Gruesome made a lot of inroads with the release of their debut album Savage Land (out now via Relapse Records). Being that the members of the band are obviously huge fans of all things Chuck Schuldiner related, they also learned a number of secrets about their death metal hero while writing and recording their album.
Drummer Gus Rios elaborated on the subject:
“One of the things why, and I’m not giving away any of the trade secrets – a lot of what made Death what it was – I didn’t realize until I did this record. The way he put riffs one after another was very, very, very particular to Chuck. He had a very specific way that he arranges his songs and it wasn’t until I started recording that I was like – so that’s why this sounds so much like Death.”
“Matt [Harvey] unlocked the code. Technically Dan’s [Gonzalez] the better guitar player, but Matt is a musical genius. He knows a lot about songwriting and I actually called him and had a conversation about it. I’ve been listening to Death…what, almost 30 years now? It never dawned on me that Chuck used certain musical devices repeatedly. He wrote very specific riff stylings and again, it wasn’t until I did this that I [realized why] this shit was so good. That’s why this stuff sounds so much like that.”
While recording Savage Land, they recruited one time Death guitarist James Murphy to do a guest solo on a song. Being a friend of the band already, Rios felt having him participating on the Gruesome album and him giving them the ultimate thumbs up helped their credibility behind making such an album of music.
“One of the turning points of the band was when we were making the demos, I called James Murphy. I’ve been buddies with him forever. Death metal is a small genre. That’s the thing. If anybody’s a rock star in a death metal band, then you’re a fucking asshole. Nobody’s a rockstar.”
“Go across the street to that restaurant and ask anyone ‘do you know who Chuck Schuldiner is?’ They’re gonna go ‘who?’ Death metal’s a small little genre. So no one’s a rockstar. It’s a tight knit, everybody knows everyone, especially in Florida.”
“I called James and said ‘this is what I’m doing. It would be super cool if you could do a solo on it.’ Then he goes ‘alright. Send me the shit. Let me check it out.’ “
“Now it switched from James, my buddy to this is James fucking Murphy. This is the dude who was in Death. End period we’re trying to emulate. If he called me back and was like ‘this sucks’…abandon ship. It isn’t going to work.”
“Normally James texts me, but when my phone rings and I saw that it’s him – I hope he has something good to say. I answer it and he’s like ‘dude this is fucking killer!’ “
Having Murphy guesting on Savage Land was a huge honor for the Gruesome members. What meants a lot was also having the surviving members of Death also giving their blessing to them, which meant a lot to Rios.
“I remember we had a conversation about it and he was stoked. He was like ‘I loved the part you wanted me to solo. It’s perfect for what I wanted to do.’ I immediately called Matt and went ‘it’s on.’ James Murphy thinks we’re unsung good. If he thinks it’s good, dude it’s probably good. So that was a big turning point.”
“For guys like Terry [Butler] loves the band. For guys like that who were in the band and to be like ‘this shit is really good’…for us that’s like the seal of approval. Eric Greif – same thing. The guy managed Death forever and still manages all things Death and DTA. He was like ‘you guys are doing something good here. This is solid. I know you’re doing this from the right place and I know you guys love Chuck.’ It seems like all of the ducks are in a row. We’re all in this together. We all love Death. We sound enough like them obviously to love this. I love this.”
“We already have sort of the next three albums talked about and I guarantee you no one record will sound like the next.”
Lastly, he spoke about the Slayer cover of “Black Magic” found on the deluxe edition of Savage Land.
“The reason we did that was because Matt saw Death live in ’89 and they did that. Apparently that was one of Chuck’s favorite songs so that’s the back story on that. It was like ‘we should do some bonus tracks.’ We purposely did eight songs because Leprosy had eight songs. Spiritual Healing had eight songs.”
“There’s nothing that we did that Death did that we didn’t know very well. I produced the record and my motto was if it didn’t happen in ’88 then it ain’t gonna happen today. So aside from the two inch tape machine I couldn’t afford, I didn’t use a computer to edit drums. I used a microphone on a real guitar amp and played the songs all the way through. For the most part, I didn’t use a computer plug in to simulate a guitar. Some of those songs on the drums were one take all the way through. There are some parts that aren’t super perfect. I liked the whole performance. I feel good about it.”
“I remember when I first met Sean [Reinert] back in ’96. I started taking lessons with him. I’m worshipping him for Human and he’s like ‘that album’s riddled with fuck ups.’ I’m like I don’t hear any and he puts a CD in and goes ‘boom…boom…’ “
“Back in those days there was no computers. That’s the point. In those days you had to play your instrument. There was no getting around it. You had to play your shit. Sean was my teacher for about a year and a half before I moved here to LA. He’s changed so much the way I play drums, and we remain pretty much best friends to this day. To have him here tonight…it’s pretty cool.”
“He literally walked up and he was like ‘I’m here….this is your fault!’ The other night we played with Obituary and Don comes up to me and says ‘killer show. I made the old ladies jump.’ I said ‘I learned by watching you!’ It’s all full circle.”