3 Inches Of Blood’s Cam Pipes Geeks Out On Tolkien, ‘Dungeons & Dragons’

It’s Wednesday, September 9, 2009. Or, better put, “9.9.09.” Some 3 years, 3 months and 3 days ago, metalheads were having a collective kanipshin over 6.6.06, terrorizing their neighbors’ pets and carving satanic shit into their skin.

So how did the gritty falsetto belter behind 3 Inches of Blood bide his time that day? Scouting the Shire, perhaps. Or maybe slaying some dragons.

Welcome to the imaginarium of Dr. Pipes.

Standing at the cargo entrance behind the soon-to-be-defunct Knitting Factory in Hollywood, Cam Pipes has a lot on his mind, as sunset nears on this weekday afternoon in early September. In a few hours, his band of night marauders will shred the stage to the delight of fans reveling – ironically or not – in 3IOB’s distinct brand of fantasmagorical metal.

Vancouver’s masters of power metal and NWOBHM – and most everything in between – have been around for a decade now. In that time, they’ve established themselves as reliable sources of righteous tunes, action-packed concert spectacle and fantasy yarns. They’ve also built up a fantastic – and fantastical – cache that includes epic-battle albums like Advance and Vanquish, Fire Up the Blades and, most recently, Here Waits Thy Doom.

Tonight, fans will witness 3IOB thoroughly mine that new album, and they’ll like what they hear. Pipes is already ready to take the stage for the record-release gig – champing at the bit, even. He’s donning his indispensable jean jacket, littered with patches pledging his loyalty to British Steel, the Canadian flag, the pentagram and more.

As any fan of the band will attest, metal gods aren’t the only ones Pipes worships. He also regularly pays homage to lords of literature – though not a single Hollywood Boulevard passersby would suspect it.

See, behind the jacket – and the dangling hair, and the studded wristbands – is a geek. And he’s not even a closet one – get Pipes talking about Tolkien and “Dungeons & Dragons,” and there’s no holding back. Like Sméagol and Gollum, Pipes has something of a dual personality: He fancies reading and playing games in his downtime – but onstage, under the sway of metal, he becomes a mighty warrior.

He wasn’t always this way. Over the years, there has been a metamorphosis, both of the warrior and of the geek.

“I’m a C student – maybe a C+ student,” he admits. “I wasn’t a huge academic scholar or anything. I always saw books as work.”

Sure, he read fantasy books and stuff as a kid, but Pipes wasn’t schooled on some of the subjects fans hear referenced in 3IOB lyrics: J.R.R. Tolkien, H.P. Lovecraft, and various mythologies: Greek, American Indian and beyond.

“The ‘Lord of the Rings’ books were a little more complicated than my young mind could handle at the time,” he confesses.

As Pipes grew older, though, he not only deepened his love of heavy metal – he also starting glomming onto literature.

Fast-forward to 2001 and the release of Peter Jackson’s first cinematic chapter in the “Lord” series, “The Fellowship of the Rings.”

“I saw the first movie and was like, ‘OK, I’m going to have to read the books before the next one comes out.’ So I read all three,” he says.

To his surprise, “My parents had – in amongst their books at their house – three ‘Lord of the Rings’ books. … They were still in really good condition. They were kinda old – like old ’70s paperback books. So when I read them, as I’d be flipping through, the pages would be popping out, ’cause the glue had started to dry out. I didn’t damage them too bad.”

After that, “I went out and got ‘The Hobbit,’ ” he continues. “They also had ‘The Silmarillion’ in that same set, like another whole printed version.”

(For the uninitiated, “The Silmarillion” is the later-published collection that fleshes out Tolkien’s other writings on Middle-earth. And if you’re already lost, best to start paying attention – or throw in the towel.)

Once he had consumed as much “Rings” material as he could, Pipes found himself able to hold his own among the devout fans. For example, count him among those who noticed key details omitted from Jackson’s films.

With “Return of the King,” “I was a little disappointed they didn’t film the scouring of the Shire bit from the book, where Saruman has taken over the Shire, but he has no powers. It’s right at the end – after the ring is destroyed, and they go back to the Shire and everything’s changed. There’s some guy running the show – he’s an evil wild man who’s kind of taken over. And then they discover that Saruman has taken over the Shire. He’s lost all his power, his magic, but he’s the one who’s taken over. In the book, they reference another epic battle in the Shire where the Hobbits rise up and revolt. A lot of Hobbits die, but they win, and then Saruman has one final confrontation with Frodo. And then Frodo kills Saruman.

“And the appendices at the end of ‘Return of the King,’ where they show different time lines – like, ‘Sam Gamgee becomes mayor of Hobbiton for the fourth time.’ That kind of thing: ‘Throughout the years.’ And I think they even do that in ‘The Simarillion,’ they’ll talk about the later days. There’s big chunks of time, like, before Gollum even finds the ring. I remember reading some reference to Sauron’s first stronghold in Mirkwood, and being driven away by Gandalf and something. It’s a very small, not-detailed reference.

