Matt Moss Wants You to Join the Cult of Slugdge
In the biting damp of Northern England, the source of all human misfortune has been rediscovered. Greatfather Mollusca has spread his miasma of suffering and devastation across the galaxy since time immemorial and once again mankind must pay homage.
I spoke with Matt Moss who, along with his bandmate Kev Pearson, is Mollusca’s chief celestial emissary here on Earth. Since 2013, they have been preaching the Gospel of Slime to those who dare withstand it in the form of Slugdge’s unique brand of blackened death metal. Their fourth album Esoteric Malacology, released March 2nd via Willowtip Records, shows off a slicker, faster, and more violent incarnation of the band.
Check out a full album stream below as you read my discussion with Moss covering songwriting, the HM-2, mental illness, and the cyclical nature of existence.
Mollusca be praised!
-- Chris Butler
A lot has happened for Slugdge since your last album Dim & Slime Ridden Kingdoms came out in 2015. You guys got signed to Willowtip Records in March 2016. How did that opportunity come about? Did you guys reach out to them?
No. We'd not really been bothering with any label stuff. We'd talked about it because at first we were just releasing things in a digital format, and people were asking for vinyls and CDs and all sorts, and we're not really in a financial situation to do that. We did do a short run, and then I made a Twitter account a while back and I just hated it and had no idea what was going on. It didn't make sense to me. All I had ever used was Facebook, and I just left it and went to Italy on holiday and came back and decided to have a look on the Twitter and saw that I had all these messages from Willowtip saying, "Why haven't you answered my email?" I never check my email either, so I have to really become a bit more proactive in checking these things.
I'd known about Willowtip before because I had bought plenty of things from them cause I'm really into grindcore. So I said to Kev, “You know, I know these guys. I think we should probably consider this because they seem dedicated to those kinds of bands.” They're very laid back. I asked them, “Are you gonna interfere or anything?” Because I didn't know how it worked, this record deal thing. And they said, "No, just do whatever."
It sounds like you made the decision to go to Willowtip instead of continuing down the DIY path for distribution purposes and getting the fans the formats they wanted.
In terms of making music, the new album was made in exactly the same fashion that we've done the other ones. It sounds a bit different because we had to scrap the HM-2, because, I don't know if you're familiar with it, I'm sure you'd know the sound if you heard it, but it's a bit of a one trick pony.
I have an HM-2.
Then you know exactly what I'm talking about. It has a very specific sound that can't be translated into certain types of things that you're doing on guitar right? So we had to ditch it, and that caused loads of problems because I've gotten into a way of doing the recordings, because I'm not a very technically proficient sound engineer or producer. We had to rethink it all. But otherwise it's exactly the same way that we've always done it. [Willowtip] sent us an advance, which was for expenses and stuff, and I said, "Oh I'm just going to buy extra bits of software but I'm still essentially going to do things in the same way." So it is really, just for distribution purposes, and in that they've been very good.
It sounds like being on Willowtip hasn't changed anything other than giving you guys the opportunity to try out some new gear and sounds and get away from the HM-2. Which, I totally agree, restricts you to that old school death metal, Entombed-type sound.
It isn't like anything else is it? In the early days when Kev and I were doing everything at my place, he would come over every once in a while and we'd write a song. But in terms of production and stuff I insisted that he use the HM-2. Kev wasn't that familiar with it and he would say, "This sounds fucking awful." Because he likes tech-death and djent and all that kind of stuff. And I would say, "I know but this is the way it's got to be, so..." But as time's gone on, we've just wanted to do more. Sometimes, when you're fumbling around on the strings, it just doesn't sound like you want it to sound with the HM-2. Not that I would not go back to it in some cases, but for this album it didn't really fit.
When you guys work on songs together, do you do an early Lennon-McCartney, head-to-head collaboration? Or, does Kev bring you a finished song and then you start writing lyrics to it when it's done from an instrumental perspective?
No. I'm a guitarist as well. I used to write more riffs on the albums than I do now. On this one, Kev has done a large bulk of it, which has changed the sound a little bit because he's able to do more because he's better than me.
