Following up on its doom-death full-length Reduced to Sludge released in 2011, Funerus surges forth with three new tracks on a 7″ entitled The Black Death to be released on Dark Descent Records within the next few weeks. This short work shows that where Reduced to Sludge finalized the Funerus style, newer works further intensify the strong doom-death sound which has propelled this band for decades of enjoyment in the death metal underworld.
Sounding very much in company with widely varied acts such as Divine Eve, Cianide and Asphyx, Funerus writes grinding death metal riffs which develop over the course of a song with hints of melody and layers of texture, building an incrementally crushing atmosphere around a strong theme. On The Black Death, melodic elements serve a stronger role but entirely without becoming fluff or reducing the impact. Funerus uses melody in death metal correctly, which is to underscore the evocative vocal rhythm of a chorus and bring out variation in riffs so that repetition increases the crushing sense of morbid doom instead of adulterating it. These songs build like the experience of descending into a deep cave, with the heaviness of the air growing more oppressive and the fear surging with each foot further into the void that return from this abyss will be impossible. Where older Funerus relied on more varied technique and sometimes conflicted with the pure power of its doom-death riffs, this new incarnation clears out everything but the essentials and uses them to complement the fiery riffing to give it a further sense of oppressive hopeless violence.
In addition, vocals provided by bassist Jill McEntee, who shares instrumental duties with her husband John McEntee of Incantation, both through clarity of production and greater savagery produce an effect of urgent despair like chanted emergency messages broadcast by loudspeaker in the ruins of a dystopian city. Of the three tracks on this album, “The Black Death” grinds almost like a Bolt Thrower track but builds to a staggering sledgehammer doom-death riff instead of a melodic counterpoint to the abrasive chromatic dirge. The second track “The Minding” applies a melodic Swedish-style death metal riff much as might appear on a Carnage or Amorphis record but throws behind it a bulldozer of rhythmic momentum. Closing out the record, “On the Edge of Death” charges more like early Asphyx and keeps the intensity higher at a mid-paced speed with relentless vocals calling forth like battle command. Together these three tracks show a streamlined, stripped-down and more articulate Funerus that intends greater malice and achieves a sound competitive with the best of the underground that shows us this band at its greatest power yet.
Coming from the tradition of thunderous American death metal that incorporates doom passages, Funerus write European-style melodies through their songs and as a result create an architecture of moods that gives us song a distinct presence.
Reduced to Sludge uses rolling rhythm riffs, upset by longer fretboard-walking riffs that set up a more complex rhythmic expectation, and then as these riffs repeat modifies them to bring out a melody. Often this is a simple riff that, like a rebuttal, speaks back to the verse-chorus arrangement and expands its two and three notes into a whole melodic phrase.
Funerus shows its influences strongly from all over the map. The easy ones to pick out are Asphyx, Cianide and Entombed, and it’s foolish to expect this band to avoid some influence from Incantation from which its guitarist is loaned. Its faster riffs are simpler and evoke more of a NYDM feel, while its phrasal riffs sound more like the Incantation-Revenant-Profanatica-Demoncy spectrum of cavernous occult doom-death.
While Reduced to Slude demonstrates a range of powerful death metal riff archetypes, its vocals emerge straight from the early days of death metal, sounding both gruff and breathless without being fully guttural while also avoiding the rasp of black metal. These guide the onslaught of riffs when intense, and as it slows the textures meld, creating a sonic veil from which the listener gradually emerges.
Although Funerus stays with a classic death metal sound and thus does not offer a quirky or unexpected aesthetic, the result is that Funerus stays true to its roots and has a voice it is comfortable with. The result is an album of shorter songs that feel like longer songs, and despite being rudimentary and using similar techniques, avoid boredom by staying true to their essential mission of creating a dark and thunderous mood.
As you may have read on this site, recently Jill Funerus (bassist/vocalist for FUNERUS) who is also the wife of John McEntee from Incantation ran into a spate of health problems. In addition to battling neuropathy and diabetes, she suffered a heart attack and related kidney dysfunction, but has pulled through.
We congratulate her on having survived such an intense health challenge. However, neither she nor her husband have health insurance and thus, they’re facing some intense bills for the surgery, medicine and several days she spent at the hospital.
The metal community is banding together to help them. Through the hands of Brian Pattison, one-half of the Glorious Times team, a benefit show has been established with 100% of the profits going to Jill Funerus’ medical bills.
First, a quick update on Jill Funerus and her health challenges. She had 100% blockage in one artery and less in another, but the damage was still extensive enough to cause a heart attack and kidney problems.
She went into surgery about 22 hours ago. However, she does not have health insurance and neither does her husband. Thus, she’s going to face some heft medical bills when this is all over.
To counter those bills, the Glorious Times team have partnered with death metal bands across the world to throw a fundraiser. Bands will donate items for a raffle, and perform, with the proceeds going to Jill for payment of her medical bills.
