“El Camazotz”: Entierro’s Doom-Tinged Heavy Metal Takes Wing in the Night (Interview)
Though Entierro have been around for some ten years now (some of it as Treebeard earlier on), I'd never heard of them until I was told about a cool new heavy metal short-length with Victor Arduini (Arduini/Balich, ex-Fates Warning) coming out in a few weeks. Almost everything Victor has done has been nothing short of gold, particularly with Fates Warning (which remains an all-time favorite band of mine, and is one of the finest heavy metal outfits to ever exist) and Arduini/Balich, so it stands to reason that Entierro's new material would be cool too.
Sure enough, the El Camazotz EP hits just the way any fan of Arduini would hope it to. Though it's not quite in the vein of anything he's done before, it's pretty close. Groovy and chunky riffs intersect nicely with dual-lead heavy metal, and catchy arrangement helps pull together something that fits pretty squarely in a tradition of not-quite-doom that doesn't get enough love in these modern days of genre stratification. All around, it recalls the earliest Fates Warning material (Night on Bröcken, particularly) slapped against Trouble's stoner era, and does it with a certain skill and grace that speaks of the long experience of the members.
Compared to the previous material, it's clear that Entierro has undertaken a serious change in direction on El Camazotz, so the band's newest (and most famous) member, Victor Arduini, is here to talk about it and explain a bit about what went into the style changes and into the songwriting.
To start off, why don't you tell me more about the new EP. This is your first time taking heavier songwriting duties within the new band, right?
Well, I've been with the band almost four years now. They were an established doom metal band in Connecticut, and their first couple of releases were more doom influenced. I was really into that music when I found out they were looking for a new guitarist, and a guy who was producing me told me about the opening, so I joined them. Once I joined them we played their music for a bit and then about two years ago we did an album, but most of that music was still a lot of their writing, and I was just kind of adding my flair and little ideas.
This EP was a true collaborative effort, where we really sat down and I really wanted to start doing what I like to do, which is more twin guitar based writing, kind of reflecting back to my old days, my influences where I grew up. I mean, everybody's influenced by these same bands, but we kind of wanted to say let's not turn our heads away from our Maiden and our Priest influences, and Accept, and all these great NWOBHM bands. Let's start doing what we do best, and that's what this EP is all about. It's quite a different sound for us, and a different style. I think a lot of our fans who knew Entierro are going to say what's going on with this band because we're definitely taking a left turn with this music.
That makes sense. Was it significant to come back and have the chance to start writing more of your own stuff with Entierro instead of playing their material, or did you not care much either way?
I didn't care when I joined them. I've done my own solo work, I'm not sure if you're away but I put an album out a couple of years ago called Arduini / Balich where I collaborated with the singer from Argus, a band from down in Pennsylvania. The singer and I kind of connected. I was writing my own music and really wanted to do something- that album is very doomy and very progressive, and that's really where my style is.
When I joined this band, I was just kind of like the album was done and was coming out, and I just wanted to play with some local guys and just have fun. I didn't care about writing with them, and kind of took it as, hey this is their band, I'm just the lead guitar player, playing along and I'll do whatever the heck they want, which was fun. I really kind of dug doing stuff that wasn't as comfortable for me and was different, but as we wrote that album that last year, I started seeing my influences come out- I can't help it, I want to start putting these crazy harmonies in, and all these different sounds, that's what I like to do.
So the album was kind of a catalyst for where this EP came from. For this EP we said we wanted to write an album that's more old school metal. We want to embrace it. So yeah, it was something I ended up loving to do now, and I feel like I'm a full fledged writer in the band, but I don't think that's how it started. For a couple of years I was happy saying you guys, whatever you want to do I'll play along, and that was cool too.
What does this new band give you in comparison with Arduini / Balich? And please tell me a bit more about that band as well.
Entierro is the ability for me to really lay back a little bit and enjoy playing old school metal again. Arduini / Balich was similar in a sense. If you listen to the two, you're going to hear my style of playing. People are starting to realize, and even I'm starting to realize, that I have a sound and a style, which was something I never ended up planning, but I play certain ways and when I produce my music I like coming up with background music.
Entierro is like a simpler version, it's a little more in your face old school metal, where Arduini / Balich was more progressive doomier metal, and that kind of music is something where I wish I could do more of it, but that's the kind of music I write when I'm in a room with a drummer and we just start jamming and we make up riffs. If you listen to the Arduini / Balich album there's a lot of long passages. One song never repeats itself within the song; it starts off with an intro, then it goes to the verses, then it goes to a music passage, then another.
Some of my songs I realize never go back to the beginning again, they just continue, and it's like a little story. I like writing like that, and that's an expression for me as a guitar player to do that. Entierro is more structured songs. It has your bridge, your chorus, your verses, your typical twin solos with some harmonies. It kind of goes back a ways. It reminds me of what maybe even Fates Warning was looking to do on the first record, we were just trying to be a good metal band, we wanted to write our own ideas but we were embracing Maiden and all these great bands.
