GRUESOME “Pray For Death’ 

By Dr. Abner Mality

The career of Gruesome has now gone beyond the novelty stage and entered the next level…the level where they must be considered as their own completely successful and separate entity. When first I spoke to the band, they had just debuted with “Savage Land’ and were blowing away metalheads near and far with their uncanny tribute to the earliest recordings of Death.

Since then, they have been extremely prolific, with hardly six months passing without some form of Gruesome release. Their latest “Twisted Prayers” is now here and glory Hallelujah, it sees them bowing at the altar of “Spiritual Healing” era Death.

I got together with band leader Matt Harvey, well known for his long tenure in gorehounds Exhumed, and we discussed the trajectory of Gruesome to see if it deviates from Death’s musical path. He had plenty to say so read on!

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES; Greetings, Matt! The new Gruesome has been getting almost universal acclaim. Does the whirlwind path this band has taken in just four years surprise you or is everything going according to plan?

MATT HARVEY: I love that you think there was a plan, haha! Everything that has happened with GRUESOME has been a surprise, if I'm honest. I had no real expectations at all going into it, aside from the goal of making a record that sounded like an unreleased DEATH album. The band started almost as an extremely elaborate inside joke, something that I thought a few people would get a kick out of, myself included, but how things have happened has continually surprised me. Four years ago, I wouldn't have thought we'd be over in Europe doing Wacken and Metal Days and all of these festivals. But hey, I'm not complaining. I do feel obligated to point out that the lion's share of the credit for any success we have should go to Chuck and all of his various band-mates through the years. They provided an amazing template that we're doing our best to do justice to.

WC: You’ve managed to keep the same members all the way through. Is this the best chemistry of any band you’ve been involved with?

MH: We do have good chemistry! I think the band clicks really well because we have a great division of labor – I frame the skeletons of the songs, Dan and Gus flesh them out, then we record and Robin handles most of the logistical and financial side of things. Everyone focuses on their strengths and respects what the other members bring to the table. Plus it's easier to have a stable band when you're a bit older and not a bunch of hot-headed 22 year-olds with raging egos and testosterone. 

WC: .“Twisted Prayers” is Gruesome’s exploration of the “Spiritual Healing” era of Death. Do you feel that each new album MUST adhere to a specific Death release or is there some room to move around within the Death discography?

MH: Once we did the first album, which is kind of a mash-up between Scream, Leprosy and Spiritual, we realized that making the records more focused would be the easiest way to keep things cohesive. Especially since each DEATH album is such a stylistic departure from the one before it. Of course, doing this with the benefit of hindsight, it's hard not to blur the lines a bit - “Crusade of Brutality” still feels pretty rooted in the Leprosy era and some of the other tunes have shades of Human in there for sure. 

WC:  Have you gained new insight into Chuck’s mindset while working on “Twisted Prayers”? Is there always more to learn about him?

MH: Well, I don't want to make judgments about him personally, because I didn't know him, but I do feel like I'm now on a similar path of musical exploration as we move forward with GRUESOME. The early stuff is still my favorite, but I'm sure anyone familiar with EXHUMED would assume I knew my way around a “Scream Bloody Gore” riff or two, but now that the band has got legs, I have kind of accepted this journey as a personal challenge to broaden my writing and my musicianship, which is a little daunting, but the reactions to the band have helped me feel more confident about it. I think Chuck was restless, driven, and definitely very aware of people's perceptions of him, which he seemed to find chafing. I would be very interested to get his take on the age of constant accessibility and vicious judgment we're currently living in. He would seem very out of place in the digital age to me, or he would become very bitter about it, I don't know. It's interesting to consider, anyway. I will say that my respect for him as a musician and creative band-leader has deepened in the four years we've been doing this, and I expect that to continue as we climb the crystal mountain on our perennial quest (see what I did there?). 

WC: The great James Murphy does some guitar work on the new album. What was it like working with him?

