2009. december 17., csütörtök

Label Report - Combat Records with Don Girovasi

Don, do you still remember how and when did you get in touch with music and with Hard Rock/Heavy Metal in general? What were the first footsteps, experiences that led you into the realm of metal?
When I was 12 years old, I bought Kiss' "Rock and Roll Over" as my first album. This was shortly after I heard "Rock and Roll All Night" for the first time.
What were the stuffs that you started listening to with, that you were growing up on?
I started with Kiss, and my taste got heavier and heavier from then on. I went from Kiss to Blue Oyster Cult, to Rush, to Van Halen, to Judas Priest, to Iron Maiden, to Motorhead, and so on...
Were you into small, underground acts or rather into known, established acts?
I started with the better known bands, but then I got into get into smaller acts because of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. I tended to "obsess" with music, and I could never get enough. It didn't matter whether the bands were good, bad, or in between, I had a "need" to hear it ALL.
Do you still remember the first vinyl that you have bought or got and the first gig that you have ever seen?
When I was 12 years old, I bought Kiss' "Rock and Roll Over" as my first album. Queen was the first concert I ever saw, back in 1980.
As for Heavy metal is a genre of rock music that developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, largely in England and the United States; with roots in blues-rock and psychedelic rock, the bands that created heavy metal developed a thick, massive sound, characterized by highly amplified distortion, extended guitar solos, emphatic beats, and overall loudness, do you agree with it?
Yes, but metal has progressed FAR beyond its roots through the subsequent decades.
How do you view, that early heavy metal bands such as Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple attracted large audiences, though they were often critically reviled, a status common throughout the history of the genre?
The media weren't "ready" for this style of music, and dismissed it all as "noise." What music publications were available in the beginning? Rolling Stone? Please... The funny thing is that these three bands created the most memorable guitar "riffs" of all time. "Smoke On the Water" is a classic example. EVERYONE knows the riff, but few people (apart from the actual fans) know the name of the band...or even the title of the song!
In the mid-1970s, Judas Priest helped spur the genre’s evolution by discarding much of its blues influence; Motörhead introduced a punk rock sensibility and an increasing emphasis on speed, correct?
To some extent, yes. I don't think Judas Priest ever "discarded" the "blues influence." It's ALWAYS been there, just not in the "classic" sense. Priest surely built itself on a foundation created by Black Sabbath (hell, they're from the same English town), and Sabbath are DEEPLY rooted in blues. Sabbath started as a blues-rock band called Earth. Motorhead have always been a punk band, according to Lemmy himself, who has SAID as much. Take away their appearance, and Motorhead are punk band, plain and simple...I've always believed that there are two archetypes of heavy metal, and I compare them to classical composers: Led Zeppelin is Mozart, Black Sabbath is Bach...most bands fall into one category or another, except for Iron Maiden, who successfully fused BOTH "schools" of metal...
Bands in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal such as Iron Maiden, Grim Reaper, Jaguar, Raven etc. followed in a similar vein, how much were you familiar with that movement? Was it easy to get tapes or records from those bands in the States?
It was the movement that made me the lifelong heavy metal fan that I am. Iron Maiden are my favorite band of all time. Not just my favorite METAL band, but my favorite band overall. How familiar am I with the NWOBHM movement? Hmmm,let's see: I STILL own records by Diamond Head, White Spirit, Jaguar, Def Leppard (who were still heavy back then), Angel Witch, Tygers of Pan Tang, Blitzkrieg, Bitches Sin, Sledgehammer, A-II-Z, Samson, Girlschool, Saxon, Iron Maiden, Witchfinder General, Holocaust, Vardis, Persian Risk, More, Grim Reaper, Marseilles, Venom, Raven, Steel, Shiva, Praying Mantis, Tank...and those are just off the top of my head. what more proof do you need? Not including Maiden's first album, my two favorite songs from that era are "Blitzkrieg" by Blitkrieg (the original 45 B-Side on Neat Records, NOT any of the re-recordings), and "Death or Glory" by Holocaust. Diamond Head's "Am I Evil" would be the third. How funny is it that Metallica covered TWO of the songs I just mentioned? Part of me still hopes that Metallica will one day cover "Suzie Smiled" by Tygers of Pan Tang...
How about the developement of the US metal movement, how did it happen? Were the first Metal/Rock bands Kiss and Van Halen that brought in this style of music in the common knowledge?
Kiss needs no explanation. Their image was a HUGE factor, but to this day, I don't understand what was so great about the first Kiss album. As for Van Halen, they had a great frontman, and an amazing guitar player. They toured with Kiss and Sabbath, and the public ate them up. I didn't really get into Van Halen until "Van Halen 2" was over a year old. They were already huge by that time. Image seems to be extremely important to Americans, which is why I firmly believe that brilliant bands like UFO have been criminally ignored in the United States while Motley Crue and Poison filled arenas...
Have you ever played in any bands, have you ever play any instruments or were you always a music fan?
I have never been in a band nor played an instrument, but I have been a music fan as far back as I can remember.
Combat Records was an independent record label from New York City under which circumstances and how did the label come into being exactly? Who founded the label?
The label was established a few years before I was employed there. It was started by a guy named Barry Kobrin. He owned a record distribution company called Important (because they sold a lot of Import albums). After doing very well with distributing Metallica's "Kill 'Em All" album for Megaforce, Important jumped into the game by forming two in-house record labels: Relativity, which dealt with mostly "alternative" acts, and Combat for indie metal.
Were you one of the first independent labels along with Megaforce, Metal Blade, Iron Works etc.?
Metal Blade was first, then Megaforce, then Combat
How and when did you join the team exactly?
I put together a fanzine called "Rage" as a joke while in college. It was a completely half-assed endeavor at first. But, since I always enjoyed writing, I became very serious about my little fanzine. I interviewed bands by mail, and they were mostly New York bands whom I knew personally (some were even my friends, or at least good acquaintances: Anthrax, Hades, Whiplash, Nuclear Assault, and Carnivore, to name a few), so my second issue was about 48 typed pages, and a much more serious endeavor. I had done an interview with a local NY band called Savage Thrust, and they liked what I had written about them, so they sent a copy of the fanzine to Combat (among other labels).
Here's the FUN part: I had just graduated from college in 1986. I had NO job, and NO clue what I wanted to do with my life. I wrote a Nuclear Assault review from a gig that I went to on the same day as my college graduation, and I made mention of it in my fanzine. I wrote something like "I'm out of college...someone give me a job, please!." The statement wasn't DIRECTED toward the music biz, it was meant as a JOKE. Working at a record company was a "pipe dream."
So, Savage Thrust sent in my fanzine, and Steve Sinclair, who was the label head at the time, noticed that I had reviewed almost EVERY Combat album released, because I had BOUGHT every Combat release. He also noticed that I was not on the label's "press" list. I had NO idea that I could get free records to promote at the time. That's when he realized that I had BOUGHT every album I reviewed. He saw the Nuclear Assault review where I jokingly said I needed a job at the time when their radio promo guy had quit, he called me up and I landed the job. I remember what he told me the day I started: "I can teach you how to do promotion; I CAN'T teach you to love the music...and you obviously LOVE the music..."
The label signed thrash metal band Megadeth to a contract in November 1984, does it mean, that Megadeth was Combat’s first signing?
No. There were a few Combat releases before Megadeth came out. One was a "hard rock" band called "TKO," there was an album by "The Rods," and a Swedish band called "Oz." There were probably others, but I can't recall them at the moment...
How did the band get in the picture exactly? Was the label familiar with their demo or…? Was the label familiar with their demo?
Man, EVERYONE in the "real" metal scene was familiar with the Megadeth demo! I saw Megadeth open for Slayer LONG before the "Killing..." album came out.
What do you recall of Megadeth’s first footsteps by the way? Was Dave Mustaine very disappointed and angry that he was sacked from Metallica?
I don't know Dave Mustaine. I met him once at a music convention when he tried to pick up the girl I was with that day...Mustaine's "release" from Metallica and his reaction to it are well-documented. Watch the Metallica documentary "Some Kind of Monster," you'll find your answer from Mustaine himself...
Would you say, that the classic Megadeth line up consited of Dave Mustaine, Dave Ellefson, Chris Poland and Gar Samuelson (R.I.P.)?
I guess. I never really thought about it. Megadeth has had a revolving door of musicians through the years. I would say, however, that Poland and Samuelson were a big influence on Megadeth's sound, since they both came from jazz backgounds...
The band released „Killing Is My Business...And Business Is Good!” their first album, in 1985, so it was the first record, that introduced Combat in the music business, isn’t it?
No. I remember a number of Combat releases before Megadeth's debut.
Capitol Records signed Megadeth in 1985, obtaining the rights from Combat to Megadeth's second album, „Peace Sells... But Who's Buying?”, how did it happen exactly? Did something go wrong with ’em or…?
From what I understand...and I can't confirm nor deny this, because I wasn't there...Dave Mustaine and Combat Records butted heads on a lot of issues. Capitol records jumped into the metal game and offered Combat a boatload of money, and in the end, everyone was happy.
The Combat logo appeared on the back of every Megadeth album on Capitol up through „Countdown To Extinction”, correct?
Yes. That was part of their buyout deal with Capitol: the Combat logo had to appear on the "next four "Megadeth albums. Which is funny, because back then, did anyone expect ANY thrash band to release a FIFTH album? Also, if you look at the subsequent Capitol releases, the Combat logo got smaller and smaller. After I left in 1989, I remembered thinking "Does Barry Kobrin even GIVE a shit that the Combat logo has gotten so small?"
What was jour job at the label? What were your tasks?
I did radio promotion, college mostly. Don Kaye did all the press relations. We both helped with A&R because we knew who all the great unsigned thrash bands were. We were both big fans of the San Francisco Bay Area thrash bands. We went after Vio-Lence, Betrayel, Forbidden (Evil), Heathen... I don't remember if we tried to sign Death Angel or not... After Kaye left about a year later, I wrote all the press releases and sales one-sheets. I wrote radio spots promoting Combat bands. I got to put my college degree to good use for a while.
How did a day go, considering the job, the tasks etc.?
It was like any other job, really, there was nothing really glamorous about it (aside from a few cute girls who worked there). I talked on the phone to convince college metal show DJs to play the latest Agent Steel album, etc. It was fun when the person on the other end of the phone was a real fan of the genre, because then it was like talking about metal all day and getting paid for it. There were some really great people out there in college radio back then: Gene Khoury, Monte Conner, Mark "Psycho" Abramson, Cesar Ettore, Bill Fischer, Bill Eikost, Cheryl Valentine, Mike Dinvald... There were others, but those were the folks I loved talking to the most and could spend hours on the phone with.
