Turning the Heavens Red
The retro death metal movement is as strong as ever these days, with no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Add to the pile of corpses and rubble a young Chicago-based band in Terminate. Fresh off the release of their debut album, Terminate appears poised to be one of the bands to lead the latest wave of old school death into the future. Guitarist/vocalist John Porada took some time out of his day to chat with TeethOfTheDivine about their maiden release Ascending to Red Heavens and of death metal in general. Bludgeoning the underground in one of America’s best metal cities, Terminate’s take on a vintage sound suits them well and it’s only a matter of time before the metal world is much more familiar with them.
TeethOfTheDivine: Terminate’s first full album, Ascending to Red Heavens, just came out last month. It’s a solid chunk of old school death metal. Are you and the rest of the band satisfied and pleased with the finished product?
John Porada: Oh yeah, we all like it. It’s one of those things with recording, though, that when you go back after it’s done and you’ll hear things here and there that you could’ve done better or differently. But yeah, definitely, we are all happy with it, especially with it being our debut album. These guys in the band, I’ve been friends with them for a long time but I’ve really only worked with Jim (smith, drums) before (in Deadnight). But I think it turned out great for having guys who weren’t really involved in the music scene that much at all. They all did great and it turned out really good. All of the guys like it but I think the rest of the band is a little bit more forgiving than I am (laughs).
TeethOfTheDivine: What is the average age of the members of Terminate? I know you’re all pretty young.
John Porada: I’m 24 and so is our other guitar player Tom (Cardella). Al (Mulle) is 25 or 26 and Jim is the young one at 22. So, yeah, we’re pretty young.
TeethOfTheDivine: How long have you all been playing instruments?
John Porada: I’ve been playing the bass since I was about eleven and I started playing guitar about five, six years ago. I think it’s pretty much the same for the rest of the guys. Jim is the newest comer to instruments and I think he started playing drums about six years ago. We’ve all been playing for a while.
TeethOfTheDivine: The few reviews I’ve read on Ascending to Red Heavens have all been positive with a few gripes here and there. What are your thoughts on what you’ve read thus far in terms of the reviews?
John Porada: The reviews have been good so far. It’s mostly been about us being good but nothing groundbreaking, which is what I expected. I mean, we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel or anything like that. It’s pretty much just a straightforward death metal album. We basically wrote songs that we thought were good and have the feel of the things that we like. We like the old Swedish death metal scene, old stuff like Asphyx and Bolt Thrower. You know, all the all great death metal. A lot of the early death metal bands are what we’re really into. What gets the most negative feedback is the production of the album and I understand that. It’s more of a basement production… I guess that’s the best way to describe it. It’s not a huge problem to me but it is something that we’d like to address for the next one we do.
TeethOfTheDivine: Terminate has come into the metal scene at a time during this huge retro death metal movement. It’s been going on for a few years now and it seems like every day there’s a new old school-sounding band popping out of the woodwork. Does that at all concern you because since there are so many bands that are similar to what you’re doing that you guys might get lost in the mix?
John Porada: That’s always a concern, getting lost in the mix. It’s actually kind of funny because I started this band kind of as a side project because I just wanted to have fun and write some songs. I wasn’t even aware that there was this sort of death metal revival going on until after I had already done the demo and was working on the EP. People were then always telling me to check out this band and that band but I had no idea about any of them (laughs). I thought it was cool because it was like everybody kind of had the same idea. I was just as surprised to find out about it as anybody.
However, it’s actually kind of a good thing because all the new bands that I’ve been hearing are quality. All of these bands are putting out quality death metal. I haven’t yet found a band that I really don’t like. That’s something I can’t say about that whole thrash revival a few years back. A lot of those bands were just crap, man.
TeethOfTheDivine: That’s true but if you really think about it, back in the day during the first and second waves of the whole thrash scene, there were a ton of shitty bands back then, too. It kind of goes hand in hand.
John Porada: Oh yeah, of course.
TeethOfTheDivine: One of the hardest elements of death metal is the ability to write actual songs that are catchy and memorable. Unfortunately too many death metal bands simply blast away without any real purpose. Terminate has been able to write quality songs that stick in your head. What is the writing philosophy of the band and how do you create the overall song structures?
John Porada: Catchiness is definitely the key word. We want our riffs to be memorable. I’ve never been into brutality or speed just for the sake of it. I think it’s kind of pointless talent show bullshit, to be honest. I’ve never been into that. The main goal that we always have is to try and write good songs. Make it memorable, make it catchy. It doesn’t really matter what form it comes in, either. If it’s a thrashy, speedy type of thing or a mid-paced crushing type of song, it doesn’t matter. If it’s good and catchy and the riffs work, it doesn’t really matter to us.
TeethOfTheDivine: When writing the songs and something comes up, do you all know right then and there that you have a keeper? Or do the songs sometimes have to really develop for you?
John Porada: I think most bands can attest to this, but whenever something good comes up, you pretty much know it instantly. There are a few things that do take quite a bit of context for it to be good, though. There are some riffs that come up that seem good but they have to be in context with something else for it to work. That’s where the songwriting ability comes into play: when you have a riff that is good but it’ll be much better if it compliments something else. On its own it wouldn’t be as strong. You can definitely improve upon these things but as far as songs that work instantly? Yeah, absolutely that happens and you know it right then.
TeethOfTheDivine: You mentioned the production issues that you’ll address on the follow-up album. I personally love when death metal albums have that raw, rather unpolished feel to them because it retains that viciousness, that bite to the music. Especially with death metal, a production that is too clean or too polished sometimes ruins the music. What about you? What are you looking to achieve production-wise the next time around?