If you, dear reader, wish to help her out in this time of need, you can send funds via PayPal to email@example.com. Here’s the list of bands who have pledged donations for the Jill Funerus benefit:
Mike Browning (Incubus)
If you are a band, label or distro and want to help out with the Jill Funerus benefit, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jill Funerus, wife and bandmate of Ibex Moon label head and Incantation guitarist John McEntee, and composer of songs for Funerus along with McEntee and Sam Inzerra on drums, has been diagnosed with a heart attack in response to recent health problems.
Funerus began in the early 1990s in Pennsylvania as a Swedish death metal-influenced doom-death band. Jill Daily, who uses the stage name Jill Funerus, went on to become the bassist for this band influenced by Entombed, Bolt Thrower, Obituary and Carcass.
After terminating in 1994, the band resurrected itself with a new line-up in the early 2000s, and with the help of John McEntee (Ibex Moon/Incantation), rose again in a new form and began gigging. The band are known for being professional and easy-going at the same time, in addition to making crushing grinding doomy music.
Our thoughts are will Jill, John and their family and friends at this time.
“He isn’t a good person,” says Wright, speaking of Tim Snodgrass who experienced phone threats from Mr. Wright several months ago. “He has verbally slandered me for way too long on and offline. The truth is this was personal and he took it to the surface to media attention.”
According to Wright, Snodgrass became unpopular in the tight-knit — “Communal” was the word used — Baltimore scene for first his personal behavior, and then his politics. “It was more personal than that,” he said, referring to the political split and accusations of censorship. “He went wrong when he and I spoke back in 2012. When he got all shitty with me prior. We called a truce. He decided to slander me again and talk shit. I was totally fine with him up until people started to tell me deeper shit that he has done to my homies here.”
Wright says the Baltimore metal scene desires to be more “Communal,” which he takes to mean “working together,” and suggests that Snodgrass did not fit in. In particular, Wright feels Snodgrass was “slandering bands and people for trying to make the scene more Communal” and is a pariah “because he thinks everyone here is a joke beyond his select few people that give him a chance.”
“Tim needs to learn his fucking place with people,” Wright wrote. “He talks a big game. And no one here supports him.” He points out that Snodgrass came to Baltimore later than what Wright views as the original scene. “I was in this city before Tim,” he says.
Wright adds that he sees two reasons for this alienation. Snodgrass took sides in a band dispute in 2012. “He was ‘cool’ with me when I played in Extermination Angel,” Wright says. “I had a falling out with them. And he was one of the people that fucked with me for no apparent reason. Sticking his nose in my business…He was slandering me for the shit I was going through. Then he and I had issues the second time when he started talking all that shit when he was seeing his girlfriend Marie.”
While not the cause of the disagreement, Wright says, the dispute was exacerbated by the political factor: the Baltimore scene, as he sees it, is anti-racist and Snodgrass refuses to join in. “The point is Tim is a fence walker. And that shit isn’t tolerated in the city.” (A “fence walker” is one who approves of politically incorrect music like white power music.)
Wright says that Snodgrass made himself a pariah in the scene for the bands and people he supported. “I’m sure he is friends with sketchy labels like Freezing Records,” he adds. “He had mutual friends here but those individuals are frowned upon as well.” But he claims politics was not the source of the fracture. “He is alienated because he chooses to run his fucking mouth about people.”
Snodgrass, who runs Diabolic Force Distribution, has sold white power material in the past, Wright alleges. “I bought a 7″ some years back when he was working at the Talking Head for a Toxic Holocaust show selling their merch and other shit. I bought an Evil Incarnate record or some band like from him. Only to find out it was Nazi metal. He has sold my buddy Justin Loys white power shit as well. It’s a fucking personal insult selling shit like that in this city.”
An investigation of Diabolic Force distro provided no smoking gun, although some bands with controversial views were clearly present. Wright indicated that “there’s a lot of bands like Blaspherion, Evil Incarnate, Arkhon Infaustus, Graveland, Aryan Blood to name a few” but of those, only Graveland was present on the website, as were other formerly right-wing Eastern European bands like Thunderbolt, Ohtar and Dark Fury. However, the vast majority of the distro seemed to be the mix of war metal, death metal and black metal found at most distros, and none of the releases made explicit mention of white power ideology in song titles, album titles or imagery.
“Some of the bands are good bands. But some of the shit is offensive ass bullshit,” Wright says. Of himself, he says, “I admit I have anger issues. But I’m not a bad guy.” Other sources have indicated the Wright has a family member currently receiving medical care for a life-threatening condition and that this could be putting him under some pressure.
He forwarded the above screencap, which shows Freezing Records — not Diabolic Force — selling a zine named “Aryan RegardSS” which allegedly has white power, national socialist or white nationalist leanings. The title certainly suggests it. But among many in the metal community, it is considered normal to sell music and zines about metal without scrutinizing them for the politically incorrect content that frequently occurs. Wright disagrees with this approach, and calls it the basis of being a fence walker.