The pay was lousy. Unless you're high up on the corporate ladder, promo reps get paid shit. I imagine that they still do. I didn't care much, because it was my "dream job" at the time. When I was hired, the offices were located three blocks from the service entrance to Kennedy Airport. It took me two hours to commute each way, because I have always lived in New Jersey. The offices moved to a bigger building where I had slightly less of a commute, but it was in a really shitty neighborhood. Police helicopters flew overhead a lot because there were more than a few "crack dens" near the place.
The upside of being in the business was that I got hundreds of free records and (later) CDs; I got in to most gigs free; I got to travel with bands like Death and Dark Angel. Best of all, I got to meet many, many wonderful women (who are STILL wonderful, as I have found out thanks to Facebook).
How about the Combat office as a whole?
This may take a while...
The first year was amazing, because I was living my dream. Right after the company moved to Hollis, we had a year that the staff of both labels would like to forget. I'm sure many of my former co-workers have forgotten about that year, but I just can't.
The owner hired some guy to run the labels after Steve Sinclair left to found Mechanic Records. I won't mention his name in case there could be some sort of legal issue, but this guy was a real piece of dogshit. He was an American ex-pat who had run some indie label in England, and he somehow impressed the owner and ended up as the label head. I'm convinced to this day that he had no idea how to run a record company. He wanted all of us "longhairs" gone and replaced by thin, pale English girls he knew. He wanted to do away with the Combat label altogether and concentrate on the alternative label, until it was pointed out to him that the Combat acts sold a LOT of records for an indie. Most of the metal bands were FAR outselling the alternative stuff.
He treated us all like shit. Have you ever seen those movies with the viking ships being rowed by slaves while some huge taskmaster whips them? That's what it was like, except that the taskmaster had absolutely no idea which direction the ship was sailing. He was miserable to every woman who worked for the label. The girl who did radio promotion for the alternative label - one of the sweetest women I have ever met - used to get so upset that I used to hold her until she would stop crying on MANY occasions. He saw her crying one day, and later pulled me aside and asked "Why does XXXXX cry so much?" He had put me on the spot, so I just said "I don't know, what do YOU think?" He responded "Me, either, but I LOVE it when she cries. It means that I'm doing something right."
He insisted that we stop sending promo cds to our friends at other labels, which has long been a "perk" of the record industry, and would then turn around and insist that one of us "call in a favor" with another company to score him tickets to see some shitty band he liked. A girl I who worked there was so scared of him that she once went and bought him those tickets with her own money, which just repulsed me.
But, karma's a bitch, and I heard a rumor that he has literally lost his mind, and is not ever expected to return to a decent mental state. I don't know how true it is, but so be it. I am not a vindictive person by nature, and I have never been known to hold a grudge, but twenty years later, I'd STILL have to be held back from beating on him if I ever saw him on the street.
Wow! That was extremely cathartic. Thank You!
What was the standard Combat contract that was offering the bands?
No idea. I never knew the details of any contract, but suffice to say, it couldn't have been much. It was an indie label. The bands that got signed were aiming for the bigger labels, and Combat was their way of getting their foot in the door. But I do remember John Connelly of Nuclear Assault once telling me that he wanted to get on a major label just so he could afford to buy groceries. He worked in the company warehouse at the time, so what does that tell you?
How did the label pick up the bands, that you wanted to sign? What was the criteria exactly?
I'd say that it was a combination of great songs, strong word of mouth and street credibility. I didn't have much say in who got signed and who didn't, but the unsigned bands I lobbied for the most were Vio-Lence and Testament (who were still called Legacy at the time). Recommendations by other bands always helped, too (it was Juan Garcia of Evil Dead who turned me on to Vio-Lence).
Was it important for you to sign original bands and no the second, third or fourth Slayer, Metallica or Exodus copy?
Important, yes, but look at the state of indie metal back then. It was ALL thrash metal or death metal back then, so you could always hear the Metallica or Slayer influence, and that was just fine by me. But I never considered many of those bands to be "clones." Do you remember Blind Illusion? I thought that they had a pretty original sound for a Bay Area thrash band. I used to attribute that sound solely to guitarist/singer/founder Mark Biedermann, but when Les Claypool and Larry LaLonde left and formed Primus, I wasn't so sure anymore.
While I didn't mind the thrash "clones," I DID have a problem with the seemingly thousands of bands that wanted to be Iron Maiden, and later, the legions of bands that tried to be Queensryche. I especially hated the Queensryche wannabes because of all the high-pitched whiny vocalists who thought they were Geoff Tate.
How was your connection with the bands? How many support did they get fom the label?
I got along with most of the bands just fine. Some of them complained and whined a lot, and there was one band in particuar where I wanted to strangle all of them, but for everyone was cool for the most part. I liked Dark Angel the most. They were all great guys. I slept on the couch at Gene Hoglan’s parent’s house when I flew out to attend Ron Rinehart’s wedding. I never felt like a „rep” around those guy; they were friends...
Did the label pay the studio costs as the bands entered the studio recording their materials? How much budget did you place at the band’s disposal?
The label would pay the studio costs up front, but that money is „recoupable,” meaning that that the money is a „loan” against record sales. The band doesn’t see any royalties until the studio costs and such are paid back to the label. It’s probably the biggest reason why indie bands don’t make any money.
The initial budget allocated varied band to band, I think. I’m pretty sure that the budget got bigger with each band’s consecutive album. But, it was the 80s, and Combat was an indie, so I'd guess the budget rarely exceeded $30,000,and that was if you were Exodus...
Did the bands have the opportunity to decide where they wanted to record their albums?
I think geography had a lot to do with it, but I think the decision had more to do with whoever was chosen to produce the album. Randy Burns was in Florida, Alex Perialas was in upstate New York, and so forth
Do they have to hurry or could they work at leisure considering the recording sessions?
I don't think they had to hurry, but these were bands who had prepared their songs before entering the studio. There was no “noodling around,” no “Hey, let's experiment with THIS sound” kind of thing. None of these bands were Metallica...
Did you often take part in the recording sessions of the Combat bands? I mean, did you show an interest what were the bands doing in the studio?
I don't recall ever being in the studio with any Combat band. I saw a lot of the sessions when Onslaught recorded “In Search of Sanity,”but they were only licensed by Combat, and “In Search of Sanity” was recorded for a major label. I just happened to be there. It was interesting to hear “Welcome to Dying” (a 10-minute song!) a dozen times in a row while the producer tweaked each playback and asked me “What do you think now?” And to my untrained ears, each track sounded identical to the previous take...
It's funny that when I go back and play those old albums, the production all sounds terrible, but back then, it all sounded so amazing...
Because Combat released a lot of classic stuffs, such as „Seven Chruches” (Possessed), „Scream Bloody Gore” (Death), „Breaking The Silence” (Heathen) etc., could you give us a short description about the Combat releases?
“Seven Churches” had been out for quite a while before I was hired. I honest was never really impressed with Possessed in the first place, though I REALLY liked the followup EP, the one with “Confessions.” I LOVE that song.
Chuck Schuldiner (R.I.P.) certainly deserved the title of Death Metal Pioneer. As far as I'm concerned, he invented death metal. I was much more impressed with “Leprosy” than I was with “Scream Bloody Gore,” and Death just got better and better with each album. By the time “Symbolic” came out, it seems like they were an entirely different band in terms of progression and sound.
Heathen? “Breaking the Silence” is a near masterpiece. “Open the Grave” is one of my favorite songs of the era. The album cover is awesome. Doug Piercy's and Lee Altus' solos were amazing. But the album is a classic example of what I previously said: when I listen to it now, the production is sorely lacking. The whole thing sounds muddled to me now. David Godfrey's vocals are completely buried in the mix, and there's no bass. It's one of those classic albuns that I wish the band would go back in and re-record the RIGHT way.
How happened, that „Bonded By Blood” (Exodus) was released by Combat? Were you aware of, that although the album was completed in the summer of 1984, it was not released until 1985 due to issues with Exodus and its record label Torrid Records?
I don't know anything about the delay. I was in college at the time, and I would haunt New York City record stores every weekend in hopes that it had been released. I don't know if there were issues between the band and Torrid Records.
Were there other labels interest in Exodus besides Combat back in the day?
I think EVERY indie wanted Exodus. How Torrid got Exodus is still a mystery to me to this day, which is funny because I knew Todd Gordon pretty well. I never asked him about it. But Combat knew there was a huge buzz behind Exodus, so they struck a deal with Todd to release the album under the Combat label with the Torrid logo on it as well. The deal was that along with the Exodus album, Combat had to issue two other Torrid bands as well: Hades' “Resisting Success” (great album, by the way) and the completely forgettable Tension (who used to be Hawaii, before Marty Friedman left)
How were the releases promoted? I mean, did you pay adds in magazines, fanzines etc.?
College radio, magazine ads, word of mouth, live performances, coverage in music magazines; those were the main methods of promotion. There were a few fanzine ads, if I remember correctly
Did you send promo packages to fanzines, mags, radio stations etc. considering a new material? Did you send it on tape or…?
Yes, we'd send out literally hundreds of promo packages every month or so, sometimes up to five different bands at a time. I had to package and mail most of those myself. The paper cuts from the cardboard we used in packaging were near lethal. We sent out LPs and press releases, band bios (many of which I wrote myself and still have somewhere). This was when very few people owned CD players; it was a new technology at the time.
How often were the Combat materials released? I mean, did you have any plans considering how many materials do you want to release yearly?
I don't know if there was a limit to how many releases the label put out a year, but like I said, we'd sometimes send out five or six albums at a time, not all Combat albums per se, but a lot of licensed stuff as well...
Did you always send the whole materials for the radio stations, magazines etc. or did you send only advance tapes?
Full albums. We would sometimes send out advance tapes or test pressings to media we could trust, but the LPs usually went out a week or so before they would be released to retail...
What about touringwise? Did you send the bands on tour right after the album was released?
I don't remember if it was right away, but usually as close to the album's release as possible. It was left up to the booking agents for the most part...
I think so, one of the best tours was the „Gates Of Darkness” tour with Possessed and Dark Angel, how did the whole tour go?