I've heard the new album and it's fantastic. Compared to Dim & Slime Ridden Kingdoms and Gastronomicon, which kind of had a baroque feel to them, the new record almost sounds like tech-death, or progressive death metal.
Thanks. Yeah, it doesn't help that we put in harpsichord and stuff on those.
This record is much more technical, it's faster, it's more aggressive. There are a lot of fast tapping and in-your-face riffs. Would you say that's just because you're writing less guitar and Kev's writing more guitar? Or was it a conscious change?
I think if you know us as guitarists you can pick out who's done what. But it is probably because he's doing more. I was unwell while I was doing this one. My health's up and down. As well, it's like if someone is really good at doing their instrument, just let them experiment a bit more. In the early days, like Born of Slime, for example, I did a lot of that. Same with Gastronomicon. For example, the song[s] “Gastronomicon” and “The Sound of Mucus,” I wrote those here mostly and then he [Kev] would come and do little bits. He’d spend a few nights over and then he would write an entire song.
Now we live together. He moved in. It's very much just sitting down, riffing, and working through things. He doesn't really come up with anything that's rubbish. There's been a few times when he's written something and I've said, “I don't know about that.” I have an internal need to control the way things go because I structure a lot of it as well. He's much more of a riff writer. I’ve got ideas in my head and sometimes we'll be frustrated because he'll be trying to do what I tell him to do, but I won't be explaining it very well. But if something is good, or has the makings of being really good, we really work on it. In terms of the way the songs progress they might sound a bit… we got reviewed by Anthony Fantano, TheNeedleDrop. You know, the YouTube guy. He said something along the lines of, "It [Slugdge] sounds like a bit of an obnoxious ten-car pileup."
I mean, I like grindcore, Kev likes a lot of tech that changes a lot, so we tend to not do songs that run with the same riff over and over for very long. I'm not gonna say that’s boring, because I like a lot of that music, but we tend to like to keep things constantly changing. It might sound a bit unusual but to anyone who listens to metal, I'm sure it sounds pretty run-of-the-mill. We’ve had some comments that there's too much going on. I think we've gone through a few less riffs on this one, to tidy it up a little bit, but it's just the way we've changed as songwriters. I'm sure we'll go back to a ten-car pileup eventually.
Listening through your discography, Born of Slime and Gastronomicon are much more immediate albums compared to Dim & Slime Ridden Kingdoms and Esoteric Malacology. Those took longer for those to sink in for me, but I find myself listening to them more.
I don't know whether it's the simplicity of the first two albums or something else. I want to avoid saying they had a poppy aesthetic, because it's not that at all. But I have this weird thing about writing the perfect simple song, and I think there's more of that in the first two albums. It's probably my fault because Kev has always been the one who is more technical. He'll sit writing riffs and working through them for ages to try and make sure they're right, so it's probably just slight musical differences between me and Kev. He moved in here halfway through on Dim & Slime Ridden Kingdoms, and he's definitely had a lot more of an input recently. That keeps it fresh, and we've started writing a new one bit by bit.
You're already working on the follow-up to Esoteric Malacology?
We just started the other night. We're trying to think of where we are going to go with it cause we do want some totally random weirdness in there and just do whatever the hell we want, which we've always done. But, we do think about an overarching thing with how we're going to do it, and production-wise that's very important because you need to know where you're going to be.
I'm assuming it will still be about the whole Greatfather Mollusca mythology and everything?
It's got to stay like that obviously because it's the whole theme of the band.
It wouldn't be Slugdge if it wasn’t.
No. There are songs that are clearly not about slugs, and I think some of them are a bit more obvious on this last album than they've been in the past. They were mostly about things that were annoying me, but it's always somehow related to that overarching theme about man and our place in the world amidst all the other life forms that are millin' about the place. I'm one of these people that think if you're going to change drastically, just start a new band. I understand people get bored, but certain bands, legendary death metal bands, will occasionally do things which you're just like, what the hell are you doing? Do you know what I mean?
