In the 22 months since their founding frontman’s tragic death, Suicide Silence organized the star-studded tribute concert documented on the Ending Is The Beginning: The Mitch Lucker Memorial Show DVD, enlisted ex-All Shall Perish singer Hernan “Eddie” Hermida, made a triumphant return to Rockstar Mayhem and cracked the Billboard Top 20 with You Can’t Stop Me.

In this AltPress exclusive, the band’s guitarists talk about the binge drinking, drug use and unspoken resentment that nearly destroyed them well before the motorcycle accident that took Lucker’s life on Halloween 2012. For the first time, cofounder Chris Garza and de facto bandleader Mark Heylmun candidly reveal the tools they credit with keeping their band alive.

“There was a whole hell of a lot going on prior to Mitch’s passing, as far as all of our excessive partying and the effects we were having on each other,” Heylmun explains. “We couldn’t have been more unprepared for Mitch’s accident, given the state we were all in. The lines had blurred between our lives on tour and at home. I was concerned for other people in my band, but I didn’t feel like I could confront anyone without being a hypocrite.”

Garza agrees. “We were the ‘party band.’ On tour, the other bands would come to our bus [to get wasted]. I made it a point to drink as much as possible, every night,” he confesses. “When you’re drunk all the time, you really don’t give a fuck about yourself, let alone the people around you.”

It’s been said that Iron Maiden songs like “Rime Of The Ancient Mariner” and “Run To The Hills” are more likely to send metal fans to the library than the morgue. In the wake of Lucker’s passing, the band’s guitarists stepped back from their own suicidal brink via a combination of fitness, nutrition and yes, reading. Books like The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey and George Leonard’s Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment and group therapy sessions (alongside Hermida, bassist Dan Kenny and drummer Alex Lopez) inspired a massive substance abuse deceleration and the power to confront their grief over their fallen friend.

Suicide Silence’s second album, No Time To Bleed, catapulted them to the top of the so-called “deathcore” genre, generating a wave of momentum that carried through to 2011’s The Black Crown. Newly signed to Nuclear Blast Entertainment and anxious to follow-up the album that spawned  “You Only Live Once” (close to 38 million views on YouTube as of this writing), Lucker’s final voicemail message was for producer Steve Evetts, who was scheduled to work with the singer on new demos Nov. 1.

“The drinking grew along with the size of the band,” Garza explains. “Before I knew it, I was getting blackout drunk every night for months at a time. The whole period up through The Black Crown is all a blur for me. People ask me about different stories from the road, or even about Mitch, and I get really pissed off at myself, because there’s so much I don’t remember.” 

To say that everything changed when news of Lucker’s death began to spread would be like saying there are problems in the Middle East. “Somewhere inside of me, I knew we had all gone over the line. We were all doing crazy shit,” Heylmun says. “Then Mitch put his bike down and it was like, ‘Fucking shit!’ It was super-traumatic. So many thoughts about what we could have done and everything else you can imagine.”

The remaining members, alongside their longtime manager Jerry Clubb, threw themselves into putting together the December 2012 memorial show. A benefit to support Lucker’s widow and young daughter, the Pomona, California, concert saw the surviving quartet joined by members of bands like Lamb Of God, Impending Doom, and Of Mice & Men, as well as then All Shall Perish singer Hermida, who didn’t officially join for nearly a year.

“I was under so much post-traumatic stress. I hardly even remember playing,” he says. “I was all over the place. I had no idea what I was going to do. I was trying to sober up. All I knew was I had a big monkey on my back, as far as drinking and consuming different things, for three years straight.” Now, Heylmun says he can barely remember putting the show together.

By February 2013, Garza’s own condition had only gotten worse. “After the show, there was no more running away from what happened. One of my best friends died. The band, which was my primary way to get out aggressive or dark feelings, was gone. I knew the drinking had to stop. I was on the verge of wanting to kill myself.”

