I first encountered Floridian grindcore lords Maruta back in 2008 while they were touring behind their debut album In Narcosis. I distinctly remember vocalist Mitchell Luna almost inadvertently whipping the beer out of my hand with his microphone chord, such was the manic energy he and the rest of the band were releasing on stage. I was totally blown away, and Maruta had clearly stolen the show. I briefly spoke with Luna afterwards, long enough to buy a copy of In Narcosis and requisite t-shirt + shill a bit for the website I was writing for at the time (Sonic Frontiers.net, don’t bother looking for it, it’s not there anymore) in the hopes of securing an interview. The interview happened a few months later and In Narcosis wound up taking the #7 slot on my best metal albums of 2008 list. Continue reading
In recent weeks I’ve made several attempts to contact New York death metal duo Mortician for an interview. Those attempts were not responded to. The band hasn’t released an album since 2004′s Re-Animated Dead Flesh and only plays a handful of live shows a year, so one can only assume that this relative lack of activity has something to do with it. I can’t say I blame them. But, I’ve wanted to write about Mortician for a long time, and even without an upcoming national tour or new album on the way, there is still much about the band’s totally unique and oft-misunderstood take on death metal that’s worthy of discussion.
I remember almost exactly when my preoccupation with gore started. I can’t remember how old I was (I do know I was quite young), but I definitely remember the circumstances. I was over at my next door neighbor’s house and they just so happened to have a VHS of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. We must have watched that movie a thousand times. We were completely obsessed with it. I remember running around outside yelling “They’re coming to get you, Barbara!”. I also remember going to the local graveyard and being disappointed to not see even a single flesh-eating ghoul lumbering around.
As I got older, the obsession continued and intensified, ultimately leading me to much more repulsive films, comic books and finally to death metal. As I’ve previously documented, I didn’t care for death metal when I first heard it. But then one day, something clicked. I realized that death metal was the musical equivalent of the all the horror movies and comics I’d freaked out over in my youth, and after that there was no turning back.
Why am I bringing this up? Because no death metal band today exudes those putrid ethos that remind me of the fun of my gore-drenched upbringing more than Exhumed. After a self-imposed eight year silence between full lengths (six if you count the all-covers Garbage Daze Re-Regurgitated) the band is back with All Guts, No Glory, a viciously executed slab of sickness that finds the California quartet doing what they do best; gore, gore and more gore. By backing off the musical and conceptual complexity of 2003′s Anatomy is Destiny in favor of a more refined and catchy approach, they have crafted what is easily their finest album to date.
Of course, a host of bands with more disgusting cover art and more offensive album/song titles have sprung up in Exhumed’s absence, but there is one very important thing separating them from the average Sevared Records band (for instance), and quite frankly, that thing is talent. Exhumed knows how to write brutal yet classy songs that will stick in your head like a surgical saw to the cerebral cortex, the metallic equivalent of a Romero or Fulci film, making the competition look like the direct-to-DVD hacks of death metal.
Taking elements of death metal, grindcore and thrash and tossing them in a vat of musical quicklime, Exhumed goes straight for the jugular with cuts like “As Hammer to Anvil” “Through Cadaver Eyes” and “Necrotized”. It’s frightfully awesome stuff, steeped in pitch-black black humor and backed up with some serious chops. Speaking of chops, the guitar-work of Matt Harvey and Wes Caley (ex-Fatalist, Uphill Battle) is the album’s highlight, a grisly mixture of eviscerating razor-riffage and frenzied soloing that puts the guts in All Guts, No Glory. Exhumed’s rhythm section are no slouches either and as expected, the playing of bassist Leon del Muerte and drummer Danny Walker (also of Intronaut) is as tight as a canister of 2-4-5 Trioxin, infusing the songs with the necessary speed and precision.
As crushing and brutal as All Guts, No Glory is, there is also an infectious sense of fun that permeates the recording. It gives me the same feelings I felt watching that first zombie chase Judith O’Dea through the cemetery, that feeling of adrenaline and giddiness and terror all rolled into one. The zombified band photo gracing the cover is telling; I have a hunch that Exhumed are a group of guys that love this shit as much as I do. So, if you’re like me and looking for the perfect soundtrack to your gore obsession, look no further, because Exhumed are back from the dead and ready to party.
I’ve been listening to the Misfit’s Earth A.D. for over a decade now. Every time I listen to it, I hear something different. Sometimes I hear a bruising hardcore album. Sometimes I hear proto-thrash. I most often hear the roots of black metal. Is it a mere coincidence that Quorthon started Bathory the same year or that Slayer’s Show No Mercy was released the same month? Sure, Venom’s Welcome to Hell and Black Metal albums had already been released by the time Earth A.D. hit record store shelves. But the Misfits of Earth A.D. possessed several things that Cronos and his cohorts, or just about any of the proto-black metal bands for that matter, severely lacked.