With Arduini / Balich I'm not trying to do anything, I'm just trying to be myself, and express myself. I think Entierro right now is just really meeting my needs. I have the greatest bunch of guys we play with. That was something you don't find in bands much these days. These members really enjoy being with each other, and it makes the music more fun. We like what we do. We actually have with the pandemic, like I think every other band in the world who will say the same thing, ended up writing a whole nother record. We have another eleven or twelve songs that we wrote. If the EP is an indication of where we wanted to go, I think the new music that you're going to hear next year blows away the EP even. I think the EP was just the starting point and some of our best writing is even coming on the next album. It's way over the top shit. It's really a lot of fun, so I'm excited. The EP is kind of an introduction in where the band is going, and the next album is a true show of what we're about now.
So musically you'd say that the new album is still kind of in the same more heavy metal vein and isn't as progressive as your solo material, but is more your sound than the previous Entierro stuff?
I'd say so. It's more like the EP, and I love the EP so don't get me wrong, but I found that it kind of woke us up. When you first start writing songs, your first song for an album sometimes may be a starting point but by the time you write that last song for the album, you've really grown within that style for what the album's about. You sometimes write your best songs.
Well, we finished an album and the EP and we just kept writing, and we really realized where we're going. We went wow, we're becoming a traditional metal band, and we embraced it. The new album is over the top with some amazing guitar work, harmony wise, melody wise, I really think it's a great way to make the EP feel like a precursor of what's to come and I think what's coming is really better.
How collaborative would you say that the songwriting is on the newer stuff?
Very, very collaborative, which in the past was never my way of writing. I generally would bring down my idea, demo'd it already, and I'd show the other guitar player with “here's what you're going to play” and we'd do a lot of that. With this album I can easily say that at least three of the four originals were almost pure collaboration, where the guitar player would come down with an idea and we'd tear it apart and I'd take it home, and next thing I know I'm doing a new demo using his parts, but I'm putting my own intros, or I put this middle musical piece, changing a couple chords, and really he's very open to that. He'd come over to my house and really just looking at each other like we used to do in the old days, trying stuff out.
That's what I like about this album, it's by no means my songs versus his songs, it's really a band thing. And then the bass player, who was a primary writer in the band, really backed off a little bit on this one and I would say his influences are making minor changes in a chord- why don't we try going to this chord instead of that chord, or how about we extend this part four extra times? He's a very good writer and is very good at writing songs. He put his time into his singing and his melodies, and is saying you guys are the twin guitar players, I'll let you guys take over and do more of the original writing and really helped out, and that's what collaborating is about. Nobody has an ego, nobody feels like my songs are my way, your songs are your way, and that's something I don't think was even as present on our last album. I think this album really shows that.
You said explicitly that this new material is more in the vein of the older Fates Warning stuff that you did way back in the day. How does it feel to revisit some of those same sounds all these years later?
I would put it this way to you; I know that people will sometimes hear things that I do and say that oh, that sounds like an old Fates Warning idea or there's some similarities. As the person writing the music with the guitar in my hand, I'm not kidding you when I say that I still feel like the same guy who was practicing with Fates 30-some years ago. When you're writing a riff, you're not writing a riff trying to be like something, you know what I'm saying? You're playing the way that you feel.
When I'm moving my hands on the guitar, they go in certain places, and I just get certain kinds of feelings and riffs. That's how it was when we were doing Fates. I remember the second album specifically we really started coming into our own with a sound, moreso than Brocken, and I remember that we were very aware that we had something going here, we had a sound going. We were starting to create something, and those types of riffs that I remember writing, I can go back and listen to songs like "Traveller in Time" or "Without a Trace", and especially songs that I put parts into, those riffs that I did then, I could write those same riffs today.
So I don't know if I really look at what I'm doing today and think that I'm trying to do something like Fates; I'm just writing music like I've always played it. Same thing with Arduini / Balich. People compare certain riffs and what the hell, I was in Fates. I did write half of Spectre. That's who I am, and who I am as a guitarist. I think that I've evolved as a musician, and I'm a much better musician than I was. If you ever could listen to some of our practice tapes from during those albums you'd be surprised to hear how green we were starting those songs. One of us would try and solo and it'd be a total mess. We didn't have our chops, but the studio really helped us see how good we could be, and then once you do it and come out of the studio, then you have to play the record like you recorded it and it makes you a better musician.
I think I'm still the same musician in a sense, and I really don't look beyond that. I still love listening to metal. It's not like this is some guy that grew up listening to metal and is trying to cash in. I make this music because I love metal. It's my passion, and I'm not trying to be something special or do something new. I'm trying to just say this is what I like. I love playing heavy riffs and I love riffing. I will say that I come up with riffs pretty damn easily. I don't know what it is but it's one of my good things as a musician—I can come up with riffs all day, and that's what music is all about to me now. Not trying to recreate once did, but just keep trying to enjoy it like I once did, that's all.