The mystery remains. Diabolic Force distro admits some bands with right-wing political leanings, but these are a tiny minority of what it sells, along with bands like the Nekro Drunkz, Jenkem and Funerus. Clearly it is not a white power distro and its main sin is, as Wright calls it, “fence walking,” which means either refusing to censor bands for their views or not being extreme enough in purging the scene of unpopular views, depending on who you talk to.
To Wright, at least, it doesn’t matter. He sees Snodgrass as antisocial in both behavior and ideology. “He got banned for calling people “Faggot” at Sidebar,” he says. “He is a gossip queen.” And with that, clarity evades us yet again, but it’s good to get the other side of the story.
A few speak the truth, but most lie, not because they mean badly but because they think it helps them “get ahead.” Later do they learn that unearned merit simply means they are trapped in a world of having to uphold false images and it destroys their souls. To avoid this, we just cut the chaff from the wheat with pure linguistic and musical cruelty. Welcome to the latest installment of Sadistic Metal Reviews: come for the tears, stay for the (occasional) corn in the turd.
Rippikoulu – Musta Seremonia
Musta Seremonia is clearly B-level death metal that imitates many of those that went before it in the 1989-1991 period. It is excessively primitive, like Grave or Obscurity. Much of it tries to be doom metal, which is — with a few notable exceptions — boring music for boring people. Expect cudgel-primitive low-end power chords rumbling against each other and moveable melodic patterns which create an atmosphere of forward motion and near-symmetry. Like the best of the doom-death slice of the death metal genre, including Asphyx, Miasma, early Atrocity and Funerus, this band creates a grinding atmosphere but refuses to make it wholly repetitive, creating the sense of a plane flying through a ruined city to observe new interactions each time like disconnected visions of a mad prophet. The point is to lower you into the darkness and not let you up, which is excellent as an experience but like many bands in the doom genre, probably not an everyday experience. Unlike its contemporaries, Rippikoulu understand how to put contrast into a song and yet keep it focused on a goal of expression, even if in utter primitivism this goal is so basic as to be very similar from song to song… If this band falls down, it is the intersection of the disadvantages above that brings it down: the B-level death metal with citations in rhythm or melody from Amorphis, Incantation and Deicide; the repetition and relative similarity of approach; and the extremely basic nature of these riffs which, as in Swedish bands like Uncanny and Suffer, can create a sense of pervasive doom bordering on total entropy instead of preparing us for reconquest of the wasteland in the name of terror. And yet, Musta Seremonia lives on with infectious rhythms and a distinctive presence to itself which distinguishes it from others who have traveled this lonely path. It is less rhythmically recursive than Grave, and songs hold together better than Obscurity, and it does not fall into the reheated speed metal patterns which doom Insanity and Num Skull. It simply thunders, aiming to be primitive and basic in the same way Belial or Agonized. While this will not hold a candle to the best of Finland, like Demigod Slumber of Sullen Eyes or even Amorphis The Karelian Isthmus, it stands above the other retrospective acts for at least having a sense of purpose.
Deconstructing Sequence – Access Code
Tragically progressive and technical metal have become gigwise, or in other words are composed for an existing audience on the basis of what they have liked in the past, instead of forging their own path to attract an audience on the musical merits of the composition. Deconstructing Sequence launch into this arena with a highly informed, creative and periodically musically elegant entry which bears a second look. The surface adornment will unfortunately drive away many die-hard fans and simultaneously attract the type of greebos who were drawn to Opeth because it made them look musically profound among the fedora m’lady crowd of NEETs and hipsters. Much of the surface aesthetic involves voice overs about space landings, lead guitars that cleverly emulate the beeps and quirks of digital computers, and jazz fusion-inspired riffing that mates the ultra-texturalism of Meshuggah with the harmonic depth that bands like Dream Theatre and Gorguts used to establish contrast for their melodic themes. A mixture of Pestilence from its technical years with Dream Theatre and Meshuggah might accurately describe the sound, but the composition here hearkens back to simpler — think Rush or Camel-level — interpretations of mid-1970s classic progressive rock, although this is sometimes hard to find under the layers of postmodern configuration. Underneath all the layers, much of the riffing here as in Meshuggah is the same early 1980s speed metal where guitar serves a purely rhythmic role with a secondary melodic role, as harmony is impossible, thus adopting the chromatic fills that death metal later turned into phrase; a comparison between Meshuggah and Linkin Park is appropriate because they both have their origins in blending this essentially keyless, harmonically-moveable style with jazz fusion and rap/rock respectively. If I have any advice for this band, it is to lose everything but the music. We’ll understand the space exploration theme from the cover and the Hal 9000 guitar noises. Then it might make sense to worry less about writing the heavier riffs and to focus instead on why people will like you, which is your harmonically-rich composition in which melodies stand out in context and are not used as a production quirk-cum-purpose as they are in most “melodic death metal” bands. Access Code compares favorably to works from Sadist and other progressive death metal bands even if its heart shares dual loyalties in the 1990s and 1970s.
