You, too, might take five months to transcribe an interview if it involved four bands and 6000 words. That doesn't mean you should, though. Still, this chat with Cardiac Arrest, Gravehill, HOD, and Fatalist on July's Campaign for Death Metal Purity tour (see commentary here, show review here) is as relevant now as it was then. The resurgence of old-school death metal was metal's biggest story this year. These bands helped make that happen. I asked them a question I've been asking other death metal bands: What does death metal mean to you?

— Cosmo Lee

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THE PARTICIPANTS

Grindhead Jim
drums/Cardiac Arrest

Vladibeer
vocals/HOD

Thorgrimm
drums/Gravehill

Mike Abominator
vocals/Gravehill

Neil Burkdoll
guitars/Fatalist

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How did the tour get branded "Death Metal Purity"?

Grindhead Jim: We wanted it to have some kind of impact. The term [purity] has been misunderstood. None of the bands on the tour, in my opinion, are pure death metal. We're not. It's not about the style. I think there's an attitude and a way of doing things that's been lost. A lot of bands out there claiming to be death metal take what they want from it, but are definitely not death metal. They don't have the right attitude. The idea of the term "death metal purity", in my opinion, is that there's a certain way of going about doing things, and a certain way of conducting yourself.

Vladibeer: There's pussies, and then there's men. This is a tour full of men.

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What goes into this attitude you're talking about?

Thorgrimm: Basically like the bands from the get-go had done it - Massacre, Autopsy, Possessed, Sodom. To come back these days and see bands trying to mix all these different styles within death metal - it loses its purpose, it loses its meaing to me.

Mike Abominator: It's basically what we grew up with. You can call it what you want to call it - thrash passing the torch over to death metal, or what-have-you. We're talking about the formation of this genre, the mid-'80s - Master, Death Strike, Mantas, Death, Massacre, and Autopsy. And you've got the Swedish bands - Nihilist, the early Dismember stuff. Even the influence by the German thrash and the evil thrash of that era. Possessed, of course. [Celtic] Frost and Hellhammer, the early Bathory stuff - that was called death metal. It wasn't black, thrash - it was death metal.

Vladibeer: Knock-down, drag-out, motherfuckin' hand you your fuckin' balls and shove 'em down your fuckin' throat.

Grindhead Jim: Take no prisoners, you know? Bands that come from that background that we come from - it's more of a tight-knit scene. It's not everyone out for number one. [It's about] respecting your fans and doing things for yourself, loving the music for what it is.

Vladibeer: It's not a fashion. You're not doing it because it's cool, or because you look tough. You're definitely not doing it for the money. So you're doing it because it's what your fuckin' soul tells you to fuckin' do.

Grindhead Jim: That's where the purity comes in, for sure.

Vladibeer: Exactly.

Grindhead Jim: That's why guys our age are just breaking in the bands that we're in, but we've all been doing it 15, 20 years, and we're still here. A lot of these kids that are starting "death metal bands" - they're going to quit music forever in about two years, and we'll still be here.

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Why do you think you're "breaking" now?

Grindhead Jim: Honestly, I think that the metal press now is stronger than it's been in a while. And the climate is right to support this kind of music again. The Internet is a big part of it. And we certainly with Ibex Moon have a good PR system behind us. Everything's in the right place. I think that's a big part of it, being in the right place at the right time.

Vladibeer: I think that people in general are tired of "metal" that's being shoved down their throats. We as "old-schoolers", we're laughing at the kids: "This isn't fucking metal. This isn't metal. Listen to this band. Have you heard this band?" And the kids are paying attention. I work at a record store, and we turn on a lot of kids [to old-school metal]. They're doing their history, and they're telling me shit about old-school bands that I don't even fucking know. Those are the ones that are bringing that style back, and they're creating their own bands with the older sound, the true sound. And it's paying off for the guys who've been doing it nonstop.

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Career bands naturally get more press than bands like yours. What's it like being in your bands?

Thorgrimm: Well, this is our tour vehicle (points at SUV). Basically, we do all the driving. We lug all the equipment. We sell all the merch. Most of the time, we get very little sleep. We eat horrible food. And we drink a lot.

Vladibeer: Comfort you give up.

Grindhead Jim: You give up security. I live alone, with cats. They do not pay rent, but they should. A lot of things had to take place just to be able to do this, to go on the road.

Vladibeer: You give up job security. If you're into the relationship thing, it definitely puts a stress on that shit. You give up having money and being able to do everyday things you want to do. I know that my band comes first. If we need fuckin' merch for us to go on the road, well, then I'm not going to fuckin' take this hooker out. I'm going to buy some fuckin' merch. I sit at home instead of going to a bar. You sacrifice a lot. Sometimes it pays off, sometimes it doesn't.