MH: It was beyond easy. James is an engineer, so he was able to record everything himself, and I've known him for 20 years now, since he mixed “Gore Meta”l and put up with my annoying questions about “Cause of Death” and “piritual Healing”. As much as we rightly talk about Chuck, I think James' work on Spiritual is a crucial moment for the Death Metal genre – as tasteful as some of Chuck's stuff on “Leprosy’ was, there had never been a real Death Metal “guitar hero” until Mr. Murphy's tasty licks elevated the genre's musicality single-handedly. It's hard to keep things in context and imagine a world where musicianship and Death Metal were not thought of in the same sentence, but James was a key person in changing that. 

WC:  Ed Repka has been working on your artwork. If Gruesome follows the chronology of Death, this will be the last cover he does for you before the covers become more abstract ala “Human”. Or will he continue on with you?

MH: For now, the journey forward will mean that he won't be doing the next album cover, which is really sad for me personally. I've been staring at his artwork since I got “Peace Sells... But Who's Buying” on cassette in 1987, so it's meant a lot to me personally to have done some records with him. Hopefully we can go back and do some more old-school stuff at some point and rope him back into our weird time-warp thing we're doing.

WC: Do you foresee Gruesome ever releasing an album that will include a mixture of styles from the primitive and morbid to technical and melodic and everything in between…from all across the board?

I don't know if that would sound cohesive, you know? I tend to think like a librarian, I'm always filing things and classifying them, and I don't know that doing something like that would feel stylistically focused enough for me. I love all kinds of music, but I'm not one for genre-blending too much. I think that my natural tendency to write more “brutal” stuff will probably keep more aggression and speed going forward than the later DEATH records were known for, but we'll see what makes sense. To me, each DEATH album has a kind of defining spirit or a central focus, and we want to make sure that we honor that. Honoring the legacy is first and foremost for me, I don't want to try and out-smart the source material. I have my other projects where I can do my own thing, so I'll keep this as a separate thing and make sure that it stays as a tribute to DEATH, rather than spinning into something else. I feel that would be disingenuous to the folks that have bought our records so far and disrespectful to the DEATH catalog. 

WC: Do you think you can extrapolate what Chuck might have done beyond “The Sound of Perseverance” or will that remain a mystery?

MH: I've certainly speculated about it. You can see where he was trying to get to with CONTROL DENIED, but even that still sounded like DEATH at times, which was an interesting thing to hear. He was certainly a person that chafed against limitations and wanted to keep expanding his ability to musically express himself, which I completely relate to. I wonder if he would have succumbed to the pressures of nostalgia and done things like a “Leprosy front-to-back tour” and stuff that legacy bands do these days. I do think that as much as Chuck was about pushing himself, you can feel a confidence with “Symbolic” that was different from the other records – there's a feeling of being where he wants to be and not having to prove anything that I really enjoy. I'm sure he would have arrived there with CONTROL DENIED as well given more time to develop it. 

WC: What’s some of the live plans for support of “Twisted Prayers”?

MH: Well, we're in Europe right now doing a festival run and a bunch of filler dates that have been going really well so far (knock on wood) and we're hoping to line up a full US tour for early next year to keep things rolling for the record. The band seems to keep growing and we're now at the point where we'll be able to tour without it being a hardship and it can be a fun and smart thing for us, which is a really exciting place to be. 

WC: How has Gruesome made you grow as a vocalist?

MH: I've always enjoyed doing different kinds of things with my voice, but the vocals have been the most difficult part of doing this band so far, as far as I'm concerned anyway. I find that I can either match Chuck's timbre or his pitch, but it's quite difficult to get them both. I think that if I hadn't been screaming my face off for twenty+ years already, it would be a little easier, but what can you do? As we play more shows I feel more and more confident about the vocals, but it's tough to walk in the footsteps of one of the masters. To me there's Jeff Beccera, Chuck, Darren Travis from SADUS, Martin Van Drunen and the Pleasure to Kill-era Mille vocals that have the perfect mix of “gross” and “aggressive,” so I'm setting a pretty high bar for myself. I feel like I'm not exactly where I'd like to be with it, but I'm not way off either.