Obviously people are going to get pissed off and you should have totally expected that and not gotten all defensive. Especially if you go from being death metal to some kind of weird industrial thing or whatever.
Or becoming super poppy. In Flames comes to mind.
Exactly. Kev loves In Flames and I've always been a bit on the side, I've always been more of an Entombed and At the Gates type of person.
Even Entombed had their death ‘n’ roll moment.
Yeah, but I forgave them for it. Things like Uprising and Wolverine Blues, I really like those [albums] so I'm not that fussed by that. But there are certain bands that are just like, ergh, why? Why have you done that? And I find it a bit of an affront. I know that it's their thing and they can do whatever they want but just make a new band. Do you know what I mean? We're going to keep things pretty similar. In fact we're probably going to go a bit backwards. Every one of them is an experiment, and we don't consider ourselves to be beyond reproach, and we realize that certain things just completely fail and other things…
One example is on Gastronomicon -- we had one [song] called "Slimewave Zero." I wasn't sure about it and I was thinking, is this right? And Kev could not stand that song. We put it on the record and a lot of people like that one. You just don't know, so we don't base it on people's reaction so much as when we've had time to think about the songs in the context of an album. Then we might turn around and think, “Actually that wasn't a very good idea.” There's ones like that on every album. I'm not going to go around naming and shaming all of our songs but there's ones that I listen to and I just say, "What the fucking hell were we thinking about during that?"
Absolutely. I write my own music and the song that I like the least is my friend's favorite.
I know. And it doesn't compute to you how someone would like that one. That was the least effort or that was the one where I just struggled with it so much. On this one [Esoteric Malacology] we've got one called "Putrid Fairytale," which is the first single, and both of us were very close to just scrapping that song cause we were like, "This is just stupid. It doesn't make any sense." [laughs].
The opening riff to “Putrid Fairytale” is fantastic. It's very melodic.
Yeah, it felt like there was too much stuff going on. Actually, we had to put the album down because I lost all objectivity with it, and this is one of the reasons it took so long. I say so long, but it was a couple of years. It's just that the other ones were year after year.
You guys put out three albums in three years and now it's been almost three years since Dim & Slime Ridden Kingdoms came out. I read on your Facebook page that you guys encountered some technical problems during the recording process. Was that the reason this album took longer to release? Or did it just take longer to write this record?
It was a bit of both. For one thing, I deleted everything apart from a few vocal takes. The same vocal takes that we've got on "Putrid Fairytale" and one called "Slave Goo World," which we'd done years ago. We started writing about the day after we released Slime Ridden Kingdoms. We released Slime Ridden Kingdoms the day we finished it and the next day started another one. That's one of the beauties of doing your own music at home. It's like, "Right, that's that done now. We'll release that!" We didn't really master it very well or anything. We were very spontaneous with it.
I mean, this computer's a nightmare. We had to re-record a load of stuff. Then, because of all that, you start to listen to it [the album] so much that I just grew to hate it. Absolutely hate it. I had to put it away and wait for a bit. I get relentlessly obsessed and I don't sleep, I don't eat properly, and I made myself really unwell doing it. It has taken a long time and it's been the roughest one. But I'd said in another interview that I did with Metal Hammer that it wasn't the record label that made that happen. It was us that made that happen. Because we'd put expectations on ourselves and because we changed so much about our gear that it screwed us a little. And that's all really. That's why it took so long I suppose.
Do you think the difficult process of making this album had an effect on the themes or lyrical content of the album? You mentioned that there are some songs on this record that are not entirely Greatfather Mollusca related. What else inspired this album? It feels like this is a prequel. The artwork looks very prehistoric and primordial. Is this you’re The Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings?
Not so much. It’s more about repeating cycles within the mythos, if you call it a mythos. The rebirth of Mollusca. But also about cycles throughout history and our lives and the Father, Son, the Holy Ghost thing where you're born, live, and die, and things are cyclical. They're probably not cyclical, but that's just the idea behind it.
