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Interview: Mutilation Rites

Mutilation Rites members George Paul and Justin Ennis are outside Kopec’s, a bar and music venue in the Lawrenceville neighborhood of Pittsburgh, sitting in their tour van, describing some of the activities in which the band members indulge when inside that van.

“Yell at each other. Make fun of other people. Definitely sweat. Smell real bad. Trying to find out what that smell is in the van.”

Paul and Ennis are the guitarist/vocalist and drummer, respectively, of the Brooklyn black metal band; they’re talking to me via phone. Kopec’s is the first stop of their current mini tour, an excursion whose main purpose is to get them from New York City to the sold-out Gilead Media Music Festival taking place this weekend in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

“We’re really looking forward to [the Festival],” says Ennis. “I don’t think there’s a band on it we don’t want to see, which is pretty ridiculous for a festival.” Most festivals, he notes are “half-garbage…but this is going to be great.”

Mutilation Rites’ last tour ended just a few weeks ago and they are already back on the road. But the band seems to be in a perpetual state of motion, whether they are literally on the move or musically shifting their sound, style and line-up.

Started by Ennis and guitarist Mike Dimmitt in January 2009, Mutilation Rites has, in that short three-year span, already released two EPs (one a split with NYC doom metallers Batillus, and the other I Am Legion, an EP that just came out in March of this year) and the group is now looking toward releasing their first full-length, Empyrean, on May 29. Creative input, too, has shifted with every record.

“The Gilead Media release, I am Legion, Mike and I wrote that in 2009 before all of these people were in the band,” says Ennis. “Actually, that was our original demo. But we re-worked it with the current line-up and re-recorded it to document it that way, with everyone. The Devoid EP, we did that when George switched from doing bass to vocals and guitar, and he started bringing material to the table. So that was the first thing we did where George and Mike started collaborating. For Empyrean, Ian [Deaderick] is now on bass, so it is kind of a collaboration between the three of them and all of us arranging it. So our music is a progression of whomever is in the band. It hasn’t been a conscious evolution, but we have a lot of line-up changes so someone is always bringing something new to the table.”

Finding album artwork was also a constant shift for the band, and it was hard to find an artist that was truly able to visualize what the band creates sonically. That is, until they found Reuben Sawyer.

“We had a really tough time finding an artist we were happy with to do the visuals, and then we found Reuben with Rainbath Visuals and that album looks fuckin’ sick,” Ennis said. “We liked it so much we asked him to do the cover of Empyrean also, and that turned out really well.”

Empyrean's cover art, by Reuben Sawyer.

But once work on the album was over, the band switched to road warrior mode, traveling the country with their suicidal, misanthropic metal. However, that isn’t exactly what they listen to as they roll on down the highway.

“We, unfortunately, have a really shitty stereo in our van so metal sounds pretty terrible on it,” Ennis says. “Instead we listen to a lot of old time-y classic rock. Last tour we listened to a lot of Herb Alpert [who wins the award for ‘Least Metal Album Cover Ever’ and a lot of old country.”

“We also listen to a lot of podcasts, like Dan Savage and This American Life,” says Paul. “Playing shows every day, listening to music all the time is rough. Especially metal. When you’re screaming into a microphone every day, you just want a break.”

And considering the relentless pummeling that is Empyrean, it’s understandable that the band would need a breather.

“It’s got more D-beat on it than our past stuff, and it has also got a little more of a grind influence,” says Ennis. “I think it’s a little more all over the place than our old stuff. I Am Legion is more of a black metal record, and Devoid is…I don’t even know what the hell that is.”

As far as Paul is concerned, knowing is one thing; telling is another. And even though he’s singing, he’s staying tight-lipped on the subject of the words spewing forth.

“I intentionally don’t tell anybody about my lyrics because I don’t think it’s important,” he says. “I never thought lyrics were a super-integral part of listening to music, and I don’t really consider myself a singer. I do vocals because I have to and I don’t really care if people like them; I’d rather have the lyrics for myself and people just listen to the music and take what they want from it. I’ve never ‘written’ in my life. I just play music.”

Gilead Media Music Festival is taking place April 28th and 29th in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. In addition to Mutilation Rites, the festival will feature Loss, Thou, Ash Borer, Fell Voices, and many others. The all-ages festival is sold out, but you can find out more information about it here.

— Kelly Kettering

BUY EMPYREAN

Prosthetic Records (CD/T-Shirt)

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