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Interview with death metal band Gruesome

Gruesome took the world by storm. Suddenly, old school death metal, especially in the vein of the first two Death albums became popular. Perhaps all it takes for such a revolution is a solid and big release or two. While there have been Death imitators in the recent past, even competent ones, there have been none significant enough to create a dent big enough as Gruesome have. It only goes to prove the timeless quality of the well-written kind of death metal music instead of one with inane brutality and aggression. There’s a certain charm that comes only with the old style, and Gruesome, to give them due credit, have done immensely well to not only recreate such a sound, but also to revive this style and make it relevant once again, a good 25-30 years later and notably, to an audience that’s still unaware of the original death metal glory. 

Transcending Obscurity (Kunal Choksi): What made you start a band that sounded close to Death?

Gruesome: Gus and I met when Exhumed was supporting Death to All and we discussed how great we thought it would be to see a version of DTA that just did stuff from the first three albums. After a couple of beers, Gus said he’d pitch it to Eric Grief (DTA Death manager) with the two of us, Terry Butler and James Murphy involved. After a few more beers, I said that if he didn’t go for it, we’d make our own Death songs and just do our own thing. I wasn’t that serious about it at the moment, but I had some downtime and remembered it, so I fucked around with some some deliberately Death type riffs, and now, a couple years later, here we are, haha!

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TO: Apparently old school death metal refuses to lose its relevance. What do you think is the reason for that?

Gruesome: There are a couple of reasons, firstly, because it’s just great stuff. Albums like ‘Seven Churches’, ‘Horrified’, ‘Morbid Tales’, ‘Altars of Madness’, ‘Consvming Impvlse’, etc. are just great records. Secondly, it’s because pop culture, including metal, moves in a 20-year nostalgia cycle. People love stuff from the 90s right now, just like everything 80s was hot five or six years ago. There were hundreds of thrash bands popping up after Municipal Waste and Toxic Holocaust reinvigorated that scene, and now, just like in the 80s, that sound has been kind of drying up, except for “legacy” bands and a few newer ones and death metal is coming in and catching people’s ear again. Soon there will be a Norwegian black metal revival, undoubtedly.

TO: Which of the Death albums happen to be your favourite? What do you think of the latter post-‘Symbolic’ era of Death albums?

Gruesome: ‘Scream Bloody Gore’ will always be my favorite. I love the first four, I think ‘Symbolic’ is great, and ‘Individual Thought Patterns’ is pretty cool as well. I felt like ‘Sound of Perseverance’ almost doesn’t count as a Death album, because it was written for Control Denied, and that, while there is some cool stuff on there, it would have worked better for Control Denied.

TO: History repeats itself, it is said. Any chance for Gruesome to expand upon the current sound and achieve legendary or at least very significant status worldwide?

Gruesome: Well, we will continue to progress through the Death discography as time goes on. We already have half of the next album written, which of course will be our ‘Spiritual Healing’, as well as some stuff for the more progressive eras beyond, which has been a fun personal challenge to write.

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TO: You’ve used the same Death artist Ed Repka for your artworks. Don’t you think that would be too close to the legacy of the early Death albums? However, with the band no longer around, it is somewhat exciting – as if Death have reunited under the moniker of Gruesome. 

Gruesome: Well, the whole idea is for it to feel like it is a Death album. Not an album “influenced by” or “in the vein of,” but from top to bottom, we wanted everything to feel like the listener was picking up a Death album they hadn’t heard before. So if you felt like Death had reformed as Gruesome, then we succeeded, and you have given us a HUGE compliment!

TO: The US brutal death metal is huge. Do you envision or fancy a ‘brutalized’ version of your music? What are your thoughts on this?

Gruesome: I’ve never been too into “brutal death metal.” To me, ‘Leprosy’ is brutal, ‘Horrified’ is brutal, ‘Symphonies of Sickness’ is brutal. I don’t know… With Gruesome we only have one influence, so you should pretty much know how we’re gonna sound, haha!

TO: Where do you think goregrind comes into the picture? At what point does death metal begin to resemble goregrind and vice versa? Lines are blurred somewhere… but the genre hasn’t taken off as well as it should perhaps. What do you think?

Gruesome: I think goregrind is different, in that being a type of grindcore, it should have a heavy punk influence. Hence why I’ve always been confused when people have considered Exhumed goregrind. Clearly we’re metal, hence why we called our first record “Gore Metal.”