There's also songs on there about things that are going on in the world. Actually, there always was. The difference is, and the reason why I'd say it now, is because I think it's a little bit more obvious than in the past. Some of those things include political things that have been going on in the world which we're massively into but generally avoid talking about. I have the sort of mental problems which make it so that when I reach a certain level of stress or whatever, I start disappearing into a fantasy world. That's where a lot of it's come from anyway. It definitely was a taxing few years.
There's also certain songs that are about this idea that’s in the world right now that things are going backwards. A regression towards a more unforgiving time. There's one in particular, which is an unusual song for us, about the idea floating around that people have become somehow soft or are weaker as a civilization. And that's probably right, but that's just our dependency on this thing called "civilization."
That theme has come up before. "Slimewave Zero" is about that and there are a few others. This sort of dependency we have as a species. We've become almost like a hive mind. It's like a technological ascendency. And some of the things that have been going on in the world today are kind of like a resistance to that. In my mind, particularly a resistance to globalism and the idea of international law and what have you. It would seem like sense to go the way of globalization and international law because it's strength in numbers and unity and all the rest of it. In my mind, the main conflict in the world is primitivists versus futurists. And it kind of delves into that.
But there are other [songs] on there which are just basically about suicide [laughs]. Because I was in quite a dark place while I was doing this, and I'd had some pretty big tribulations and trials in the past that I'd been through and I thought… again it's the cyclical nature of things… I thought I was done with those things a long time ago, and I was wrong. I was not done with them and they do come back. It was kind of an exploration of a lot of things. A lot of Dim & Slime Ridden Kingdoms is about death and reflecting on people I’d lost and stuff like that because I'd had some pretty bad health scares during the recording of Gastronomicon. I'm waffling anyway. What was the question [laughs]?
I was asking if Esoteric Malacology is a prequel. Is it the story of Greatfather Mollusca's birth or ascendance or however it is that he would come into existence. But it sounds like it's not. It's more about rebirth and regression and cycles.
It's basically that, yeah [laughs].
A lot of people see a Lovecraftian influence in your lyrics. Are you guys fans of Lovecraft?
I'm a massive fan. He's probably my favorite writer. I didn't stay awake reading his stuff as a child. I did read his stuff when I was younger, but he didn't scare me. It's never scared me. To be honest, there's not much that does, I don't think. Not in terms of people or things that go bump in the night or anything. My favorite film is Alien, but it never scared me. I just liked what I was seeing. I liked that sort of disgusting, primordial thing. There are some lyrics on the new one [album], "From slime we came and into slime we'll return," and all that kind of stuff. That idea that we're all just primordial soup and that there are wretched abominations out there. I like that kind of disgusting imagery but it's not something that has ever creeped me out.
Also, I just like his use of language. It's crazy. It doesn't make sense at times. He uses these pleonasms and things that are absolutely superfluous in terms of language. That's why I'm a fan and I think that's probably why a lot of people are fans of it. He's built an incredible mythology, and it is a mythology, it's not just a set of characters for the purposes of a story. They exist outside the story. Mythology is the sort of thing that I was absolutely obsessed with as a child. Creating these gods and monsters in the world, because I don't think there are gods and monsters. I think there's horrendous people, but most of the time they've probably just got very damaged brains. There's a very sort of scientific, clinical reason as to why things are like they are. And there's nothing, despite things like black holes being terrifying, there's nothing really scary about it really. What's the worst it can do?
It just is.
The worst it can do is kill you and I don't think that's that scary either. It just happens. There are questions about the world and where we came from but I don't really suppose it matters. So, I'd said to someone else, Mollusca is just like a nerd-god. It's something that we can just go around saying "Praise Mollusca" and it doesn't mean anything.
It's just a nice way to have some camaraderie. Your Facebook page is full of tongue-in-cheek zealotry for Mollusca. Maybe if someone took it too seriously they would think you guys were starting a cult, but I find it very light and it's sort of silly and goofy. It's something that bonds your fans.
