In the late 1980s/early 1990s in the expansive United States, the nascent genre of death metal developed multiple strains. The more accessible of them included the well-known, technically-impressive bands from the scenes in New York and Florida, respectively. A third major bloodline, arising from the likes of early Morbid Angel, Necrovore and Possessed found itself in darker territory, more readily embracing deep occult themes with palatable atmospheres of musical evil to match. Imprecation, hailing from Houston, Texas, were among the early participants in this subgenre, helping carry it to its mature phases in the mid-1990s along with acts like Incantation and Fallen Christ. The bands’s 1995 discography-to-date release, Theurgia Goetia Summa, is a succinct statement of death metal’s ability to inspire moral horror that reaches beyond the banal graphic fantasy often associated with it.
Answers by vocalist David Herrera.
What was forming a death metal band like, back in the early days before people really knew what death metal was? How did you explain it to people, and how did they react?
It was kinda strange, the whole “Earache” scene was starting to gain momentum, and yet there was an even ‘darker’ undercurrent that was gnashing it’s teeth into the throats of Christians. This is the cauldron that we bubbled out of! It was very unknown at the time, especially with everything being heard solely through tape trading or if you were lucky an underground radio program that would turn you on to bands that were only existing on word of mouth such as Incantation, Profanatica, Impaled Nazarene, Beherit, Phlebotomized, Demigod, Archgoat, and more. We had a radio program here in Houston called “Sweet Nightmares” airing on Tuesday nights/Wednesday mornings from midnight to like 4 am, hosted by Wes Weaver and Bill “the Master” Bates. We’d stay up out in the woods with lots of acid and alcohol and make bonfires to this radio program to check out all of the unknown stuff that they would turn us on to, it was such a drag when it stopped airing as this was a weekly ritual for us. I remember the first time I heard the new extreme in the underground, it was on this show in ’89 or ’90 and Wes had just got the advances from Earache of Morbid Angel’s “Maze of Torment” and Terrorizer’s “After World Obliteration”. He played them back to back and it completely floored us. That ‘s when I knew that I had to be creating this music, to actually live it!
I understand that two members came from the Kreator-y/Slayer-y “Dark Reign.” What caused them to make such a stylistic jump to greater extremity and darkness?
Well, Dark Reign were such a repected band in Houston, really no one was nearly as extreme as they were when they were around. To find out that I was gonna be in the same band as the main songwriters, well I could not believe it. It was like going from the pit to the stage in one swoop, I really lucked out to have my first official band to be rounded out with guys who took their craft seriously. I always felt that the “Ceremony of the Nine Angles” (NOT ANGELS! people to this day seem to think we misspelled this haha!) demo had a lot of Dark Reign and Undertaker (which was basically what Imprecation morphed out of) all over it. Basically I came in as a guitarist, they heard my vocals and decided they wanted me to contribute that way instead. The darkness was honed through some of the lyrics that i brought to the table, although Ruben and Phil were already some dark motherfuckers. I just let them know that if I was gonna be their vocallist, i wasn’t singing politics or government or anything of the kind, not that there is anything wrong with that. But my love lies in utter darkness, and blasphemy is my scripture.
What were the influences on early Imprecation, and did these change over time?
eh, basically it was more that we were inspired by certain bands, and these inspirations remain firm almost 20 years later. Phil came to me when we actually started to piece together our first song “Blinded” and said he was really bitten by the sound coming out of Sweden at that time, most notably Entombed and Carnage. I was always a big fan of Nihilist, so I completely understood! He’s also a big Hellhammer/Celtic Frost fan, along with Dark Angel and Possessed, so I think that is where we got our music stylings guitarwise from, kinda a mixture of those styles. Ruben has a drum style completely all to his own, Ben Falgoust once said that you could make a comp with a hundred bands on it and throw a project with Ruben involved and he could pick his drums out of the lot. I totally agree 100%! I once asked Ruben what made him tick, and he just basically said he was a big John Bonham and Keith Moon fan, as well as a fervant supporter of Mercyful Fate, Slayer and Exodus. To this day he definitely marches to his own drum beat heh heh. My vocal stylings were born of early Morbid Angel, Blasphemy, Beherit, and Immolation worship. Also a healthy dose of early Deicide, I always dug Benton’s approach especially on the self titled LP and “Legion”.
What is good?–Whatever augments the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself, in man.
What is evil?–Whatever springs from weakness.
What is happiness?–The feeling that power increases–that resistance is overcome.
Not contentment, but more power; not peace at any price, but war; not virtue, but efficiency (virtue in the Renaissance sense, virtu, virtue free of moral acid).
The weak and the botched shall perish: first principle of our charity. And one should help them to it.