Well, that's ONE man's opinion. I think that tour was the first one I had any involvement in. I went to a few shows in the middle of nowhere, with very few people in attendance. Possessed had a good following, but Dark Angel were unknowns. I remember going to a retail store appearance that was very much like a scene out of “This is Spinal Tap,” there were very few fans in attendance, but those who showed up LOVED Possessed, yet Mike Torrao wouldn't get out of the van to meet any of them, which I thought was a lousy attitude. I remember hoping that all the other bands were going to be a bit more professional. The other three guys were really good about it.
But the fans in New York were a different story. L'Amour, THE “Mecca” of the New York metal scene was pretty damn crowded when those bands arrived. There was a “rumor” that night that Slayer were going to show up and play a few songs from “their forthcoming album 'Reign in Blood,'” using Possessed's equipment. Yeah, right, I thougt...but at about 2:30 in the morning, Slayer went onstage and played four songs off “Reign in Blood” using Possessed's equipment. It was a very special evening.
Can you tell us more about the videos Combat tour 1 and 2?
You mean the “Ultimate Revenge” videos? I wouldn’t call them “tours.” The first one was cool, but it was released some time back when I was still in college. They used to show it between bands at L’Amour all the time, so I don’t think I even picked it up until I worked at Combat. The Slayer and Exodus footage was from a show they did with Venom at Studio 54 in New York… I don’t know how or why I missed that show…but the Venom footage certainly wasn’t from that show. I haven’t watched that tape in 20 years. The second one was shot at the Trocadero in Philadelphia, and I was very involved in that one. I unfortunately got stuck for hours in the sound truck because the techs weren’t familiar with the bands or the type of music. I was there to let the techs know that the sounds they were hearing were indeed the way the bands were supposed to sound.
I am no sound technician. My ears are good enough to know that all MP3s pretty much sound like shit no matter what the compression they’re encoded, but I am definitely not a sound tech. It all sounded great while I was in the truck. But it was a lot like when you hear your own voice on tape: you can’t believe that’s how your voice sounds because the vibrations are different inside you. I think the results sounded pretty bad.
It was great seeing all those bands on the same bill: Death, Dark Angel, Forbidden, Faith or Fear, and Raven. None of us knew why Raven was the headliner. They were way past their prime, and “Wacko” was gone. Don’t get me wrong, I like Raven; their first album is a testament to the greatness of the NWOBHM, but it was wrong to have them in the headlining spot. Most of us “non-executives” knew that after a long day of thrash and death metal, the fans of those genres weren’t going to stick around to see a band like Raven. Sad to say, that’s exactly what happened. When it came time to edit the video for distribution, Borivoj Krgin (Blabbermouth) summed up what we all knew was going to happen…very few fans stuck around, and the video had to be edited with crowd scenes from the other performances to make it look like people were there in force. I thought it was kind of sad. Mark Gallagher is a really nice guy; he’s a small part of why I love and still love heavy metal, but it was wrong to even have Raven on that bill at all, let alone as the last band of the day….
By the way, did you often go to shows, gigs to check out the bands on stage?
I’ve probably been to more shows than you’ve eaten hot food. I went to a scary amount of shows. Any time a Combat band was in town, I was there, and not out of professional obligation, either. I was a huge fan of these bands that I worked with.
Did the bands have the possibility to shot videoclips too? Would you say, that the videoclips played a more important role back in the day, than nowadays?
Video clips were kind of out of the company’s budget during most of my stay at Combat. The only clip I remember being produced was “Toxic Waltz” for Exodus. I got sent to Philly to check in on Faith or Fear’s recording, so I missed out on going to San Francisco to actually be IN the video. Video was EVERYTHING back then, but it didn’t make sense for Combat bands to make them, because there was no medium to air them. The only metal bands you’d see in regular rotation on MTV were the “hair” bands, and the occasional Priest or Scorpions video.
Were there any bands that you regretted not to sign them?
If you mean bands that we TRIED to get, but lost other labels, then Vio-Lence is at the top of that list. Testament was another one. And Wrathchild America was stolen out from underneath us by Atlantic Records at the last second. As for bands that we COULD have signed but didn’t, nothing really sticks out in my mind.
How were the Combat releases distributed in Europe? With which European distributors, labels were you in touch back in the day?
Music for Nations was that released most of the Combat bands in England and throughout Europe. Combat licensed and released a lot of MFN’s bands in America.
Did the label give the bands artist freedom or did you chip in what they have to do?
I’d say they had a lot of artistic freedom. I don’t recall anyone ever saying “this sucks, change it.” Maybe we should have, because I’m sure that we said “Man, this sucks” between ourselves on occasion. And I’m not naming names…
How about the cover of the releases? Did you have a –so to speak- label designer or could the bands decide with whom they want to work with?
Both, actually. Dave Bett was the art director when I left. He was responsible for putting the album art together, but the cover art was done by commissioned artists; most notably Ed Repka, who has produced great pieces for Megadeth and so many others. Sean Taggart did a lot of the more “hardcore” acts like Crumbsuckers and Agnostic Front. Then there was a guy, Matthias something, who did the great Heathen art that I mentioned before, and also the cover of the first Forbidden album, with the red and blue skulls smashing into each other. I LOVE those covers.
Did the label always pay royalties for the bands? Could the bands earn some many as for sales, merchandising, royalties etc.?
I never had any idea about royalties. I sometimes wonder if any of the bands got anything. Merchandising was usually handled by the bands themselves...
How was your relationships to the other indie labels? Were there a kind of competition among the labels or…?
There may have been a little competition between labels, but reps from every company were friends with each other. Everybody hung out with everyone else. I had gone out drinking with Brian Slagel on a few occasions in the past...what does that tell you?
How happened, that Combat never signed any European bands? Did you keep an eye what’s going on in the european underground by the way?
I think it was just easier for Combat to license European bands from Music for Nations than to sign them directly. There's a gigantic ocean between America and Europe. It's kind of hard to keep track of your “investments” that way. There WERE a number of European bands that Don Kaye and I wanted to go after. Artillery was one of them, Angel Dust, too. Combat didn't go after for the reason I mentioned.
Were there any releases that didn’t fulfil the hopes set on it, that didn’t fulfil the expectations?
I never really dwelled on it. If a band sold 35,000 to 50,000 albums, it was considered a raging success. I thought Heathen were going to be at least as big as Exodus, but it didn't happen. And I imagine that the label may have been a bit disappointed with the sales of Shotgun Messiah, because the execs thought they had the next Motley Crue on their hands. I was gone before that record came out; hell, they were still called Kingpin when I left, and the original singer was with them, before the bass player took over the vocals. I met that guy at a music convention. Didn't much care for him, he acted like the world owed him something. Maybe it did, because he's playing bass and writing songs with Marilyn Manson these days...
You know, I'm starting to think that Shotgun Messiah ended up on Relativity, not Combat.
How many items were pressed from the releases?
I think they'd press about 15,000 LPs to start, more for an act like Exodus or Forbidden. More copies were pressed if there was a need, of course...
Would you say, that Combat became specialized in thrash metal?
That sounds about right. That's pretty much what the label was all about. But don't forget, there was also Realtivity for the more mainstream and alternative acts, and In-Effect was created for more “urban” bands, for lack of a better term...
What were the most successful, the best sold and the most unsuccessful, the worst sold releases in the history of Combat?
I'd say Exodus were far and away the biggest band ever on Combat. Nuclear Assault sold well. There are many others, I'm sure, but I'm a little hazy on those kind of details after all these years. As for unsuccessful, I don't really remember too many. A lot of the licensed stuff kind of went nowhere, bands like Acid Reign, Agony, and Virus. Joe Satriani's “Surfing with the Alien” sold half a million copies when all was said and done, but that was on Relativity. I still handled college promotion for that album. I left before the album hit that mark. I'm still bummed that I didn't get a gold album for my work promotiing it.
Exodus couldn't WAIT to be signed to a major label. Capitol Records had a big interest in them, and from what I remember, the band thought the president of the company was going to release them from their contract like they did with Megadeth a few years before. They were pissed when Combat released “Fabulous Disaster.”
I don't know what happened after I left, but their next album “Impact is Imminent” was on the Capitol label. I think it sold less copies than Combat did with “Fabulous Disaster.” I heard many stories about why the album sold less than expected: Capitol didn't know how to market them; Capitol didn't promote them heavily enough, Capitol changed a lot of staff. Some of it is probably true, but at the end of the day, “Impact...” just wasn't a very good Exodus album, at least to my ears. It sounded thrown together to appease the label and get something on the market as fast as they could. Put it this way: I've listened to the first three Exodus albums thousands of times. I've listened to every album they've done after “Impact...” hundreds of times. I listened to “Impact is Imminent” once. Once!
Is it true, that Jeff Becerra said back then, that „Beyond the Gates” was going to be more commercial record?
Let's face it, ANYTHING Possessed did after “Seven Churches” was going to sound “more commercial” than that debut. “Seven Churches” was a brutal, brutal album. I just didn't like it very much. As I said before, I really loved the EP they did after “Seven Churches,” but I don't remember even one track off “Beyond the Gates.”
Combat Records was the „in house” heavy metal label for independent powerhouse distributor Important Record Distributors, Important had several offices in the United States that promoted and sold Combat’s releases, correct?
New York was the main hub. That's where I was. Los Angeles was the West Coast hub. Then there were satellite offices in Dallas, Chicago, and Atlanta. I don't think they did any distribution in those offices, it was sales, mostly. The merchandise was all shipped from the NY and LA warehouses.
Is it rue, that Important Records was also home to Megaforce Records in the mid-1980s and produced Metallica’s „Kill 'Em All” and „Ride the Lightning” (prior to Metallica’s transfer to Elektra Records), Anthrax’s „Fistful of Metal” and many other early Megaforce releases and Important also introduced the United States to many other labels, including Noise (Celtic Frost, Helloween and Running Wild), Neat (Venom, Raven) and Metal Blade (Slayer & Trouble) and usually releases were issued in joint venture with the Combat logo?
I think Important pressed and distributed the first two Metallica albums for Megaforce. I honestly don't know who did what to whom back then, it was before my time. I do remember several hundred copies of the original “Ride the Lightning” in the warehouse even after Elektra re-released it. The bands on the Noise label were initially pressed and distributed by Important, but Noise handled all the promotion, merchandising, etc. through a marketing company called Second Vision.
Slayer were never really on Combat, they were on Metal Blade. Combat made a deal with Brian Slagel to get a piece of Slayer. I don't know if it was a monetary deal, or if it was just pressing and distubution, but the deal was that along with Slayer, Combat also had to do the P&D for Trouble and...was it Fates Warning?
Combat Records was later taken over by Relativity Records, does it mean, that Combat stopped its activities or did it merge with Relativity?