Are you still listening to the same bands now that you were when you started songwriting?
Oh yeah. I got the best Sabbath collection you ever want. Tony Iommi is still probably my number 1. I'm listening to Sabbath a lot, lots of old school rock, Deep Purple, big fan of them, Jethro Tull, you know, those are my old school rock bands. When it comes to metal I still put in Maiden, I think I'm like a lot of people, I stop playing Maiden records after Powerslave. I'm not saying I don't like the new music, I've got the new music, I think Brave New World was great, but when I want to listen to some Maiden, I'm putting on Killers or Number of the Beast. When I listen to Accept, I'm listening to Restless and Wild or Breaker. When I have time to throw something in, I'm putting on something I want to truly embrace.
But yes. I've got a huge record collection, and metal is a big part of it, amongst many other types of music.
Are you still following newer metal?
To some degree. I keep my eye out on what's up there, I'm always on Blabbermouth and all these other metal websites, and I was just telling the band, you know how many bands I've gotten into in the last few years? New bands? Where the way I got into the band is simply because somebody did a nice writeup or there was an article or somebody mentioned it. Most bands these days say that if you don't tour and support your record, how is anybody going to know about you? I can honestly say that I rarely get to see any bands live anymore, but I have a great collection of new music because I do follow all these websites and once in a while, something sounds cool, and I'll go check them out on bandcamp and listen to one of their tunes, and if I like that song, the next thing I'm hitting is I'm buying it.
There's a band called Wytch Hazel. You ever hear of Wytch Hazel?
Yeah! I'm a big fan.
Oh my god! That band, just one of the best things I've heard in a while. I love the guy's voice, I love the passion in their music, so that's a band that I'm really into. Argus, the singer that plays with me in Arduini / Balich, I love their music. There's a band that's no longer together called Beelzefuzz, great great band I think from Maryland, there's some good music out there. So yes, I still follow new metal. But I can also say that there's a lot I don't like, but that's okay.
Do you have any plans already lined for the record label for the next album?
No. It's up in the air. Maybe that's my biggest weakness in metal. I still love to play and I still love to do all of this, but I'm not a person that's really that in tune with record labels, and all of that crap. It's almost like I need somebody to call me up and say hey I need somebody to sign you because I just don't get involved in that. I just make the music and let the other guys in the band kind of take that.
We're hoping, you know, an article like yours and somebody might say that they like it and want to do something and that'd be great. We have somebody right now from Europe that called us, from the Slovak Republic, that likes us. He knows how expensive it is to ship CDs overseas, and he's willing to say hey, you want to do a deal with us and we'll make you 100 CDs and sell them for you in Europe and save you shipping costs, so we might find little things like that.
I'm not so worried about a record label paying for my production. It's not expensive as it used to be. It would be nice, but I just want somebody who believes in the band and says we have some distribution, some connections, and makes sure people can hear our music. That's more important than making money. That's not what music's about at all for me, I gave that up years ago. I want people to hear what we're doing. As long as you're putting this stuff out on your site and somebody's going to click on it and go we dig your song and your sound, that's to me what it's all about. Anything beyond that is gravy.
What's next for the band as soon as the pandemic allows?
Well, we're at a point with the pandemic as you can see, where the pandemic is dying down in my eyes. I don't know if you know this but I'm a nurse, a registered nurse, so the pandemic really affected me and my career. I've been surrounded by it for over a year. I'm seeing now with vaccines and peoples' educations that people are starting to back off. CDC just today is now saying that you can go outside without masks if you're not too close to people, and we're already talking to some local people, people in New England maybe, and we're already booking a few shows. But shows are a bit different now, it's not your normal clubs you were used to playing, now it's some guy is doing a show in some parking lot, and it's just weird ways of doing it.
But you know what? People are so desperate for music. You give them a place and a time and there are people already showing up for a couple small things here. My answer to you is that we're already starting to plan, and with the album coming out the 18th we're hoping by July we're going to start doing a few shows, July, August, September, you know, at least locally. Connecticut, New York, Boston, just stay local just to get out there, and see what the CD does. See if we get a little life to it, and maybe, you know, I have a few friends in bands down south, I'll start hooking up with them, say that we'll do some shows with you, you come up here. I think everybody's going to be looking for their own way of getting back on stage and playing some of their new music and some of their old music. I don't think there's any blueprint of how it's going to be done, but I'm starting to see that people are opening their doors and seeing what they can jump on right now. We're doing the same thing, we're just like everybody else.
Do you have any concluding words, about the album or band or just in general?
I just want to thank everybody for the support that they've given me over the years. I really appreciate people listening to our new music that we have, and hopefully if you like what you're hearing, you'll pick up a copy.
El Camazotz will release June 18th, 2021 independently via the band's Bandcamp page.