Entering the Underground #5: Feast on Anthropophagous’ Gruesome, Mutated Death Metal
Most modern underground death metal falls into a handful of overarching styles: ones that are popular, appeal to labels, or present opportunities in the scene. A band might sound like Repugnant, Incantation, Autopsy, or Death, but more genuinely novel bands or ones that hearken back to other times and places in death metal history are a lot less common.
Hearing Anthropophagous for the first time was as much of a revelation as it was a relief—someone aside from the usual older subjects making music that sounds as much like Cardiac Arrest or Impetigo as it does like Vomitor is a rarity in itself, and even rarer is that Anthropophagous actually deliver and make something worth listening to while they combine their diverse set of influences. On their debut full-length Death Fugue, breakneck moshing thrash riffs intersect with filthy grindcore and gurgling horror gore in a way that’s catchy, memorable, and putrid, with the onslaught as relentless at the end of the album as at the beginning.
The chorus of "Lead Casket" really sums up the whole album:
NOW YOU VOMIT BLOOD
AS YOUR CELLS ERUPT
NOTHING CAN SAVE YOU
YOU WISH DEATH WAS ABRUPT
Read an interview with guitarist/vocalist Shane below.
Thanks for doing this interview with Invisible Oranges! To start, "Anthropophagous" is a bit of a mouthful. What does the name mean and why did you guys pick it?
Thank you for interviewing us - it’s always fun to talk about oneself. Our name means "feeding on human flesh" and it was taken from the Italian horror movie of the same name. Our former bass player Butcher Mike suggested it. Mike was also the vocalist on the track "Anthropophagous" from our Spoiled Marrow demo and drew the cover to our Post-Natal Abortion demo. His contributions were fundamental to our ethos and overall direction as a band and we miss him dearly.
I didn’t realize that you guys did the album as a two piece! Was it difficult adjusting to the reduced lineup?
It was at first for sure. Mike left after Spoiled Marrow and the second demo is basically Steve and I trying to figure out how to keep going without his input. In a way we are probably more productive at practice because we spend less time shooting the breeze as a two-piece, but there's a greater writing burden on me and I have to record the bass parts. We wrote and recorded Death Fugue in about four months - one new song per practice and then when Steve felt confident enough we recorded all the drums in one session in our practice space. It took me a couple months to plot out the leads and finish the lyrics and then I recorded everything else in my apartment. Very low-key.
Are there any advantages to operating as a two piece that you didn’t expect?
I think the main advantages are that scheduling practice is easier and it can be easier to make decisions with fewer people. Recording is a bit more streamlined too, but it's a lot of work for me putting everything together. I do a lot of the art and all the production as well as lyrics, vocals, guitar, and bass so the process can really kick my ass.
Do you have plans to expand the lineup in the future to spread out the load a bit?
Yes, we have spoken to a couple people about filling out the lineup once the covid situation has blown over. Then hopefully we can play some shows. We still haven't played a single show! It will be really fun to write the next record with a full lineup and see how that changes the sound of the band. I'm always going to be the primary songwriter however.
You guys remind me a lot of old Razorback bands, Slaughter, Impetigo, and other sounds that aren’t very trendy in the modern death metal scene. What led you guys to play this sort of death metal, and how has the reception so far been to Death Fugue?
Those are definitely some of the sonic touchstones we referenced when conceptualizing the band. We admire the singular and weird bands who made iconic records with no hope of ever becoming commercial simply because they loved to do it. The original concept was just to play heavy down-tuned metal with guttural vocals and memorable riffs. I don’t think we’re really aware of what’s trendy and we prefer to just follow our own instincts when songwriting. I try to strike a balance between ugly and catchy when writing riffs so that even when they are extremely chromatic there’s some sort of melody there to keep it stuck in your head - I learned that from Slayer and Celtic Frost. Another huge part of our sound is Steve’s drumming which to my ears doesn’t sound like any other death metal drummer’s. He plays single kick and comes from a jazz and rock background and his pocket is less mechanical than most other drummers in the genre. So far the reception has been overwhelmingly positive to our surprise and we feel really encouraged to keep making records.
Had Steve played in any metal bands prior to Anthropophagous?
Steve and Mike played briefly together in a trad doom band called Idolatry. If memory serves it was similar to Witchfinder General and Pagan Altar. They played one show on Halloween and covered the Monster Mash before fizzling out.
Between that and your previous experience being more rooted in speed metal via Tortured Skull, was there any adjustment period when starting to play death metal?
It took us a solid year of rehearsal to get Spoiled Marrow together because we didn't really have appropriate gear or know how to play death metal yet. Those songs were all rewritten at least once before we were confident in them and we scrapped at least one other song. We're also all in other bands and work a lot so it can be hard to get everyone in the room together. When we recorded Spoiled Marrow I used a Peavey T-60 guitar and an Ampeg V-4 with a Rat pedal, which is a serviceable rig, but really unconventional. It worked out okay I guess. Now I use a cheap ESP LTD Explorer with active pickups, a tube screamer and an Ampeg VH-140c - it's a lot heavier and more precise for tremolo picking, palm muting, and pinch harmonics. In the beginning we also couldn't settle on tuning, so Spoiled Marrow is in C# and everything since is in C. As far as switching from thrash/speed metal to death metal on guitar goes, it's not too different technique wise since we're mostly pulling influence from the late 80s/early 90s. I think building stamina for tremolo picking during blast parts was the greatest challenge. I spent years playing in power violence, D-Beat, and Oi bands so I have some brute force in my playing style which helps.
Was there any "biggest" influence on the record when you guys were putting it together?
