These days, Dallas Thomas plays in the Chicago-based instru-metal combo Pelican, doling out dense and atmospheric riffage with an affinity for the grandiose. But before all that, he was busting skulls in Nashville's Asschapel.

Thomas and I share an alma mater — Middle Tennessee State in Murfreesboro — which is just outside Nashville. Our paths didn't cross in school, but that's where I was first baptized by the Chapel of Ass. I stumbled on a copy of Total Worship at a local record shop in the early 2000s and checked it out because it's probably the greatest pairing of band name and album title of all time. At best, I expected a good chuckle, which I got, but I wasn't prepared for the full-on assault of raging hardcore and thrash.

Crossover thrash would see a major revival a few years later with bands like Municipal Waste and Toxic Holocaust, but that's also around the time when Asschapel hit the wall. Just as word-of-mouth about the band finally started to swell into a larger audience, the band went tits up.

Nashville boasts some grade-A metal exports nowadays — Loss, Alraune and Yautja, for example — but in the late '90s and early 2000s, it was just Asschapel. They still stand as one of the greatest underground bands to ever come from the city, and Southern Lord recently reissued the band's entire discography on the 31-track Total Destruction.

What you guys were doing was pretty contrary to what was popular in Nashville at the time. There wasn't much of a metal scene that I could remember back then. It was pretty small.
Yeah, it was. It was weird because we became one of the bigger metal bands of the time, but we would only maybe draw 150 to 50 people. That was considered big, so it was really, really small back then. To bring 100 people to a show, you were doing something in Nashville.

Did you guys find yourselves doing better outside of Nashville?
Not necessarily. Maybe toward the end, it started. Our last year on tour was our best turnout. We only had a handful of busts where people weren't coming out to actually see us. We never did any support tours, really. We always just kind DIY'd it, got contacts, got a map, used Book Your Own Fuckin' Life and Maximum Rocknroll. It was really piecemeal, and it was kind of sad that once we started getting to the point where people started recognizing us and coming to see us, we just could not take it anymore. It was just kind of where everyone was in their life at that point.

What led to Asschapel fizzling out?
This is just my side of the story, but we basically never started Asschapel as a business. When those factors came in, we really weren't prepared. Everyone's personal lives were in chaos and we were all broke. In a nutshell, it just stopped being fun.

Then you got the money crunch. I was close to $10,000 on my credit card. Debt just from transmissions or plane tickets or whatever. Even just living day-to-day when you didn't have it. When we did Fire and Destruction, that's where we found our sound. That was when we really found what we were doing. We toured on that record for three years. If everyone had been more on the same page in their personal lives, we probably could have kept it going longer, but in my opinion, what made it great is what destroyed it. Basically, the fire that keeps the house warm burned down the whole house.

That's a pretty good analogy.
It's kind of a shame. I felt like we had a lot more potential to do things than we did. We saw a lot of peers going on to do a lot more stuff when we fell apart. We almost had an LP of stuff that was written and demoed, and then we did a U.S. tour that went really well, actually. It was the first tour that we did that we didn't break down every other day. Our great mistake, in retrospect, is we should have finished that third LP, but we rushed back to Europe. It was a total disaster.

How so?
Financially, logistically, technically. We got to play Athens, Greece, and it was killer. We played Bosnia and Macedonia, a lot of Eastern Europe stuff, which was pretty awesome as far as people being stoked and going crazy. But monetarily, we just could not maintain it.

Did you guys book all that yourself, too?
We actually had a European booking agent who did it. But he wasn't in the van with us, and I don't think he looked at a map because we had 10-to-12-hour drives every day. It was pre-GPS being affordable, so we got lost a lot. Everything was breaking; we were getting sick. Coming back from the tour cost thousands of dollars, and everyone was broke. We should have recorded that third LP before we did that tour

What about the demos?
It's like boombox recording. It's not really releasable. With all the talk about doing the reissue of the discography, there was some loose talk that if this does well enough, we can go get together, finish that final album in a studio. We're not really interested in a tour unless the offers are good. I don't even want to do a reunion show if we can't do it right. What's the point? Some 40-year-old dudes trying to relive their 20s, playing some old thrash songs.

Does it seem like interest in the band has grown since it went away?
It seem like it's maintaining. It's always lingered. For the five years I played with Pelican, I would talk to people, and when I would bring up Asschapel, they were like, "You were in Asschapel?!" They can't believe it. It's flattering and sad all at the same time. We established a name for ourself without the machine, but we just could not keep it together.

So, no reunion album or shows for nostalgia's sake?
Nah. If we can be just as good or better than we were, then we'll do it. If not, no way.