The first of these key components is speed. I recently read in Steven Blush’s book American Hardcore that Glenn Danzig had tried to get the rest of the Misfits to play slower during the sessions. Thank goodness he wasn’t successful. To my knowledge, the blast beat hadn’t been invented yet in 1983 (Mick Harris didn’t join Napalm Death until 1985), but the blistering speed of Earth A.D. often comes close. A huge part of the album’s power comes from the reckless abandon with which the band plows through songs like “Earth A.D.” and “Demonomania”. It’s a ragged, violent speed, the kind of speed that sounds like the band is going to fly apart at the seams at any given moment. Somehow, the Misfits keep it together for the original album’s fourteen-odd minutes (reissues would include the tracks from the posthumous “Die, Die My Darling” single), but the approach lends a sense of real danger, menace and foreboding to the proceedings that would also be present on second wave Scandinavian black metal albums such as Mayhem’s De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas or Burzum’s self titled debut.
The second element that pushes Earth A.D. over the edge is brutality. Unfortunately the word “brutal” (and every permutation thereof) has been thrown around in the heavy music world so often that it has lost nearly all of its meaning as of 2011. This is a brutal album. Primitive, barbaric, nasty. Black and death metal bands surely took a great deal of inspiration from the positively corrosive assault of songs like “Death Comes Ripping” and “Hellhound”. Danzig himself sounds like a snarling hellhound throughout Earth A.D., ready to claw his way through your speakers and “rip your face off” while the rest of the band violates their instruments in a manner that’s probably legally questionable in more than a few countries. Earth A.D. was the first Misfits recording where the aggression of the playing and production scheme matched the violence of Danzig’s lyrics. It’s a level of rubbed-raw vitriol that makes early Venom, Slayer, Celtic Frost et al sound quaint by comparison.
What about atmosphere? Earth A.D.‘s got it in spades. Granted, this probably speaks more to Spot’s ineptitude as a producer/engineer (see also: Black Flag’s Damaged) or the lack of a recording budget (probably both), than it does to any grand design by Danzig and Co. Still, the vibe of the album is pitch black and claustrophobic, it reeks of rage, hate and desperation. It’s a document of a band ready to explode and doing their damnedest to take all of us down with them. The fact that the Misfits broke up only a few months after the album was recorded (on Halloween, 1983) leads me to believe that the palpable fury bursting out of every part of Earth A.D. is much more than just for entertainment value (“and that blood’s so real / ’cause I just can’t fake it”).
If all of this doesn’t make for proto-black metal, then I don’t know what does. Add the grotesque, lovably amateurish artwork and black and white band photos, and you’ve got the blueprints for the sound, style and overall aesthetic that Darkthrone would take to the next level almost a decade later with A Blaze in the Northern Sky. Some call Earth A.D. “the speed metal bible”. I’m more inclined to think it’s the goddamn Necronomicon.
The Irish metal scene is a complete mystery to me. Aside from Primordial, Invictus Records and, uhhh… that’s about it, I literally know next to nothing about headbanging on the Emerald Isle. So, when the fine folks at Catharsis PR approached me with the opportunity to listen to and interrogate long-running Irish deathgrind merchants Abaddon Incarnate, I jumped at the chance, hoping to gain a little insight. The band has recently released a split 7″ with their American counterparts/brothers in grind Phobia.
THKD: Abaddon Incarnate has been around since 1994. To what do you attribute the band’s longevity?
Steve Maher: Hiya, well first off, we’re not sure if we started in late 94 or early 95 as we ditched the old band which were banging away in since 92 and evolved into AI so to speak. But longevity yeah, I guess it’s a tenacity, or a diehard attitude. Or just brutal stubbornness, me and Bill have been a constant driving force in this band since the start so I guess we just need to keep writing songs and performing live. Every time we do an album we are real eager to get the next one started so there is always a carrot on the stick.
THKD: What is it about grindcore that you find inspiring? What drives you to create and play such aggressive music?
Steve Maher: The beats and the sound just fill my brain 100% there is no room for anything else and I am satisfied when I listen to this shit, death metal and grindcore has been my obsession since I was a 12/13 year old kid and I first heard Napalm death, morbid angel and deicide and Carcass
THKD: How did the split with Phobia come about? Had you been in touch with them beforehand?
Steve Maher: No we’ve never been in touch with Phobia about this release. I met them in 2003 at the Fuck the commerce festival in Germany but we had no idea we would be doing a split. The label (underground Movement) organized it all.
THKD: Abaddon Incarnate contributed 3 tracks to the split. Is there anything tying your three songs together thematically/lyrically? What are these songs about?
Steve Maher: Chthonic Sacrifice is based on two things, first a book I read as kid called “the glass knife” by a guy called John Tully which left a mark in my mind thereafter, and second a discovery channel program on human sacrifice. I never wrote about South American occult/religion before and it’s pretty bloody and extreme so I thought why not? Vermin apocalypse is about the futile attempts by the plague doctors during the Black Death to heal the sick. Johnny king (our drummer) suggested I write a song about these guys back when we were recording “cascade” but nothing came of it. “Crucible” is about trying to break out of alcohol and drug addiction, the drink and drugs are a armor you use to keep the world out and you got to remake yourself within this armor so your strong enough to walk free among the people outside. But it’s written as a black magic prayer, so it’s usual satanic “self overcoming” attaining godhood etc. I mean how can you be your own god if you’re a drunken joke of a human stumbling out of control from one calamity to the next?
THKD: When and where were the tracks for the split recorded? How quickly did they come together?