For me personally, I have been kind of obsessed with Repulsion - 1991 Demo, Agonized - Gods... demo, and Abhorrence - Vulgar Necrolatry. We are also really into Autopsy, old Morbid Angel, Celtic Frost, and Nihilist - basically the same shit everyone else into. I'm not someone who needs to hear every demo under the sun - though I'm always hunting for bits of inspiration.
Were there any changes in influences between the recording of the record and the recording of Spoiled Marrow?
There's definitely more of a traditional doom influence in some of the slower sections on Death Fugue. Pentagram and Trouble are huge for me and I wanted to bring in some of their melodic lead styles over the grimier evil sounding riffs. I wish I could play solos like Kerry King, but I can't figure out how to do it and I don't play with a floating bridge so divebombs are out of the question. I lean on some more traditional heavy metal lead playing for those reasons. There's even some minor pentatonic on the record which can sound out of place in death metal because of its bluesier sound, but for me that's not an issue. We're huge rock and roll fans and we're informed by the totality of its history. I'm not someone who thinks extreme metal sprang up out of nowhere with no prior influence. Just the other day I was listening to Dick Dale and thinking about how similar his tremolo picking and note choices are to a lot of thrash and death metal - call me crazy. Overall, I think the biggest change in our sound is the result of us getting better at our instruments and better as songwriters.
Does that extra infusion of heavy metal give you an edge over death metal bands without that respect for metal history? Is it something you look for in other contemporary death metal bands?
I don't know if it's an edge per se, since this all comes down to taste and subjectivity. If it does, it's only for the fans who are also into Heavy Metal because that influence will be lost on people who just want brutal breakdowns or constant blast parts or whatever. That shit is just not for us. We're always going to have melodic solos and catchy riffs and structure to our songs. I don't tend to like riff salad or bands without dynamics. There aren't a ton of contemporary bands that I'm into, but I definitely look for memorable riffs first and foremost on anything I check out. Atmosphere is cool - intensity is cool - but without riffs I just don't care. I will throw on Thin Lizzy or Sabbath over some war metal band every single time. Fuck, I'll put on Chuck Berry over most war metal. Some recent records I really dug were Sacrilegia - The Triclavian Advent, Cauldron Black Ram - Slaver, Dipygus - Bushmeat (and Deathooze), and all of the Impure records. Impure kick ass because they play Black/Death that reminds me at times of Beherit and Archgoat, but they are extremely well produced and catchy. I think their recordings set a really high benchmark for production, actually. And there's a very strong classic heavy metal vein running through all their music. And of course Possessed, Bathory, Sodom, Necrophagia, Repulsion, Morbid Angel, Autopsy, Celtic Frost, etc., all pull directly from classic Heavy Metal and that's all the best shit ever.
Death Fugue is being released by Headsplit Records on CD and cassette, and Night Rhythms Recordings on vinyl. How did you get in touch with Dylan and Greg, and what happened to Blood Harvest, who did a 7" of your first demo?
When we released our Spoiled Marrow demo online we had absolutely zero expectations. To be honest I assumed it would just disappear into the Bandcamp void and be forgotten forever. Making it was kind of an excuse for us to hang out and drink beer. Mike was moving away and it seemed unlikely the band had any future. Somehow it caught some attention and reached the ears of both Dylan and Greg who contacted us about working together. Rodrigo at Blood Harvest also asked to release that demo on vinyl. We were actually astounded that anyone gave a shit. They’ve all been great to work with and we’re extremely grateful for their support. I’d love it if Blood Harvest released the LP in Europe, but we’re such an unknown band and Rodrigo is probably still sitting on a ton of copies of the demo 7"!
Was getting your music on vinyl a goal of yours at all?
It is because we want people who collect vinyl to be able to hear our music that way. In some ways vinyl legitimizes a record, which I find kind of stupid - it's just a medium after all and doesn't have any bearing on the actual substance of the music itself - but it is a really cool format for all the reasons everyone states.
I have infinite appreciation for the diehard label owners who risk their money pressing albums for small independent bands like us. I myself am not a collector because I spend all my spare money on recording equipment and guitar amplifiers. That said, I'm very excited and humbled that our music will be accessible on so many different formats.
Would you say that you’re a gearhead?
I really like gear. Achieving a desired sound is as important to me as good composition, so I'm always cycling through stuff to find what helps me get the job done. I do all of our recording and mixing myself, which requires a lot of equipment. Speaking of which, anyone who likes the sound of our records - I'm available for hire for mixing!
Does having an intimate sense of how things will sit in a mix affect how you approach songwriting?
I'm definitely conscious of my limitations as a recordist/mixer and as a guitarist so sometimes I simplify riffs to make sure they will come through clearly in the recording. I don't want everything to turn into mush. The solos and lead guitar parts are usually written after the rhythm instruments are tracked, which is a luxury I have since I'm the one doing the recording. In fact, on Death Fugue all the lyrics and vocal parts were written after the rhythm instruments were recorded too. I guess the songwriting process doesn't end until the production is finished. It's all one big messy thing. I'd like to get to a place that's a little more organic and band-oriented, but for the time being this is how we have to work. I'll probably always write lyrics at the last moment though because it takes me a long time to get into the right mindset.
Will the band ever use a studio and paid engineer for a record, or do you intend to DIY or die?
I could see us going into a studio when we have a full lineup so I could focus on guitar and vocals without having to do so much work, but I’d be a little worried the production would be too clean. I’m a control freak, but it would be nice I’m sure.
What’s next for Anthropophagous?
Start working on another record I guess, though I don’t feel in any sort of rush. Maybe we’ll do an EP next to reset and conceptualize the next full length. Or a split or something.
Do you have anything else you’d like to talk about or promote?
No, thanks very much for the interview!
Death Fugue released digitally March 5th, 2021 on their Bandcamp page, with physical releases on the way.