Sacrocurse – Unholier Master
If you want to make metal strong, be hard on metal, especially of the type you like best. Otherwise, in the absence of quality control, that which is mediocre and predictable but familiar gets promoted and any musician who wants his or her work to be heard will avoid that genre like the plague. This is the problem with the NWN/FMP attitude toward classic metal, which is to find an aesthetic imitator that is “true” by being extreme and unrelenting and uphold it as an ideal. These bands are neither satisfying with the same musical punch as the individuals had, nor do they present a quality level markedly different from the newer metalcore hybrids, and thus they maintain a small but diehard audience while driving everyone else toward the newer material. In this way, the “underground” labels maintain a symbiotic relationship with the big media pap labels dumping warmed over hardcore with jazz fusion fixins onto a clueless audience. Unholier Master on its surface fits the underground with charging power chord riffs and extreme death metal vocals under high-speed drumming. The problem is that every riff on this album is excruciatingly obvious and repetitive, song development is near zero, and the main focus has thus become the vocals chanting repetitive but semi-catchy choruses. This reduces death metal to the same level of entropy that speed metal hit toward the end of the 1980s when tons of bands appeared who composed with almost exclusively chromatic rhythm music and hoped to distinguish themselves with vocals and increasingly random guitar solos. This album is an insult to the underground; throw it out and embrace natural selection instead, or you weaken death metal with your good intentions.
Monuments – The Amanuensis
Excruciating: soaring Gospel-like power metal suddenly breaks into some dude… rapping… in a death metal vocal. The album proceeds in this pattern, with simplified (but less chromatic) Meshuggah style riffing banging out hard rock tunes and then, as if nu-metal went underground, the rap-influenced death vocals kick in. The whole thing seems designed to distract at any given moment which is probably palliative care for the listener who presumably could not be dissuaded from putting the album on and, short of a power failure, will not be immediately delivered from it. Not only is the heavy metal part of this music as cheesy as humanly possible, the brocore rap/metalcore side of it is as insulting to the intelligence as possible. If you are a person of no intelligence who likes stupid things because they make it seem like the world is compatible with your utter lack of positive mental attributes, purchase this immediately and get the tshirt too so we can spot you at a distance, adjust for windage and elevation, and do what is necessary. An experienced listener hearing this is immediately embarrassed for the band, and those who listen, and those who accidentally must hear this album, which would confirm every negative stereotype of metal (maybe it is a counter-astroturfing effort by vegan techno bands). It combines everything stupid in rock, rap, metal and inspirational music into a single ball of string which drips a fermented slime of human oblivion over all that it touches. While normally I oppose censorship, this album makes me re-think censorship on a level of excluding bands of poor musical quality, since all this album does is create a heap of landfill that even bacteria will find insults their intelligence.
Infra – Initiation on the Ordeals of Lower Vibration
From the tryhard realm of the underground comes love for a new type of band that combines the simplistic Blasphemy/Incantation clone with “high art” and produces music that seems stately, deep and profound. Somehow all of these bands explore spiritual philosophies or ancient religious texts and invent large mythos for themselves. This parallels the tendency of nu-metalcore acts to write about whatever literature they remember from high school, or spiritualist topics of peace and love like Cynic did, which is a way for metal bands to improve their image through pretense. The problem with this approach is that it leads to a flood of metaphysical bullshit which is ill-advised for bands to mention. This band from Portugal, and that fact seems important from the bio, makes this new hybrid low/high-brow grinding black metal. Where Blasphemy channeled the id, this music may be too self-conscious, but is nonetheless well-executed but from these two tracks create a lukewarm effect because song-form and “purpose” rather than content dictate what occurs in each song. Thus we have songs about songs, a kind of theory about black metal, and they never come to a point. Further, they like to stack primitive riffs up against melodic ones, which creates a kind of “precious” response which is every bit as contrived as numu bands switching from distortion and shouting on the verses to acoustic and singing on the choruses. On Initiation on the Ordeals of Lower Vibrations, the black metal moments express themselves and fade into the background as we wait for Profound Moments… but these come not from this kind of preciousness, but in the form of melodic/atmospheric material that exemplifies the best of the old school, both simple and evocative of events in life.