Steve Maher: They were recorded in Nebula studios in limerick here in Ireland. They were written pretty quickly but they took a while to record because I had a bike crash and broke my collarbone in between sessions so the whole thing got drawn out a lot longer than was anticipated.
THKD: What do you like about the split release format? What are the advantages of doing a split release for two bands as well established as Abaddon Incarnate and Phobia?
Steve Maher: It’s a good chance for fans of both bands to hear the other, there’s shitloads of Abaddon Incarnate fans who have never listened to phobia and vice versa so it expands both bands horizons. Also it’s cool to have plastic out too.
THKD: Aside from both being grindcore bands, how do Abaddon Incarnate and Phobia compare? What other traits do the two bands share and what sets you apart from one another?
Steve Maher: Hehe, we are different in a lot of ways, the similarities would be we are both really fucking extreme, it doesn’t get much heavier than a split from phobia and Abaddon Incarnate.
Steve Maher: Not really, the internet is a global community now so we both recorded in our respective territories and the label did the rest. Mp3s can be emailed so we don’t have to rely on the postman to get his drunk arse out of bed and drop the CD in the letterbox anymore.
THKD: To outsiders, Ireland isn’t well known for grindcore. Is there an Irish grindcore underground the rest of the world doesn’t know about?
Steve Maher: Good grind? I’ll eat your face, sarcosis, the whole crust dbeat thing is becoming more trendy now.
THKD: What Irish bands were important to you growing up? Who are some current Irish bands people should be listening to?
Steve Maher: I only started listening to extreme Irish music around the age of 14, Morphosis, primordial and paranoid visions, later Brinskil bombeat were pretty good. These were influential to me personally and were big in my world back then. Nowadays there is so many cool bands, death metal you can check out Nephridium, warpath, Morphosis ( still going after all these years ) Zealot cult, Putrefy ( still going after all these years ), Overoth, condemned, zombiefied. Also, not death metal but have a listen to altar of plagues, geasa, then there’s doom stuff like wreck of the hesperes, and other older cool stuff like Scald for example. Irish metal is becoming really international nowadays, When we all started out if a band toured Dublin, Galway and Cork we thought they were going to be massive. Irish bands are getting on European tours, American tours, playing festivals, we have some decent labels and good promoters to bring large acts over and build bridges.
THKD: What are you personally listening to right now? Do you have any recommendations for THKD’s readers?
Steve Maher: I’m listening to the latest immolation album majesty and decay and Type O negatives Life is killing me a lot the last few weeks. 50% of that type O album is shitty Beatles crap but there are 3 or 4 killer tunes there also. I’ve also been banging out repulsions horrified quite often, carcass symphonies is getting a fair few spins and also I’m listening to way too much nile.
THKD: Are the members of Abaddon Incarnate involved in any other projects? Is the Irish scene as incestuous as say, the Scandinavian scene?
Steve Maher: Johnny plays in altar of Plagues, and also another band called sobd who I haven’t heard yet, Steve f plays in a crust band called “twisted mass” and also a gore grind band called sarcosis. I used to play in Geasa for 10 years and bill plays in a ambient dance thing called alibitrax and a Depeche mode covers band to pay the mortgage. Yeah it’s pretty incestuous, Irish and Scandinavians both like fucking people from our own families.
THKD: What does the rest of the year have in store for Abaddon Incarnate? Do you have any other releases planned for 2011? Are you working on any more new material?
Steve Maher: I want to record at the end of 2011, but nothing concrete is set yet. We have lots of new material, we just need to organize it.
THKD: Are you touring at all this year? Do you enjoy playing live? How would you describe an Abaddon Incarnate live show to someone that has never seen you?
Steve Maher: We are playing 3 dates in the Uk with general surgery in may, 2 dates in Ireland with basement torture killings from London in June, then a 20 date south American tour in Ecuador, Peru and Colombia next august. I really enjoy playing live, it’s the pinnacle of being in a band, what it’s all about. Abaddon Incarnate live show is typical 4 dudes with shaggy hair and manky t shirts screaming and grinding until everyone’s heads implode, usual stuff.
THKD: Are there any final thoughts you’d like to add?
Steve Maher: Final thoughts, Final thoughts? That’s a shitty obituary song right? Cause of death and slowly we rot slay. I sat beside a Old dude with grey hair in a suit on the train today and he was listening to slayer reign in blood, and also sitting there was a teenager with a emo fringe and some weird annoying screamo crap coming out of his earphones, I’m getting old and I’m fucking glad I have nothing to do with that screamo shit. But reign in blood is awesome; altar of sacrifice is probably one of the top 5 songs ever written in this universe. Thanks for the interview, cheers for the support.
The Abaddon Incarnate / Phobia split is available now via Underground Movement. http://www.underground-movement.net
NOTE: The Abaddon Incarnate songs featured in this interview are from the band’s 2009 full length Cascade, not the aforementioned split w/ Phobia.
Singapore’s Wormrot might just be the best grindcore band on the planet right now. I myself had been pretty burned out on the genre until I heard their 2009 debut full length Abuse. That album was an adrenaline shot of pure grinding ferocity that made me stop and take notice. Wormrot’s sound is rooted in tradition, but what sets them apart is craftsmanship. Taking a genre like grindcore, where songs and bands have a tendency to blur together, and being able to write interesting, distinctive songs within its short sharp shock set of parameters is an art, an art that Wormrot have mastered.