I would call Combat being “taken over” by Relativity a “merge.” I think “consolidation” is probably a better word.
Owned by Sony Records, Relativity allowed Combat to exist for a brief period of time, before Combat Records would cease to exist and later, Sony would discontinue Relativity Records as well, right?.
That was couple of years after I quit. I never inquired about it, because I never really thought about it. Everyone who I knew there was gone by that point, I think. I'm glad I missed out in that. The only rumor I heard was that Sony bought out Relativity to get Joe Satriani. In reality, I think Barry Kobrin was just sick of it all.
The idea of merging everything under one label was an idea that had come up in meetings for years. I think it made sense in the long run,actually. The music scene was changing by that time, bands were blurring the lines between musical styles: “are they metal? Are they alternative? Oh...they call it 'grunge.' Well, on what label do we put THAT out? Do we create yet ANOTHER label?” It made sense to combine them all...
Were you good collegues? Did you get on well with each other? Did a good collective take shape among the workers of Combat?
There were good times and bad times, but, yeah, we all got along pretty well. We hung out away from the office, some of us on a regular basis.
When and why did you leave the label exactly? Did you never think about to form an own label? What did you do after you left Combat and what do you do these days?
I left because I got a HUGE opportunity to work for a producer who was starting his own label. The money he offered was three times what I was making at the time. Unfortunately, the label never happened. I worked for the label that released the first Biohazard album, but the office was VERY far from my house. A good portion of my salary went to transportation expenses. My paychecks bounced two weeks in a row, and before I could quit, I got laid off because there was no money to be had. This was in September, and the owner said he wanted me to come back in January. I never spoke to the guy again. The label collapsed only a few months later.
I loved the idea of forming my own label, but I knew I’d never be able to pull it off, even if I had the money. Thrash metal was dying at the time, and I didn’t think that „grunge” was the „next big thing.” Mother Love Bone was supposed to be The Future of Metal, but I absolutely HATED that album. I didn’t hear Nirvana until about a month after „Smells Like Teen Spirit” was a massive hit. I STILL can’t figure out why Pearl Jam are so huge.
Now I do bookkeeping and IT for a small company in New York City, and have been there for almost 18 years.
How did you view the situation of metal during the ’90s, when grunge and pop/punk almost annihilated the metal scene? Did they efface the metal scene?
Every „music scene” eventually gets pushed aside in popularity when something „new” comes along. It’s largely believed that The Knack were a large factor in „killing” Disco and ushering in „New Wave.” Whether it’s true or not is immaterial. What’s interesting about that is „My Sharona” was The Knack’s only hit; the only one anyone remembers, anyway. Can ONE song „annihilate” an entire genre of music?
I don’t think the grunge and pop/punk „annihilated” ANYTHING. „Market Saturation” took care of that. How many thrash bands were out there when grunge came along? How many of them sounded discernible from each other by that time? I could rattle off a list of names, but there’s no point. Bands like Mordred were incorporating new ideas into the thrash sound by adding a DJ; Anthrax had their flirtation with rap.
It was the same with the „hair bands.” Almost ALL of them sounded EXACTLY the same to my ears. When Warrant released the video for „Down Boys,” my only reaction was a somber „Oh, no..” It wasn’t grunge that killed off „hair metal.” „Appetite for Destruction” killed ’hair metal.” Countless bands stopped wanting to be Motley Crue or Poison (blecch) and wanted to be Guns N Roses. Even well-established „commercial” bands felt the blow: Scorpions „Eye 2 Eye” disastrous flirtation with „funk,” and Def Leppard’s incorporation of...whatever...that resulted in the „Slang” album.
So, as „My Sharona” brought us into the 80s, „Smells Like Teen Spirit” ushered in the 90s. But don’t forget about bands like Faith No More, who had almost an equal hand as Nirvana in changing the musical landscape and idea of what „metal” was at the time. I love FNM’s „The Real Thing” a HUNDRED times more than „Nevermind”, and it has NOTHING to do with „Epic.” Alice in Chains and Soundgarden are two more bands that helped to shift the metal axis, but it took me a very long time to appreciate those bands.
But there’s one thing that seems to get overlooked when people talk about music scenes „killing” older scenes: the genres that get wiped out never really go away, do they? They just go out of fashion. And old friend once told me that disco didn’t „die,” it just went „underground” for a while. Today, it’s called Trance, or Trip-Hop, or Dance Music, but it’s all rooted in disco. Bands like Iced Earth and Nevermore have been around for a long time now, and they’re as „old school” as it gets. The so-called „dinosaurs” bounced back in a big way. Iron Maiden and Judas Priest got restored to their former glory simply by regaining their „estranged” lead singers. And I’ll never understand why it took Rick Rubin to give Metallica the wake-up call that had been slapping them in the face for years: Give the fans what they WANT, and the fans want Metallica albums that sound like Metallica albums.
In 1999 Century Media century media re-released almost the whole Combat catalogue, were you aware of it?
Sure! I'm on the Century Media mailing list. Their catalog is HUGE! And I'm reasonably sure that the guy who runs the Century Media label used to do a fanzine called “No Glam Fags.” I also think he's the guy that Gene Hoglan and Gonz from Dark Angel had me do a phone interview with pretending to be Ron Reinhart. We were all half-drunk and Gene was tired of interviews, so they coerced me into doing it. I was okay until he asked me about the lyrics. He HAD to know something was wrong by that point. If he finds out about this, he may fuck up my next order...
How do you view the present scene compared to the ’80s? Did you keep an eye on what’s going on in the underground after Combat’s demise at all?
I've kept an eye on the underground since I was in high school. Nothing's changed with me. There are some AMAZING bands today: Lamb of God, Mastodon, Children of Bodom, Arch Enemy, In Flames...do I need to go on? I also love bands like Iced Earth and Blind Guardian, bands that fly the “Old school” flag. Have you heard Municipal Waste? They're an 80s throwback to D.R.I. if there ever was one. Slayer and Exodus are still gods to me...Gary Holt still writes AMAZING thrash riffs. Metallica have gone back to being Metallica. I'm glad they're all still doing what they do...
The internet has made it SO easy to discover new music, and I don't mean file-sharing. Sites like Pandora.com. Last FM and YouTube make it easy for me to sample what I may be interested in, and Blabbermouth lets me find EVERYTHING I could ever want to know that's happening in metal....sure beats the days of “tape-trading,” although that was a lot of fun in its day.
I've been listening to a LOT of female-fronted symphonic rock/metal the last few years. I love Nightwish and Within Temptation (especially Within Temptation...I want Sharon den Adel to be my wife. I haven't had a crush like this on anyone since high school. I can't put my finger on what it is about her that does it for me, but I'm hooked on her. Either Sharon or Simone from Epica. I'm into heavy-yet-melodic stuff these days. It may be a result of getting older, but I think it's because I just can't listen to Lamb of God all the time...
As you told above you did a fanzine and you were in the tape trading scene, which fanzines do you recall from those days? Do/Did fanzines play an important role in the metal scene?
Fanzines were great. The shittier looking the better. This was before we had computers, so it was all cut-and-paste and stencilling. The writing was honest. The bigger metal ’zines were Metal Mania (San Francisco), New Heavy Metal Review (Los Angeles), Metal Forces (U.K.), and Kick Ass Monthly (New York). And I think Maximum Rock N Roll is STILL alive and kicking (even though it was never a metal zine). Fanzines were HUGELY important to the scene because it was a great way to find out WHAT was out there that you wanted to seek out and hear. They were a „doorway into the unknown.”
Would you say, that printed fanzines went almost out of fashion?
Fanzines out of fashion? The entire magazine media is headed „out of fashion.” I used to subscribe to 15 computer magazines; only PC World and Maximum PC are left standing. Major newspapers have gone under. The New York Times seems to be headed toward becoming an „online only” publication. I miss the portability of paper media, mostly because I don’t have internet in my bathroom.
Webzines are very popular these days, Do you often watch them?
I check in with Blabbermouth a lot of the time. That concentrates the information from several metal webzines into one site. But I do check out a lot of webzines. Just don’t ask me for names!
As for the music business as a whole –especially labelswise- how much did it change compared to the ’80s?
I still have friends in the music business. The business has definitely changed, and I’d say that it’s COMPLETELY due to the shift to digital downloading, and I mean LEGAL downloading. I have a friend who works at a major company whose job it is to order the pressing of CDs. His fear is that new CDs will no longer be manufactured a few years from now and he’ll be out of a job.
I will very much miss CDs. MP3s are „faceless.” They’re not a „tangible” media. If there’s any artwork, you have to download it and print it yourself. I’m absolutely fine with Metallica selling MP3s of all their concerts, complete with printable artwork, but if „Death Magnetic” wasn’t available on a physical pro-pressed storebought CD, I wouldn’t own the album at all. I want the actual CD.
What do you think about downloading, file sharing and the mp3s? Do they cause big harms for bands and labels?
As I said before, the ubiquity of recordable media like CD-Rs and sites like MySpace are great ways for bands to „make a name” for themselves as compared to the tape-trading days. Illegal filesharing and downloading have an impact on CD sales, I’m sure, but iTunes is doing HUGE business in this department, so what does that tell you? I don’t want to download MP3s and have to convert and burn them myself to play in my CD player. I’ve said it before: I think MP3s sound like shit. It’s a „lossy” format. Too much information is sheared away during compression. It’s NOT a true representation of the actual recording. The only way I would EVER purchase downloadable music is is the entire album is available as a „CD image”. This way, when I burn the image file to CD, I have an ACTUAL copy of the music thet way the artist intended it to be heard.
But why go through all that when I can make a few clicks on Amazon and get the real CD sent to my house? I can rip the music to my iPod and have the CD for home use...and as a permanent backup.
How do you view that a lot of labels stopped sending promos and they are rather sending digital formats? Is this the future of metal and music as a whole or…?
It saves a lot of money for the label, that’s for sure, but I wouldn’t want to play MP3s over the radio, although I’m sure it’s being done. I’ve been out of the business for a long, long time. But I would want the image file, as I said earlier...
As for Combat, did you have statistics or provings/statements which records were sold the most? From where were you informed about the selling?
No clue. I’m sure the accountant knew, but I don’t think I ever had a conversation with the man.
Are you still in touch with the former Combat members these days?
I'll speak to someone from time to time, but we walk in different circles today, you know? Which is how it should be. But I signed yup at Facebook a few months ago, and have been able to re-connect with a lot of my old friends and colleagues from those days. I'm so glad my friend Sue talked me into signing up...I have been on the verge of tears more than a few times since signing up and talking to old friends I thought I'd never hear from again. Not very “metal” of me, is it...?