WC:  Have you found a good way to balance out working with Exhumed and Gruesome both?

MH: It's not too difficult as everyone in GRUESOME lives in Florida except me – I'm still in California. So it's not like we have to work out a rehearsal schedule around each other or whatever. EXHUMED feels more like a “band,” in that at least two of us rehearse semi-regularly, we have a studio with a fridge and SLAYER posters everywhere and a van and all of the things that bands have, where GRUESOME kind of gets together when we're doing something and that's about it. Both bands being on Relapse is nice, since it helps us space out the releases so my wife doesn't murder me for never being home, and we're all friends anyway, so there's a lot of mutual respect and a spirit of cooperation between both bands. Creatively, there's a very clear line between what each band does, so that's not too difficult for me.

WC: Are you involved with any other projects beyond these two bands?

MH: I just had an EP called “Faster than Fire” come out by my band POUNDER and we recorded an album earlier this year that I'm really proud of that will come out by the end of 2018. The band is very firmly rooted in NWOBHM, early Speed Metal, and Hard Rock. We've done some gigs in California and we'll be getting a little busier towards 2019 when the full-length comes out on Hells Headbangers – the record is gonna be called Uncivilized.
I also did a record with Matt Olivo from of REPULSION fame a couple years ago too – the band is EXPULSION (go figure, right?), but things move really slowly with that project so I'm just taking it as it comes and I let Matt O. take the reins there. 

WC: Any plans for a follow-up to “Death Revenge” and how was that album received by Exhumed fans? It contained some very different elements than usual.

MH: We are working on a bunch of new stuff and are just starting to think about firming up studio time for a follow-up. Most people I spoke to seemed to like it, some people were put off by some of the stuff we did, but have specifically contacted me to let me know that it grew on them, haha! We wanted to do something different and ambitious, and overall I think we succeeded. I mean, it's our sixth full length, another Thrash-Grind song called “Maggot Feast” or whatever would feel kind of lazy at this point. Honestly the biggest surprise to me was that most people looked at it as pretty much “just another EXHUMED album,” but our records tend to be sleepers, so what can you do?

WC: If you could have dinner with any 3 people from history, who would they be?

MH: Jack Kirby, my favorite comic book artist / writer and personal hero, Philip K. Dick, my favorite sci-fi writer, and Jennifer Connelly, because she's the most attractive woman I've ever seen. 

WC: What was the last release you picked up just because you wanted to hear the band?

MH: M83's “Junk” and “Mysterium” by HAMMOCK were the last two “new-ish” albums I was probably most excited about, but I was already familiar with the artists and anticipating the albums' release. I'm also very stoked on the new NIGHT FLIGHT ORCHESTRA record. In terms of something I had just heard about and wanted to check out completely fresh, “Critical Hits” by GYGAX was a fucking monster of a record. It's a couple years old already, but that one really took hold of me for a couple of months straight. 

WC:  From any point in your musical career, do you have a “Spinal Tap” story where things went haywire that you could share with us?

MH: Things go wrong pretty much all the time, haha! EXHUMED in particular seems to have our share of misadventures – we recently ended up playing outside in Southern California when it was 30 degrees outside – which never happens in that area. Years ago when we were playing at the Obscene Extreme festival in the Czech Republic, we were about to go onstage when we were told that a massive storm was coming and the show was canceled. We were ushered to a backstage room to wait for transportation back to the hotel, and we got plastered – I mean wasted with the guys from REGURGITATE. A couple hours later, someone comes to get us, and instead of being taken to the hotel, we find out the show's back on, and somehow managed to make it through the whole set without falling off the stage or barfing on anyone (except for when the vomit was part of the show). We've lost band members on roof-tops, gotten chased out of groupies' houses by their boyfriends, dishing out a beating or two here and there, all kinds of dumb stuff. 

WC: Any last messages for the fans?

MH: Thanks for accepting what we do with GRUESOME, which is try to make the legacy of DEATH burn a little bit brighter – like I say every show, if we're here doing this, and the audience is here with us enjoying this stuff, then Chuck is here too.