Paying tribute to the almighty Death and their founder Chuck Schuldiner has come in many forms in recent years, as their music has helped shape an extreme form of heavy metal that new generations of fans have grown to love to perform and worship the lifestyle that was created.
For the members of Gruesome, they rediscovered their love of the band and wrote music that paid homage to one of the originators of the genre. Band drummer Gus Rios talked about what Schuldiner’s music meant to him growing up.
“Dude it would so fun if we fucking wrote songs that sounded like Death. I remember getting the first demo going ‘is this dude like totally doing séances with Chuck or what? What’s going on?’ The riffage is really authentic sounding, which made me wanna play drums in that span and falling for it. I even tuned my drums different. It brought out this old style of playing drums and it sounded better. He had no idea that it would turn into something as big as it has.”
He explained how he and vocalist/guitarist Matt Harvey (also of Exhumed) originally began this project around a demo of ideas and spawned from there. Those tunes are now featured on their debut album Savage Land.
“Matt did the first DTA (Death To All) and I was a guest drummer on the second DTA. Exhumed played one of those shows and I was playing ‘Baptized in Blood’ every night and he liked the way I played that old school style song.”
“So me and him got hammered that night and just kind of chatted about how much we loved old school music. He’s my same exact age. We literally grew up listening to all of the same exact stuff and obviously we really loved Death’s first three records…Human too. It was one of those drunk, ‘it would be awesome if…’ “
Before Gruesome, a few different ideas were attempted and did not come together due to various factors. So instead Gruesome was born.
“So I tried putting together a Leprosy DTA with Rick Rozz and Terry Butler with me and Matt. That fell through and Matt kind of jokingly said ‘dude let’s write our own songs.’ “
“The ideas sat around for a while. I quit Malevolent [Creation] in February of . I actually thought about it and I sent him a message on Facebook and went ‘remember that crazy idea…?’ I guess a week or two later maybe he sent me the first demo and I went ‘damn…this motherfucker’s got some really good ideas.’ So I recorded drums for it because I have a studio. I sent it back to him and he went ‘this might actually be good.’ “
The next person to come into the fold was Daniel Gonzalez (Possessed), who instantly became the guy to handle the lead guitars on their newly crafted music.
“Then he wrote another song and then we were like ok. I called Dan Gonzalez and I said ‘hey I think we might do something with this. We need a guy that can clone Chuck and James [Murphy], which is a tall order. Dan’s a really good guitar player. So he’s like ‘yeah I’m down.’ Then we immediately contacted Eric Greif, longtime Death manager and asked for his blessing. ‘This is what we want to do because we love Death. It’s sounding pretty cool.’ He was super cool about it. He totally gave us his blessing and he’s like ‘let’r rip. Hail Chuck.’ “
Once they got music completed, they pitched the idea to Relapse Records. While they were into the idea of releasing the album, there was briefly some hesitation over whether fans would accept such a record to be released.
“Relapse loved it, and still even then we recorded the album and still we were like…’what if people hate us?’ You know what I mean? This is some hollow ground we’re treading on. Are people going to understand that we’re really not cashing in on someone. I mean its death metal – nobody’s cashing in.”
“The short version of it is apparently people understand that we’re coming from a genuine place and this is just…Matt said it once [that] this is our nerdy love letter to Death. If Chuck could hear us from beyond the grave this is our way of saying ‘dude your music changed our lives.’ “
“For me it’s the funnest band I’ve ever been in, as far as loving the style. Leprosy is my favorite death metal album. If there ever was a band that I wish I could be in was Death, then now is as close as I could ever get.”
Rios elaborated on Gonzalez’s role within Gruesome and how his guitar playing became a staple part of their sound.