What were your favourite releases in 2009?
EPICA "Design Your Universe" Far and away my vote for Album of the Year.
I didn’t buy or hear much new stuff this year, but these are the ones that made me happy, and in no particular order:
AMBERIAN DAWN “Clouds of Northern Thunder”
MASTODON “Crack the Skye”
DELAIN “April Rain”
WITHIN TEMPTATION “An Acoustic Night at the Theatre”
SIRENIA “The 13th Floor”
RAMMSTEIN “Liebe Ist Fur Alle Da”
Don, thanks a lot for your patience and time, anything to add what I forgot to mention?
My pleasure. I think we’ve covered everything!

2009. december 11., péntek

Old School Swedish Death Metal History - Grotesque

So Tompa, do you remember any early memories of music while growing up and what spurred you on from being a music fan to becoming a musician?
Tomas: „My earliest memories are rock and roll orientated I guess, getting cassette versions of chuckberry, bill haley and elvis presley albums and blasting them in my kid room, the first album (vinyl) I bought was actually a chuck berry compilation, I must have been about seven or something, all the other stuff came later (alternative/garage rock/punk/hard rock etc) from my sisters boyfriends record collection, he got me into bands like MC5, the stooges, thin lizzy, blue oyster cult, dead boys, the cramps, ramones, black sabbath etc from when I was about ten or something, then everything just exploded, I guess me turning into actually playing music was inevitable and related to me being a fan of punk rock, which seemed fairly simple to play... i started out playing in a hardcore punk band when I was13 or something like that.... later on, I guess those early thrash records (possessed, dark angel, slayer, metallica, voivod, celtic frost, venom etc) were responsible for me turning into a singer, I was just screamig along to them at the top of my lungs in my bedroom , hehe...”
How did you end up being a Heavy Metal addict back in the day? Do you recall your first meeting with that music style?
Tomas: „As I mentioned earlier, my sisters boyfriend is responsible for the initial meeting with the style, but that was more classic hard rock though, bands like b.ö.c. and wishbone ash had a deep impact on me when i was a kid, i guess it was the mystique surrounding it, i know i was after something else though as these bands lacked the intensity of other stuff i was listening to; the ramones, the misfits, stooges, black flag etc.... and when i stumbled upon metallicas ride the lightning and discharge´s hear nothing, see nothing, say nothing in the early eighties, the flame was lit...”
Virgintaker: „I think I was around twelve when a friend of mine at the time introduced to me the concept of the 666 layers of hell. I was fascinated by the idea that evil could run so deep. If ordinary people like you and me, ermh, I mean most people, would only get to one of the first few levels, and the deeper you’d go the more evil the dwellers there would be then it’s hard to even fantasize about the evil that went on towards the bottom of the pit. I began reading books on sorcery, devil worship and different types of sacrifice.Right about this time Iron Maiden released „the number of the beast” which ofcourse had an imense impact on a child of twelve, at the time completely consumed by fantasy, ocultism and theology. I was especially thrown by „Hallowed be thy name”, the narration of a death sentence carried out in real time. The same concept, equally fascinating was done by Metallica two years later on „Ride the lightning”. Up until this point I had never even heard fast agressive music. These days it’s almost funny that Iron Maiden were considered evil... Not long after. Only like a few weeks. Another friend of mine found a cassette (yeah, this was 1982) on the street so we took it home and cranked the volume up to be completely blown away by the Hellion (the intro to the Judas Priest record Screaming for Vengeance...). The power was flattening. I guess these two albums were the my entry point to the metal scene. As time progressed me and my friends (especially Kristian ’Necrolord’ Wåhlin) grew gradually more into harder stuff like Metallica (as above), Venom and Slayer. It went to thrash when Kristian found this compilation with Overkill, Exhumer, Sodom and you name it on. We’d skip school to go to his place and listen to it... LOUD.”
Were you always into death metal or…?
Tomas: „From the moment I first got in touch with the death metal sound i was hooked; bands like Bathory, hellhammer and Possessed had already made me ready for what was to come to a certain degree, but when i stumbled upon the underground scene and bands like repulsion (then genocide), death/mantas, morbid angel, terrorizer, vomit (norway), necrophagia, insanity etc nothing was the same anymore.....it was the first stuff i discovred by myself and that was probably quite important for a lonesome teenager like myself.”
Virgintaker: „Well, as I said to start of it was mainly British heavy metal, and then German heavy metal (Accept, Warrant (DE), Stormwitch, Warlock). And then I turned to thrash. We didn’t think of ourselves as death metal while I was still in the band. The concept of Death Metal was simply not coined yet.”
When did you decide to become musician and how did your choice fall on the bass? Was it the first instrument that you’ve decided to play?
Virgintaker: „Bass was my instrument of choice right from the start. A minute to learn, a lifetime to master, you know, like master mind the game..., eh..., nevermind.... Anyway I thought it was really cool. I’ve played heaps of different instruments, vigorously encouraged by my dad. The list goes something like; piano, recorder, guitar, trombone, cello, harmonica and violin. I tried my hands on mandoline, clarinet and drums as well, but I suck as a drummer... The bass is the only instrument thats stayed with me. I am however concidering getting a new cello. You can create some pretty eerie stuff on a cello.”
What were your influences to become musician at all? Were you self taught or…?
Virgintaker: „I would have to say Steve Harris (Iron Maiden). No-one can play like that. I’m blown away everytime. I haven’t been into Maiden for a long time but when I was, I was REALLY into Maiden. I could sit for hours practicing „The rime of the ancient mariner” the bass parts. I had a teacher for a while who showed me the basics, but that was only for a few months. He showed me pentatonic chords and that if you cook your old bass strings they sound like new, for a while. All the fat and grime from your fingers stuck on the strings floats to the top. It’s nasty. I also want to sent some credit to mine and Kristians old music teacher who had this room set up at school complete with drumkit, amps and axes. That’s where it all started as far as I’m concerned. At the age of 13 we’d be there bashing out AC/DC songs.”
When and in which circumstances did you end up joining Grotesque which had been formed by you, Necrolord and Insulter on guitars Nuctemeron on bass and Shamaatae? Was it the really first band for all of you or…?
Tomas: „I have to correct you on the line-up here, I joined a band called conquest that was basically kristian and some thrasher dudes, that later all quit except nuctemeron (david hultén) who stuck along for a year or two at least... during those early days it was mostly a question of me and Kristian bashing out noise in his parents basement with different dudes turning up now and then, only to leave pretty fast (because they had no understanding for the stuff that we were into), the other guys you mention, i don´t know; insulter is a synonym for Johan Österberg, who never was a part of grotesque at any point (although he did play second guitar on the reunion show), he was though an active scenster all the time and edited cascade magazine together with during the late eighties/early nineties... shamaatae I guess is the dude who is now in arckanum, he was eleven at the time that he was in grotesque , and left pretty quickly....”
Do you still remember who came up the name of the band with and who did the logo?
Tomas: „The band name was stolen from Celtic Frost, i thnik it´s from a song on emperors return, it sounded twisted and cool, a bit different I guess, kristian designed the logo, he was, and still is, a king when it comes to death metal design, i like the sick, twisted, disfigured style he came up with, it´s almosty like a graffittti painting or something...hehe”
Did you take the band seriously right from the start?
Tomas: „We were very young, i guess we were as serious as we could be, everything meant alot to us, you know how sensitive u were as a teenager, the band was all we cared about, we lived in this different world between the ages of 14-18 i guess.... no one in our city knew what the hell we were doing, but we had this huge underground scene to escape to , it was awesome... our own separate universe of sound, visual art and international comradeship.”
Why did you use nicknames instead of using your real names? Was it a kind of Venom approach or…?
Tomas: „yeah, we were dead into all that stuff, we had a glimpse in the eye though, we loved how cheesy some of the brazilian bands stagenames sounded; kk bullet, skullcrusher and all that, a huge influence, but i guess it was taken out of proportions when looking back upon it, it was all great fun.... and kind of came with the territiory of our vision of what a death metal band was all about.”
While during the mid/late ’80s the underground scene was ruled by thrash metal, contradistinction to it in Sweden happened a great death metal boom, does it mean that death metal had a stronger background than thrash, although in Sweden were cool thrash acts as well, such as Merciless, Mezzrow or Agony?
Tomas: „we, and most of swedens other prominent death metal acts, came bursting out at the time of the thrash metal fade out.... all other bands were playing anthrax, testament shit, we didn´t have any understanding at all from them, it was alot of silly rivalry when you look back upon it... we couldn´t compromise one inch with our style, it was death metal or nothing!!!! I remember w were, for an example, deeply aggrevated by sepultura´s „sell-out2 on beneath the remains.....When i think back upon it , the swedish death metal scene between the years 87-91 only had about thirty people that were invovled, the trend happened later...”
Virgintaker: „I couldn’t tell. When I left the band in 88 I was really fed up with death metal. But I’ve come to my senses again since ;-) I think there’s maybe too much analysis of what went on. At the time the genres where hardly defined. We would often refer to what we doing as techno (as is techno-metal) as it was fast and complicated. When dance-techno gained a larger audience techno-metal as a definition dissapeared. I was alway more leaning more towards fast and crazy rather than brutal. I still am today with my current band AUTOTRASH.”
What did you feel seeing that death metal explosion in your area with quite a good number of outfits popping up from everywhere?
Tomas: „this happened way later, probably around 92-93 or something, we were alone for a long, long time, i can tell u that, there was not even any people coming to shows with this kind of music or anything, the scene was pretty much dead in gothenburg, we lived in the international underground bubble,and enjoyed it to the max as well... later when some bands started to pop up it was a good feeling, we were not that alone anymore, but stupid enough, i think we felt some kind of elitism evovling as well, that we didn´t want to be a part of, it was not compatible to the underground spirit that we were raised in.”
Virgintaker: „We were way to early to see any of that around ’87-88. Noone (in our area) understood what we where doing. Toward the end of ’88 we met Nihlist and Intoxicate. But they were from other areas (Nihlist from Stockholm and Intoxicate from another part of Gothenburg)”
Were Stockholm and Gothenburg the centers of Swedish death metal movement at this point?
Tomas: „Stockholm had (in 1988) only a few bands, but were still miles ahead of everybody else; i was in contact with nicke and uffe already in 1987, and we traded alot of tapes etc, we used to stay over for summers and stuff, it was a good time. Gothenburg, as i said before, was dead and silent, we were alone. So ,when we wanted to hang out, we went to stockholm where there was at least a handful of dudes into the underground way of thinking.”