Yeah! That's something that when I was younger, and my mother would confirm this, I used to go on about how one day I'll be a cult leader. As a child, I was weirdly megalomaniacal. I remember I was a little kid, not a toddler, but very young and they took me to an Egyptian museum and I saw these corpses, you know, the mummies. And all the other kids didn't really seem to understand what they were looking at. And I was like, "This is really weird, this is a load of dead people… on display." And I remember I started drawing pictures of the pyramid of where I would be buried. Do you know what I mean [laughs]? I thought one day I want to be a god-king! Anyway, that got dialed back a little bit to, "One day I want to be a cult leader!" And as I got older I thought, "That's an absolutely ridiculous aspiration for a child!"
It was either that, or the Emperor from Star Wars. I wanted to be one of them. A crusty old man, you know?
“Sith Lord” always looks good on resumes.
Totally. I wasn't serious then, but this sort of delusional and bizarre behavior became the basis of my health problems in later life. When I look back on those times, I think what an absolute maniac I must have looked to people. [Slugdge’s] kind of a tongue-in-cheek look at that as well. It’s kind of about mental illness, but it's not like I'm having some kind of breakdown. It's just purely me trying to make light of that. It’s also trying to make light of religious people and their whole language and the way they behave and speak to each other. I see fundamentalist Christians in America on TV doing this thing where they're force pushing each other over and saying, “The power of God,” and compelling each other to fly across the room. That absolutely bizarre thing I find really interesting and odd and it's funny to behave in a similar way. I understand why people are religious. I can see people's need for something in their lives, I just think that you can just create that thing, or exactly as you said, it’s just camaraderie really.
And [Slugdge] is kind of a Sisyphus type thing about the innate meaninglessness of the world. A lot of the themes in the lyrics revolve around the idea that we suffer because [Greatfather Mollusca] wants us to suffer. It’s not like the Christian idea of God where there's a promise at the end of it. Mollusca’s just a mindless entity throwing afflictions upon the world and in terms of understanding of the universe, I think that makes a bit more sense than this idea that there's someone that likes us. It doesn't feel like anyone's looking after us at all.
It feels like chaos. It feels like a ten-car pileup. It feels like that comparison Anthony Fantano made about the way your albums sound.
Yeah [laughs]! I didn't mind that though. I put that on Facebook. I thought it was funny.
I've heard members of metal bands say in interviews that they don't listen to much metal and that always bums me out. Based off of our conversation, it sounds like you guys are much more in the vein of bands like The Black Dahlia Murder who are real fans of the genre. What current metal bands are you into?
Oh god. I listen to so much random stuff. Oh god, I would have to look [laughs]. I am into metal. I'm not going to be one of these people that say that. I don't know why they say that. I always think, "Is that true? Or is it just something you're saying?" It certainly sounds like these people are into metal. I'm thinking Mastodon, or people like that when he [Brent Hinds] said, "Oh I don't really listen to metal." I think maybe what he was saying was,"I don't really listen to metal anymore as much."
I'll listen to classical music. The other day I was listening to a Viking or Saxon thing with a lot of throat singing. Heilung, I think it was called. I was loving that. I'll listen to all different kinds of stuff, but I always return to metal. I really like the new songs that have been put out by Rivers of Nihil and Mammoth Grinder. I would have to really go into my computer and have a look, and at the moment if I try and do that I'll probably crash. And a lot of it tends to be on Bandcamp. There are also bands on our label like Gigan and Pyrrhon. This is where we sort of differ, me and Kev. He'll like a lot of technical stuff and I'll like the sort of chaotic kind of stuff. Like Portal and Deathspell Omega and things like that. I couldn't comment on what Kev's listening to. I'll occasionally hear it from upstairs and there's often some high singing in it [laughs]. The Black Dahlia Murder, obviously I like them.
It certainly sounds like it from your music.