Grindhead Jim: That's the difference with being a second-tier musician. Because not everything's being done for you, there's still a DIY vibe. I think a lot of people forget that because you're doing it yourself, it affects everybody around you. Family, friends, coworkers - or the lack thereof. A lot of the bands that are catered to - everything's done for them. They show up, everything's done, and they're making a lot of cream. Some of them are shoved into this thing, and they never pay the dues to get there. It's something that a lot of younger guys that want to play music need to understand.

Vladibeer: If you don't suffer, you don't got anything to write about. If you don't sacrifice, then you don't even need to open your mouth. I do without a lot, but I don't bitch about it, because in the end, I get to come out and do shit like this, and play with great fuckin' bands, and play real fuckin' metal, and go to places where it's not 105 degrees at 11am (laughs).

Mike Abominator: It is tough. We don't have the total support of some major corporation that's taking care of us and taking care of all the rentals and the money and all that kind of stuff. We definitely rely on people showing up and supporting us, whether it's [through] paying money at the door or the best thing, buying the merchandise - buying the CDs, the records, the shirts, the patches and stickers and everything. We really rely on those merchandise sales to get by. Basically any money that we make in this type of situation goes straight into the gas tank to get to the next location.

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When did your bands start?

Vladibeer: February of '07 was when we had our first practice as a full band, and our first gig was June of '07.

Neil Burkdoll: April of 2006.

Thorgrimm: The band originally started in 2001. I was the only original member. It kind of went defunct not long after it started. We did a demo, and that was it. Then years later, Mike came to me wanting to do another band. We'd always supported each other's bands - we've been friends for 20 years - but we'd never been in the same band together. So this time we decided to work together. Once we started out, we just picked and chose the people we wanted to do the band with. We've made a joke that we've successfuly destroyed six or seven bands to make this band. The good part of it is that this is the first time that we've had a united effort, where all of us are on the same page, and we are all glad to be doing this. Ordinarily, when you play underground music, some people are in it for the long haul, and others are not. It just depends on your level of commitment. In this case, it's been a [very] different story. We've accomplished so much in such a short period of time. It's definitely a work in progress, but we're really, really happy with it.

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How does the metal scene now compare to when your bands first started?

Mike Abominator: One of the big differences is, compared to snail mail and tape trading and getting that crazy demo tape or seven inch from some obscure band in Switzerland or something, you just discover it on Facebook or MySpace now. Instead of sending off letters to the Netherlands and Norway, you just chat with [people] online. Technology's definitely helped speed everything up.

Thorgrimm: You can do [recording] in your bedroom now. It's so much easier to be a band. For chrissake, one of the bands that played today was a one-man band. No one would even fathom that 15 years ago. It's definitely a much wider market.

Neil Burkdoll: Totally different for me. We're doing the whole old-school Swedish thing. When we started the band, I literally thought everybody was going to absolutely despise what we were doing.

You're ahead of the curve, obviously.

Neil Burkdoll: When we started it, we had so many conversations [about how] people were going to hate everything we were doing. And now, of course, there's a million fuckin' "new old-school" [bands]. But that was not the case four years ago. There was Deathevokation from San Diego or something. Other than that, there weren't too many [old-school-sounding] bands.

Grindhead Jim: Especially in America.

Neil Burkdoll: Yeah, there was nobody. The fact that we were doing a Swedish-type thing - we thought people were going to hate us. But I can't tell you how many people from Sweden contacted us to support us - people that I've listened to since [the '90s]. I've got emails from Dan Swanö saying, "I really like your stuff". So the scene has changed in four years. We went from nobody doing what we were doing to now, if I hear one more band use the Boss Heavy Metal pedal, it's like, sonofabitch, man.

And for you, Vladibeer?

Vladibeer: I couldn't tell you. We came out guns ablazin' and kickin' ass. We keep doing it. We don't really look back. There's a trail of fuckin' chaos and blood behind us. Things are going well, but we've got a saying in our band: "You can't stop us". Obstacles get in our way, and we just knock them the fuck down, and we don't look back.

And Jim, your band's been going since '97?

Grindhead Jim: Right. Adam [Scott, vocalist/guitarist] started it when he was still in high school. It had a bunch of different incarnations on and off. But things really got rolling for the band in '04, and I came on board in '05. Locally, things were just starting to pick up for the band. So I came in at just the right time. Within a few months' time, we got the lineup that we have now, and it hasn't changed at all. It's one of the things that makes us a lot different from other bands. We've had the same lineup, solid, for five years. And we made a decision early on that we're always going to do it ourselves, for our reasons, and make sure that we could always look at ourselves in the mirror at the end of the day and know that we did it right. As we look around, we see that the bands that do that and have that attitude - [they] stay. And the ones that don't, fall.