The trio has just finished recording their 2nd full length, Dirge. It won’t be released in North America until May 3rd, but the fine folks at Earache have provided us a teaser in the form of “Manipulation”. Listen to the track and check out the album art below.
So, Decibel has revealed their picks for the top 40 metal albums of 2010. Their list is as follows…
1. Agalloch – Marrow of the Spirit
2. Watain – Lawless Darkness
3. Triptykon – Eparistera Daimones
4. Dawnbringer – Nucleus
5. Enslaved – Axioma Ethica Odini
6. Torche – Songs for Singles
7. Ludicra – The Tenant
8. Thou – Summit
9. Nails – Unsilent Death
10. The Austerity Program – Backsliders and Apostates Will Burn
11. Castevet – Mounds of Ash
12. Immolation – Majesty and Decay
13. Sailors With Wax Wings – Sailors With Wax Wings
14. Coliseum – House With a Curse
15. Horseback – The Invisible Mountain
16. Kylesa – Spiral Shadow
17. High on Fire – Snakes for the Divine
18. Burzum – Belus
19. Atheist – Jupiter
20. Electric Wizard – Black Masses
21. Deathspell Omega – Paracletus
22. Kvelertak – Kvelertak
23. Integrity – The Blackest Curse
24. Ghost – Opus Eponymous
25. Withered – Dualitas
26. Pivixki – Gravissima
27. Fear Factory – Mechanize
28. Unearthly Trance – V
29. Christian Mistress – Agony & Opium
30. Nachtmystium – Addicts: Black Meddle Part II
31. Deftones – Diamond Eyes
32. Father Befouled – Morbid Destitution of Covenant
33. The Body – All the Waters of the Earth Turn to Blood
34. Early Graves – Goner
35. Intronaut – Valley of Smoke
36. Decrepit Birth – Polarity
37. The Dillinger Escape Plan – Option Paralysis
38. Hail of Bullets – On Divine Winds
39. Lantlos – .Neon
40. Darkthrone – Circle the Wagons
Some of these choices are downright baffling, such as Kvelertak (I just don’t get it), Father Befouled (Vasaeleth made a far superior Incantation-influenced album with Crypt Born & Tethered to Ruin), Fear Factory and Deftones (these two bands have outlived their shelf-lives and then some). Then there’s the shit I’ve never even heard of, such as Pivixki and Lantlos. I don’t buy Decibel every month, so I can’t say whether or not they did reviews or features on these bands or if they just pulled them out of their asses at the last minute. For all I know, Pivixki and Lantlos might not even be “obscure”, I might just be out of touch.
As was expected, a host of bands that I consider overrated made the cut. No offense to any of these bands, but I’ll never understand what the big deal is about Torche, Kylesa, Unearthly Trance (beyond their first album), Intronaut, Nails or Hail of Bullets. From the way most metal journalists drool over them, I get the feeling that any of these bands could’ve recorded the sounds of their bowel movements and still would’ve ended up on the list. So, I can understand why these bands made it… but that doesn’t mean I have to agree with it.
Some of the rankings are pretty questionable. Watain’s Lawless Darkness, while enjoyable enough a slab of slick modern BM, in no way deserves the #2 slot. Nachtmystium’s divisive Addicts is clearly a transitional album for the band, and I’m not sure it’s one of the year’s best albums because of this… I would’ve liked it a lot more if it had less black metal and more ass-shakers like “No Funeral”. I’ve only listened to Deathspell Omega’s Paracletus a few times, but I definitely feel that it deserves a higher ranking. The album is isn’t as abstract as Fas, and parts of it are damn near accessible, but it nonetheless ranks as one of the year’s more interesting black metal albums.
Don’t get me wrong, there are choices I agree with. This list features quite a few albums that I enjoyed immensely this year (Darkthrone, Triptykon, Christian Mistress, the various Profound Lore releases, etc.). I’ve never been a big Immolation fan, but I respect them and am glad to see them getting some respect. Dawnbringer coming in at #4 is a pleasant surprise, since it is one of the better trad metal albums I’ve heard in a long time and one of my favorites overall. I’m also pleased to see Integrity make the cut, since they’re pretty much the only hardcore band I still give a damn about. I’ve yet to hear the new Enslaved album, but considering that the band has never really put out a bad record, I wouldn’t be surprised if this one winds up on my list as well if I manage to get around to if before the end of the year. I’m also looking forward to hearing the Ghost and Electric Wizard albums in their entirety (in fact both should be showing up in the post any day now).
Personally, I would’ve liked to have seen Vomitor, Cauldron Black Ram, Blasphemophagher and Weapon make it on there. I’m guessing the Weapon album wasn’t released in time. As for Vomitor, CBR and Blasphemophagher, well let’s be honest, I think they’re all a bit too filthy and fucked up for Decibel‘s standards. And what about Coffinworm and Hooded Menace? Maybe the Decibel head honchos put a limit on how many Profound Lore albums could be on the list.
As for Agalloch in the #1/Album of the Year spot? I’m still digesting the album (a review is imminent), so I can’t yet say exactly where this will wind up on my own personal list. I will say there is a damn good chance that it will make the top 10.