Again, I think that's one of Kev's favorite bands, The Black Dahlia Murder. I'd come to them a bit later on, but Alan [Cassidy], who drums for them, we know him quite well. We speak to him quite a lot. I'd liked their really old albums but I’d fallen off them a bit. As time went on I went back and listened to the rest of their albums when Cassidy started chatting to us and they’re very good. They're one of them bands that have got a very definite formula and you know who you're listening to. My favorite bands, like Napalm Death, Akercocke, people like that, you know exactly who you're listening to when you're listening to them. There are no imitations. I'm not saying that we have transcended our influences or anything. I'm sure if you're listening to Slugdge you can hear Carcass and bands like that in our music, but the bands that I absolutely love and that tend to stick with me tend to be the ones where you know exactly who you're listening to, and so would anyone else with any knowledge of the genre. You also get a lot of bands nowadays, you always have really, especially in death metal in the 1990s, that all kind of sound the same. It's not that I never get song ideas from bands like that. My friend put it the best, he said, "If you're gonna do something and try and be unique you've got the wiggle room to mess it up a little bit, but if you're going to take off someone else's style, you’ve got to do it better."
Up until this point you guys have been solely a studio band. Do you have any plans of changing that now that you're with a label? If you did do a live show, you're music is so theatrical and cinematic, would you guys go the Batushka or GWAR route and have a really elaborate live show? Or would it just be you guys rocking out?
There are problems with that. It's interesting you mention Batushka cause I love their live show. It's creepy as hell and it's very occult and all that. I would definitely go down that route if I could, if it was practical. My background is in theatre. I love all that stuff but we have a few issues with touring. First one obviously, we have no band. Although, there is a drummer who we know who is thinking about being on the next album instead of the programmed drums. Although we are fairly certain this person wants to do that, I can't say who that is or anything yet. We have a guy who's almost certainly gonna do bass as well who's a very talented bassist. After the experience with this album, I can only do so much programming drums. I really try and do drums that are bizarre,however, I found myself reaching a roadblock with ideas. So we thought we needed [a real drummer]. It would make my job a lot easier I think. However, I don't know how much time this drummer can afford to take away from their main thing because it's very time consuming.
Also, Kev's got issues with playing live. I've got issues, not with playing live, but I've got major issues with touring. Especially the US. I'm not even sure I'd be allowed in. I think I would have to go to the embassy in London first to see if I’d actually be let in because I'd had loads of problems when I was younger which I think would disqualify me. So there are a lot of hurdles. But I wouldn't write it off completely. Never say never.
Your album covers are great. I've always been curious if that's Jabba the Hut on the cover of Born of Slime and Gandalf on Gastronomicon?
Yes and yes. The first three album covers we did it was all the same guy named Zen O’Conor. He's a friend who'd been studying art in Florence who did not do album covers. If you ever found any of his other work, it's all still-lifes and impressionism. It looks like Renaissance art. In fact, Born of Slime is literally a picture called Sodom and Gomorrah
by a guy called John Martin. It's a fire and brimstone thing with a slug person in the background. Part of the thing about that was just this idea that they [slugs] have always been around behind the scenes throughout time. He just did a straight copy of Sodom and Gomorrah and stuck slugs in it. I don't think he thought it was very serious. And neither did we at the time. He ended up putting Gandalf in there for some reason. Which is fine, I don't mind.
The new artwork is obviously very different cause we got a guy called Luke Oram who's done album art before and he's very talented as well but he's more into weird sci-fi things. So unless we get Zen to do another one, there's gonna be no more Gandalf or any of these others. With Luke, I'd vaguely described what to do and just let him go crazy with it. But I said, "This one's yellow." And he said, "What?" I said, "Well the first ones red, the second one's sort of blue, and the third one's sort of green." So I said to him, "We've done that now and we might as well keep doing it!"
Is there anything else you have to tell me about Slugdge's short and long term plans?
Not so much. Short term we're just gonna try and get through this album release. As I said, it was a bit weird for us cause we're used to just releasing it and we've had to wait months and months and months which is totally our fault. But it's kind of a lot of anticipation because we're not sure about how it will be received or anything. If we just released it the album would have been out there immediately, do you know what I mean? We could have just said, “oh alright, never mind then, let's crack on with the new one!” We have only just started writing the new one so that might take a while or it might take no time at all, we'll see. Basically all we're doing now is planning the new album. Long term, I have no idea though. We’ll just keep doing it until we either get sick of it or start releasing bad albums where it's clearly time to start something else. But I always need to be doing something musical.