GRUESOME – Venturing into the most Savage of Lands…
The old-school death metal outfit known as Gruesome completely took me by surprise just a few weeks ago when I received a promotional copy of the debut album entitled «Savage Land». I was completely and utterly blown away…and still am! I simply cannot stop spinning this brilliant disc.
Gruesome is an intentional and downright honest and sincere tribute to the masters of death metal, namely the legendary band DEATH and its sadly missed mastermind, Chuck Schuldiner. Everything about Gruesome simply reeks of old-school death metal genius, and «Savage Land» sounds exactly like it was recorded back in the late 1980s. Eternal Terror Live simply had to do an interview with drummer Gus Rios in order to learn some more about the deadly creation that is Gruesome. Enjoy, and let the death metal flow.
Hi Gus, thanks for taking the time to answer these questions for us. Much appreciated. How are you doing today?
Good, thanks for asking. I appreciate the interest and support for the band!
First of all, I have to tell you that I absolutely love and cherish «Savage Land». It took me by surprise as I had not heard anything about the album or the band prior to its release, but I was completely blown away, to say the least. What is the atmosphere within the Gruesome camp like these days now that you have this killer album out?
The amount of positive feedback surprised Matt a lot more than it did me in a way. I guess that since I didn’t write the songs I can appreciate them as a fan would, and also I could recognize the level of authenticity that Matt was able to achieve with his riffs and songwriting. I knew just from the demos that as long as I produced the album correctly and made sure it "sounded" as authentic as possible that it would turn out really cool and special. Matt was able to really bring back that feeling that I haven’t had in music since those early days and I am very appreciative of that! But also, we were all very much aware of what we were trying to accomplish…clone the first and in our opinion, the best death metal band of all time! A feat that we didn’t take lightly, but at the same time had so much fun and enjoyment from trying. I know that we are all very proud of what we’ve done, and also are very happy and appreciative that the fans have accepted what we’re doing and seem to really enjoy the album. I think part of the premise of doing this band was to give the fans (especially Matt and I!) something that they thought they would never hear again. That’s why we were so meticulous with this album! We knew exactly what we were up against…we are trying to make an album that can carry the brightest and strongest torch in death metal and of course and ode to Master Chuck himself! NO ONE will ever replace Chuck or take away the fact that he was pretty much the main architect behind death metal itself, but we just had a real fun time trying to come as close as we could!
In addition to CD and vinyl it has even been released on cassette, right? THAT is pretty old-school:)
I’m not sure how old you are, but if you remember tapes, even if you don’t have a cassette player, listening to this album on your ipod while looking at the lyrics on a cassette layout REALLY amplifies the "reliving the glory days" vibe a lot! That was one of the things about this album that meant a lot to me. I remember buying "Leprosy" on cassette in 1988 and the impact of that album cannot be overstated! I mean, here I am 23 years later doing an interview about my band who copied that album! Haha! So I wanted the listener to have those same cool nostalgia vibes I was getting from listening to Matt’s demos. Every single piece of the puzzle had to be accounted for, or it would have failed! The rule was "If Death did it between 87-89, we HAVE to do it too!", and that included being released on cassette!
«Savage Land» is a glorious throwback to late 80s/early 90s death metal. The whole album just sounds so honest and sincere, and every damn song on it rules beyond belief. What is your favorite track off the album?
It’s kind of hard to say, but perhaps from a drummer’s perspective I think maybe "Gangrene". I payed a fair amount of tribute to my 3 favorite Death drummers all in ONE song. It’s mostly Bill Andrews style, but also some slight nods to my mentor and good friend Sean Reinert, and little bit of Mr. Hoglan too, so that one is very fun to play. I think part of what made this album so cool was the fact that Matt not only wrote very Death authentic riffs, but his song arrangements are also spot on and his vocals are killer too! He not only got pretty close to Chucks tone and vibe, but also wrote fun and catchy lyrics with solid vocal delivery and arrangements. By the way, I am very happy to hear how much you like this album, thank YOU! I’m a fan of the whole album too!
For those out there who are not familiar with how Gruesome came about and how it all started, could you perhaps briefly outline its history and tell us a bit about each member of the band and how/why you eventualy decided to join forces and spawn Gruesome?
Both Matt and I worked with the Death to All tours. He did guitar/vocals on the first mini tour in 2012, and then I was a guest drummer and also helping out Sean Reinert in 2013 on the second run. Exhumed played a show with DTA on that second tour and he apparently liked the way I played "Baptized in Blood" that night, so of course after the gig we drank a lot and talked about how much we loved old school death metal, and in particular, old DEATH. I eventually got the idea of trying to do an old school DTA with Terry Butler, Rick Rozz, Matt and myself, playing "Leprosy" in its entirety. When that didn’t work out, we stayed in touch and joked about doing our own DEATH songs for fun. I quit Malevolent Creation in February of last year and remembered Matt’s idea and now had the time. We chatted about it and he eventually sent a demo which was pretty good, but when he sent the second one (which became "Savage Land") I knew that we could do something real cool! I have known Daniel for a few years now and immediately thought of asking him on board once we knew that we going to try and move forward with the project. Matt and I discussed ideas for the band and one of them was to emulate the solos as well, so I knew that we would need a talented guitar player to say the least. Dan plays in Possessed, one of Chuck’s main early influences, so I felt that he would be a perfect fit. Plus he’s also Venezuelan like me! Robin I have know since I played in a band with her when I was only 15! She’s a solid bass player and old school as hell!
