Decibel Magazine’s Decibel Metal & Beer Fest was, to put it simply, stacked. Fourteen bands across all variants of Death, Grindcore, Prog, and Doom, descended onto Orange County for a weekend of heart-pounding jubilation. The two-day event was held this year at The Observatory, a large yet paradoxically intimate standing-room-only venue, intelligently designed to put the audience at three different heights across the entire space, offering uninhibited views of the stage beyond the perils of the pit. Continue reading
One of our favorite interviewees in person or the phone is Matt Harvey of Exhumed. Matt is as amazing to chat with as he is a guitarist and bandleader. Exhumed’s new album is the aptly titled Horror (Relapse Records) which came out just ahead of Halloween 2019, and he was in a spooky mood when we chatted. We talked about the new album, his proclivity for writing great OSDM songs, the consistency of the current lineup of the band, his favorite horror movies ever, and his thoughts on attending one of Metallica’s “S and M 2 Concerts” in San Francisco, earlier this fall, and more. Catch the band on tour through the start of December with Necrot! Continue reading
Born out of a ferocious love and respect for Death’s early and face-ripping work, Gruesome, the brainchild of Exhumed’s Matt Harvey and Death To All’s Gus Rios are ready to unleash a new full-length onto the world in Twisted Prayers (Relapse). Some may wonder how they’ve stretched out so much from Death’s songbook to cover two LP and a couple of EPs, and the answer is by writing ferocious and infectious Death Metal…
There is no doubting the near-legendary status that has been given to Exhumed, these guys have been producing some of the most classic sounding Death Metal for eons now, and Matt Harvey and crew continue to be one of the most consistent bands in the genre. Continue reading
In the world of death metal, there are few bands who are well respected as the band who set the foundations the whole genre, Death. To this day, the death of Chuck Schuldiner remains one of the biggest losses in the metal community, but the spirit of Death never really died. The Death to All tours kept Death a relevant part of the genre even after the death of Chuck, and this is where Gruesome becomes relevant as well.
Anyone listening to this band will instantly connect their sound to Death’s as there is some heavy influence in their sound. Gruesome are a death metal supergroup, with guitarist/vocalist Matt Harvey and drummer Gus Rios toured with Death, with both members playing on Death to All tours previously. So if any band is worthy of picking up where Death left off, arguably it’s them. They already showed why they are a force to be reckoned with on their 2015 début album Savage (Relapse Records), but they solidify their excellence on their follow-up EP Dimensions of Horror (Relapse).
Simply put, if you like classic death metal, you will like this EP. It’s a six track onslaught of everything that makes this genre what it is. From the shredding guitars, throat tearing vocals, pounding drums and dark lyrical content; this band does it all so well. But this release does showcase a small issue with the band, that being that they really don’t have their own identity due to how much they rely on trying to bring back the sound of Death for a modern era.
Despite that one minor gripe though, this EP is a total banger. I can’t recommend it enough, and I hope this band grows into the beast they can become, but they will need to form a unique identity first.
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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.”
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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Guitarist/vocalist Matt Harvey says:
“We chose our cover tunes the same way we tried to write the album. We just did what Chuck [Schuldiner] would have done. Death was never a band particularly known for their cover song repertoire, but they did occasionally close their set with a rendition of ‘Black Magic’ and it’s a cover that dates as far back as an old 1984 Death/Mantas rehearsal, so we felt it would be appropriate. We were considering ‘The Exorcist’ by Possessed, since Death started recording a cover of it during Individual Thought Patterns, but since [Gruesome guitarist] Dan [Gonzalez] is in Possessed, it was a bit weird. Again, we tried to approach the song as Death doing a Slayer cover, so… hopefully we came close to the mark.”
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Death metal supergroup Gruesome will be releasing their debut album Savage Land in North America via Relapse Records on April 21st, 2015, April 17th in Germany, Benelux and Finland and April 20th in the UK, rest of the world on CD and digitally. Featuring within their bestial ranks members of Exhumed, Possessed, Malevolent Creation and Derketa, they are a supergroup of sorts paying homage to the game-changing sounds of Death’s early recordings.