Virgintaker: „I suppose. I don’t know. At the time it felt nothing like a movement. Just kids drinking beer and making noise, having a good time. I don’t know about any other Death Metal bands from Gothenburg so I suppose that Stockholm was the center, as with most things in Sweden.”
As I as know, before you joined Grotesque, you were in volved in Conquest, is that correct? What about this act as a whole?
Virgintaker: „Conquest was alot of fun. It was very far from Grotesque of course. Definately not death/thrash/metal... More about the AC/DC songs I mentioned above. We drank beer and „rehearsed” in Necrolords basement. I can’t believe the patience of his parents... The band members came and went with Necro, me and „Maskis” (nothing to do with Dinosaur Jr) as the constant members. I think Nuctemeron was around playing drums for a while (he later appeared as the bass player when I left the band). Alot of times it would be like an open session where anyone present could grab the mic and freestyle rock vocals.”
In your opinion, did Grotesque belong to the first wave of Swedish death metal with acts, such as Corpse, Nihilist, Mefisto, Carnage etc.?
Tomas: „the first swedish wave consists of only one band (and only one guy); BATHORY, later mefisto, obscurity popped up which is probably the second wave I guess, if you could even call it a wave...nihilist, morbid, grotesque, corpse/grave, treblinka, sorcery, merciless are the third wave and were closely followed by dismemberizer/dismember, afflicted convulsion, therion, crematory, macrodex, carnage, etc.... that was the intitial scene right there. Up until 91 i guess that was all that was going on in sweden at all.....if you don´t count the grind/crust scene which was closely related to what we were doing with bands like anticimex, filthy christians, g-anx, no security, mob 47, asocial, avskum, svart parad etc....”
Virgintaker: „The only Grotesque gig I played (before the reunion last year) was a gig in Gothenburg together with Nihlist. This was in ’88, so yeah I’d say we we’re definately first wave. Apparently parts of this gig was captured on video and is in the hands of Offensor, but he hasn’t sent it to me yet. There’s a clip of Grotesque performing Hell awaits (Slayer). We must have been about 16-17 at the time. I remember being in total adrenaline chock just to be on stage. My bass strings snapped when I tried to tune it and the string hooked into my hand like a fish-hook so I had to rip it out. So I was dazed and bleeding but on stage and loving it.”
You were rehearsing in the basement of Necrolord’s house, what do you recall from your rehearsals? Did you start writing originals right from the start or were you jamming mostly on covers?
Tomas: „well, the first ever time we met it was only me and kristian, we didn´t even know each other or had met... david, the bassplayer (nuctemeron) gave me kristians address and just told me to go there..this was long before cellphones or the internet kids!!, we started going through his record collection and he showed me some stuff he had been working on...we decided to jam and the first stuff we ever bashed out was a cover of (the just released) enter the eternal fire by bathory, the next time i showed up i brought a few demos and stuff, introduced kristian to the undergound sounds of bands like necrophagia (a big influence in the early days) and pentagram, we glued instantly and started working on originals directly after that...”
You soon got together your first violent pieces of death and mayhem, „Moondance Prophecy” was a slow song reminiscent of Celtic Frost/Hellhammer, „Shadows Of Lost Life” was a faster song somewhat in the style of Obscurity/Bathory and Poison (Germany), how do you see it?
Tomas: „Yeah , I guess that describes it pretty much... kristian was still alot into the hellhammer thing, he would later become more obsessed with crazy riffing along the lines of morbid angel, insanity, necrovore etc..., so the first songs were really crude and basic, almost hardcore sounding, we played at the very top of our very limited capability, this was max speed for us at the time, we just wanted to be as brutal as possible.....hehe”
These songs respectively „Ripped from the cross” made up on your first demo titled „Ripped from the cross”, do you still remember how was the demo recorded which was probably your first experience? Can you give us details on this tape?
Tomas: „Ripped from the cross was never a real demo in the modern way of seeing stuff, it was mainly just a rehearsal that we polished ( a bit) with extra guitars and spread through the tapetrading circuit... it was just us and a tape recorder. In a basement, that´s pretty much how it worked back then, nothing fancy whatsoever...”
Did you shop around the demo to attract label interests? Do you think that the demo opened some doors for the band? What type of reviews did you get for this tape?
Tomas: „As I said before it was never a real official demo like that , we didn´t send it to any of the bigger magazines or anything or labels for that matter, we were not really interested in all that , it was more important to us how the diehard undergound dudes would greet it, so we got a few mention in a few small fanzines, that´s it basically, and we were dead happy with that as well for that matter.....”
After the releasing of the „Ripped from the cross” Shamaatae quit and instead of him joined Offensor (aka Tomas Eriksson), why did he decide to leave the band and how did the new guy get in the picture exactly? What about his musical background?
Tomas: „Tomas Eriksson came into the band after having played a show with us, with his other band (a local thrash band) where he played the guitar, he was interested in playing drums for a band, and we were looking for members... as he was not into the whole imagery and lyrical approach of the band he choose to stay a session member throughout his stay in the band, as it was important for us (as teenage diehards) that every member of the band was into the same kind of shit as we were his decision didn´t worry us much, Our previous drummer johan lagher (shamaatae) quit/got kicked out, he was just a kid, i guess his dad was worried abouthim hanging out with a bunch of weirdos like us, he also stole some of Kristians vinyls....”
Was he the first choice or were there auditioned other musicians as well? Did you part ways with Shamaatae on a friendly term in the end? Were they involved in other acts after their departure from Grotesque?
Tomas: „As I mentioned before, there were not many people into heavy music at all in gothenburg at the time, we had tried out a few dudes on various instruments, but noone seemed to have a clue what we were after, at least tomas knew who bathory and possessed were, that was at least a start, hehe... shamataee was, as i said , only eleven, we didn´t hear from him ever again.... we later heard he was playing in this troll black metal band or something like that...quite funny, maybe we did „destroy” him after all....”
The coming monts were spent writing new songs like the epic „Angel’s Blood” and „Submit To Death” as well, does it mean, that you immediately started writing new material with Offensor? Did he have a big hand into the songwriting at this point? You rehearsed heavily and composed more complex and evil death/black metal material like „Ascension Of The Dead”, „Blood Runs From The Altar” and „Fall Into Decay”, would you say, that Offensor was more talented and experienced drummer than Shamaatae and it allowed you to move into a complex direction?
Tomas: „No, Tomas was just a session member, we pretty much told him how to play, but as you mention we did have more energy and focus because we had, for the first time, a drummer who could actually play! That was quite a trip for us, we had alot of ideas before but they were never really fulfilled, now we felt we could push the concept a bit further, but all the songs were still written by kristian and me. Some of these songs had been embryos for a long time in our heads.”
Virgintaker: „I was part of writing Blood runs from the altar, Fall into decay, Ripped from the cross, Moondance profecy and Submit to death, (although I never got any credit for any of it).”
On the 4th of May 1989 you recorded the blasphemous rehearsal/demo „The Black Gate Is Closed” featuring „Bestial summoning”, „Blood runs from the altar” and „Angel’s blood”, an avalanche of death and hate preparing the wimps for Grotesque’s first studio recording, what about the recording sessions?
Tomas: „A 4-track portable mixing desk in the rehearsal room, that´s all, it´s all live as well- straight to tape, it´s distorted, twisted and has a weird aura surrounding it, i think this was as close to real satanism we ever came. I think the tape is quite scary in some places actually, because of the desparation and angst displayed in the performance... I guess we were surprised how it turned out and therefor decided to spread the tape more efficiently than previous ones.”
„The black gate is closed” was an advance tape for „The Final Conspiracy” LP demo, is that correct?
Tomas: „That was one of our many plans, we had contact with some guy in brazil who wanted to release an album at this stage, pure f-king underground! Of course we should have kept our mouths shut until we knew it was going to happen, hehe... anyway ; as u all know- this record never happened....”
A rehearsal demo followed this tape, also in 1989, featuring „Angel’s blood”, „Fall into decay” and „Rise of armageddon” was it a better representation of the band? Did this tape sound closer to what you wanted to achieve with Grotesque? On this tape was a longer version of „Angel’s blood”, how did it happen?
Tomas: „When we recorded the black gate is closed, we didn´t have a full version of angels blood , but the part we recorded was so brutal that we decided to put it on the demo as a trailer kind of, inspired by morbid´s deathexecution-trailer on the december moon demo i guess.... the version on that next rehearsal tape is close to the finished version that appears on in the embrace of evil if i remember it correctly. We are playing better on that tape, but i like the feeling and atmosphere on the black gate is closed more.... i guess we were trying to identify the direction of the band, I think this second part of our history starts with the writing of Incantation.”
You were playing a few crazy and brutal live shows at this point, what do you recall from these gigs? Did you do some headlining local shows or were you opening act for bigger bands as well?
Tomas: „Not that many shows were actually played, a mere handful only. These were poorly attended and people didn´t seem to understand what the hell was happening, I guess it all would have been different if we had a scene to interact with, as the bands in stockholm had, at least the guys in the other bands showed up at the local gigs there, in gothenburg we were alone. We did play some memorable shows though, one in strömstad with therion, that show was booked by jon nödtveit actually, he was quite young then and also one in gothenburg with nihilist. We were basically too young, around 15-16 to be able to arrange bigger shows and invite other bands...”
The legendary November 1989 recording of „In The Embrace Of Evil” featured five songs - this was originally ment to be the first five songs of a full lenght album on Dolores Records, another three tracks to be recorded later on therefore, the recording was never released as a demo, what did happen exactly?
Tomas: „This was another totally unprepared thing, hehe... we just happened to come in contact with this guy who had this studio, we were psyched about the option of getting our stuff portrayed in a real studiosound, we scrambled together the cash that was needed, pretty much for us teenage kids probably... and went ahead to record, we were quite unexperienced, to not say totally, of being in a studio , but i think the result is totally ok when i listen back to it, everything is untight to the point of collapse but the underground death metal feeling is there for sure, we did approach dolores about the possibility of releasing it somehow, but everything just fell apart again.... and david quit the band....”
On December 12 ’89 Grotesque played a truly insane local show in front of 200 people, the crowd was in a frenzy as Grotesque launched their brutal death metal at unsuspecting victims, as well as a few of your own songs you got to play „The Return” by Bathory before the show was shut down by local authorities clamining Grotesque were a bunch of drug addicted satanic maniacs trying to start a riot, how do you remember?