So what do you guys think of this list? Do you give a shit? Personally, it makes me miss Metal Maniacs…
For the most part, I try to keep things positive here at the THKD bunker. I only review albums that I would recommend to someone else, or at the very least albums that open themselves up to interesting thoughts and discussions (see the recently reviewed Raunchy album). I don’t single out bands or individuals I don’t like, tempting though it may be. I only let my grouchiness come through on rare occasions, such as my responses to Brandon Duncan’s questions in our dual interview, or in my piece on the sorry state of metal journalism.
But more often than not, I can’t help but get the feeling the majority of metal is turning into something I don’t want to be a part of. Thanks to social networking and the internet in general, metal has become infested with the kind of name-dropping, backslapping industry scumbags that the culture set out to destroy in the first place. I’m not naming names, but when I see so-called “journalists” and “publicists” bragging about what bands they’re partying with or what sweet promos they’re listening to while partying with said bands, I feel like I want to start vomiting and never stop. No one in the world cares about who you know and who you blow.
No, I’m not jealous. I’ve met my share of bands, interviewed “big names” and gotten my share of sweet promos in the mail. I don’t feel the need to go on and on (and on) about it on myspace/facebook/twitter/etc though. Yes, vanity has crept into metal like a particularly nasty case of syphilis. The ego stroking even happens in print, thanks to a slew of writers who think that just because they have a widely read opinion, this somehow makes them “cool” or “elite”. Reviews don’t matter when anyone can go on the internet, google an album and download it instantly for free (In fact, it is probably thanks to these “writers” that albums leak before their release dates).
What does matter in the internet age is conversation, dialogue and interaction. The lines of communication between bands, journalists and fans can and should be wide open thanks to the internet. No one is going to want to interact with you if you come off like an elitist asshole and a braggart, except for other elitist assholes and braggarts. Maybe I’m just getting old and bitter, but as someone who writes about metal because they love it, I find reading these self-serving reviews/articles/blogs/tweets/whatthefuckever extremely hard to take. I’ve been doing this for a few years now, and I’m still humbled by and grateful for the fact that bands are willing to talk to me about their art, labels are willing to send me albums to review and other fans and writers are interested enough in what I have to say to interact with me.
Journalists with superiority complexes aren’t the only ones getting under my skin. I love the many publicists I work with (Earsplit, Clawhammer, Fresno, Nathan Birk, etc) to keep the new content flowing for THKD. Without them, this site wouldn’t be half of what it is. But, there are some I refuse to work with, and it’s for a good reason. I understand it is the publicist’s job to entice me to write about whatever band/label/etc they happen to be pimping at the time. But a good publicist, like the ones mentioned above, understands the tastes and demeanors of the folks they’re working with, and bases their interactions on that knowledge. When someone sends me e-mail after e-mail acting like I owe them a favor, asking me to cover a band that anyone who reads one post on THKD could tell I wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole, that’s a good way to forget about getting any coverage on my site. I will decide what bands are covered on THKD and I’m not going to compromise my own integrity or stroke your ego by writng about some shit band as a “favor” to someone I don’t even know. Get a fucking clue.
Unfortunately, many metal review sites don’t know the meaning of the word “integrity” and are more than happy to partake in the giant circle jerk that is the metal industry. Did some of these sites ever stop to think that if they stopped reviewing all the terrible and mediocre shit labels pumped out, maybe it would help re-instill some level of quality control? Some sites, like Invisible Oranges have wisely embraced the philosophy of only writing about releases that are “good” or will open up a dialogue. I wish more sites would follow this template, as ignoring an album altogether says a lot more about its quality than wasting valuable time and energy to write an unfavorable review. Maybe the labels would take notice if this happened, but I fear that most of them are so out of touch that it probably wouldn’t make a dent.
There are some extremely high quality labels, like Profound Lore, Hell’s Headbangers and Nuclear War Now! that are obvious labors of love and show genuine care for the music, the releases and the fans. Some of the larger labels on the other hand, pump out records like widgets coming out of a factory. The fact that 4th and 5th tier metalcore/deathcore bands have record deals is undeniable proof that bigger labels are more interested in flooding the market with crap in an effort to turn a quick buck than they are in investing in quality artists who make music that will stand the test of time. I’ve been told that labels have to release a certain amount of albums every year in order to get a distribution deal. Apparently, this is how distribution companies decide if it is a “good” label, encouraging quantity over quality.
The fact that there are approximately 51 billion shitty metal bands out there hoping one of these labels will snap them up certainly doesn’t help. If most of these terrible bands would do the world a favor and break up, we wouldn’t have some of this problem. 99.9% of metal bands need to just get it through their thick heads that they’re never going to be the next Iron Maiden, Cannibal Corpse, Napalm Death or whatever the fuck it is they aspire to and call it a day. Trust me, the world would be a better place for it. The more low quality bands there are, the better the chances of low quality bands getting signed to big labels and winding up in your local shops, iTunes and the radio. It’s hard enough to find anything good to listen to without having to wade through an ocean of toxic feces.
