Releasing seven studio albums from 1987 to 1998, Death was crucial in pioneering the death metal genre. During his influential career—and maybe even more so after his death in 2001—vocalist/guitarist Chuck Schuldiner has been acknowledged as the godfather of extreme metal. Death’s 1987 debut album, Scream Bloody Gore, is widely considered the first death metal album and became the blueprint for extreme metal. The lyrical themes of horror and gore, Chuck’s unique vocal style and guitar playing, the raw intensity and iconic album art were groundbreaking. Now in 2016, thanks to a new Death-worshiping supergroup called Gruesome, we get to hear (and see) it all over again.
To make a long story short, in 2012, Schuldiner’s corporation wanted to raise some money for a charity called the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, so it put together the “Death to All Tour,” featuring former members of Death and other guest musicians performing Death’s classics. One of those involved was Exhumed vocalist/guitarist Matt Harvey, who took it one step further, forming Gruesome, a Death tribute band. The catch was the band would write original music but play in the style of Death. Gruesome was rounded out by members of Possessed, Malevolent Creation and Derketa. The band released its Leprosy-inspired full-length debut, Savage Land, in 2015, and now it’s back with Dimensions of Horror (May 20, 2016, Relapse Records)—you guessed it, inspired by Scream Bloody Gore.
Live Metal’s Jeff Maki recently talked with Harvey about Gruesome’s new release and Death’s legacy.
LIVE METAL: I kind of ran into Gruesome by accident the other day. I had been looking on eBay, trying to find a couple of the older Death CDs to fill in my collection. So then, I’m looking through my promos and I see your guys’ album cover and thought it looked familiar. So I check it out and discover you guys actually play in the style of Death, and I really liked the new EP. I think it sounds like an extension of Death, almost if they were to have released another album around that same time period.
MATT HARVEY: Cool, man, that’s what we were going for.
So for fans like me just now discovering your band, when did you guys first get together and decide to start playing music in the style of Death? How did it come together?
The original goal was to get another incarnation of Death to All together. That was the idea that our drummer, Gus (Rios), put towards me. He was working for (former Death drummer) Sean (Reinert) on tour and played a couple of songs with the band. He and I were kind of lamenting the fact that you can’t really hear a lot of deep cuts from the first three albums. So he thought we should do something with he and I and (former Death guitarist) James Murphy and just focus on the first three. And I thought that would be so cool. It wasn’t very serious. It was really just two dudes talking about stuff, and it could end of being a thing or just something to talk about. So I ended up with some down time and wanted to see what I would come up with, and pretty soon I had a couple of songs.
I haven’t heard the first Gruesome album. The new EP Dimensions of Horror is the first thing I’ve heard from you guys, but the first one follows the blueprint of Leprosy and this one is Scream Bloody Gore?
Right. Honestly, if you’re hearing this EP first, then this should have been the first release, but we didn’t really have a plan at the time. We signed a three-album deal, but we didn’t really know what kind of legs the album would have, so I didn’t really have a master plan. But after we released it, there were enough legs to make more records and to start moving through Death’s discography. To me, Savage Land is a mix between the first three albums, while this one is a bit more specific. I knew from the beginning I wanted to do Scream Bloody Gore. So it took longer when we were writing songs because I wanted something really specific. And some of the riffs on Scream Bloody Gore are really primitiv0,e so it’s hard to do something that sounds similar but just doesn’t sound like the exact same thing. Obviously, we are a tribute band, but you can’t just paint a door a new color and say it’s a new door. It’s still the same door.
Yeah, I would describe it as more of a reboot, kind of like what they’re doing with movies these days. And really, I think it may open the door for some things. I’m surprised that there hasn’t been more of this, because these classic bands from when we were younger are either already gone or they aren’t going to be around forever. So I don’t think it would be that out of the question for other newer bands to come along and say they’re playing in the style of Slayer or other classic bands.
