Monday, February 12, 2018

interview: Grethor

Grethor is an extreme metal band from the United States. They have a 2018 album called Damnatio Memoriae, a monstrous work with quite a range of sounds that takes some serious listening in order to dig into it and unpack it. With this opportunity available now, what better time to find out more about the album and also about the band and what they are all about with their music? The complete album is available for people to check out at the first link below.

Hello, Grethor! I hope you do not mind a beginner-level interview. I have never heard your music, but I have been listening to the cacophony of Damnatio Memoriae. So, your band has been active for more than 10 years? Congratulations! It's not easy playing extreme metal for peanuts, right? Do you have any members in the band from the early days? Can you tell us who are the current members and what are their responsibilities? Who is answering these questions?

Marcus: Marcus Lawrence, vocals. Hi! I am the only member from the original lineup. I have never really been interested in making this music for money, so the idea of doing so had never really seemed realistic to me. The band, as you hear it on the album is, of course, me, Anthony Rouse (drums), Tony Petrocelly (guitar, bass), Brian Frost (guitar).

Tony and Anthony will be moving on, so I plan on rebuilding the band with another lineup in the future. I have been busy with promoting the album and other things, but I plan on making this a priority in the near future. Like, in two weeks. And, thank you for listening to Damnatio Memoriae. I don't mind you being a latecomer at all, I am just happy you had been listening to any one of our releases at all.

Anthony: Up until recently I was the drummer and one of the songwriters for the past six years.

How have you survived the world of DIY and underground metal in the state of Virginia, U.S.? Is there a city in particular that you guys play shows in? I do not know where the biggest metal scenes are in your state. Now, what about the state and the region in general, do you pound the pavement in the South, getting out your music to the people there, too?

Marcus: Well, the Richmond, VA scene seems pretty big, but we hadn't played there since the original lineup, and I would like to change that soon. The big place in DC is a bar called The Pinch, and there seems to be a sort of revolving door of venues, I honestly don't even know anymore. Once this band is back up and running, I will find out.

I don't know that I would describe any and huge, but there is a larger concentration of bands around Richmond, and Maryland, between DC and Baltimore. It's pretty widespread, really. As far as further south, there seems to be a bit of a black metal scene around Charlotte, NC, and around the largest cities in the South, as those are places with more diverse populations than (primarily) white evangelicals. I have heard some brutal stuff come out of Charleston, for instance. I imagine that with such strict cultural indoctrination, the backlash will be that much more extreme.

Anthony: We've played in Northern Virginia and Maryland plenty of times. We did have a show all the way out in Harrisonburg, which was really cool. Honestly, with resources like Bandcamp and having PR services you can get your band's name out there regardless of how strong a music scene in a particular geographic location is.

Damnatio Memoriae is your latest album, and I'll get to it in a minute, but it looks like you have recorded a bunch of demos and EPs and other DIY titles. How many of those older recordings are still available? Do you still play those old songs from the demos? Were those demos extreme metal like now? How do you view those old demos? Stepping stones? Do you disown that old music? Are they a pretty good representation of your musical vision now?

Marcus: Not disowning it at all. The band was originally a bunch of guys who wanted to play in the style of first wave of black metal. We wanted to do what no one else was doing at the time. As people come and go, the sound changes, as the tastes of those people becomes intermingled with the music. We evolved based on that, I think. It went to melodic black metal, and eventually the black/death sound you hear now. All the recordings are available on Bandcamp if you would like to check them out. Feel free to do so, in fact.

We played some old songs, in addition to whatever was current at the time to us. Like most bands who acquire a catalogue over time, you choose from whatever you want to play that night. It's a mix of everything, really.

Anthony: Our entire discography is available on Bandcamp, as Marcus said. Damnatio Memoriae and Cloaked in Decay have both digital and physical copies for sale. We also have a shirt for sale. Back when we played live shows we would throw in a couple older songs, including Monody for Artemis and All Praise the Blind (from the Monody for Artemis and Graethor demos, respectively). As Marcus said, there's been a transition from the first-wave black metal style to our current style. That's largely due to lineup changes. I consider them stepping stones that eventually lead to Damnatio Memoriae, but that doesn't diminish their existence by any means. Of course, we would never disown our early material, they may not be perfect but they are still Grethor songs.

Your band is on Bandcamp. Where else do you have your music available, actually? Do you recommend that people buy your music on any particular medium? Do you actually get some money when people buy that music? I understand that some services are actually pretty good rip-offs and the artists only see a couple of pennies on the dollar, but I am not an expert on this topic.

Marcus: Bandcamp definitely seems to be the way to go. Yes, we get money. Yes, I recommend purchasing it at this juncture. You can get a solid copy through there as well. We aren't really going to just release stuff through too many places, for pretty much the reasons you just described. This will suit our needs.