“Dan plays in Possessed. He lives and works in Miami where I work. He’s also an engineer so it was like Dan is a good enough guitar player where he didn’t need Matt to show him the riffs. He just learned the riffs and he recorded all of the guitars and he made demos. Actually it’s funny that in the emails with the songs, it was like solo one Murphy, solo two Schuldiner. Matt knew what kind of style he wanted Dan to emulate for whatever part he was trying. That was Dan’s job was to get inside the head of these dudes. We’re kind of like method acting a little bit. Like me on the drums – I’m thinking ‘what would Bill Andrews do here?’ You know what I mean – which is a very simplistic way of doing it, and which is not exactly the way how I naturally play I guess. It was fun – super cool and something that was out of my normal world. I remember recording the album with a smile on my face going ‘this is awesome!’ It’s fun death metal.”
The final piece was bassist Robin Mazen, a veteran of the Tampa death metal scene and someone who came up within the classic scene. She instantly became interested in taking part and became a vital part of the band.
“[With] Robin I played in a band with when I was 15 years old. That’s how far back I go with her. Not to get into that kind of politics but I know what it’s like to tour in a van with dudes that I maybe don’t get along with so well. I just wanted to surround myself, if it was a touring situation, with people who were genuinely friends. Robin’s the coolest chick in metal. Anybody who knows her would tell you. She’s fucking awesome. That was a no brainer.”
“Robin knew Chuck, lives in Tampa. She is as old school as any of us. She goes way back and I knew she would immediately get it. When she heard the demo, she’s like ‘this fucking rules!’ Actually it was her that said ‘watch this is going to be huge.’ We’re the guys making it. She had an outsider’s perspective on it. She was the one going ‘watch this thing is going to take off!’ I’m like ‘uhhh…it’s not really original.’ Nobody’s going to ever say Gruesome is an original band. We’re literally just reading Death’s playbook and trying to do what we think he would have done and in between the years of ’88 and ’89 really. Chuck would have never written songs like this, had he still remained alive – probably not.”
While Gruesome was originally unintended on becoming a full time touring band, due to Harvey’s commitments with Exhumed, Rios admits they did a lot more than they anticipated. Their recent brief US tour this past summer crossed paths with a lot of new fans along the way.
“Not really I don’t think. We figured maybe we’d do a festival here and there. Nobody anticipated the demand. I mean when the record came out, I remember Relapse was like with the presales ‘we sold out of the white vinyl in six hours.’ We went ‘really? People are gonna dig this.’ We had no idea. We’re just doing what we do. Obviously I’m super happy and obviously now we’re probably going to do another record next month and next year we’re probably going to see a bunch of more shows. He’s still got Exhumed so it’s never going to be a band that tours nonstop kind of a thing. It will be probably like select one offs, maybe one full US run, one full European run and festivals kind of a thing.”
“I think that will be cool because it will always keep the demand there. When Gruesome comes to town, it won’t be like every other day or every other month, or even three times a year. Plus me and Dan have real jobs and we can’t bail out whenever we want. Again we’re not really cashing in. I can’t quit my day job.”
Lastly, he shared some of the interesting moments they experienced on their recently tour and talked about some of the interesting people they crossed paths with along the way.
“I’ve gotta say playing ‘Born Dead’ with Terry Butler. I actually got goose bumps. I remember as a kid watching the Ultimate Revenge video…rewind – play – rewind – play. Death, for me…Slayer got me into this but when I heard Death, I was like – I found where I wanted to go in life. To be able to play a song from that era with the dude who was in it. He’s the legend.“
“I remember the whole song. If someone told the 14 year old me that this was going to happen one day, I would be like shut the fuck up. So that was a super highlight.”
“And today I got to meet Mike McGill. He’s an old skateboard legend. He skated in the Tony Hawk team in the late 80s called the Bones Brigade. I went to his skate shop today. It’s a Sunday and I don’t expect him to be there. I just wanted to buy some McGill Skate Shop t-shirts and the kid behind the counter was like ‘you want him to sign the shirts?’ I was like ‘the fuck? Is he here?’ I actually bought a deck! Sign a deck! I don’t care what it costs to take it home. I met Mike McGill. So that was pretty cool.”
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