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Neil, how would you respond to the argument that if I wanted to listen to the old Swedish sound, I should just listen to the old Swedish bands?

Neil Burkdoll: Well, they only put out so many songs. I got Left Hand Path when it came out on tape on Combat Records. I can only listen to Left Hand Path so many times.

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Do you guys keep up with contemporary metal?

Mike Abominator: [Yes], as long as it's good and it's underground. We're more a traditional, heavy metallers' band. We're old, crotchety, stuck-up bastards sometimes.

Thorgrimm: We're elitist. I'm not gonna lie.

Mike Abominator: We like the metal that we grew up with. Metal's supposed to rock. Bang your head, have a good time. It's simplistic and barbaric in its approach. That goes for heavy metal, death metal, thrash, black, whatever you want to call it - it's all metal. We put this band together to play what we want to hear. If we were listening to a metal band, this is what we would prefer to hear. Some of the newer stuff we don't relate to. I'm not gonna lie. I don't get it a lot of times. There's different subgenres and all these crazy acronyms and the -core kind of stuff. I don't get into it too much.

Vladibeer: Well, I work at a record shop. It's an independent record shop, so, yeah, I'm forced to listen. I get to check out a lot of cool stuff, but I'm forced to listen to a lot of total fucking garbage. And there's a lot of total fucking garbage, trust me. I wouldn't say I keep up, but I'm aware. Most of it is due to the record shop, because I hate computers, and I'm not going to sit there and check out everybody's fucking MySpace of their Facebook or their dotcom or any of that. I'd rather fuck than sit on a computer and look up bands.

Grindhead Jim: I don't have as much luck as he does when I'm not listening to music.

Neil Burkdoll: But his cats appreciate his downtime.

Grindhead Jim: You're goddamn right!

Vladibeer: Yeah, you still got pussy at the house! (Laughter all around)

Grindhead Jim: I'm a pretty stubborn guy. I didn't earn the name "Grindhead' for liking lots and lots of different types of music. A band that comes out after the year 2000 has to work really hard to get my attention. But there are a lot of amazing bands that have come out in the last decade. [But] you've got about three seconds with me [to get my attention].

Vladibeer: Pretty much.

Grindhead Jim: If you get me after three, you get to ten. And after ten seconds, I'll know, one way or another. If it has a riff that goes [sings riff], that's cool. But then "djent-djent-djent" (djent riff impressions all around)... If you drop more than 20 beats per minute in a tempo change, we're done. If you're going to give me the fucking air brakes, we're finished. Fuck that. No. I've said it before; I'll say it again. There is a trend in heavy metal these days that's putting things together that don't belong to try and disguise it as creativity. How awkward can you make the song? That's not creative. There's a reason people didn't write that before. It sucks!

Neil Burkdoll: It's not musical at all.

Grindhead Jim: That's the bottom line. You get lazy. "I got this riff, I got that riff. Hey, I got some super-glue, hope it holds!" I see a lot of that. So those bands don't get any attention [from me].

Vladibeer: If they all have short hair, chances are I'm not going to listen to them. Except for Maax (reviewed here). I keep telling those guys to grow their fucking hair.

Grindhead Jim: Now that's an original band! They're like a Motörhead/black metal/punk/crust thing. Nobody sounds like them.

Vladibeer: They're great. But they've got short hair.

Grindhead Jim: That's enough about the hair, OK? Alright? I get it. I get it. [Jim has a crewcut.]

Vladibeer: There's been the whole Sesame Street thing going on with this guy over here. "One of these things is not like the other, one of these things does not belong..."

Neil, do you keep up on contemporary metal?

Neil Burkdoll: I read Decibel and Terrorizer and whatnot, but I'll go through a whole issue and not see one thing that I even give a shit about. I literally just piss money away on subscriptions. I mean, I have over 3000 CDs. But literally I don't buy anything new. I just buy shit I didn't like back in '90, '91 - but now compared to the new shit, I like it. I go back and listen to old comps like At Death's Door and shit like that, and bands like Believer, who I didn't like back then...they [sound] a lot better now. Do you know what I mean? There's nothing out there right now.

Grindhead Jim: (Laughing vigorously) Motherfucker said Believer!

Vladibeer: Gah!

Neil Burkdoll: I'm just sayin', in comparison. That's basically what I do. Or I buy shit I had on tape that I never bought on CD 15 years ago.