Anthony: I know I sound like a shill for Bandcamp, but in all sincerity, Bandcamp has been a great resource for us. And we keep most of the money we make. Not only that, we have distribution while also maintaining full creative control of our music.

I have been trying to understand your music for real. I have realized that your music is extreme metal but there is more than meets the eye here. There's a certain avant-garde edge, but at the same time it is very headbanging metal. First of all, how many vocalists recorded on the album? There are various types of growling and extreme vocals and I'm curious how many people did it.

Marcus: That was all me. There was a lot of layering that Tony encouraged, but that was entirely me. We were highly influenced by avantgarde black metal, and plenty of good
ol' fashioned death metal. And doom. A touch of doom. As far as my vocal style, I have never wanted to be just a typical death or black metal vocalist. My influences were those genres, and wanted to blend those styles, but also with a touch of old NWOBHM, as I have listened to those bands as well, and Testament was a huge influence for me as well. I love that Chuck Billy doesn't just blend into the music, and really adds so much more.

Anthony: I am very much flattered that you consider our works to have an avant-garde edge. Some of my songwriting influences include Gorguts and Deathspell Omega, two bands that I greatly admire.

I also noticed that your drums do not sound like plastic, clicky toy drums. It's heavy, the cymbals are very audible and there is a general harsh feel to the drums. What can you tell us about your secrets for the drum sound? Are we hearing real, live drums or are we listening to software?

Anthony: Thank you, we were certainly trying to avoid that! Tony would do a better job explaining the technical aspects, but we essentially recorded the drums in a few days, without triggers, then Tony mixed them down and did sound replacement for the kicks so they come through in the mix better.

Your album is no joke project. It's almost an hour long and the music has lots of twists and turns. How have you arrived at the type of song composition? Is there a particular person driving this type of songwriting? You have two maniacs on guitar. So, what does mean? Two people with crazy ideas about what to do with the guitar? What is driving your genre/subgenre cross-pollination?

Marcus: I have said before that we created something we would want to listen to, as I think bands should. That's not the most technically driven answer, but it's how I see it.

Anthony: Tony and I did most of the composing for the album while Brian contributed three songs. The way Tony and I wrote is that we bounced ideas off of each other, I would write and record the early demos to lay the groundwork, Tony would come in with his ideas and make the songs more polished until we are happy with the final version. Tony and Brian are both amazingly talented guitarists and I don't think the songs would be as good without their input and skill (since I'm pretty sucky at playing guitar like that). In this album we tried to balance out both the black metal and death metal sides of our sound while also experimenting with doom metal (i.e. Weaponized Madness).

Maybe it is your bassist? You have some groovy tendencies here and there, too. I feel like you really emphasize your rhythm section. It's not just blasting. The rhythm section seems to have lots of room to elbow its way into the songs, not just be there as a decoration or a formality.

Anthony: Thanks! I love blasting, don't get me wrong, but doing it for an entire song would be exhausting and, quite frankly, boring. I put a lot into my drumming but I also like to have fun with it. There's nothing quite like settling into a nice groove and building on that.

What can you tell us about the label you are on? Is it your own label? Are you happy with the distribution of your latest album?

Anthony: Edgewood Arsenal Records is a small label owned by Tony. And yes, we are happy with it.

Marcus: Quite happy, yes. Thus far, anyway.

Have you seen good reviews of your music? Does it look to you like some do have listened to the music for real, as opposed to hearing a couple of songs and then doing a fake or polite review?

Marcus: Predominantly good reviews, yes, and from people who had really listened. We're not big enough for people to assume anything about our music, so they will have to listen, rather than what had been heard in the past, or praise of successes, etc. We aren't Dimmu Borgir, or something, so there isn't a sort of anticipation based on assumption. You have to listen, I think, to know anything about us. It has been interesting to discuss our musical perspectives to people from different countries, and to get the word out about us. Even the worst reviews weren't necessarily bad or negative, but definitely specific. And the things one reviewer may have disliked, may have been the very things another liked. We have also released some songs individually, and we did so through other publications, etc. Those have been great, as we had been getting positive press, which attracts more listeners, etc., etc.

Anthony: I think Marcus said it best.

What types of lyrical ideas are on the album? Metal Archives says that you used to do fantasy lyrics. Is that no longer true? How are your lyrics different from the past? Metal Archives mentions a certain context, but I am not familiar with it.