Bleed – Seven Billion Demons
What is it that is so appalling about judging a band by its style? It is OK with some forms, clearly, since no one ever said “Well, you shouldn’t write that band off just because they’re disco.” But in metal we shy away from it, ignoring the fact that some styles are designed to reduce music to what attracts like moths to flame the most basic, blockheaded and purposeless human tendencies. Brocore is one such genre, and while Bleed is clearly above-the-fold brocore, it is still brocore: the ranting speed metal of Pantera, updated with the chromatic riff texture noodling of Meshuggah, but simplified to fit around hard rock chord progressions in the background, against which all the riffery serves as simply decoration. Thus when you peer down into the core of this album you find something closer to Look What the Cat Dragged In or Hysteria than Meshuggah or Pantera, just done up in a new (or should I say… “nu”) aesthetic for a new generation of the credulous and inexperienced who will spend their parents’ money on dreck that will keep the slacker jobs program known as the music industry operating for another year. No offense intended slackers, and none taken; as a proud slacker I defend the right of everyone to slack off as appropriate, but wish the music industry would admit this fact and stop wasting time with clear filler. Nothing on Seven Billion Demons is badly executed and in fact the album as a whole is quite professional, just empty, like a streetcar at night or an entry-level job. Thus if you have a soul — and you might if you’ve kept reading this far, not sure — you should probably avoid this. But if you’re looking for Brocore 2.0 and something to chant along with as you drink beer and (no homo) wrestle with your buddies at a keg party on the beach, Seven Billion Demons may be for you. Kegstand!
Jason Netherton (Dying Fetus, Misery Index) created his history of death metal called Extremity Retained: Notes From the Death Metal Underground by letting members of the community tell their stories. This book compiles interviews with death metal bands, artists, writers and label owners. It organizes these into five topic areas which makes it easier to find specifics in the book, and by grouping like stories together breaks up the repetition that massed interviews normally have. The result provides a good background in the history and experience of the rise of the death metal genre.
Netherton’s use of topic areas allows band statements to be taken as a whole on the theme and to expand upon it without becoming repetition of similar questions and answers that un-edited interviews tend toward. Some may be put off by the lack of narrative tying these together, but the upside of that situation is that there is little extraneous text outside of what the actors in this scene said themselves. The only weak spot may be that since the highlight is clearly the old school bands, the inclusion of newer bands becomes extraneous when compared with the old.
The following and others contributed to the content of hte book: Luc Lemay (Gorguts), Alex Webster (Cannibal Corpse), King Fowley (Deceased), Stephan Gebidi (Thanatos, Hail of Bullets), Dan Swanö (Edge of Sanity), Doug Cerrito (Suffocation), John McEntee (Incantation, Funerus), Marc Grewe (Morgoth), Ola Lindgren (Grave), Kam Lee (ex-Massacre, ex-Death), Tomas Lindberg (At the Gates, Lock Up), Robert Vigna and Ross Dolan (Immolation), Esa Linden (Demigod), Dan Seagrave (Artist), Rick Rozz (ex-Death, Massacre), Steve Asheim (Deicide), Jim Morris (Morrisound Studios), Terry Butler (Obituary, Massacre, ex-Death), Mitch Harris (Napalm Death, Righteous Pigs), Robin Mazen (Derketa, Demonomacy), Ed Warby (Gorefest, Hail of Bullets), Andres Padilla (Underground Never Dies! book), Donald Tardy (Obituary), Paul Speckmann (Master, Abomination), Phil Fasciana (Malevolent Creation), Tony Laureno (ex-Nile, ex-Angelcorpse), Alan Averill (Primordial, Twilight of the Gods), Alex Okendo (Masacre), and Lee Harrison (Monstrosity).
The topic division of the book begin with the origins of death metal and then branch out to its diversification, and then areas of experience such as recording and touring. The final section addresses the future of metal. The material of most interest to me personally was at the front of the book where the old school bands talked about what inspired them and how the scene came together. It was like witnessing a revolution secondhand. In these sections, the most compelling accounts come from the people who are longest in the game as they are explaining the literal genesis of the process. Within each section, individual speakers identified by band write lengthy revelations to which the editors have added helpful captions. The result makes it easy to read or skim for information. Many of this book’s most ardent readers will find themselves doing a lot of skimming because the information here works as an excellent concordance to many of the other books on death metal or metal history and can reinforce or amplify what you find there.
We were all very much into underground music. Early on we were into Venom, Angel Witch and Motorhead, and later it evolved into bands like Hellhammer, Celtic Frost and Slayer. We wanted to play like them, and that is pretty much why we picked up the instruments in the first place.
With Massacre we were calling the music death metal pretty much from the beginning. We liked a lot of thrash, but to us a lot of it was just a bit too happy and the rhythms were a bit “too dancey.” Of course there were darker thrash albums like Bonded by Blood from Exodus, but even by the first demos we were calling it death metal. I mean, it’s not death metal as you know it today, but those demos were certainly founding releases in the death metal genre in terms of style. Of course, there are no blast beats or anything, but it was a combination of dark rhythms, the dark lyrics, and rough vocals that separated it from thrash. The term death metal had started getting kicked around with Hellhammer/Celtic Frost. We also knew of the Possessed demos, and it was in that tradition that we were referring to ourselves as death metal.