One of the things that I love about Gruesome is that it is an intentional tribute to old-school death metal and not just a «retro-act» for lack of a better term. The way in which Gruesome may be said to pay tribute and respect to, for instance, «Leprosy» and «Spiritual Healing» by Death simply rules as «Savage Land» brilliantly captures that vibe of old and even sounds like it could have been recorded back in 1988 or 1989. Could you touch a bit on what the music of Death means to you on a personal level?
I started listening to metal seriously in early 1987. I began with the usual suspects…Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, even Guns n Roses, but very quickly moved on to the heavier and darker side once I heard Slayer’s «Reign In Blood». After that I began to look for the most evil and fastest shit I could find like Kreator, Dark Angel, etc. About a year later when I first heard «Scream Bloody Gore», I found that PERFECT band! I remember thinking that the combination of thrash aggression with what sounded like a hellhound on vocals was exactly what I wanted to hear from a metal band. It was a complete package too! The logo was amazing (still my personal favorite of all time), the album cover still hasn’t been topped, song titles, etc. And then I heard «Leprosy»….this is why we are chatting today my friend…23 years later…enough said! I have seen many countries, experienced awesome cultures, and even met my wife because of the fact that I play death metal. In certain ways I owe a big part of my life to Chuck and co. The least I could do is make an album in his honor!
Seeing the artwork of Ed Repka is a treat and I think the «Savage Land» cover fits and underlines the theme and atmosphere of your music perfectly. In a way, Repka serves as a link between Death and Gruesome as he also did the cover art for the early albums by Death, which is quite cool. Anyway, I love it when the music, lyrics, and artwork all go hand in hand and «enhance» each other, so to say. Would you agree that every aspect of a release is important?
You are 100% exactly right! Without Ed Repka I don’t think that we would have moved forward and made this album. His artwork was THAT important to the entire project. This was an album, a project, that if ANY piece of the puzzle was missing, it would have failed! We didn’t want to be a band that simply just sounded like Death was a heavy influence…we were trying to BE Death incarnate. It was all part of the fun actually! I would be smiling while recording the drums, and that has NEVER happened to me before. It’s like a kid’s fantasy when they’re learning their first riffs on guitar or drums, etc. Every young musician dreams of being in his/her favorite band, and now this is as close as I am ever going to get to mine…Death circa 87-89. So yes, every single aspect of this project was scrutinized for authenticity. We signed with Relapse…they own the Death catalog. I used a real Tama drum kit to record…tuned them low and thuddy like they did in the late 80s…used a Marshall amp, NO computer crap. If Death did it, we had to also! Of course there was no Morrisound, Scott Burns, and most importanly, Chuck…but we used what tools we had and tried to get as close as we could.
Could you list a few of the albums that have inspired you the most throughout your career, both musically and lyrically?
I live in a divided world musically speaking actually. On one hand I’m an old school long time metal-head, but I have also developed a love for many different styles of music. Today I mostly listen to 1940s big band, rock/pop, and even some bluegrass. So I have favorites that have affected me from different periods in my life. My early years were 100% all metal….favorites there are
Slayer: «Reign in Blood» and «South of Heaven»
Dark Angel: «Leave Scars» and «Time Does Not Heal»
Kreator: «Pleasure to Kill» and «Terrible Certainty»
Death: All albums from 87-91
Black Sabbath: Ozzy and Dio years
Obituary: «Slowly We Rot» and «Cause of Death»
And the list could go on and on and on…..
Non-metal is probably too long of a list, but I’d like to mention in particular that «Ten Summoner’s Tales» from Sting really changed my world as drummer. That album signaled my departure from just wanting to be a killer metal drummer to wanting to be a good musician that plays music on the drums!
What about movies, literature, paintings, or comics? Has any of that stuff ever served as a source of inspiration to you?
I think all those things to some degree help shape who you become in life. I have always been a fan of darker things in life which is why I was probably drawn to metal in the first place. But yes, I can be inspired by or from many things and I am a big movie fan, love good art, and even collect rare 1950s horror comics like «Tales from the Crypt» and «Haunt of Fear». Death metal to me has always just been an audio version of a horror movie, novel, painting, etc, so it’s very easy to connect all those things together.
Are you working on a follow-up to «Savage Land»? Do you have any left-over tracks from the «Savage Land» writing/recording sessions?
Yes and yes! I think the next album will be even better because we now have a better understanding of what we’re doing. Plus Chuck never repeated himself with his albums, so therein lies a pretty cool challenge for us…to NOT repeat ourselves while maintaining that old Death vibe. Should be a lot of fun for years to come I hope!
Are you planning on touring? Maybe a few one-off shows? I can imagine that it must be quite difficult to organize shows and tours given that you all have other priorities and bands and so on?
Yes exactly…everyone in the band has priorities but we are all also very excited to play these songs live. We are currently working on that and we will find some holes where we can fill in with some Gruesome dates. I think realisticly we can do perhaps one full tour (of Europe) followed by some festival appearances. It all depends on demand of course and we want to do the right tour since it most likely will be the only one for this album cycle…unless we become huge?! haha
Well, I guess that was it. Thanks once again for taking the time to talk to you. Any final words or insults to the dedicated readers of Eternal Terror Live?
Thanks to you and of course to all of the Death fans around the world who have accepted Gruesome for what it is…a sincere and honest tribute to a man and his band who changed all of our lives! Because everyone in the band really is just that in the end… a Death fan! All hail CHUCK!