Burned In Effigy Blaze A New Trail On “Rex Mortum” (Interview)
Chicago has proven time and again to be one of the most metal meccas of the world. With many well revered local music venues, metal-themed restaurants, longstanding print publications, and a vast array of talented bands, the Windy City can hold its own when doling out ferocious metal.
One such offering: relative scene newcomers and melodic death metal band Burned in Effigy, who bring an engaging and diversified sound to the underground metal universe. Formed in 2016, this quintet create a lethal musical concoction by combining a mixture of neoclassical elements, melodic death metal, and progressive metal segments with slight metalcore influences on their blistering debut full-length album Rex Mortem (independently released on January 28th, 2022). Burned In Effigy shows off their talent by forging new paths within the various metal subgenres that not many other newer bands have mastered.
During a recent phone interview, vocalist Mark "Smedy" Smedbron talked about how he joined the band, the creation of their new full-length album, his writing technique and lyrical inspiration, as well as Burned In Effigy's future plans.
Where does Burned In Effigy fit into the talented Chicago metal scene?
Wherever you go in the city you're going to find some really awesome talent. You could go into any bar, most bars that have live music… and you'll find something that has a lot to do with talent. I guess you could say we fit definitely in with the more aggressive scene in the city. We play metal, so obviously it's a lot more aggressive and more upbeat. As far as the scene goes, we’ve got a lot of buddies who definitely come out and have seen the few shows that we've played. I guess you could say we fit in with the underground bars and places like that.
There are many great venues around the city and you’ve opened up for some seasoned bands such as Scale the Summit, Angel Vivaldi, Oh, Sleeper, and Mushroomhead. It’s great that these local shows allowed you to hone your craft in the live setting, and I assume playing live is one of the things this band lives for.
We definitely love to perform live and as far as honing my craft, it's taken me a long time for me to try and think about how a live performance (should be). You don't want to be that band that just gets up there and plays your songs and then in between songs it’s boring and you can hear the crickets chirping! (laughs) I definitely strive to perform and give a really awesome show to anybody who wants to come and check out our set.
Your debut full-length album, Rex Mortem, is wonderfully varied. You seem to be blazing a slightly new trail within the several sub-genres with a modern familiarity that’s also fresh and energetic. What were you trying to achieve musically?
As far as achievements go, I just really would like to spread our music to as many people as we can. That's basically been our number one goal that we've been trying to achieve. It's still so fresh and new to all of us. We’re just five friends who wanted to put out an album and have a really good time and just make music and play music for the love of getting out there and seeing the crowd and interacting with people; finding out new music, being more inspired by other bands that are out there in the scene. There's a whole lot of bands out there that have to do with influencing us and how we influence other bands.
The origins of the band existed before you joined, which at that point was still an all instrumental band. Were the other members actively seeking a singer after its 2017 Terrestrial EP? How did you meet the band or did you know of them beforehand?
That’s an interesting story and I'm glad you asked that. I used to sing for a band called Rhemora and we lost our drummer temporarily for a little bit. My guitarist found Eddie—this really kick ass, jazz-taught thrash metal drummer. So we went over to his house, we brought our amps and we all hung out with him and he seemed like a really cool kid. We jammed out with him for a little bit. But unfortunately, we got our other drummer back and we had to say, “Thanks Eddie, but no thanks.” Years later, I was jamming after Rhemora had broken up and someone mentioned that a band sounded like In Flames but they didn't have a singer. I thought it sounded enticing and intriguing. He showed me a couple of songs off the Terrestrial EP and I could see where these guys were going. I looked them up and I saw Eddie was the drummer of the band! So I got ahold of Eddie and he said, “Let's do this man!” So we rehearsed on and off for a few months and eventually I decided to jump in full time with these guys and I've been writing and doing lyrics and fronting the band ever since. And it's been awesome, man. I'm really happy to be in this group.
There's some great local instrumental bands such as Pelican, Zaius and Russian Circles, to name a few. How did the idea come about to introduce vocals into the band?
I think they had a vocalist for a little while and he was kind of flaky. They were still trying to pursue a vocalist at the time. I think Matt and Eddie came upon themselves to keep making music and keep doing this; to try and be an instrumental band for a while and maybe that'll draw somebody in. And I guess it worked because I heard it and I was like, I'm all for this! What I'm trying to do as far as bringing vocals into this band, I want to bring a story. I want to bring more theatrics and more of an element of a theme going on. A lot of our stuff has to do with little stories, little tiny chapters of a bigger story of a tyrannical king who goes on a lot of terrible adventures through hell and things like that. With me bringing vocals to the band has definitely brought a bigger aspect, a bigger element to things. It’s not just instruments playing. Not that that's not amazing and awesome on its own. The guys who are making that instrumental music, that's awesome. I am not putting that down at all. I just feel like this band definitely deserved to have a vocalist and I'm doing my best to try and bring the best product I can to this band.