Some of the statements by later bands or bands that are not really death metal seemed like revisionist history but that is to be expected, since every band has to self-promote and include itself in whatever it can. This book utterly shines in the lengthy statements by founders of the genre that explain how it came to be, the thought process at the time and some of the experiences bands underwent. Be ready for blood, vomit and death in the touring section, and prepare yourself for some gnarly old school history in the other parts. By the rules of information itself, it is impossible to craft a metal history that pleases everyone. Extremity Retained: Notes From the Death Metal Underground takes the approach that Glorious Times did and amplifies it by getting longer statements and not relying on pictures, and it adds its unique and vital voice to the canon of books on the history of death metal.
Former Dying Fetus member Jason Netherton, now proprietor Send Back My Stamps!, releases his latest creation in the form of a 480-page book of interview with figures in the death metal underground called Extremity Retained: Notes from the Death Metal Underground. The product of over 100 interviews over a three-year period, the book is comprised entirely of first-hand stories, anecdotes, memories and opinions.
The book attempts to “explore the scene through the voices of those who helped create it” and thus focuses its questions on zines, tape-trading and other rituals of the underground. These lengthy narratives are complemented by original cover and section art by Matt “Putrid Gore” Carr, incidental art by Gary Ronaldson, with design and typography from Tilmann Benninghaus, and title page by Timo Ketola.
Contributors to Extremity Retained: Notes from the Death Metal Underground include (but are not limited to): Luc Lemay (Gorguts), Alex Webster (Cannibal Corpse), King Fowley (Deceased), Stephan Gebidi (Thanatos, Hail of Bullets), Dan Swanö (Edge of Sanity), Doug Cerrito (Suffocation), John McEntee (Incantation, Funerus), Marc Grewe (Morgoth), Ola Lindgren (Grave), Paul Ryan (Origin), Kam Lee (ex-Massacre, ex-Death), Tomas Lindberg (At the Gates, Lock Up), Travis Ryan (Cattle Decapitation), Robert Vigna and Ross Dolan (Immolation), Jacob Schmidt (Defeated Sanity), Esa Linden (Demigod), Dan Seagrave (Artist), Rick Rozz (ex-Death, Massacre), Steve Asheim (Deicide), Jim Morris (Morrisound Studios), Terry Butler (Obituary, Massacre, ex-Death), Mitch Harris (Napalm Death, Righteous Pigs), Scott Hull (Pig Destroyer), John Gallagher (Dying Fetus), Robin Mazen (Derketa, Demonomacy), George Fisher (Cannibal Corpse), Ed Warby (Gorefest, Hail of Bullets), Rob Barrett (Cannibal Corpse, ex-Solstice), Donald Tardy (Obituary), Moyses Kolesne (Krisiun), Takaaki Ohkuma (Necrophile), Paul Speckmann (Master, Abomination), Anders Jacobson (Nasum, Necrony), Carl Fulli (Epidemic), Matt Harvey (Exhumed), Steve Goldberg (Cephalic Carnage), Ben Falgoust (Soilent Green, Goatwhore), Phil Fasciana (Malevolent Creation), Tony Laureno (ex-Nile, ex-Angelcorpse), Alan Averill (Primordial, Twilight of the Gods), Jason Fuller (Blood Duster), Alex Okendo (Masacre), Dave Witte (Municipal Waste, Human Remains), Lee Harrison (Monstrosity) and many more
Back in the early days of death metal, it was fun to spin some contrast on the radio. Start out with the phrasal bands like Morbid Angel and Slayer, work up to something percussion like Deicide or Suffocation, then drop into the doom-death. Somewhere in there, Obituary, Asphyx, Incantation, and Morpheus Descends all got displayed.
The latter was a puzzler since it was grim, primitive and primal, yet thoughtful and very distant from the normal everyday lives most people aspired to. It was truly music to keep the listener outside the arc of society’s concerns, guilt and manipulations, and for many of us it was deliverance. It blended into the other death metal as if it belonged there, a distinct voice that yet upheld a shared spirit.
Morpheus Descends was thus for many of us a go-to band when we wanted the old school underground sound. Music from beyond this world, it chanted dark praises of outsider viewpoints on reality while crushing our heads with intensely grinding, explosive riffs. It is with great pleasure that after many years, I am finally able to interview Rob Yench/Xul of this massive underground cult…
Morpheus Descends appeared early in the death metal movement. What were you influences, and how did you conceive of the then-new musical style you were creating?
