It has been a few years since we last heard from Cleveland death/thrash band Crucified Mortals. Though the group out a single and two splits in 2013, it has been over five years since their self-titled full length in 2011. In the time that passed, the band went from a full lineup to a duo. Reaper brought in Ash Thomas (Shed the Skin, FaithXtractor) on drums in 2012, and began to work on what would ultimately end up becoming ‘Psalms of the Dead Choir’. With the release of the album on digital and CD formats approaching on October 28th via Hells Headbangers (vinyl is in the works but won’t be out until January 27th), we’re excited to give you an exclusive stream of the record alongside an extensive interview with Reaper. This is some of the finest death/thrash you’ll come across in 2016 for sure!
Reaper has been writing Crucified Mortals material since 2001, and that level of experience is evident throughout ‘Psalms of the Dead Choir’. Though they’ve streamlined down to a duo and Reaper handles guitar, bass, and vocals, he brought in Sauron’s Lore Lord to contribute guest solos throughout the recording and this adds some extra bursts of intensity to the material. What I like the most about this album is the way that it balances a darker atmosphere with the type of blistering intensity you’d expect from death/thrash. So many bands in this genre get so obsessed with being as fast and in your face as possible that they sometimes lose sight of actual songwriting, so the balance between ominous mid-tempo passages and faster riffing helps ‘Psalms of the Dead Choir’ to stand out. Reaper has presented listeners with songs that have immediate hooks, but there is more depth underneath the surface for those that want to dive deeper. His vocals sound better than ever on this record as well, and the deeper yet enunciated pitch and narrative style reminds me quite a bit of King Fowley of Deceased. All of the tales here are compelling, and while the vocals boom over the instrumentals they never completely overpower them.
It flies by in thirty six minutes but there is no time wasted, and Crucified Mortals offers the substance that will keep you wanting to come back for more. With so much of the death/thrash that comes my way feeling like a one trick pony that has speed and intensity and nothing else, ‘Psalms of the Dead Choir’ is an example of how to do this style in a way that’s nuanced and has real staying power. Reaper had plenty to say about what went into the new album, check out his responses below and grab the album when it releases on October 28th.
Transcending Obscurity (Chris Dahlberg): Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. You’ve released several splits since 2011’s self-titled debut, but it’s been five years between full lengths. When did the songs on ‘Psalms of the Dead Choir’ begin to take shape and how long did it take for them to come together?
Crucified Mortals (Reaper): Certainly, we are very gracious of your support! The songs started taking shape shortly after our last album’s release in 2011. It took about 4 years for everything to come together because there were so many obstacles in our way through those years, but we persevered and the effort was well worth it.
TO: You’ve scaled the band down, with Reaper handling vocals, guitars, and bass, and Ash Thomas handling drums. What are the advantages of handling the writing yourself, and what led to the decision to remain a duo instead of looking for new members?
Crucified Mortals: For me, being the main songwriter I find it easier with less people involved since there is obviously less opinions to factor in when creating. In most cases I have a clear vision what I want in the songs, but in the past I found myself sometimes just accepting changes as a result of collaborating and so there were things I was left with not liking in songs. The lineup had changed from our self-titled album in 2011 on the EPs we had done before Psalms….. So at the start of moving forward with Psalms….. certain issues I noticed while doing the EPs became worse and I found myself spending more time teaching another guitarist songs that I wrote and could play better, so why am I wasting time on someone else when I can do it myself. The only issue with that was having another guitarist would fill my weak spot of playing leads/solos. Yet when I saw countless hours go by the wayside working with him to come up with solo ideas I figured it would be better to use that time to build upon my weaknesses as a lead guitarist. Luckily Lore Lord came into the picture and spared time bringing the solos to the recording that you hear.
TO: Compared to the debut, were there any approaches to the recording/production you approached differently this time around?