Right, and I wanted people to know that we were a Death tribute band from the onset. As long as you know what you’re getting into, you may like us, instead of (hearing the music) and being like, “Hey, what are you trying to pull here?” No, I am here to tell you that we are a tribute band. But I think it’s also sacred to do this with Death, because, obviously, Chuck is deceased and as such, is not capable of writing a new album. Sure I could come up with a Slayer album or a Metallica album, but they’re still making records, so it’s slightly pointless.
Death doesn’t have too many more albums after this—three or four? What are you going to do when you run out of albums, though?
Well, I guess then you’re done. We’re not trying to expand our sound or get new influences or whatever. We’re starting with a well of source material. So at a certain point, the well will run dry, and that’ll be fine. And then we can get into mimicking ourselves or something, which would be very ironic. (laughs)
Like I said, when I discovered the band, the album cover really caught my eye. As it turns out, the artist that did the cover is Ed Repka, the same artist that did the Death album covers and Megadeth. Obviously, you’re probably not independently wealthy and Ed Repka is a pretty famous artist, so was he just really into the band and the idea? How did that all come together?
Basically, we knew from the beginning that we needed his artwork in order to complete the whole package for you to feel like you were getting a Death record. And we approached him before we got our record deal and got his budget. So we went to Relapse and told them that we need to build this into every album cost because without this guy the whole project falls apart. Without the logo or without the artwork, or if one element is off, we’re gonna shit the bed.[Editor’s note: Among his work, Ed Repka created the album art for Death’s Scream Bloody Gore, Leprosy and Spiritual Healing, as well as Megadeth’s Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying? and its iconic mascot, Vic Rattlehead.]
Like we discussed, there aren’t too many more Death albums, but are you planning to run through the discography?
Yeah, we have some songs for the next one, which is kind of our Spiritual Healing. And I have some things in the works that are a little more progressive for later albums, and I think that’ll be kind of a challenge. Like I said, we’re pulling from a limited well, so we don’t have the indefinite impetus of our own creative urges while working as a tribute band. There’s not endless variety, but there’s definitely at least two or three more albums.
Great. That brings me to my last question. I was too young when Leprosy and Scream Bloody Gore were released. I think I was like 10 years old. I got into Death around Human (1991) and Individual Thought Patterns (1993). So I know you like it all—you are a Death tribute band—but for you, which era of Death do you prefer? After going back and listening, I think I prefer the older stuff.
I definitely prefer the older stuff. Scream Bloody Gore was a major influence as a kid, when I was playing guitar and learning those riffs. We could just jam all night long in my mom’s living room and play “Regurgitated Guts,” “Sacrificial” (and others). That was really when I got my intro into death metal, and to me, that will always be closest to my heart. So Scream Bloody Gore, Leprosy and Spiritual Healing … I mean Human is a great album. It’s such an expansion of the sound, it’s almost like a new band started. I almost feel like Human, Individual Thought Patterns, Symbolic and The Sound of Perseverance are still Chuck and he’s still singing a lot of the same type of stuff and arrangements, but it’s a band with a completely different mission statement than the band that did the first three albums.
We’re actually located in Maryland and I see that Gruesome is booked to play the Maryland Deathfest in 2016.
Yeah, man. We’re excited, and it’s gonna be awesome.
So are there any other touring plans asides from Deathfest?
Not too much. With us, everybody plays in other bands. I live in California. So it’s a little tough to tour too much, but we are going to Europe for about two weeks and we’re doing Brutal Assault (Czech Republic), Party.San Metal Open Air (Germany), and then we have some one-off gigs in between with Exodus, so that’s gonna be fun. That’s where we’re at for the moment. We did some one-off headlining shows last year in Florida and California. We haven’t been to Chicago or to a lot of the bigger metal markets yet, so there is a lot of urgency to fit in touring time for us so we’re excited.
OK, man. I know you’re busy, so I think you’ve run through all my questions. Like I said, I love the EP, Dimensions of Horror. Anything else or are we done?
Thank you for taking the time and speaking to me and supporting the record. We really appreciate it, and it’s awesome.