Marcus: Haha. I am not sure I ever did "fantasy" lyrics, so I don't think that is accurate. I will update it another time. I was always into Futurism, and science fiction, and the name of the band is derived from Star Trek, but not fantasy in a sort of "sword and sorcery" way. I mainly wrote about the rising tide of anti-intellectualism, and the dangers therein. I had always seen religion as a major part of that, but one of many things. I did write one about mythology, yes, that being "Monody for Artemis". Then I did write "Tenebrous" about Genghis Khan, but that was more or less a warning tale about the dangers of imposing upon a culture to your ends, and then it rises in retribution. I see it as a parallel to US foreign policy over the past 40-50 years. Us being China in the warning tale, of course. Just look up the Mongols, if you don't know already.

I also wrote a couple based on the King In Yellow, but mainly as a story in it related to existential horror, and I wrote more about that than anything. This time, it was really more literal, and what I was observing around me. Something more sociopolitical and more immediate. I think it had stayed with the themes of anti-intellectualism, but as the dangers are coming to fruition.

Anthony: That was my mistake on the whole "fantasy" thing on Metal Archives (whoops!). I set up the page on Metal Archives for the band shortly before our first EP came out, and I mistook the lyrics for the first two demos to be fantasy-based. I was young and I was thinking about fantasy in a very broad way, and hadn't really analyzed the lyrics as closely as I should have.

By the way, do you take a stance on politics in your lyrics? In the recent period Virginia has been in the news because racist and fascists apparently found stuff they like there, correct? I think that I have read there are some openly racist metal bands in Virginia, too. What is your opinion on this stuff? This stuff has most likely been the topic of conversation amongst some metal bands in Virginia. What's going on in Virginia and what do you all think?

Marcus: It was what I was writing about in "The Last Manifesto". I wrote those lyrics immediately following Trump's stupid, and irresponsible comments following the disaster in Charlottesville. I find the preservation of monuments to a racist and pointless cause such as the Confederacy, and the need to remind entire races of people of "their place" in the shadows of those idiotic monuments.

I have no sense of nostalgia for them, as they are a reminder of a destructive and doomed cause that shouldn't have been in the first place. The South loves to relive a glory that never really existed, and an oligarchic system of a time they never really knew. They see this moronic, "antebellum" place as their identity, and none of its actual policies and actual social construct would've benefitted them.

However, the South has some of the worst places in this country. The worst poverty, drained by idiot Republican politicians and sociopathic pastors who horde wealth for a donor class, and in return bankrupting the education systems to keep them ignorant and compliant. They believe this is woven into the fabric of their identity, and they will use the threat of an unlimited access to guns to create the threat of lethal force in order to preserve it. They live in a reality of their own, and this is it. This isn't sustainable, of course, and as the threat to its validity has become ever present, and so they use the power of the electorate to impose. This isn't necessarily unique to America, but it is how gascism becomes more American in its current form.

Not all bands around here are political, per se, but I think any time a band takes a stand against a public institution, such as religion, they are taking a political stance. They may decry the idea of a band being political, but it's usually because that viewpoint express may make them uncomfortable, or challenge their own personal viewpoint. However, these things can also affect their personal lives, or the freedom they have to make music or express themselves. As far as any bands expressing any alt-right, or racist views, well, we don't associate with them, and I don't think anyone else does, either. They aren't wanted.

Would you mind telling us your thinking about a song like Weaponized Madness? It's a slower, heavy song and it shows that your band can do the black/death metal segments, but also go out there and do some heavy, post-metal-like stuff, too. I sense that the band is a bit tired of the genre limits. Am I wrong? Do you feel like your band can do whatever, and it'll be ok because you don't care to fit into a particular genre?

Anthony: You're not wrong. We have always been an extreme metal band, and I don't think we're interested in being anything otherwise. But there's still a lot you can do within that framework, especially in black metal, death metal, and doom metal. Doom metal has been something we have flirted with since Cloaked in Decay, and I think it adds an extra dimension to our sound. It gives us more to work with while sounding relatively cohesive. Weaponized Madness is a lot like a song we did called Organic Tomb, in that it brings our doom metal influences to the forefront.

Marcus: Who really wants stagnancy as an artist? Not one worth a shit, I can tell you that. One shouldn't make music for the purpose of satisfying the self - appointed gatekeepers of a genre. That would make us as pretentious as they are. I know I am not interested in that. Stand out. Make something that really expresses a new idea.

Finally, what are your plans for the future? Where is Grethor at this point in your career? Are you feeling energized to continue? The band has been around for 10 years. I'm sure it wasn't easy or cheap to do the album. Will you have the will and the energy to do more albums?!

Marcus: I plan on rebuilding very soon. I have come a land long way myself, and am not finished. I have a lot more to say, and there seems to a lot to continue disgusting me, and the need to express that disgust. There is always a new way of expressing in it, and expanding on it.

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