Oh and by the way metal fans/listeners, you’re not off the hook either. Not by a damn sight. Some might say illegal downloading is killing metal, but I think it is the passive attitude of metal fans towards what they’re being spoon-fed that is quickly becoming the genre’s death knell. By willingly putting up with this stuff, you’re giving labels, mags, zines, websites and musicians a free pass to fill your eyes and ears with steaming loads of crap. All of us need to band together and say “Hell no, we aren’t going to take it anymore!”. Don’t listen to it, don’t write about it, don’t download it, don’t buy it and don’t talk about it, even to say that it completely sucks. It is time we took metal back from these fat cats, pig-fuckers and assorted blowhards and broke this vicious circle of bullshit. It doesn’t belong to them, it never has and it never will. It belongs to us.
Right now, somewhere in the bowels of the Midwest, Brandon Duncan is creating. He might be hard at work crafting visual art that represents a futuristic world gone bad acid trip, with planet-eating deities ready to crush the cosmos in the palms of their hands. Or, he could be cranking out spastic cyber-grind riffage as The Sequence of Prime, a warped descent into metal machine music if ever there was one. Hell, Mr. Duncan is so talented that he might be designing the artwork with his feet while those demented riffs pour out of his hands, for all I know.
Duncan’s latest musical endeavor under the TSOP moniker is Virion. It is an all-out assault on the senses, an album that drags you deep into the maniacal worlds Duncan creates with his visual art. The music is a violent blend of grindcore, thrash and death metal, with hints of hardcore and industrial. It is also one of the most accomplished self-released albums I’ve had the privilege of receiving.
I contacted Mr. Duncan via e-mail to discuss that strange head-space where art, music and writing collide, as well as get some insight into the making of and unique marketing strategy behind Virion. In the course of the interview, Duncan turned the tables and asked me a batch of questions, which I have included at the end of the interview.
You can download Virion for free as well as view Mr. Duncan’s stunning visual art at his official website, corporatedemon(dot)com. CD copies of Virion are also available for purchase.
THKD: What inspired you to start creating music as The Sequence of Prime?
Brandon Duncan: Oh man, I could easily write you an essay to answer this question! But I’m going to refrain and just say that the initial idea behind The Sequence of Prime was inspired by this quote from Leonhard Euler:
“Mathematicians have tried in vain to this day to discover some order in the sequence of prime numbers, and we have reason to believe that it is a mystery into which the mind will never penetrate.”
THKD: What was your equipment setup for recording Virion?
BD: My setup for “Virion” was pretty simple actually. For the guitar, I played a Gretsch Corvette through an EHX Metal Muff into a Marshall MG100DFX Solid State Combo Amp, miked with a Shure SM58. For the bass I played an Ibanez SRX390, which I recorded direct. For recording, I used an iMac with a Line 6 Toneport UX2 and Ableton Live. I programmed the drums in Ableton with samples from BFD2. All synths were programmed in Ableton as well. The vocals were recorded with the same SM58 I used for the guitars. The final mastering was done in Logic Pro.
THKD: The album seems to be very nihilistic both sonically and lyrically. What inspired this approach?
BD: Just the fact that I hate everything. Hahaha…just kidding! There are countless things that have culminated to inspire the approach to “Virion” and my work in general for that matter. At the most basic level it all goes back to the stars. How some people can look up at night and not seriously doubt the merit of their existence is beyond me. But I do want to make clear that I do not consider myself a nihilist. I lean towards existential philosophy. On a really bad day I might come across as a nihilist though! Hahaha.
THKD: Are you at all influenced by other drum machine wielding bands such as Agoraphobic Nosebleed or Dataclast?
BD: Oh hell yes! I am a huge Agoraphobic Nosebleed fan. “Agorapocalypse” was my favorite album of 2009! I’ve always liked AnB, but that cd just propelled them to an entirely new level. I’ve heard some Dataclast and enjoyed them but I am not as familiar with them as AnB. I should change that! Of course I’m also a huge Godflesh fan. I also enjoy a lot of electronic, drum and bass, EBM, and industrial music, all of which revolve heavily around electronic drums.
THKD: What made you decide to include the “drum solo” on “Icosahedron”?
BD: I love the atmosphere that the drum machine creates. It has an inhuman coldness, which further enhances the lyrical concepts of “Virion.” Because of this I wanted to put the drums in the spotlight for a moment. Without “Icosahedron” I do not feel that “Virion” would be complete or effective in its presentation.
THKD: In the album liner notes you thank Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury. How did these author’s works influence The Sequence of Prime?
BD: If I had to pick an all time favorite author it would be Ray Bradbury. I was introduced to him early in high school as required reading for a book report on “The Martian Chronicles.” That book blew my mind. It was one of the first books that really captivated me and held my interest cover to cover. I became fascinated with him and have been gradually working my way through his bibliography ever since (I’m a slow reader). Asimov on the other hand I had never read until I was beginning to write some of the riffs that would later become “Cenozoic Anoxia” and “Extremophile.” The book I was reading at that time was “The Gods Themselves” which I admit was a challenging and often painful read, but ultimately one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had with a book. I’m digging through more of his books as well, right now I am reading “The Currents of Space.” I love Bradbury’s imagination and Asimov’s roots in hard science.