Tomas: „how could i ever forget? We lied to the people at our local high school that were organizing the gig to be allowed to even play, when they realized what we were up to they simply pulled the plug on us, hehe... as usual there was not really any people attending that knew what the hell was going on, but people at that age take each chance to stir up some trouble i guess, and our brutal sound proved to be just what the kids needed to totally let go, hehe... a scandal...”
In late 89 Nuctemeron left the band and joined Virgintaker (aka Per Nordgren), what led to Nuctemeron’s departure and how did Virgintaker get in the picture exactly? What about his musical past? Were there still other bassists in mind besides him?
Tomas: „this is all wrong actually, when david quit the band i started to play the bass instead , it was as simple as that, per nordgren was never called virgin taker when he was in the band for a month or two at the very start; he left the band cause he felt that we were too brutal. Hew was later invited to play the reunion show on his merits as one of the original members though.”
This set-back did not hinder the unholy making of new, faster and more technical evil songs , such as „Nocturnal Blasphemies”, „Spawn Of Azathoth”, „Church Of The Pentagram”, „Ritual Mutilation” and the legendary „Incantation” and these new songs fully stated that Grotesque never compromised one way or the other, do you agree with it? Would you say, that you had only gotten blacker, more evil and intense?
Tomas: „yeah, this is the start of the second era of the band for sure, we started to develop our skills as muscians and writers and gained alot of energy from being published in more undergound fanzines than before, the rest of the swedish bands had more in common with each other musically, our style of more satanic, twisted death metal was unusual in our part of the world, i guess that made it stand out as well... yeah, the darkness was increasing by the minute, that´s for sure...”
Guitarist „The Haunting” (aka Alf Svensson) had joined the band in the beginning of the year, do you think, that he brought in a new dimension of brutality into Grotesque?Before Alf being involved in Grotesque, what were the previous acts he has played with?
Tomas: „I got to know alf from high school where he was studying arts, he was a few years older than the rest of us, but we clicked instantly, he came from a more hardcore background, playing in different hardcore punk bands around the area but had an urge to write and play some deeply fucked up evil shit. He definatley brought a new perspective to what we were doing. Initially this was just what we needed, later kristian felt some frustration over his creation being a bit lost in this new version of the band, but for the time that everything worked out, things were killer, alf had some weird ideas when it came to harmonies that i felt complemented kristians intense twisted riffing perfectly and added alot of disturbing feelings to the sound.”
In August 1990 Grotesque did the „Incantation” recording (3 songs for the Dolores Records mini album), did you have a decent budget to record the material? How did the recording sessions go with this material at all? Were you more prepared than for the previous ones?
Tomas: „I guess we had a budget enough to spend three days in sunlight studios with Tomas Skogsberg, i can´t remember how much it costed but it can´t have been that much, we had rehearsed more intensily for this one for sure, and we had also rewritten alot of the material together with alf, that had added alot of extra depth to the songs. We were much more pleased with this recording than with the in the embrace of evil one, I guess we tried to stay away from the obvious entombedguitarsound that everyone wanted when the went to sunlight, we ended up with this very strange, ghostly tone that i haven´t heard on any recording since, it´s really not that distorted, you can hear every note but it´s still brutal, today i look back on this recording with pride, we very creating something very different.”
Did you have some songs written that didn’t make up on the EP?
Tomas: „This were basically the three songs that we had worked hardest on , the ones we felt represented the new grotesque most, we had older unreleased tracks lying around but they weren´t matching the level of brutality of those three songs,that´s why we only recorded these three, also Incantation is a long f-king song...”
The material was released by Dolores Records in lilac vinyl and black vinyl and the black vinyl version seems to be the first pressing, is that correct?How were you signed by them at all? Weren’t any bigger labels interests in the band?
Tomas: „I could not remember, but it feels correct with the black vinyl being the first pressing. We didn´t get any response from any bigger labels, this was at the very start of the recordreleasing era of death metal, u got to remember that, only a few bands had released anything and the explosion hadn´t happened yet. We were probably a bit ahead of our time, it´s also my feeling that it was some meaning to that as well, that grotresque somehow was meant to be an underground band.”
In your opinion, did all of the demos expand Grotesque’s popularity in the underground scene? Were your materials monstrous hits in Swedish underground?
Tomas: „no, we didn´t have any breakthrough whatsoever, i guess we were weirder than most of the stuff that was emeerging, we were also a bit uncalculating, we didn´t do it for the career, we rather spent our time on producing new stuff than hassle record labels or managers or anything like that...”
In 1990 Grotesque played their last show, what do you recall from it?
Tomas: „I had started trying to book some shows for fiends abroad, i was a long time friend from Patrick in disharmonic orchestra and they were doing a low budget diy tour through europe, i basically rented the hall at the local rehearsalpace and invited them for a couple of hundred bucks or something, this was a perfect chance for us to portray our new stuff in front of an audience, we had not played live since the recording of incantation. It was me, tomasoffensor,alf and kristian performing that night and it was a „greatest hits” kind of setlist with material from all our different eras, smoke machine, light show , the whole kit, it was a great experience and also the first time some people came out that actually knew who we were, as the scene had slowly started building up at this point.”
Due to contradictions you split up shortly afterwards, why did you decide to break up?
Tomas: „There are a few different reasons actually, first of all. me and kristian had been talking about doing another project anyway, we felt that grotesque had said all that we wanted to say, that if we continued down the same path for much longer we would eventually paint ourselves in a corner, and we had such great ambitions... we wanted to make music that was more insane, more artisticly challenging and intellectual and we felt that the formula of groteque needed to be intact and that was a dilemma.... we decied to split the band on good terms and start another project; liers in wait... i had at the same time started hanging out more and more with a couple of dudes named anders and jonas and had helped out their band; infestation on bass and vocals – they were doing a more american/stockholm version of death metal along the lines of autopsy, master, nihilist etc and that was alot of fun as well... i guess kristian wanted full control of what he was doing and decided to take the drummer of liers in wait (hans, later in the rgeat deceiver, luciferion, now in dimension zero) with him and reform the project without the rest of us.... „the rest”, i.e. me , alf anders and jonas would instead form at the gates...all of a sudden u had two bands continuing a part of the grotesque legacy , but in different ways....”
After the demise of the band Kristian Wahlin aka Necrolord became known, who painted the album covers for many bands, like Emperor and Dissection and formed Liers In Wait , you an Alf went on to form At The Gates, but what about Virgintaker and Offensor after Grotesque broke up? Did you remain in touch with each other?
Tomas: „As I mentioned before per nordgren (who was NEVER called virgintaker) disappeared from the band after just a couple of months, never to associate himself with death metal again, offensor actually started singing instead and have played in a variety of local gothenburg bands, none of them releasing anything.... none of us have really stayed in touch but we say hi when we meet...grotesque had always been just me and kristian, though alf had some input in the last version as well...”
Virgintaker: „No. We didn’t hear from each other for years and years. We’d see each other around town, but we weren’t talking. I was fed up with the fact that all I heard at rehearsals was „play faster”. At that time I was getting into other music. More melodic and expressive. Not unlike what became of Kristian and his „Liars in wait project”. I bought a long leather coat and started playing music more along the lines of Fields of the Nephelim. I guess the others thought it was kind of cool because they asked to borrow the coat for a photoshoot. The coat that Tompa is wearing on the back sleave of „In the embrace...” is actually mine. There have been many claims to this coat. People have actually payed alot of money for what they thought was this coat. The truth is it fell apart many years later still in my possesion and I threw it in a secondhand-bin while living in Sundsvall. So unless it came from there the ones they bought were fake, suckers... ”
In your opinion, did Liers In Wait and At The Gates deserved followers of Grotesque?
Virgintaker: „I think they are both quite bland in comparism. I’ll probably get alot shit for saying this but neither is as good as Grotesque. Way too technical and not half as much nerve. Listen to „The flames of the end”. What the F- is that? This is ofcourse a matter of taste. But I prefer the punkier aspects of Grotesque such as Submit to death.”
Would you say that Grotesque was the forerunner of what became known during the mid ’90s „Gothenburg melodic death” metal or did you address the same concepts that evolved black metal but takes a much more death metal interpretation through polyrhythmic phrasing and structuralist architectures?
Tomas: „I do beleive that grotesque, as u mention as an option, have more in common with what happened later with bands as darkthrone, satyricon, etc.... we were a brutal, satanic death metal band.... it was important for us to be dark and ritualistically pure. That whole gothenburg thing happened way later, and i do take my hand away from it all, I guess , as we were the first band to play extreme music in gothenburg we might be to blame for introducing the kids to the subgenre, but i don´t think we were ever an influence musically...”
Virgintaker: „I read that phrase on a website somewhere and I find it really funny. While I was in the band the goal was to be as brutal as possible. „polyrhythmic phrasing and structuralist architectures” is ofcourse high-brow bullshit. I know Kristian spent alot of time and devotion writing those songs, but hardly to have them described that way. This music wasn’t written to be deconstructed it was written to be experienced, loud!”
Did you have an important impact on bands, such as In Flames, Arch Enemy, Dark Tranquillity etc.?
Tomas: „I guess some of the guys in those bands, the ones that are old enough, came to a few of the grotesque last shows and bought the incantation album, but other than that , no... i guess at the gates had a more direct input in that whole thing, but the formula was later bastardized and made more melodic etc.... as i said; i take my hand away from that whole thing... i have nothing against any of those bands, they are great artists and some of them are great friends, but if u ask them they will tell u the same; that grotesque did not have any influence on them musically...”
Virgintaker: „It’s hard to say. At the time Grotesque folded I doubt they had much impact. The impact has come later with the 1996 release. This is of course just a guess.”
On the Friday 13 of 1996 Necrolord, Goatspell and Offensor entered Berno studio to record 2 songs especially for the „In The Embrace Of Evil” cd, „Church Of The Pentagram” and „Ripped From The cross”, the very first songs you wrote after Grotesque’s demise, from where did come the idea to write these tunes?
Tomas: „Ripped from the cross, was as u mention one of the very first songs to be written ever by me and kristian.... it was recorded along with the rest of the tracks on the initial in the embrace of evil session, somehow that song was lost over the years though and we couldn´t find it on ay of the mastertapes, when dolores introduced us to the idea of finally releasing all the grotesque studiomaterial on one cd (maybe to cash in on the success of at the gates?), we felt that we couldn´t release it without this significant song.... and going to the studi to record just one song felt stupid, so we took one of our old songs, church of the pentagram, and reworked it a little....”