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TO: The EP has a rabid thrash quality to it – do you think proto-death metal of this ilk comes with an ingrained ‘thrashiness’ to it?

Gruesome: I think in the early days of death metal, it was feeding off the same roots as thrash – Venom, Discharge, horror movies, etc. and a lot of the early death metal records have been retroactively classified as thrash, like ‘Pleasure to Kill’, ‘Torment in Fire’, ‘Obsessed by Cruelty’, ‘None Shall Defy’, etc. And Death in particular had a very thrash-y sound on ‘Scream Bloody Gore’, so it’s only natural that we would too.

TO: How difficult is to write songs that will last the test of time? What goes into creating ‘classic’ quality music?

Gruesome: Who knows? I mean, what’s “classic” is so subjective. In the underground I hear these words like “classic,” “legend,” “genius,” etc get thrown around a lot, and I think that they’re mostly hyperbole. All anyone can do as a musician is to write the best music they know how. As long as you’re being honest and putting 100% effort into it, then the rest is up to the listener. And it’s that spirit of intensity that elevates records like ‘In the Sign of Evil’ and ‘Welcome to Hell’ are classics even though the playing may not be tight or well-executed. I think that the thing that classic songs and artists have in common is that they take the zeitgeist of a moment and translate it honestly into their music.

TO: Do you think modern technology helps ‘old school’-sounding music? If so, how?

Gruesome: Well, the ease and accessibility of recording technology makes things just so much easier to get done and the process of writing and recording is much easier when helped by technology. Without email, skype, etc. I think it would be really difficult to coordinate a band where one person (me) is in California and the rest are 3000+ miles away in Florida. But our records are recorded very honestly, with very few overdubs, punch-ins, etc. We don’t correct too much stuff. The technology mostly helps us in the writing and coordination phase of things.

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TO: There are huge Death fans around the world, including India. Needless to say, your band will be well received. Do you have any tours or shows planned for Asia? 

Gruesome: Nothing planned for Asia yet. I’ve been wanting to play all over Asia for a long time, though. I’ve only been to Japan thus far, but I love traveling and seeing new sights, trying new foods, and learning about how other people live and see how they view the world. So hopefully that will come about soon, because we would love it.

TO: Do you worry about the Death-worship band Gruesome losing stream? It is possible when the ideas start to get too familiar or repetitive. 

Gruesome: Well, we are a tribute band, so there’s only so much Death material to pay homage to. Eventually the well will run dry, and that’s okay. And hopefully all our musical ideas are familiar, since they’re pretty much Chuck’s ideas, haha!

TO: Which other bands, old or new, do you enjoy listening to or admire? Is your playlist restricted to old school metal or do you also listen to the newer bands across a plethora of genres? 

Gruesome: I listen to all kinds of stuff, from newer metal bands like Enforcer, Cauldron, Night Demon, Visigoth, Gygax, Miasmal, Nails, Magrudergrind, Lantern, Noisem, Ramming Speed, Mammoth Grinder, to stuff that isn’t metal at all like M83, Miami Nights 1984, Daft Punk, to tons of older stuff across all genres, from novelty songs to 60s garage rock to 70s funk to 80s new wave, to 77 punk. I’m pretty open minded, I just don’t like weak metal like Nightwish and shit like that.

TO: What kind of sound would Death have created had they still been alive? Do you hold tremendous respect to the vision of Chuck Schuldiner?

Gruesome: I think Death would have continued to be more progressive as they had been for years. Although, if market history is any indicator, they probably would have made a “back-to-the-roots” death metal record like most bands do. And it should be quite obvious that I really respect what Chuck accomplished, Death has been one of my favorite bands for 27 years now, haha! I’m very happy that so many Death fans enjoy what we’re doing with Gruesome, because it really just is an homage to Chuck and all the Death guys – Kam Lee, Rick Rozz, Terry Butler, Bill Andrews, Sean Reinert, Steve DiGorgio, Paul Masvidal, Scott Carlson, Matt Olivo, Bobby Koeble, Gene Hoglan, and everyone in between. It takes a team effort to make an awesome band, and Chuck worked with some of the best.

TO: Thank you for your time mate. Hope we can get to hear more exciting albums from Gruesome in the future!

Gruesome: Well, there will be at least a couple more, and hopefully you’ll find them exciting. We’re having a blast doing this. Thanks a lot for the support, dude!

Gruesome Facebook | Gruesome Bandcamp | Relapse Records

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