BD: Both actually! There are many reasons I work alone. I am a full time graphic artist, which takes significant amount of time and dedication. I mean, we’re talking anywhere from 40-100 hours a week dedication, haha. So my time and ability to work on music is chaotic and often sparse, which does not work well with organizing a decent schedule with others. On top of that, I have yet to find anyone I can successfully write this type of music with. In the past I have collaborated with other musicians and played in bands that worked out pretty well, but they were more stripped down, hard rock type bands that did not require the endurance and and focus that TSOP needs, hahaha. Also, I really enjoy every aspect of writing and recording music, so why not do it all myself?
THKD: Would you ever consider collaborating with other musicians/artists?
BD: For sure, I daydream about it a lot. Though the chance of it actually happening at this point is highly unlikely and I’m not sure if it is even worth my time to attempt it……there you go, there’s a hint of nihilism peaking through for ya!
THKD: In addition to selling Virion in CD format, you’re also offering the album as a free download. Why take this approach to distributing your music?
BD: I enjoy writing music and I want people to hear it. If they like it enough to buy it, great! And if they like it but don’t want to buy it, fine by me! And if they hate it entirely at least they didn’t have to spend their money on something only to be disappointed. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I knew that someone had to pay for something I made that they didn’t even enjoy. It works out well for everyone.
THKD: Virion has gotten many positive reviews and even received a write-up in Decibel Magazine. Are you pleased/surprised w/ the reaction?
BD: Yes, for sure. I never expected this kind of response. I’m truly humbled.
BD: Great question, Mr. Haun. Great question indeed! Quite simply they are one and the same. I don’t really distinguish between the two and I approach them in the same way. First and foremost there must be a solid concept. Without a strong idea art and music is nothing to me, it is just fluff and filler. Something you buy because it matches your fucking couch. That’s not what I am here for. My art and music are like twins conjoined at the head. Slightly different qualities in their bodies but sharing all the same thoughts. Hahahhaha.
THKD: If I’m not mistaken, you reside in a small Midwestern town. How do these surroundings influence your music and visual art?
BD: Isolation, a clear view of the sky, massive storms, tornado sirens, harsh winters, blast furnace summers, peace and quiet, lack of entertainment, the lingering smell of livestock…small Midwestern towns provide for all sorts of inspiration you can’t out in the big city. Yeeeehaw! In all seriousness, it provides for a level of self reflection and time to absorb life that you don’t get in an urban setting.
THKD: Do you have any formal training in art or music?
BD: I have a degree in graphic design. For music I have no formal training at all. I have never taken any music lessons of any sort.
THKD: What other projects are you involved in/working on at the moment, if any?
BD: I don’t like talking too much about what I’m working on until it’s done. I don’t like to hype. So you’ll just have to wait until it’s done
THKD: What else does 2010 have in store for Brandon Duncan?
BD: I recently started a new job in Wichita, Kansas, so I’m in the process of relocating and starting a new chapter of my life. Back on the subject of my surroundings it will be interesting to see how this change of location affects my work, if at all. Other than that I just can’t wait to get situated again so I can get back to recording!
THKD: Are there any final thoughts you’d like to add?
BD: Nope, just want to say thanks a lot for the interview man! And actually I have a few questions for you.
THKD: Probably not anytime soon. My musical endeavors were rooted in raw black metal and harsh noise… they were the product of being young and pissed off, plus all the alcohol abuse that goes with that. To be honest I’m just not that person anymore. I’m 30 years old, happily married and more or less content with my life, and attempting to create any type of “angry” music at this point would just come out forced and fake. Obviously, I still love listening to and writing about heavy and aggressive music, but I just can’t see myself making it. I mean, I still hate everyone, but I’ve definitely mellowed out in my old age. Maybe I’ll record a bunch of really misanthropic folk songs some day or a country album!
BD: What is your preferred method of listening to music, headphones, in the car, on a stereo?
THKD: Oh man, definitely headphones. They allow me to tune out the rest of the world and focus on the details and intricacies of the music. Of course, there is a lot to be said about cranking up the metal on a good stereo system and going apeshit, but when I really want to concentrate on what I’m listening to, headphones are my best friend.
BD: How many times do you usually listen to an album before reviewing it?
THKD: That all depends on the album. Sometimes I find myself jotting down ideas of what I want to say about an album during the first spin. If a record hits me right between the eyes the first time I hear it, it’s only going to take me a few listens to get a sense of it. More often than not though it takes me a while to fully digest a piece of music and it can take me weeks or even months to fully wrap my head around it to the point where I’m ready to write something.
BD: Do you ever get pissed off, angry or fed up with the metal scene, or metal in general?
THKD: All the fucking time. I get pissed at the big labels for signing so many shitty, undeserving bands and helping false metal proliferate. I get pissed at a lot of the big metal websites and mags for acting as cheerleaders for this garbage and for having zero respect for the craft of writing or good journalism. I get pissed at lots of fellow metal “journalists” for being arrogant dickheads who think that doing this somehow makes them “cool” or “elite” and for letting that come through in their lame writing. Give me a fucking break. As one of my friends put it, it’s the “High Fidelity” complex, and it sickens me.
I just hope that someday labels will become totally obsolete and bands will be forced to do what you’ve done Brandon; they’ll actually have to put the work into every aspect of their music to get it out to the fans themselves, without a label’s backing. I also hope that as a result only magazines, zines and websites that are writing about metal because they genuinely love it will be able to survive.