Virgintaker: „Ripped from the cross is actually the very first song we ever wrote. It’s just re-recorded. I heard from the boys that they put it on there for laughs. Now it’s like a grotesque-anthem. Me and Kristian had alot of fun comming up with this one. The idea is that when Christ is hanging on his cross, this huge hand comes up from under ground, grabs him around the waist and, well, rips him from the cross. None of this graphic desciption evermade it into the final song. What a pity... As for „Church...” I’ve no idea. But it’s a great song.”
Was this record a kind of tribute or paying attention to Grotesque?
Virgintaker: „It might have been. Or it was Tompa needing money ;-) I don’t know. I’m glad it was released though. As I said; if it hadn’t been, I’m not sure Grotesque would have had the same impact.”
Were you deeply involved inte the making of this?
Virgintaker: „I wasn’t even aware of it.”
This album unites a session of early material and two later recording sessions, meaning that it is a time lapse double album of a band emerging from itself - it grows and it mutates, erratically, but beautifully, into a direction visibly incendiary in inspiring At the Gates, what do you think about it?
Tomas: „Well, as i said before, it is basically the Incantation-recording and the In the embrace of evil recording, together on one album: as it was intended long ago... the plan that never happened somehow (the incantation minilp was kind of a compromise)... the new recording was intended to fill the gap between the two old ones, i guess the comparison with early at the gates is logical – seeing that both me and alf were in both bands....”
Virgintaker: „I think it’s a beautiful piece of work and I’m proud to be associated with it although I had nothing to do with it (apart from partaking in writing some of the songs on it).”
Would you say, that the first part of this album showcases frenetic and violent early songs in the crossover of percussive speed metal with early death metal riff styles and structural variations, especially in the tendency of Satanic bands like Slayer to use strange pieces of songwriting to build logically communicative top-level architectures?This is an ugly, uncanny bastardisation of death metal, the complex song structures and raw, unrelenting atmosphere of early Morbid Angel is blended with the messy over-stretched teenage ambition of early Possessed with some manic Slayer solos, crushing slow passages, atmospheric intros, an overtly Satanic image, how do you see it?
Tomas: „Well, that was a quite good explanation I guess, except for the thing about speed metal, to me speed metal is bands like helloween etc, which i think is total crap... we were inspired by possessed, morbid angel, insanity, necrovore, pentagram... stuff like that. Although i guess our roots in music like bathory, sodom, hellhammer, kreator, destuction, slayer, dark angel shines through on some of the older stuff which gives it that primitive charm.... and that mix might be what makes it interesting...”
The first half of the album bears a great similarity to pioneers Slayer as well as Sepultura materials of years past; its songs are fast but extract turns of melody and structure and the art of recombinance to reveal an inherent pattern and similar to middle 80s works of thrash-influenced metal where chorus lines determined major song rhythm and thus a predictable sequence of emphasis points for any phrase, this music rages along nicely with a somewhat confused but aesthetically coherent and structurally focused textural evolution, what do you think about it?
Tomas: „We were young and hyper, we wanted to combine the furious aggression and brutality of the early favorites, sepulturas first two albums are important here, together with other brazilian faves such as sarcofago and ritual... with more complex, profane textures of more intellectual nature, that gives the whole project a twisted feel of something not being quite right, some real insanity going on... and i think this only happens when u are young and inspired in the sense that we were.”
Virgintaker: „Again, very high-brow description of music created by beerdrinking teenagers. Although probably a very precice description as Slayer is what we all listened to at the time.”
Would you say, that a slow melting and recombination of momentum in each riff allows a melody to gel from the associative structures of the song, but the abrupt narrative of violence in embedded rhythms gives the music its underlying strength and encodes an artistic portrayal of an abstract perspective on human aggression?
Tomas: „There is so much natural teenage aggression on that record, it´s all real frustration and anger – all this is played out in a scenery of more abstract musical structures, disjointed ideas almost caveing in from the weight of pure hate. This is real music , from the heart.”
What about the lyrical concept as a whole? Were you heavily influenced by satanism, Anti-Christianity, occult things and stuff to use titles, such as „Ripped from the cross”, „Blood runs from the altar”, Thirteen bells of doom”, „Church of the pentagram” etc.?
Tomas: „Grotesque was a melting pot for all our aggression as i mentioned earlier, our way of expressing ourselves was in the most antisocial, nihilistic and misanthropic way possible; satanism. I was very inspired by the works of aleister crowley in these early days and we tried hard to create something along these lines of thinking. Of course some of the older songs are more basic and u can see inspiration from other death metal bands being more obvious, but as the band grew, the lyrics had to evolve too... referring more to philosophy surrounding occultism and satanism than the actual riual itself, we went inside the psychological depths of this subreligious activity, i am however a militant atheist and am only interested in satanism and it´s thoughts and not the religious practice itself...”
In your opinion, is „In the embrace of evil” an extremely nasty listening experience, and a classic example of Real Death Metal? Was this record deserved ending of Grotesque’s career?
Tomas: „We had quit much earlier, as i mentioned in question no. 33, when we decided to get back together to record those two songs in 1996, it was understood that we were going to do that, and nothing else, we never „reformed”, so we couldn´t possibly quit again, could we?”
Virgintaker: „Definately. Actually the record is probably better than Grotesque ever really where.”
The material was also re-released as a split with At the Gates’ „Gardens of Grief” EP as well by Century Media in 2001, how did it happen? Were you aware of it release?
Tomas: „this was done behind our baks, noone is happy with that release, it is official, but we have n´t seen a penny from it.”
Virgintaker: „Don’t know.”
On 26 January 2007 you played some songs in the release party of the Swedish death metal book and decided to reunite, what about this book as a whole? Do you think that Sweden became the home of the European death metal movement and had a very big importance on the scene?
Tomas: „I think this book is fantastic, it tells the true story of what happened at the turn of the last decade. Also, the way it was written, in the same enthusiastic style as the fanzines from that period, paints a full picture of the feeling back then. I am happy that daniel put this project together, it´s a great read! About sweden being some sort of death metal capital i don´t know, it´s not up to me to judge that. Some of the bands involved in the scene has caused a great ruckus and had international careers, so something must have been good! Right?”
Virgintaker: „Everyone should get the book. And almost everyone has... I think it’s sales have actually broken a few records. Well done Daniel! The story behind the gig is that me and Kristian met in Stockholm while he was here exibiting his art at a metal expo. Daniel came over while we where talking and we started talking about a Grotesque reunion for the release of the book. Said and done. Daniel claims this in his book. I wouldn’t really know.”
How did the show go? Didn’t you think about to give more shows? What about the line up and the setlist as a whole?
Tomas: „The gig was fun, it was weird for sure , trying to recapture that teenage aggression and angst at the age of thirtysomething, but because of the fact that the audience was solely compromised by people that were around when it „happened” originally with members from merciless, grave, treblinka, dismember, morbid, obscurity, macrodex etc... it made it easier to cope with. The line up was me-vocals, kristian-guitars, offensor-drums, insulter(johan)-session guitars and per nordgren-bass, we played incantation,blood runs from the altar, spawn of azathoth, ripped from the cross and submit to death.... it was a weird but great night. Nirvana 2002 and interment played as well....”
Virgintaker: „The show was fantastic. The crowd was insane, we were at the height of our game. We where all covered in black paint, as was the entire backstage area. Tompa was drinking the paint from a skull and spewing it into the crowd. What an entertainer! My brothers (and fellow bandmembers of AUTOTRASH) who where in the audience claimed it was pure genius. At the end of the show we where all really psyched up for alot more shows. At least almost all of us... We were offered several show right away and everyone was thrilled to be back in action. We were all prepared to do a show in Gothenburg at a major venue when Tompa all of a sudden decides that he doesn’t want to do it. With no explanation and without consulting any of us he just called it of. The booker called me, furious ofcourse, while I was away on holiday. I was in chock. Apparently she (the booker) had arranged all kinds of cool/weird stuff, like topless nuns serving Jaegermeister...!! The band on the reunion night was: Goatspell on throat and ink-skull, Necrolord on main strings, Insulter also on strings, Virgintaker on thunderbird, Offensor on skins. The set list as it was played: „The thirteen bells of doom”, „Blood runs from the altar”, „Submit to death”, „Spawn of Azathoth”, „Incantation” and „ Ripped from the cross”.”
Did you perhaps film or record the performance?
Tomas: „Someone, somewhere has something, I know i saw a camera, my advice it to search the internet forums for this... i don´t have any film of any performance I´ve ever done, as i am no narcissist...hehe...”
Virgintaker: „The show was filmed by a TV-team and I’ve seen the result. I’m still waiting for Daniel to somehow release it, because it great entertainment. I think some of the other bands are hesitant to have it released because they have other careers which they feel would not benifit from it, or some shit like that.”
On April 2nd 2007 you Tompa announced that Grotesque was done after a few shows, does it mean that you put the band for good on ice? Won’t be any further Grotesque shows, new materials etc. in the near future?
Tomas: „Grotesque is dead, the legacy shall remain intact forever. We did one reunion to record the two songs for in the embrace of evil and one reunion for daniels book because he is a great friend, that´s all, it would not be true to the spirit of the band to try to do this with the same conviction agian: i don´t think that´s something u could ever calculate and try to recreate...”
Virgintaker: „Actually there where no more shows. When Tompa decided to quit the Gothenburg show the rest of us considered getting a new singer but we realized that it probably wouldn’t work. I know that Kristian started writing new material almost right away and I’ve sent him some new lyrics but I doubt that anything will come out of it.”
Would you say, that Grotesque marked people’s minds and became one of the most influential death metal outfits?
Virgintaker: „Considering the reponse we got at the gig I would have to agree. People traveled from all over Europe to see us at this tiny club. Daniel claimed that he had about 2000 people who wanted tickets but the venue only held about 200 people. When I listen to a song like Angels blood I can’t help but qoute Tompa in his pressrelease with which he finally killed the band „It can never be as brutal”.”
Any final words to our readers?
Tomas: „I think it is awesome that people are still interested in grotesque, that means we must have been doing something right... thanks for all the time you spent on creating this interview, it warms my heart that you dedicated so much time trying to reach the inner core of the band. grotesque will always be in my heart, as it is a big part of my life, even today... I beleive we must let the band rest now though, to keep he legacy intact... anyway, thanks and take care!!!!”
Virgintaker: „Grotesque are dead but the creative genius lives on in other forms such as Disfear, The Great Deceiver and AUTOTRASH. There are even rumours that At The Gates are reforming. Who knows what the future holds...?”