“Do you have any idea how lucky you are? There are people all queuing to get into the most exclusive club in the world, this boulder is just about to run down the hill, smash them all out of the way, and you’re standing behind it and can just wander in!”
Slipknot DJ and all-round loose cannon Sid Wilson is screaming excitably at Metal Hammer via Zoom, while his friend, former Slipknot producer Ross Robinson, looks on. According to Sid, we are privy to something big. He may well be right. The only problem is that we’re not 100% on what exactly that “something” is.
The subject of his excitement is his recent discovery, Swollen Teeth. A mysterious quartet who deal in furious, jagged modern metal, they have seemingly appeared out of thin air. They go by the names Megaa (vocals/sampler/turntable), Sun (vocals/bass), Skutch (drums), and HOG (guitar), and they wear full-face masks that make them look like decaying zombie thugs from some dystopian near-future. Their furious, Sid-produced debut single, SWOLLENTEETH, sent the hype needle off the scale. Their upcoming self-titled debut EP, released on a new label co-founded by Ross, looks to push it even further. And… well, that’s about all we know about them.
They may have two of the biggest names in metal in their corner, but Swollen Teeth are fully leaning into the enigma. They refuse to divulge their faces, their real identities, their back story, where they’re from or anything else that might give the game away. They’re certainly not doing interviews. “I don’t even know who they are,” claims Ross.
Normally, this would be massively frustrating, but Sid and Ross’s swivel-eyed enthusiasm has piqued our curiosity, even if they can’t – or won’t – give us much info. So, with very little to work with, it’s up to us to try and get to the bottom of what the hell the deal is with Swollen Teeth.
It was late last year when Sid discovered came across a brand new band on Instagram. A man who keeps his ear to the ground musically, he was instantly intrigued.
“You couldn’t really see what was going on, or who they were,” he says of this initial encounter with Swollen Teeth. “I was just getting these flashes: no songs, just different sounds creating an uncomfortable atmosphere. For some reason it just had you wanting to know more about it.”
He couldn’t help being reminded of the air of mystery that surrounded his own band in their early days. “It was like some cool private club – you knew there was something awesome going on there, but you weren’t allowed in. I had to know more about it.”
He began to message them to try to see what else he could find out. It was the start of the cat-and-mouse game that Swollen Teeth are now playing with the rest of the world.
“We weren’t talking in sentences,” says Sid. “It was more like, ‘I’m watching you from the edge of the internet’, and they would write back these weird little cryptic things. It developed into small conversations where I’d tell them that I couldn’t not pay attention to them, that they had me, I’d been suckered in.”
Even telling them who he was – “‘I’m Sid from Slipknot!’” – didn’t help. “Most bands would be putting that shit on their social media and wanting selfies and all that crap. They didn’t give a fuck. Eventually when they knew I was really interested, they started sharing private links with me.”
That was point where he decided to get involved, offering to produce their debut EP. Once in the studio, keen to test the mettle of his new protégés, Sid put the band through what he describes as “the Ross Robinson boot camp”: an excruciating regime designed to make Swollen Teeth the best band they could be.
“I made them pick a song and play it, and then stop at the exact point where I told them to, then change what they just played, go back, play it again and get the new parts right,” he says. “Then when we had got the song correct, the way I wanted it, they’d go back and play it in full three times. Then we could move on to the next song and we’d do it again… and again. They were forced to push themselves mentally and physically like they never had before.”
That arduous approach was worth it if the resulting Swollen Teeth EP is anything to go by. Its five tracks veer between thrash metal, beatdown hardcore, ambient electronics, jagged noise rock and goth-tinged melodrama, while always remaining as black and dense as tar. Their lyrics swing between self-laceration (“Take my heart out/This is the end of me,” sings Meega on SWOLLENTEETH) and nihilisim (“Red light! Which one of us is next?!” he screams on Car Crash), evoking the spirit of Slipknot.
“I’m not chasing the dragon to find something that can replicate Slipknot,” says Sid. “If you come to them looking for that you’re looking for the wrong thing, but they have the passion and the hunger and the vision to make something that is needed in music. Not just good, but necessary.”