One night, while watching fan-filmed Suicide Silence videos on YouTube, Garza stumbled across Mike Chang, a fitness celebrity whose YouTube channel boasts more than 2.5 million subscribers. The next morning, he threw out all of the junk food in his house and invested in some weights. This happened to coincide with when the band started to consider their options more seriously. Would they quit? Change the name? Continue? “I knew I was about to make the hardest choice of my entire life and I knew I needed to be at the top of my game mentally to actually make this life-changing choice,” he says. “Now that I wasn’t falling back on hard drugs or excessive alcohol, there was no running away. It was all right there.”

The UltraMind Solution: Fix Your Broken Brain By Healing Your Body First fed Garza’s increasing curiosity about how to ensure his mind kept up with the positive results he was seeing from his healthier lifestyle choices. Unbeknownst to him, while Garza was reading up on Dr. Mark Hyman’s theories, his fellow guitarist was going through a similar transformation.

“It started from a really naïve place for me. I had been on tour so much for seven or eight years, I would eat out mostly when I was home,” says Heylmun. “Confronted with no touring and no idea what I was going to do, the first thing I did was go grocery shopping and fill the house with food I could eat so I wouldn't have to go out and be around people. I was trying not to drink, not to do drugs, and staying healthy became the new addiction. It was a very weird thing. I didn't go at it as a diet. I just got the healthiest stuff so I wouldn't eat a bunch of bullshit. Then I started feeling good. I'd wake up feeling good. Once I started seeing more results, I wanted to learn more about why I was losing weight and feeling better.”

Heylmun streamed the documentary Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead and got even more inspired by Joel Fuhrman’s Eat to Live: The Amazing Nutrient-Rich Program For Fast And Sustained Weight Loss. From there, he read up on the Paleo Diet, a lifestyle dating back to the ’70s, when various theorists began to romanticize the hunter/gatherer diet of the Paleolithic Era. Multiple episodes of the Bulletproof Radio podcast deepened Heylmun’s interest in Biohacking, a Biopunk inspired combination of biology and DIY hacking.  

The two guitar players compared notes about their respective journeys. Clubb suggested Suicide Silence try group therapy, not long after they had decided to move forward with Hermida, whose presence in the band was kept hidden for several months before the October 2013 announcement.

Garza still laughs about the idea of the kings of deathcore sitting telling a shrink about their issues like Metallica in Some Kind Of Monster.

“We were in therapy. Suicide Silence were straight-up in therapy.”

The guys were admittedly quite nervous about the process in the beginning. Some members participated more than others, but all of them drew closer from the experience. “There were things I didn’t even realize I was thinking, about Mitch, until the therapist drew it out,” says Garza. “I think we all bury shit emotionally and mentally. And when somebody makes you confront it, it really sucks at first. I was a mess for a while.”

Heylmun points out that Lucker’s death wasn’t the only issue. “Everybody that's been in a band knows that everybody has those things you don't talk about; things that are touchy subjects with different members that you just start to avoid,” he says. “Therapy is where we had to bring those uncomfortable things up and talk about them, because we had to hash it out and resolve them if we were going to continue on.”

The band’s lead guitarist admits that the successful resurrection of Suicide Silence carries a lot of bittersweet feelings. Every time there’s a new achievement to celebrate, they are reminded of their sadness. But Lucker’s legacy lives on. Not only was You Can’t Stop Me a title coined by the late frontman, but the leadership lessons Lucker left behind endure. “Mitch was always so confident about his decisions and his ideas,” Heylmun says. “I wanted to keep Mitch’s spirit and energy, I wanted to make sure the band still had that. He really inspired me to commit to an idea and roll with it.”

Their commitment to health and fitness remains. Heylmun lost close to 70 pounds. Hermida had cut down on his own drinking prior to joining the band and ended up losing some weight of his own with Garza’s help. But Suicide Silence haven’t gone straight edge or anything. They’ll still have a couple of drinks, but the days of destructive over-indulgence seem over.

“It took us a long while to see how something so tragic could turn out to be a good thing on any level, but we were all going through similar situations and we all came out of it as stronger people,” Heylmun concludes.

Garza agrees. He adds with a chuckle: “Plus, as it turns out, you can actually have a good time without getting completely drunk every single night.” ALT