There’s some great storytelling going on with the lyrics that lean toward darker concepts, yet the music is rather uplifting with a positive message. Where do some of your lyrical inspirations come from?
Back when Vito (Bellino) and Brad (Dose) were still playing guitar in the band, they were always writing a lot of classical style stuff and especially Vito, he played a lot of classical guitar. He'd always have classical guitar in his hands, even if he was just having a conversation with you. So he was always plucking away at these Bach and Chopin-like old school, composer-esque styled riffs. And it kind of got the gears rolling in my head one day, like, what can we do? What could we bring to the table here? I'm a huge movie nerd; I love movies. And I like a lot of different genres of movies. I think at that time I was watching Braveheart and 300 and a couple other movies that really inspired me to want to write some really cool stuff. Because in the back of my head, this tyrannical king, I always pictured it like Edward Longshanks from Braveheart. But more evil and more seducing and more sorceress. The classical aspect of things definitely beamed my direction for wanting to write lyrics and stories.
The track "Nightfall" was originally an instrumental track on the previous EP. How did you go about applying lyrics and vocals to this track?
We were all just kind of jamming around and we were talking about different concepts and “what does this song make you feel?” It was a huge conversation about emotions; what major and minor chords make you feel certain types of emotions and things like that. And we were talking about “Nightfall” and I just got a picture of something in my head like it was dusk, like a vision of the sun setting in my head. It was kind of creepy and eerie and it snowballed into an idea of what if we wrote the song about the horribleness of being cursed with immortality to feast on the blood of the living. I only had so much to work with because the songs were already recorded; they were already set in stone before I started writing lyrics to them. I had to work with what I had. I took the spacings and how long the verses were, or how empty the parts were, and I did my best to try and write a story about a man who was cursed with immortality. He’s forced to feed on the flesh of the living; this horrible life, this horrible existence. And he has to continuously do it night in and night out. It just inspired me to want to continue to write even more awesome stuff, because that was one of the first ones I wrote, as far as lyrics go. And it definitely set the bar for the rest of the lyrics on the rest of the album for me to want to live up to something as good as that.
Your vocal style alternates between a raspy higher-pitched bark to a more mid-ranged howl with relative ease. Your range reminds me a little of Alexi Laiho from Children of Bodom. Who are some of your vocal influences?
There's a lot that goes into that because as the years have gone by I’ve just picked apart things I liked from different vocalists and did my best to try and attempt to give my shot at it. I definitely say in my younger years I was very influenced by Cannibal Corpse; Chris Barnes’ stuff. To try and get that lower kind of element of things. Jesse from Killswitch Engage, he really opened my eyes the possibilities of how high you can really stretch your vocals. And Randy Blythe from Lamb of God, he really set in my head that mid-tone growl. There’s different types of influences that I've had throughout the years, and yeah, Alexi Laiho is definitely one of them. I can remember picking up “Triple Corpse Hammerblow” (from Hate Crew Deathroll) when I was in high school and thinking, “what is this?” I like patterns though, too, because there's more than just growling and high pitch/low pitch/mids and anywhere in between. There's more than that. Things that are more appealing to me are patterns and I listen to a vast array of different types of music as far as patterns go. I really like how the Righteous Brothers throw down a few different things in a few different songs that they've had. I really like the Commodores. I think that they've got awesome rhythmic patterns vocally that are inspirational to me.
The guitar work throughout the entire album is fantastic. Former guitarists Vito Bellino and Brad Dose performed on the album, but have since been replaced by Mike Hisson and Steve Bacakos. Could you explain the departure of both guitarists and then the new recruits?
Unfortunately, life happens, and Brad had a lot of personal things going on. It's not that he wanted to depart from the band, but he had to take care of a lot of things. We're all still friends and he came out to our last show and we were all hanging out having a good time. So, we lost Brad and we were a four piece. We had a couple other guys come in and try out, but nobody really fit with what we're looking for or could live up to the talent, because these guys wrote some incredible guitar parts that not just anybody could play. Just as soon as I was going to bring in Mikey, Vito decided that he had a lot of things going on with his life. He really wanted to focus on his musical career and school. He really wanted to expand his talents and expand his capabilities, and he saw his school as something that was really important to him. Then out of nowhere, Steve got ahold of Eddie or Eddie got ahold of Steve somehow, and it was like butter on toast man, it just worked really well. He came in, he learned three songs and he just started ripping away. We all kind of looked at each other and we had that moment of, “Alright, I think things are gonna be okay!”
What will you be concentrating on mostly for the rest of 2022, including touring plans?
We've played one show so far with the new lineup and we've got three or four shows booked. We definitely would like to tour, depending on the condition of the world that we live in. We live in a crazy time right now. I can definitely see it in the future. But as of right now, it's kind of unknown as far as touring goes, but we were not opposed to it. We’re definitely looking forward to seeing how far we can take shows and plan as many shows as we can for as many people as we can to build our fan base and give those people even better products when we’re writing our next material.
Burned in Effigy released January 28th, 2022 independently through the band's Bandcamp page.