Before forming Morpheus, we were all in local area bands, Ken and I did a Voivod / DBC styled band called “Volitle Zylog”, Sam, Steve and Craig were all in a band called “Infectious Waste.” During the summer of 1990 we played an outdoor show together with a few other area bands. At the show we were talking to each other about the bands we were all interested in, as it turned out our tastes were very similar. When Ken and I heard “Infectious Waste” do a Pestilence cover we talked with the three of them right after the show and we decided to start a death metal band. A month later the five of us had all quit the bands we were in and formed “Morpheus.” Our first practice was on October 31st, 1990. Our style was based on what we listened to at the time, late 80s & early 90s bands like Death, Morbid Angel, Pestilence, Obituary, Napalm Death and our earlier influences like Black Sabbath, Voivod, Kreator and Celtic Frost. Once we became a band and played shows we started to meet other bands who shared the same goals, also playing many shows with our peers shaped the style known as New York Death Metal.
Were you among the creators of this genre? What do you think your contributions were?
All the previous mentions plus so many more helped create the genre but I will limit my scope to the bands that grew out of the scene that we were part of; Suffocation, Immolation, Mortician, Incantation, Ripping Corpse, Prime Evil, Human Remains, Nokturnel, Gorephobia, Deceased and Apparition (Sorrow). I don’t really measure what our contributions were to the genre except to say that I think the best reflection of what we have done as a band in Death Metal scene is all the people who still come up to us or still contact us online to tell us how much the band’s music means to them. We played a lot of shows in many states and even Mexico from 1990 – 1997, so I think we reached a lot of people in a time when Death Metal was “electric”.
I noticed that Suffocation seemed to have quite a bit of influence from Morpheus (Descends), with Terrance Hobbs wearing a Morpheus t-shirt on Effigy of the Forgotten and using one riff that seems similar to one of the riffs on Ritual of Infinity. Do you think you influenced Suffocation? Who else do you think you influenced?
Both bands were very good friends in the early 90s; we played our first show with them in Buffalo NY. After that it seemed like every weekend for a while, they either drove to our hometown to hangout or we drove to Long Island to hang with them. We would share ideas and jam with each other and show one another riffs and songs we had been working on. I think we are about as much an influence to Suffocation and much as Suffocation was and influence to us. The same things could be said for a lot of the other death metal bands from NY around that time too.
They’re talking about a “big five” of death metal bands doing a tour. Why do you think Morpheus Descends isn’t out there? What makes a death metal band popular more than others?
First and foremost I think the more popular DM bands of our era were signed to bigger labels (EARACHE, ROADRUNNER, NUCLEAR BLAST, METAL BLADE). We worked with a much smaller, less successful record label (JL AMERICA). With more promotion, bigger distribution and record company help; they also landed US and European tours. We did do some touring but not to the extent that a lot of those bands got to do. So they were much more accessible to fans in a time before the internet was so popular. We did EVERYTHING ourselves, touring, merchandise and even pressing. Outside of JL releasing the CD it was all 100% DYI.
Can you tell us the story behind your name change from Morpheus to Morpheus Descends? What happened to the other Morpheus?
JL had RED for distribution; they got a call that from RED that they wouldn’t be able to distribute the Morpheus CD because they already had a band of that name in their catalog. This band was some “gay” techno band, we did try to fight it but JL basically told us change the name or it will not be released. We had always planned to write a song called “Morpheus Descends”, so after some discussions we made the name change and never looked back.
You signed with JL America for your first album, which ended up being a rough path. What happened there? How would you do it differently if you had to “do it over”?
Well since NO other labels had any serious interest in us, it was a good choice. We got our music out to a lot of people that we would have never reached doing it ourselves. It may not have been exactly the record deal we were looking for but at least people saw the CD at stores and bought it. This is part of the reason for our notoriety today; you could buy the CD in most big record store chains at the time. Also it was distributed overseas as well. As far as doing it differently, it would have taken a better record label to have stepped and worked with us, which didn’t happen so there is no regrets when it comes to our history.
One of the things that stuck with me from Ritual of Infinity was the formal language you used for the titles. “Proclaimed Creator,” “Enthralled to Serve,” and “Ritual of Infinity” set a standard which other bands especially in New York aspired to. Where did you get the idea to write song titles this way?
Many of the songs you mention, we came up with the song title first; then we would talk about the concept of the lyrics; then Sam would write the lyrics around those ideas. I think that is why the titles sound so “formal”, we wanted the names of the songs to provoke interest in wanting to hear the songs. We stayed away from the simple titles of blood and gore and concentrated on making the titles and lyrics more interesting to the listener.
Is “Accelerated Decrepitude” a reference to Blade Runner? Were there other non-musical works that influenced you greatly? What about non-metal bands?
No, Blade Runner was not really an influence for this song. Progeria, the rare genetic condition that produces rapid aging in children was really the thought when we wrote the song as well as the artwork we used for the demo of the same name. Our take on it was that at birth the infant was already a century old, ancient and decrepit. I do not really think any non-metal bands are an influence to us, but we did listen to a lot of Wesley Willis when we traveled.