What is more harmful than any vice?–Practical sympathy for the botched and the weak–Christianity…
– F.W. Nietzsche, The Antichrist (1888)
Theurgia Goetia Summa is most often compared to early Incantation, with a healthy infusion of early Morbid Angel. Did these bands influence you at all, or do you think you hit on a style that’s inherent in metal?
eh, Incantation is fuckin killer but I’d be lying if I told you they were an influence. I was a big fan, and still very much am, but they never came into the equation when we were writing any of our material. I saw them on their tour with Anal Cunt, supporting their “Entrantment of Evil” 7inch and their “Unholy Massacre” cassette at both the Pik n Pak and the Axiom and let me tell you, in 1990 it was a unheard of to see a band of their magnitude live. At least down here in Texas. Also in that same year we saw Morbid Angel on their “Altars of Madness” tour, with heh heh, you guessed it, Dark Reign supporting their Texas shows. I cannot deny the impact that performance had on my life, and what that album plus their “Abominations….” album did for us muscially, but as I said before it was pure INSPIRATION. I feel to this day that Imprecation were on to something special and original, especially with the “Sigil of Baphomet” ep and the Mark Beecher fronted ‘deathymns’ (A.S.!) that started the first three tracks on “Theurgia Goetia Summa”. Even when Mark took ’em in a more black metal direction it still had that Imprecation low tuned crush that made us easily identifiable!
What, in your view, is the difference between black metal and death metal, if any?
Well if you are talking about pure negligent praise of moral destruction and the end of life as we know it, there is no real difference. But that is where it stops when talking as a genre in it’s entirety. I always felt that true Black Metal was very focused on atmosphere and infernal aesthetics, kinda like a funeral shroud that draped around your being, candles lit and pure Satan worship whether Satan existed as a deity or a form of negativity. True Death is more embracing the soil, the musk of things decayed, the creak of a coffin lid, the chop of an axe, and focused on bringing it to you in a very unforgiving and pummeling assault to the senses. I prefer when either style mixes a little flavor of the other to make it a grand combination of destruction. That is where I think Imprecation succeeded most of all, through a perfect balance of Death and Black. Bands like Archgoat, Necros Christos, Teitanblood, Katharsis, Incantation, Watain, and Portal bring this type of rotting stench to my speakers! Death Metal that is as pitch black as a bottomless pit, falling through the infinite abyss…..
Do you think that metal bands, like indie bands, need to develop a “persona” that they support with a unique lingo, habits, styles of dress and mannerism, etc?
Sometimes it is okay to have something that can bring identity to one’s stylings, you know to give ’em that certain trait that makes them all their own. Venom, Voivod, Sadistik Exekution, Hellhammer/Frost, Carnivore, Judas Priest, Blasphemy, Bolt Thrower, Mayhem/Darkthrone, Misfits, W.A.S.P. hell; even Manowar whom I fuckin hate had something that made them stand on their own. I don’t think a band has to develop it’s own original persona or sound to succeed, however, but it definitely helps when they have CONVICTION in their musical execution!
You (David Herrera) also write and perform for Bahimiron, a gutter-vicious Gorgoroth/Motorhead-styled black metal band. What’s the difference in your songwriting there, as opposed to when working with Imprecation?
Huge difference. Where Imprecation focuses on getting most every note played with tightness and clarity, we in Bahimiron believe in being akin to “an eyeball loose and wild”. We embrace death and the devil, and are at one with ways of alcohol abuse and loaded firearms. Heh heh I know a certain someone who does not embrace our love for whiskey and the such, maybe “misguided” in our directions (I’m looking at you, Mr. Prozac!) but none-the-less it is how we live. As the Electric Hellfire Club once proudly displayed on an album “Drugs, Death and the Devil”. It is not for everyone, but when we proclaim that we are Whiskey Fueled Black Metal it is not in a “party” attitude, rather a result of the harm that this way of life can do to one’s self or to any who get in the way!
Our national drug is alcohol. We tend to regard the use of any other drug with special horror.
– William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch (1959)
If sound is like paint, and we use different techniques and portray different things in our paintings, what does it say when a genre sounds similar and has similar topic matter and imagery? Can the genre be said to have a philosophy or culture of its own?
I think that sounds about correct. I mean, that is how cults are born, a group of individuals who try to accomplish the same goals, missions, or end results. I think as far as true death and black metal it definitely qualifies, especially if one lives it’s message as a completely dedicated lifestyle.
Like in the late 1970s, metal feels to many people like it has lost direction and become hollow. Is a change in direction needed, and if so, will that come from within metal?
Well it depends. I like my metal true to form, and if you start mixing techno or emo punk into it then it is complete shit in my ears and I could give a fuck if that is the new “saviour” of metal. I mean, look at the nu metal scene. And by that I am not talking Korn, I am talking Killswitch Engage or Job For A Cowboy. If that is the change needed to bring metal to a different plateau, then I’ll stay in the valley with my old standbys. I still put in my “Seven Churches”, “Reign In Blood”, “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas”, or “Fallen Angel of Doom” records KNOWING how many bands aped these styles, and it still summons the demon abyss from my speakers. Even the bands that border on plagerism of these styles score high points with me as compared to what some idiots are calling death or black metal nowadays. I’d rather hear a Blasphemy rip off than God Forbid any day!