Crucified Mortals: Absolutely a huge change. From our self-titled record onward, there was a real assessment period. From the self-titled album downward we always went into a big expensive studio and with the countless hours spent fixing mistakes I truly learned nuances of studio experiences and felt that I could spare the band a ton of money and myself heartache if I just did things myself utilizing what I learned paying out the big bucks. An on the job internship if you will. Then there was an added bonus. Ash came into the picture as our new drummer in 2012 and since he lived far away, we did a lot of collaboration from abroad. We were both recording instruments ourselves and so it became a matter of what we could do ourselves and what I felt was worth going to the studio to do. So instead of doing a recording completely in a big studio, I recorded my vocals in the big studio and then mixed and mastered with the same engineer we have always used. I figured by having a professional involved in mixing he could polish the tracks Ash and myself had done on our own and thus maximize the quality.
TO: Your death/thrash combination is razor sharp, and there’s quite a bit of depth to discover once you make your way past the initial blast of intensity that you experience the first time through. It’s hard to find this balance of immediacy and depth in thrash, especially with the glut of retro re-treads and party thrash out there. With this in mind, what do you feel it takes to write a truly good thrash song and avoid sounding like a stale clone of the classics?
Crucified Mortals: Music is a very organic thing, we all have different inspirations and influences. Many people don’t seem to follow their own intuition, it is like they are following a clique, rather than listening to themselves. For instance, the Retro-Thrash movement you mentioned- would try to dress and sound like they’re from the eighties, whereas they are not even old enough to be from that time period, so how are they possibly being themselves and not following a stereotype? With that there is so much focus on what they do to make their record look and sound old school, it is inevitable to become a stale clone at that point. I don’t feel that Crucified Mortals is reinventing the wheel, but instead we listen to our own thoughts to write a song rather than following a genre. Of course one’s thoughts will reflect what they take in; from the music they listen to movies, books, etc. I feel to make a truly good song one has to continually build upon their influences, rather than repeating them.
TO: You brought in Lore Lord from Sauron for guest solos on ‘Psalms of the Dead Choir’, and he did a fantastic job. How did this collaboration come about and where did his solos fit into the overall song writing process?
Crucified Mortals: That was one of the many struggles of doing this album- losing a member. So I turned to the well of people I knew and thought who could do great solos and do them efficiently but not compromising anxiety to get the record done than to have quality. Sauron has always been a band that stuck in my head because I thought they had a real aggressive quality to them, yet still had structure and particularly Lore Lord’s solos. I’ve been in periodic correspondence with Lore Lord and so it was a chance as any to ask him if he would be interested in doing solos, and how we could make it happen. Luckily, he had a studio available to him and he sent me what you hear on the record. It was that simple and it’s an amazing accomplishment in the end.
TO: The rawness of the vocals and the way that everything is enunciated reminds me quite a bit of King Fowley. Would you consider Deceased to have influenced Crucified Mortals at all? What are some of the other metal vocalists that have influenced you over the years?
Crucified Mortals: Yes, they certainly have influenced us, but not just from a vocal point. Deceased showed me more of what you could expand upon in a genre to give it your own sound and approach. I’ve always admired the way the lyrics in Deceased gave me a visual like it was a story, it gave me an insight into approaching every song thinking who is writing this and how would they say it. I think that gives each song variance because it’s not always trying to be a narrative or from a first person perspective. All the while you might be hooked into some rhyme, but it’s never a catchy sing-along. As for influences, I’ve never consciously looked for any, so it would be hard for me to name anyone. I find myself more so influenced by vocal teachers of any genre as long as I saw something in their lesson that helped me build upon my own weaknesses with the vocal style I had established already for the band. With that, I am flattered that as reviews come in I hear what critics consider my vocals to sound like and while I like Carnivore, Rigor Mortis, Deceased – what reviewers have been writing – I never looked to them wondering how any one of those vocalists would do something or studied their style period. To have portrayed such influences to listeners is a very big compliment because I came there naturally having only analyzed myself and what I can do.
TO: The cover art is killer and gives off a dark, eerie vibe. Who created it and how does it tie into the lyrical content discussed throughout ‘Psalms of the Dead Choir’?
