant-garde, more left of center, and people were cool with that. 

Did you feel like the local hardcore scene was important to the album? 

The record was kind of a rejection of the hardcore scene itself. That was a scene we came up in, and our previous record, Reject The Sickness, was very breakdown-heavy. The part of the hardcore scene that embraced us first were the people who liked Hatebreed and All Out War. And our shows were just really violent, especially in New Jersey. And we felt we were a bit more high-minded than that, and wanted to be more known as musicians than soundtracks to people getting their asses whupped. So it was this almost willful thing, to go from this metal band in a hardcore scene to being just a metal band. We were purposefully trying to create some distance. 

If you can give us some insight: we’re at a hardcore show in 2000 New Jersey. How brutal is it?

We played at Montclair State University, it was a free show, it was a great turnout, we were kicking ass up there, and two or three people just starting beating this girl up. Punching her in the face, kicking her in the head. And the show’s over. It was like, this is why we can’t have nice things! We did a show at this place The Cove, this venue in Roselle. Tiny place, could hold maybe 200, 300 people. And dude, I remember it being, like, just a bloodbath. And I remember people coming to shows who would just target people who didn’t want to get hit. It just wasn’t fun. And it also seemed to me like the point of it was to take attention off the band. Like, Look at me! And I don’t know if that’s egocentric, but we did feel like we were there to entertain the crowd. I think that’s a philosophical difference between the scenes. And I love that element of the hardcore scene, just people losing their minds, but it’s a good thing that, going too far, gets misaligned. And it affects you, as a band. We’d see that horseshoe [in front of the stage] — where everyone was afraid. And when Determination came out, we started touring with actual metal bands, and you’d see the differences with the fans and how they’d react. And it becomes just more appealing in general. But it also describes one of the central challenges of our career — a band who never really fit in one scene and were never fully accepted in another scene.

The first two tracks of Determination seem to embody all of the album’s influences. “Dawn of Millenia” is a really hardcore intro, but “Nothing” is very math-y and metal.

If you listen to that song, “Nothing,” the intro starts with this crunchy breakdown part and this dissonant guitar solo, and then goes into a track that’s like if Dillinger was a thrash band. Like, a pure thrash band, but who knew how to groove. And that’s what I’m saying about how we weren’t thinking, we were just doing a good thing that we liked. It’s like when you’re working at a skill set and you realize your strength. You’re like, We can really push this. We knew that the kind of stuff we were playing, both technically and also just some of the math-y stuff. Even today, if I play along with it, the counts just come back! 

That was kind of the last time we did stuff like that. We got away from that stuff, because we really wanted to focus the band. But that, to me, is what makes that record exciting. I remember one of the guys from that band Mogwai pointed to Determination as one of his favorite metal albums. And he was saying that we did this weird dissonant crazy stuff, but had Iron Maiden guitar solos. He called it absurd (in a good way). Whereas it seemed completely natural to us to put all this shit in a blender, because it was all the stuff we liked. And at the same time, I was also listening to Korn, and Slipknot, and Disturbed. I loved Jimmy Eat World and Incubus and Glassjaw. Nobody was doing it to make money. Nobody was aiming their shot. And that purity is contained in Determination. We just wanted to be good. It was very difficult to conceive of the idea that we’d be popular or successful like the bands who we considered to be successful.

How did you guys feel upon the album’s release?

Around the time we signed for the record, we signed with a management company, The Syndicate, who was led by this guy The Rev, Dave Ciancio, who was this sort of trailblazing, ambitious guy. We had a machine behind us at a time where a lot of bands in our position didn’t have all that help. And we were very green. So we really felt strongly about the record — and then we started touring, and it was like Neo waking up in The Matrix, discovering the real world. It was very novel, and everything was really exciting. I can’t really explain to people what it’s like to work shitty jobs just to pay for rehearsal. When you’re not making money on tour, but tour is so exciting that you don’t care. And this was literally us for four or five years, where we were not making money or barely making enough to get by. All we wanted to do was tour. 

How were the tours after the release of Determination?

We were lucky to get all these really great tours, but never, never, never fitting in. In 2001, 2002, there was no New Wave of American Heavy Metal yet. There was no metalcore breakout. Killswitch wasn’t even touring at this point, Lamb of God had just changed their name. So we had to play with death or black metal bands. And if you were one of those bands, you had a SCENE. If you were even like Nevermore, you at least had heavy metal. You had a thing to lean on. The closest we could get was touring with Hatebreed — those were our kind of people. The label had hoped we’d sell 10,000 in America, and in the first year we’d did double that. 