After Ritual of Infinity, Morpheus Descends came out with two very powerful EPs, Chronicles of the Shadowed Ones and The Horror of the Truth. Each of those had its own character. How do you see the band as changing during that time?
Yes, each MCD has a distinct sound and each time it was a reflection of the lineup at the moment and direction we would move in. We wanted to distance ourselves from a lot of the saturation of death metal bands of the mid 90’s, many were all using the same template as successful bands but really lacking their own identities. Chronicles of the Shadowed Ones was the first time we had time in the studio and did not have to rush ourselves; we developed a lot of ideas and had a real good time creating the music. It was also a transition time in the band; Sam and I became the main song writers and that is why you hear such a difference in the music. This music became much darker and doom laden than our previous endeavors.
When it came time to record Horror of the Truth more changes occurred; we had parted ways with Jeff our vocalist as well as our second guitar player Brian. Tom Stevens had recently joined the band as the replacement to Brian Johnson and then filled the vocal spot as well. So now the band had a different configuration and we went to Cleveland to record with our longtime friend Brian Seklua. The songs on that MCD were much faster and contain furious guitar solos; this was in contrast to the style of Chronicles of the Shadowed Ones. This would be the last recording we would do together as a band and I think the release didn’t get the exposure that it deserved. This was all shortly before the band disbanded, I would have liked to have seen where we could have gone with that lineup and sound.
Do you have any current plans for resurrection, touring, recording, etc? I see you’re set up for Martyrdoom Fest. Who’s in the lineup, and what expectations/hopes do you have?
We are taking things slow, things feel real good in rehearsals and it is sounding like Morpheus Descends should sound. This is very important to us to deliver what the band should sound like and to do justice to the legacy the band has become to Death Metal fans around the world. The lineup is the 4 of the original members from the MORPEHUS 1990 inception lineup. Sam Inzera, Rob Yench, Craig Campbell and Ken Faggio, Steve Hanson was not able to be a part of the reunion. Steve lives in Florida and when we started talking about making this happen we called him to see if he would like to be a part of this “return.” As much as he would have liked to do this, the distance is the real hurdle to work around; Steve did give this his “unholy blessing” and wished us the best!
After Martyrdoom, we are planning to work on some new songs for possible 2014 EP release. We have already exchange riff ideas and it sounds very Morpheus Descends!! Also there is a possibility in 2014 for more shows too but nothing confirmed as of yet.
What do you think of the state of death metal now? Is it fair to divide death metal into “old school death metal” and “modern death metal,” which is the term people use for the new style which has hardcore breakdowns, prog-math-metal riffs, and lots of sweeps?
There is a distinct difference between the two types of Death Metal you speak of; I myself am not really a fan of the “modern” death metal sound. I prefer what I grew up with and what feels comfortable to me. This is not meant to be a “dis” on this style but it is just not for me.
In your view, what are the bands who really shaped death metal into what it was, and what does death metal stand for? Does it have something to communicate, or is it just slightly weird music?
Cannibal Corpse, Morbid Angel, Death, Entombed, Carcass and Obituary would be some of the best known pioneers of the genre. As far as any deep meaning the music, I think each person has their own interpretation of what this means to each of them. For me it has been a way of life, family, work and Metal !!
Do you have any plans to re-release your older material?
There are plans in the works for some really cool stuff, but I will bite my tongue for now until things are more solid than at the moment. We want everything we do to be of quality and something that would be fitting in any MD fans collection!!
Members of Morpheus Descends have gone on to form a number of projects, including Mausoleum. How do these differ from Morpheus Descends, and do they reflect things you learned from the Morpheus Descends experience?
I play in four bands; Morpheus Descends, Mausoleum, Engorge and Typhus, Sam has Morpheus Descends, Mortician and Funerus. Ken does Morpheus Descends, Rooms of Ruin and Cabal 34. We have also done session work and played in a few other bands too but you see we are very immersed in Metal!! The bands we do are all different than Morpheus Descends, but what has been learned by me is to work with people and let each person express themselves and have input in all aspects of the process. Morpheus Descends was the “boot camp” for knowing how things work and what doesn’t.
How were the songs on Ritual of Infinity composed? They’re like mazes of riffs. Did you start with a riff, or an idea, or a story, or an image? How did you compose these mind-twisting tunes?
This was a time in the band when everyone was throwing riffs out there, we just kept sewing the riffs together and making things work and it ended developing into a style where we rarely returned to a riff once it was played in the song. When I listen back sometimes, I hear some riffs and I think “wow we could have done more with this riff!!” All in all though this is what helped made us unique.
What do you listen to currently?
OK here is what is in my playlist as I am doing this interview Repuked, Anatomia, Scaremaker, Iron Maiden, Saxon, Motorhead, Manowar, new Mausoleum songs, Deceased, Sadistic Intent, Slayer, Nekrofilth and Midnight !!
Thanks, Rob, and good luck in the future with all of your bands!