While we’re at it, christian metal pisses me off. Metal should always be about rebellion, freedom, unbridled creativity and thinking for yourself. There is absolutely nothing free, rebellious or remotely creative about being the slave of some fictitious higher power. These people are agents of the status quo that need to be weeded out. On the other hand, there is an established tradition of Satanism in metal that I’m perfectly ok with. I don’t believe in it, but the literary character of Lucifer represents rebellion and defying/questioning authority, so it makes sense as subject matter for heavy metal. I could write about this subject for days, but I’ll spare everyone the boredom.
BD: Have you ever not listened to metal for an extended period of time (since your heavy descent into metaldom, of course).
THKD: No. Ever since I started listening to metal, it has pretty much consumed my listening. But as much as I like metal, I also like Hank Williams and NWA and The Sisters of Mercy and Prince and the Pixies. There is a common misconception that metalheads listen to metal exclusively. Fuck that. If I want to listen to “Take on Me” by A-Ha or some Gary Numan, I’m gonna listen to it. Metalheads who say they only listen to metal are either lying or musically stunted. Probably both.
BD: How much time a day do you get to seriously absorb yourself in listening to music without any distractions?
THKD: I try to get in at least an hour every day. I take a commuter bus back and forth to work every day, so that is a great time for me to listen to music and not have to think about or focus on anything else. I usually bust out the headphones on lunch breaks as well. When my wife gets tired of me pestering her in the evenings, I’ll usually go listen to music then too, haha.
Over the weekend, I picked up a used copy of Napalm Death’s Smear Campaign. While preparing to file it in my CD rack, I noticed that I now owned nine total releases from Napalm Death. This, combined with a recent article about bands with very long discographies, got me thinking, which bands/artists do I own the most releases from? I decided to take stock of my music, including all physical formats and all types of releases (EPs, singles, collections/best-ofs, etc) to see which bands dominated my collection. In my estimation, the results were not particularly surprising…
Darkthrone – 15
Danzig – 14
Misfits – 12
Six Feet Under – 11 (I like them, fuck off.)
Johnny Cash – 10
King Diamond – 10
Megadeth – 10
Napalm Death – 9
Cannibal Corpse – 8
Metallica – 8
Neurosis – 8
Vader – 8
Darkthrone, easily my favorite band ever at this point, leads the pack. However, if you study the results and analyze them further, things get more interesting. Technically, my favorite singer of all time Glenn Danzig dominates with a whopping 22 releases if you combine the Danzig total (14) with the number of Misfits releases I own where Danzig was the vocalist (8). Danzig’s total jumps up to 24 releases if you include my Samhain boxset and the Black Aria album. If you really want to stretch, throw in my Danzig VHS and you’ve got the undisputed king of my music collection at 25.
Chris Barnes’ much-maligned Six Feet Under comes in 3rd with 11 releases owned. I’m bound to get flack for this since about everyone I know seems to hate this band. But, there is something about their bludgeoning, uber-simplistic sludge-laden caveman death metal that I love, and fuck you if you can’t understand me. Mr. Barnes’ total increases to 14 if you include the Cannibal Corpse albums I own that he sang on (3).
Johnny Cash obviously sticks out like a sore thumb here, but I’m not afraid to admit that I have been fond of classic-style country music since high school, which started with Johnny Cash’s American Recordings series and working backwards to At Folsom Prison. I am from the Midwest after all. My grandmother’s favorite singer was the great Patsy Cline, so a little of that was bound to rub off on me. I’m glad that it did.
King Diamond and Megadeth tied with Cash for 5th place. I’ve loved Megadeth since junior high, so I’ve had plenty of time to pile up their releases (I’m excited to finally be seeing them next week, even if it is just MegaDave and some hired guns, but that is neither here nor there). King Diamond took me a while longer to embrace, but once I did he quickly became my second favorite metal vocalist behind Danzig. Of course, much like Danzig, ol’ King jumps up several spots if you include my Mercyful Fate stuff, which would bring his total to a fairly impressive 17. Only falsetto is real.
In my opinion, Napalm Death are one of extreme metal’s most consistent bands, and have not lost any of their potency over the years in spite of stylistic evolution and a lack of original members. I can always rely on ND when I’m in the mood to get some aggression out and headbang myself into a severe neck-ache. Even their so-called “experimental” phase has its merits and all their albums are pretty much essential.
Finally, we come to a 4-way tie between Metallica, Neurosis, Cannibal Corpse and Vader. Four bands that in my opinion couldn’t be more different from one another. Neurosis is probably one of the greatest and most important metal bands to come out of the ’90s and I wouldn’t mind picking up the rest of their releases. Metallica is one of the bands I listen to the least these days, but of course their discography (specifically the early releases) is heavy metal bedrock and pretty much essential to any collection. As for Cannibal Corpse and Vader, well they’re basically my two favorite straight-up classic death metal bands so I’m bound to own a lot their releases, although I still have several more albums to go for each one. Again, the theme of consistency pops up, since I can’t think of many DM bands with more consistent discographies than Vader and Cannibal.
So how about you guys? Which bands do you own the most releases from? Are there any of you out there that have ridiculously obsessive collections of a single band? What does it say about you as a fan/listener? Tell me about it.