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So what are some good newer bands coming out now?

Mike Abominator: Maybe not necessarily totally new, but John at Ibex Moon has a pretty good idea of what he's doing, as far as some of these newer bands [go], like Lifeless and HOD and Cardiac Arrest and Fatalist. Those bands all pretty much have the same feelings and ideas that we have. It's bringing back the old-school feeling. A lot of us are relatively old, in our mid-30s, maybe 40s even, and are going back to play what we grew up with. And then you've got Asphyx and Autopsy coming back. That's killer, too. There are some killer new bands. Morbid Flesh from Spain, Graveyard from Spain. The Swedish and Finnish scenes, with Stench of Decay in Finland...Tribulation from Sweden is amazing.

Neil Burkdoll: A band from Finland called Vorum. I'm trying to get them on Ibex Moon. I think John [McEntee, Ibex Moon label head] actually contacted them, and I thnk they turned him down because they literally don't give a shit about anything. They just want to be left alone.

Grindhead Jim: Who does that???

Vladibeer: Finnish people, apparently.

Grindhead Jim: They're finished!

Neil Burkdoll: They were just like, "We're happy doing what we're doing". They're on some label, but you have to send them, like, a money order to a PO Box in Finland, and hope maybe that you get [something]. You can't even order shit online. If that's what they want to do, that's cool.

Vladibeer: Hexlust, out of Killeen, TX.  They're some real good kids, old-school kind of thrash, Destruction worship, all that stuff. Butchered Saint, out of San Antonio. Real good death metal. Blaspherian on Deathgasm Records. But outside of Hexlust, these other guys - they're new bands, but they're old-school guys like us who just got the right group [chemistry now].

Grindhead Jim: A good example of that is Abysme, out of Pittsburgh. It's got Brad Heiple in it, who used to be in Funerus. Phenomenal dark metal.

Have you heard Disma?

Grindhead Jim: Yep.

Vladibeer: They're good.

Neil Burkdoll: Great shit.

Vladibeer: He came into the shop. I didn't recognize him. What the hell is his name, the singer dude?

Craig [Pillard].

Vladibeer: Craig. I didn't recognize him from meeting him on the East Coast stint we did. He came down [to Texas], and I just kept laughing because I didn't recognize who he was until we got to the show, and he told me. Now he looks like Henry Rollins with long hair from the Black Flag days. I just kept laughing at him: "It's Henry Rollins, dude!"

Grindhead Jim: Ex Dementia does not get enough credit. We toured with them years ago. They put out a couple records, and they keep getting better and better at what they do. They were, like, 19 years old when we toured with them. They're still in their early 20s, and they're doing it better than most. We're talking about Reifert/Schuldiner worship - they've got it down. I'm hoping that they break a little more this year. They really deserve it. That's a great example of young people taking the style, doing something kind of new with it, but being faithful with it.

Vladibeer: Another band, Locusta, out of Ohio. Those guys are awesome. Battlemaster - those guys are killer.

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What does death metal mean to you?

Thorgrimm: 20 plus years of my life. That's what it means to me. I started in a death metal band in 1990. And I know there's not a lot of people here that can say the same. So as far as I'm concerned, I just don't like the way death metal has gone in the past 10 years. We put Gravehill for this specific purpose, to show how death metal is supposed to be played.

Grindhead Jim: Somebody who really likes this kind of music, either as a fan or a musician or both - you're constantly trying to find the next, faster, more aggressive, evilest tone without getting into this technical bullshit. It's all about feel. It's about heart. It's about getting up in the morning, and that's all you want to do. It is a lifestyle. This is something that, as a fan or a musician, you either do it for life, or you never were. Someone said - I think it was Shane McLachlan [vocalist, Phobia] - if you used to be punk, then you never were. The same thing with death metal - the same exact thing. You either are or you aren't.

Neil Burkdoll: If you're at work all day, and all you do is think about your band, and what you want to do with your band - that's all I do. I work in multi-million dollar mansions on the top of mountains in Santa Barbara. I've been at the same house for two and a half years, and they're billionaires with Picassos on the wall. And I could give a shit about any of it. All I'm thinking about is trying to get my next CD done.

When I was 12, my mom said, "Oh, let him listen to it because he's just going to grow out of it". [I'm] 33, and my mom is still waiting for me to fucking grow out of it.

Vladibeer: Death metal just means, "Fuck you". It's just a way of life. Either that's your path, or it's not. There's no room for posers; there's no room for fakes. You'll get trampled and mauled. You will get crucified. And we are here to cleanse, on the Campaign for Death Metal Purity tour 2010.

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