Gruesome was born out of guitarist/vocalist Matt Harvey (Exhumed) and drummer Gus Rios‘ (Malevolent Creation) mutual involvement with the Death To All tours – Harvey serving as frontman for the original nine-member mini-tour and Rios performing “Baptized In Blood” and working with DTA drummer Sean Reinert on the following US tour where Exhumed filled in as support on a several dates. After discarding the idea of putting together another incarnation of DTA to focus exclusively on Death’s first two albums, Harvey half-jokingly suggested writing their own songs in that vein. It wasn’t long before the idea gained traction, and the “band” had five songs written. Rios later recruited Possessed guitarist Daniel Gonzalez and Derketa bassist Robin Mazen to record the material in Florida.
The result is the eight scathing tracks contained on Savage Land. Recorded by Rios and Gonzalez at Riversound Studios in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, mixed by Jarrett Pritchard at Mana Studios in St. Petersburg, Florida and including a guest guitar solo on “Closed Casket” by James Murphy as well as cover art by legendary illustrator Ed Repka (Death, Megadeth, Massacre, Athiest et el), Savage Land is a truly gruesome slab of late-’80s/early-’90s Florida-styled death metal.
Stream “Hideous” here or here.
It’s a freezing cold day in Worcester Massachusetts, but nobody on the “Through Space and Grind” tour seems to care. Exhumed front man and guitarist Matt Harvey certainly doesn’t seem to mind it. Hell, he’s having himself a backstage beer.
“The tour is awesome,” says Harvey. “It’s a great package, I think. The bands are all different and yet there’s enough commonality that it all makes sense and it’s not boring for the kids. Everybody is really cool. Everybody gets along good. All the bands hang out and party together.”
Pairing up again with headliners Napalm Death certainly doesn’t seem to hurt either. “We toured with them and Municipal Waste a couple of years ago now. So now with Iron Reagan, Napalm Death and us it’s a little bit of a class reunion kind of thing,” Harvey says.
But the real reason why Harvey is sitting in a cold dressing room in Massachusetts is not the camaraderie, but to start promoting the recently reissued album, Gore Metal – A Necrospective. (Relapse) “Lots of Gore Metal songs on this tour,” says Harvey. “Like, we do one song from Necrocracy and everything else is from the first three albums. I think we play one song from Anatomy is Destiny, one song from Slaughtercult, one song from the Hemdale split which is like a minute and a half, and then everything else is Gore Metal. It’s easy. We can play all the songs wasted, so it’s great for us [laughs].”
Harvey is well aware that re-recording an album isn’t the most popular idea amongst metalheads. Especially one held in such high regard amongst hasher circles like Gore Metal. While Exhumed’s label Relapse Records wanted to include Gore Metal as part of its 25th anniversary batch of reissues, Harvey had his own personal reasons.
“We knew we could do better. The sonic messiness of the album kind of became emblematic for me of the crappiness of that time in our lives and the schism with the band and the chemistry was terrible. So now being able to go back and re-record it in a way that – I like anyway – without trying to change it too drastically, I think for me turns a negative memory into a positive one. I mean that sounds sort of hippie-ish or whatever [laughs]. To me the album today is a lot closer to the way we would’ve liked it to be in the first place.”Matt Harvey of Exhumed, by Hillarie Jason Photography
Exhumed may be famous for gory lyrics and song titles like ‘Horrendous Member Dismemberment’ and ‘Limb from Limb,’ but the general public’s level of tolerance seems to be changing. While no strangers to some mild controversy: “We’ve been conspicuously asked not to come back by certain places,” Harvey says. “I think in this day and age it’s hard to be like too shocking. I mean if you just look at TV now versus TV in the 80s or whatever. There’s stuff that they can get away with and stuff that people are into. I mean you look at how successful The Walking Dead is. My stepdad who’s a conservative Christian, Fox News watcher loves The Walking Dead. Which is good because it gives us something to talk about aside from politics where we just argue. The appeal is huge and I think people find what we do to be cute at this point. It’s not as shocking.”
While a population being more open to accepting violent content in entertainment signifies less scrutiny for bands like Exhumed, Harvey worries that the “outlaw aspect” is at risk. We do live in a world where chefs are just as likely to have a sleeve worth of tattoos as the metal musician. “There was this shift where everything that used to be on the fringe got co-opted by the mainstream in not really a good way,”. “It’s a weird time you know. You can get a job and have long hair and tattoos. Which I guess is good, but now means that anyone can do it. Doesn’t mean you’re into this kind of music or into whatever. Just means it’s a fashion… A lifestyle, you know.”
WORDS BY HANSEL LOPEZ