“They didn’t put Shelob until the beginning of ‘Return of the King,’ whereas in the book, it’s at the end of ‘The Two Towers,’ ” he parses. “And then the scouring of the Shire … so of course, they’ve gotta have a cliffhanger at the end of six hours. And you’re wondering, ‘OK, where’s Shelob?’

“Maybe they just wanted to end on a super-happy note, instead of … it was a good ending in the book, but it was a little more surprising. They probably would’ve had to make the movie at least another hour or so to do that.”

It’s safe to say that another hour of “Lord of the Rings” viewing wouldn’t be so torturous for Pipes. He’s already amped for “The Hobbit” series, even though Jackson cohort Guillermo del Toro will be behind the lens instead. Pipes digs del Toro’s spare use of CGI and reliance instead on costumes and puppets. And besides, Jackson is still involved in the writing and production of “The Hobbit.”

“I’m sure the art direction will be superb,” says Pipes, whose favorite characters are Gimli, Aragorn and Gandalf.

With such vast knowledge of the “Lord of the Rings” series, fans might be wondering why more 3 Inches of Blood songs don’t revolve around the narrative. Beyond “Destroy the Orcs,” the 3IOB classic that overtly references Tolkien, there are only oblique references in the band’s lyrics. So what gives?

“It’s not likely we’ve purposely stayed away from writing songs with Tolkien references,” he insists. “Mainly [we’ve] just used Tolkien as a subconscious influence.

“Tolkien’s going to be an influence on anyone who’s dealing with any kind of fantasy topic,” he continues matter-of-factly. “And anything he’s done, we’re just kinda expanding upon and trying to do our own thing and be somewhat original in the process. But he’s there in spirit regardless.

“People who are fans of the band will ask, ‘Oh, in this song, are you singing about this?’ But there’s not a lot of references that could be necessarily interpreted as a ‘Lord of the Rings’ reference. But moreso, people say, ‘So do you guys sing about ‘D&D’? And, no, we don’t. It’s actually kind of hard to do, because … it’s all somewhat improvised.”

Ah, yes. “D&D.” A natural segue from Tolkien. You’ve probably guessed by this point that Pipes, as an ardent Tolkien fan, has also dabbled in “D&D.” And you’d be right if you did. Every week on NBC, David Gregory says, “If it’s Sunday, it’s ‘Meet the Press.’ ” Well, if it’s Sunday and you’re Cam Pipes, it’s eight hours of playing the timeless role-playing game.

That is, when he’s not on tour, of course. Back in Vancouver, Pipes has a cadre of comrades – some of whom play in local bands – and they fritter away their Sundays playing the game, assuaged by a little social lubricant now and then.

Pipes seems to treasure these days spent bonding with friends in fantasy worlds, and he will rue the day if “D&D” moves completely online.

“It’s better when it’s in person, ’cause you can visualize stuff a lot better, and the interaction is way more defined,” says Pipes, who corresponds occasionally with another well-known “D&D” master: comedian Brian Posehn. “If there’s questions about how to interpret the rules, you can always just do it right there, and you don’t have to do the typing.”

Plus, when you’re among friends, you can chew the atmosphere. Enter yet another somewhat-guilty pleasure Pipes admits to: a love of soundtrack composers like Basil Poledouris, who crafted the music for “Conan the Barbarian,” “RoboCop” and more.

“It’s also great music to play when you’re playing ‘Dungeons & Dragons,’ ” he recommends. “Depending on what kind of campaign setting, I’ll throw on the Conan soundtrack, or even the soundtrack to ‘First Blood’ or ‘Starship Troopers.’ … If it’s a science-fiction-type game setting, then I’ll throw on ‘Total Recall.’ ”

Unfortunately for Pipes, he probably won’t be spending much of ’10 playing the role of Dungeon Master. But fortunately, it’s because 3 Inches of Blood will continue propping up Here Waits Thy Doom on the road – particularly in Europe, as part of the Bonecrusher Fest tour with the Black Dahlia Murder.

Speaking of which, it was only a couple of years ago that 3IOB were opening for BDM at the Key Club, a venue not too far from the Knitting Factory. And then the following year, they found themselves headlining at the same venue.

“We’re gonna try to get into more headlining of our own in” the U.S. and Canada, Pipes says. “Which is good, ’cause we’ve got more material to choose from now. Another album under our belts that we want to showcase.”

It’s been 10 years for 3IOB, and “it’s been fun. All the experiences along the way have just toughened us up and made us appreciative of where we’re at now.”

And with that, the mighty warrior heads into the Knitting Factory, with sword by his side and shield in hand.

Soon, it will be time to conquer.

If you dug this interview, check out:

• “In Flames Album Discography: Drummer Touches ‘Em All
• “An Extremely Long Conversation About Extreme Metal With Albert Mudrain” (published 1.2.10, The Bad Penny)
• “Isis’ Aaron Turner In ’02: Oceanic Is ‘The Best Material We’ve Ever Written’ ” (published December 2002, Rockpile)
• “Isis’ Oceanic: Mystery Revealed?

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