As someone who has known Sid Wilson since the days of Slipknot’s explosive debut, Ross Robinson long ago learned to trust his friend’s instincts. When Sid told Ross about his new discovery, his enthusiasm was infectious. After listening to Swollen Teeth’s music, the producer was equally excited.
“We chase fire,” says Ross, “and there was something about the simplicity of this band. Yet the way the drums sit with the riffs and Sid’s production, it becomes very complex. They had this simplicity that communicated to the cells in your body, and that’s a very special thing.”
Ross experienced the strangeness that surrounded the band first-hand when he flew to New York to see his first Swollen Teeth show.
“Their manager tried to get me to sign an NDA [Non-Disclosure Agreement], so that I couldn’t say who they were or what they look like,” he says, grinning. “Whoever it was that I met, they wouldn’t tell me what town they were from or what bands they had been in.”
“They made Ross wear a mask when he turned up to the show,” adds Sid, roaring with laughter. “Because they didn’t want this super-famous producer, ‘godfather of nu metal’ anywhere near them. They don’t want the notoriety. Most bands would be on Instagram Live: ‘We’re hanging out backstage with Ross! Check us out, man!’ They do not care about that shit.”
Messing with the head of one of the most successful producers in modern metal could have seriously backfired on Swollen Teeth. Instead, this brazen move appeared to have the desired effect. Ross signed the band to Blowed Out, the label he recently started with trap-metal iconoclast Eric ‘Ghostemane’ Whitney and Bill Armstrong, founder of US punk label SideOneDummy. Such is his belief in Swollen Teeth that he’s rearranged Blowed Out’s schedule so the EP will be the label’s very first release.
“It’s really cool that this unintentional unfolding of events, with Sid finding them, turning them on to me and me turning them on to Ghostemane and Bill and the label, happened in this way,” says Ross. “We actually started the label for a different band, but this one just steamrolled the first one. Sometimes you can’t contain things. The boulder was already rolling, and we just had to go with it.”
Of course, the combination of high-profile backers and the general air of mystery surrounding Swollen Teeth has prompted several online sleuths to attempt to find out the real identities of the band. One of the most persistent – and believable – rumours is that it’s all a ruse, and Swollen Teeth is actually a Sid Wilson side-project, which may or may not feature Ghostemane as well. So, Sid, is it?
He and Ross erupt in fits of laughter. When it subsides, Sid sternly addresses us.
“I’m not even going to answer that because the answer is already out there,” he says. “If you’re asking me that question it would appear that you haven’t done your research. Everything you need to know about that is available to you, so if you want to know, maybe go find out for yourself.”
Excellent. That’s cleared that up, then.
Irrespective of who they might be, Swollen Teeth are part of a bigger, if unconnected movement in metal: that of Bands Wearing Masks. It’s not a new trend – Slipknot themselves helped spark it off in the late 1990s – but it’s impossible to move these days without running into a bunch of musicians with their faces covered, whether it be Sleep Token, Slaughter To Prevail or Ghost. It’s an approach Ross Robinson, for one, welcomes.
“There’s a mystique and a true wisdom in not giving it up,” he says. “I think it’s so needed in the world. Everybody wants to be seen and to promote, but that’s why Sid and I are doing this interview right now – to keep them anonymous. It’s really fun. It’s kinda like you have to take a Covid test before you can come in.”
How long Swollen Teeth will be able sustain the mystery remains to be seen. “When it gets bigger then maybe they will come out and speak, but believe this: it’ll be on their terms,” says Sid, shrugging.
For now, preserving the element of mystery is the aim with Swollen Teeth. After talking to Sid and Ross, we’re no closer to unravelling to who they are or what the real story is. One thing that is for certain is that it’s uncannily reminiscent of the early days of Slipknot.
“The energy is there for sure,” says Sid, a man better placed than most to make that comparison. “I’ve thought plenty of times there might not be another band that is in that energy field, not giving a shit about anything else outside of the music and the performance, but they’re a kick-ass band giving everything they got. They just happen to be wearing masks. It’s not a gimmick, it’s the complete opposite – it’s a free pass to be a complete lunatic. And they are out of control, completely. They’ve given up complete control to the art and the music. It’s its own living, breathing creature.”
That boulder is rolling down the hill, gathering speed. Best get behind it while you still can.
Swollen Teeth’s self-titled EP is out now