Did you learn music theory? Did it help you or slow you down in achieving your musical goals? If not, did musical illiteracy help or hinder you?
No. I do not think that one needs music theory to create music. As a matter of fact i think when one knows TOO much about their instrument, it fails to “wow” me and the end result is total boredom. I get more out of a band who are shaping their music through pure devotion to make it work with the skills or lack of skills that they have than a band who is worried if they are playing in 4/4 time or how many diminished triads they can pull off in a measure. All the music theory I need lies in my record collection.
It has been observed that death metal and black metal use “narrative” composition, where a series of riffs form a sort of poem that tells a story about a change in states of mind. Is this reflected in your songwriting at all?
I’d like to think so. I mean, that has always been the appeal for me through a lot of metal: where are the instruments taking me? I need passageways to form lyrics to, sometimes a narrow corridor covered in blood will do, other times an ocean of blood with floating corpses does my mind good. Some people write their lyrics before music, I write my lyrics THROUGH the music. I let the Devil take my mind, and the instruments guide my pen to paper. Most lyrix i have writ were on the first stab.
Do you think a genre of unpopular “popular music” like death metal and/or black metal can be a form of art? What distinguishes art from entertainment, and if they overlap, is there a difference in goals between the two?
Absolutely. What seperates the two? Art succeeds from the within, damn the outsider’s opinion. Entertainment comes with the ideals that for it to succeed, you must please a group of people whether large or small. I think it is possible to be a bit of both, as when we write music we do it for ourselves firstly, but we do care if our message poisons the right people. I mean, if you really did not care if your music or art was embraced by anyone then why release it? Now, it does not bother me if we get negative response, if we wanted to be liked by all then we would be involved in a band hunting for a major label and become a tool for their bank accounts. That is where it ceases being art, and falls strictly into the “please the sheep” category!
Have the values of metal music changed from the early 90s? How and why?
Somewhat. Like I mentioned earlier, there are kids that really think these bands like Unearth are Death Metal. Pathetic.
Are there any skills you have learned from being a death metal band that can be applied to other areas of life?
eh, the only time it was a benefit for me was when I worked in the field of Demolition. Now I am a construction foreman, and i don’t think that really applies to the fine art of fuckin shit up!
Imprecation has just reformed after a dozen years absent, and now you’re opening for Mayhem. How does that feel? Where are you going next?
It feels great man. It feels natural that our first show back is gonna be with Mayhem and Marduk onstage. I mean, our very first show as a band was in early 1992 opening for Grave/Massacre and the very next one was opening for Entombed/Exhorder, so we are used to “breaking the ice” on a big stage. We have a real killer show planned in June with Father Befouled and Thornspawn, and we will be playing in Mexico in August and New York in December with some killer bands.
Is that live recording that made it to tape ever going to see a general release? What about a re-release of TGS?
No. It was only a small production, never meaning to be an official Imprecation release. If you got one, cool, but it stops at that cassette as far as our involvement with it. As far as Theurgia Goetia Summa, it will be re-released this summer on Die Todesrune records in Spain. The original release never gave proper credit to Phillip or myself. I mean, Phil wrote the music to at least 6 of those songs and my lyrics and vocals were on 6 of the nine tracks to no mention. Everyone who don’t know us think that Mark Beecher does all the vocals, when his vocal contribution stops after the third song. From then on it’s me, and Phil is playing the guitar on everyone of the Sigil of Baphomet and Ceremony tracks as well. So that’s gonna be re-released and also we have a killer new 7 inch that has been recorded on Negativity Records that will be entitled “Sigil of Lucifer”, to be released this summer.
We appreciate your spending so much time on these questions, and know it’s going to be important information in the underground. If you have anything else to add that we were too dumb to ask, please stick it here.
Thanks Herr Prozak for the interview. Hails and horns to ANUS.com, and to all affiliated with its writings!!
Here and NOW is our day of torment! Here and NOW is our day of Joy! Here and now is our opportunity! Choose ye this day, this hour, for no redeemer liveth. Every attempt made to organize the future must necessarily collapse. The present is our domain, and our chief duty is to take immediate possession thereof upon strict business principles. Strive therefore against them that strive against you, and war against them that war against thine. Lay hold of shield and buckler or their equivalents; stand up! Be a terrible one in thine own defense. Raise up also the clenched hand, and stop the way of them that would persecute you. Say unto thine own heart and soul: “I, even I, am my own redeemer.” Let them be hurled back into confusion and infamy, who devise thine undoing. Let them be as chaff before the cyclone, and let the Angel of Death pursue them, nay, overtake them. In a pit they have hidden a trap for thy feet; into that very destruction let them fall. Then, exultant, “sound the loud timbrel”. Rejoice! Rejoice! in thine own salvation. Then all thy bones shall say pridefully, “Who is like unto me? Have I not delivered myself by mine own brain? Have I not been to strong for mine adversaries? Have I not spoiled them that would have spoiled me?”
– Ragnar Redbeard, Might is Right (1896)