"I carry a gas mask everywhere I go now. It's always in my vehicle," Murray explains. "It's there when we go on tour; it's there when I go to the grocery store, 'cause you never know. 'Be prepared' is my motto."
Murray's other contingencies include stockpiling food, weapons and anything else that could serve as a buffer against a 9/11-type attack right here in the country's center.
"The Midwest? It's the heart," Murray says. "If I were leading an army, I'd attack the core. People in the Midwest think they're safe, but that's what they want you to think. They will hit the weakest spot."
Weakness -- particularly the musical kind -- is near the top of Murray's pet-peeve list. You won't find any wimpy indie rock in his CD player, which tends to be front-loaded with belligerent tones.
"If those [groups] don't get their act together, we're going to squish their scene," Murray vows. "Back in the days of Stick and Paw and Slackjaw, indie bands were up shit creek for attention. I hate that crap. We want to destroy it. Anything weak and obnoxious is a target for us. I don't want to watch five guys stare at their tennis shoes."
When Truth Cell formed in 1998, its members did anything but shoegaze. Committed to throat-slashing sonics and throttling live shows, the group slowly built a reputation for its take-no-prisoners approach. Booked early on to open for GWAR at the Granada, Murray and company plotted to top the headliner's elaborate theatrics -- no easy feat. Lacking GWAR's larger budget, Truth Cell opted for a wake-up call that would be remembered for years to come. Introducing its final song, Murray gave a heated speech about paying attention. Hiding in the wings was a black-clad buddy, who whipped out an AK-47 assault rifle and fired off several rounds as the band dug into its closing number. Though the gun was loaded with blanks, the too-close-for-comfort reality of the moment (occurring just weeks after the Columbine shootings) all but cleared the room. For Murray, this no-holds-barred showmanship is fueled by the desire to be the most unforgettable game in town.
"It's a competition, dude," he says. "It's who can be the most brutal, the heaviest, the loudest, the most intense. Our goal as a band is to be the most aggressive we can be. So when we hear another band is doing something aggressive, we gotta top that. We gotta put the beatdown onstage; it's a personal motivation. And every band is like that. Don't let anybody tell you any different."
Truth Cell's competitive spirit spills over into the songwriting arena as well. While most metal lyrics fall into either the mystical or misogynist categories, the Cell's worldview is steeped in militant politics, libertarian philosophy, conspiracy theories and fight-the-power ideology.
"Everybody in the band has his own political agenda. We all believe in the same concepts and end results, but we've all picked our own battles," says Murray, who explains how the group's name stems from this school of thought. "Not as in a terrorist cell, but an organized group of individuals acting for a goal or a purpose -- a truth cell. We're gonna talk about things the government doesn't necessarily want you to know -- things they're trying to slide underneath your nose without you smelling."
Truth Cell's worldview is fully realized on Hurajan, the unit's eight-song debut, due for release on KC label 213 Records. Hurajan -- Sanskrit for "sacrifice the king" -- was mastered by Sterling Winfield, whose work with Pantera is the stuff of legends. But rather than walking in Pantera's hedonistic footsteps, Hurajan tackles heavy subject matters that wouldn't sound out of place in a graduate-level poli-sci course. "A Friend of the World (Is an Enemy of the God)" features snippets of Martin Luther King Jr. speeches underscored by Truth Cell's brutal war cries -- not exactly typical chart-busting metallic shlock.
"There's a lot of egomaniacs in rock and roll," Murray observes. "You got your Staind-types -- just the whiny angst: I'm so angry; I'm gonna cry. Fuck you! Stand up and do something about it. All our songs are about something important."
Hurajan marks both the recorded debut and swan song of singer Renny Blake, who departed recently to focus on family matters. Blake and covocalist Mark Renfro's furious tag-teaming is fundamental to the group's sound, a raging twin-headed monster that's about as far from Linkin Park's B-boy posturing as it gets. Blake has already been replaced by former Dislocate frontman James Savage (his real name!), who will celebrate his first onstage performance with Truth Cell this Friday at the Bottleneck.
"This is the tenth member change we've had in four years," says Murray, who is the only original Cell-mate besides drummer Dave Melody. "There's been different singers, different bass players, different guitar players in and out. But I think it's solid now."
Savage should be fully broken in by August 9, when Truth Cell will appear in Put Up or Shut Up, a two-day festival at Neiner's featuring the region's metal royalty. Sixteen molten acts are slated to appear, including Barphyte, Human Ritual and the Esoteric. That the white-belt set tends to scoff at the very mention of Neiner's aggravates Murray.
"Fuck them; it's not for them," he seethes. "Neiner's is for rock and roll, Neiner's is for people with balls, Neiner's is for people with attitudes. Neiner's is for hardcore and metal and hard rock. They're operating a business on what everybody around here says is impossible."
According to Murray, the success of Neiner's is proof positive that real metal is returning to the forefront of the local music scene. When it does, Truth Cell will be prepared.
"There's brutal, beat-you-down aggressive music out there, pumping and gaining attention. Kansas City is finally catching on to the fact that underground music is very viable. The same thing is happening in Lawrence. It's happening in Topeka. It's happening in Manhattan -- heavy and hardcore bands are coming up. You can't deny that aggressive people will eventually take over your scene. It has happened, and it will happen again."