So it seemed like we were doling well, but then every time we’d go out to headline, or to test how all this worked and this record had done, it was always underwhelming. We did our first headlining tour, a two-week East Coast run, and it was us, Bleeding Through, and Avenged Sevenfold. And every show was like 50 people, 100 people. And it was just demoralizing. Then, we had two experiences: the day before Thanksgiving, 2001, we did this show at the Birch Hill in New Jersey, with us headlining and Thursday, Glassjaw, and Diecast under us. 60% of the crowd left before we played. It felt like a set up — there was no way we should’ve been playing over Thursday! If we’d done our own show, and 600 people show up, we’d have been high-fiving, but when you have 1400 people there, and then you play in front of 700 people, it feels like a failure. A couple of months later, we played the same venue on tour with Chimaira, and they headlined the whole tour except for [the New Jersey show] show, because it was our hometown. Same thing happened — maybe 800 people came, and we played in front of 400 people. Even though it felt like we should be owning something and making it work, it never felt like it was working.

That blows — did it feel like the album was a failure because of that?

In a year or two, what we realized was that t was like an iceberg. We were only seeing the tip, but this record really made an impact. But for some reason, we couldn’t put together the right shows or tours to actually reach the people who were big fans of this record. There were tons of fans of this record, but we couldn’t get them to come to the live shows. It didn’t really happen until, like, 2003, right when we were finishing [2004’s] Gone Forever. We did this tour with Atreyu, and they loved Determination so much that they did their first record with Eric Rachel, who tracks at the same studio we did. The Avenged dudes were big fans. Joel [Stroetzel] from Killswitch — every time I see that dude, he’s like, ‘Classic record, man!’ John Boecklin from Bad Wolves and Devildriver said it was legendary for them. We met the dudes from Between The Buried and Me  in 2002, they loved it. Talking to Tosin [Abasi] and Javier [Reyes] from Animals As Leaders — all these people were telling me how much they loved Determination, but we didn’t have the proof! And unfortunately, that really influenced how we wrote Gone Forever. Because we felt like, Man, we made this really cool record, but it’s just too high-minded, too eclectic. We need to find a way to write something that’s a little more universal, a little more palatable, a little more amenable to the live setting. Some of that stuff was so technical, so fast, that you’re too busy staring at your fretboard to entertain the crowd. And we decided we didn’t want to be a Dream Theater-esque feet-planted musiciany-for-the-sake-of-being-musiciany-type band. 

Is there a track on the album that makes you think, Thank God I never have to play this one again?

The one song I remember was “Network” — it’s just a wrist-bruner. We played it a couple of times, and it just seemed like a slog. It’s fast, and Corey [Pierce], our drummer, would always play it a little faster live — that was rough. We would play the title track, which was a two-parter, and it was really technical, but almost in this kind of melodic death metal way — almost something that would be on a Dark Tranquility record. We were really precise, really noodly, and I think it would go over a lot of people’s heads. Especially if we’re on tour with Chimaira, with Hatebreed — those crowds want chunky, straightforward stuff. The people who got it completely loved it, but I feel like if it would’ve been more successful, God Forbid would have been a little bit more okay with being a little more risky. We never lost those progressive elements, and every album was different, more so than some of the other bands in our genre. I just think we wouldn’t have second-guessed ourselves. 

Was there ever a moment where Determination was redeemed for you? Where you thought, Damn, maybe this album DID make a difference?

We did this tour right before Gone Forever came out. It was us headlining, Walls of Jericho, Blood Has Been Shed, and I want to say Full Blown Chaos. And it was the first time where every show was packed. A lot of that had to do with those openers, but it wasn’t like the other shows where everyone left. Everyone stayed, and a lot of those people would go crazy for songs from Determination. It took the years between 2001 and 2003 for this scene to be created, and exist, instead of a few guys in this town and that town liking your record. And we were like, Damn, I guess this record was popular! It was like this dividing line, where this certain group of people only liked Reject… and Determination, but felt Gone Forever and [2005’s IV:] Constitution of Treason  were the sell-out point, even though each of those records are so much bigger. For some people, that’s basically the last time they enjoyed the band. If we did reunion shows, we’d have to do a Determination show, because there’ll be one type of fan, especially in the northeast, who might not come out to a normal reunion show, but will come out for a Determination show.

You can purchase the 20th anniversary vinyl edition of God Forbid’s Determination via Record Store Day’s website.

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Word by Chris Krovatin