Crucified Mortals: His name is Derek Restivo from Canada. He is truly an example of self-solicitation working out because he approached me with his portfolio and when it came to the cover art, I saved his e-mail and got in touch with him. I came to him with an entirely different style in mind with pretty much the same theme and with a little trial and error, I came out happier with an entirely different visual. There isn’t a lyrical connection with the artwork, but a conceptual connection, as this is a collection of songs or “Psalms,” and a Choir of the Dead led by our mascot, Resurrected Fiend. I really wanted to do something that wasn’t your typical Biblical, Demonic, and Horror cliché that could be identifiable for the band and original.
TO: Are there plans to play live again with the impending release of the album?
Crucified Mortals: It would be a difficult endeavor as Crucified Mortals can only be a much smaller commitment for me right now. We have a three piece line-up in which to do so, but it all rests on my shoulders and I don’t foresee an opening in time to allow focus and time to tour. But I don’t shoot down opportunities!
I feel to make a truly good song one has to continually build upon their influences, rather than repeating them
TO: Hells Headbangers has released both full lengths and quite a few of your splits. How important has their support been to your music?
Crucified Mortals: It’s been very important because we can come to them with any release and have complete control over every little detail with sometimes their added input that can make things even better. To have no doubt that there will be a label standing behind a release is fantastic because we can pretty much do whatever we would like to do.
TO: Earlier in the year we interviewed Paul Gorefiend from Embalmer, and he said the metal scene in Cleveland was quite strong despite show attendance being down. In particular he cited the return of a lot of old-school bands. What are your thoughts on Cleveland metal and where it’s headed?
Crucified Mortals: All the Band Dads’ kids are out of the house and retro is getting more hip, I think there is resurgence everywhere, not just Cleveland. It’s very hard to address a scene, because everyone’s idea of the scene has a different perspective, because we all follow different bands, so for someone who goes to primarily to see underground bands like Crucified Mortals or Embalmer they will note what they see from those experiences. Where someone who isn’t familiar with the underground as well and will be there to see Kreator, Obituary, etc. come around, they will have an entirely different and likely more positive view because more people go to see those bands naturally. But it isn’t any less of an opinion on the overall “scene. My opinion is as a whole Cleveland seems to have been losing touring bands to nearby cities which would agree that yes attendance has been down and a scene is about being seen! So if no one is going out to see bands or support them in anyway then ultimately things are getting worse and if we have a bunch of bands who would be the pushers in the equation, we need the followers. Sure there is what goes on behind closed doors that is relevant support, but that would mean knowing people to know what they do and my circle of acquaintances and friends has only gotten smaller. I think Cleveland will always have something, it’s a city used to struggling.
TO: What else is in the works for Crucified Mortals, are there any more splits planned right now?
Crucified Mortals: We have planned our next album, it is very much still in the early stages of writing and I sincerely hope it won’t see as many obstacles to hold it back as Psalms.. has seen. No splits, I think that 7”s therefore splits have a different place in the music world anymore and I don’t want to focus our efforts on something that will gain less attention from fans when we can be focusing on what does and that’s albums.
TO: Is there anything else you’d like to say about ‘Psalms of the Dead Choir’ or Crucified Mortals?
Crucified Mortals: An extended thank you to all who have supported Crucified Mortals in hearing and purchasing the record. All vinyl fans unfortunately will have to extend their patience since as the release date is October 28, 2016 for all other formats, but that will exclude the LP release because of the slow vinyl production. We won’t be seeing the LP until January 27th 2017, but you can pre-order it on Bandcamp: https://crucified-mortals.bandcamp.com/album/crucified-mortals which will not only reserve a copy of the Vinyl but a free digital download in included with it so at least you can hear it on the release day. The LP release will have a Gatefold cover with lyrics and photos, the vinyl will be metallic silver in color to accompany the metallic silver printed tracklisting, it will be awesome!