John Porada: I don’t think it’s really about the sound aesthetics. I think people are more concerned about the mix of the album. I think certain aspects of the final mix could have been better. I’m not looking for the hyper clean Andy Sneap or Neil Kernon type of thing but I do want some things to stand out a little bit more. For me personally, I thought the drums came out a little bit flat. It wouldn’t be a big change or anything like that but just make things stand out more, make it better as one big package. I think certain aspects are great but some others that are lacking. I think we need somebody who would know our sound or our style, somebody really knows how to produce the music like a Dan Swanö. He would definitely know what to do with it because he kind of invented the sound.
TeethOfTheDivine: When listening to Ascending to Red Heavens, the influences of early Entombed, Dismember, Asphyx, Autopsy, etc. are all there. That’s pretty obvious. Aside from bands of that ilk, what all do the members of the band listen to?
John Porada: Aside from Tom, all of us are huge into black metal. That’s one thing I try to do – and not many people have picked up on this – is that I write riffs that are kind of like odes to bands, a nod to various bands. One of the songs I wrote for our EP (Thirst for the Obscene) was basically the De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas (Mayhem) title track riff. I used that riff and made a variation of it for the EP. So we’re all big into black metal but another band that is a huge influence on me is Hypocrisy, who isn’t really considered one of the big “Swedish death metal bands” but their writing style is great. I love their writing style and they have a sharp sense of feel and energy. They make something sound important.
TeethOfTheDivine: It’s weird because whenever people talk about the classic Swedish death bands, it’s always the “Big Three” of Entombed, Dismember and Grave. Hardly anybody mentions Unleashed with them, though they are just as great, if not greater, than all three. Even worse, people mention Hypocrisy even less, though they might be the best of the entire bunch. Why do you think that is?
John Porada: That’s a great question and I think the reason is because their sound changed so drastically from Penetralia and Osculum Obscenum and I think a lot of people were turned off by the keyboards and their sound change. I can’t speak for myself because I wasn’t around back then. I was only two when Osculum came out so I can’t say I was actually there to witness or hear it. But that’s my best guess and that people didn’t really like what they did on The Fourth Dimension or Abducted. But I think those albums took their sound and made it much better and made things much more interesting. And they’re still doing it today, especially since they got Horgh on drums after Lars (Szöke) left. I think the talent level went through the roof with that band. They’ve gotten into more of the speed stuff and they’ve kind of gone back a little more into the pure death metal style, with the black metal sort of stuff in there as well. And, of course, Peter Tägtgren is a god. He’s probably my favorite metal vocalist because he can do everything. Even his work in Pain; I really love them, too. He’s been a huge influence on me. But I don’t know why (Hypocrisy isn’t appreciated more) because he’s been around the scene forever and knows literally everybody. People love to work with him and I think his production style is amazing. He has that hyper clean production but he’s able to keep the music absolutely crushing. My favorite production job ever on any record is when he did Monotheist for Celtic Frost. It’s absolutely Jupiter heavy (laughs).
TeethOfTheDivine: Back to you guys. What do you all do for a living besides the band? You’re obviously not making millions while being in a new death metal band.
John Porada: (Laughs) Yeah I know. I’m in retail, actually, and so is Jim. Tom works at a warehouse that’s run by his dad. He does all sorts of dock work like loading trucks and stuff. I work with him a little bit from time to time. Al is a graphic designer who does a really great job with page layouts and a bunch of other stuff for bands. He did the newest Possessed album cover (Reanimation). He’s really good with digital stuff like Photoshop and all that kinds if stuff. He also works at a print shop that does everything and they get some really cool jobs in there once in a while. You know those Dave Mustaine model guitars from Dean Guitars? He did the graphic overlays for those guitars.
TeethOfTheDivine: Over the years Chicago has always had a strong but overlooked metal scene. However, during the past few years, the city has become known as a true metal hotbed. You live there so what’s it like? Are you and the other Chicago-based fiends aware of how big that scene has gotten nationally?
John Porada: Going all the way back to before my time and just hearing and reading about the scene, Chicago has always been fragmented in terms of the types of bands that have been here. It was never like Florida or New York or Sweden where there was a certain type of style or sound that the bands were doing. Looking at Chicago, all across the board we have great bands from every type of style. We have great black metal like Nachtmystium and Kommandant; awesome doom bands like Indian and my personal band right now in Lord Mantis; there’s always been such quality death metal over the years with Cianide, Macabre and Master, and now with Cardiac Arrest kind of fueling everything again. I don’t know if it’s fragmented but it definitely feels strong. I mean, there’s a show like every night of the week and you’ll usually always get a good turnout. I’ve played and been to shows all over the country and the only other city that really rivals Chicago is maybe Los Angeles.
TeethOfTheDivine: You’re on Selfmadegod Records, that is out of Poland. Why did you choose them over a label that is in the US?
John Porada: We had an offer from a US-based label and it was down to them and Selfmadegod. When comparing what Selfmadegod offered to what the other label had on the table, Selfmadegod seemed to really care about their bands. That is something that is very important to us and they have done great work in terms of promotions, PR and helping us out. They aren’t a big label so they can’t really help us out with things like major tour support but they’ll make sure that your music is heard for sure. They’ve been great and especially now with the internet, it doesn’t really matter if you’re halfway around the world.
TeethOfTheDivine: What are your short-term plans and goals for Terminate?
John Porada: We’re going out on a short tour of the West Coast and some places in between. I’ve been booking everything all by myself. We’ve also been working on new material for the next album already and we have about five songs done. Hopefully we’ll be able to tour more in the summer or fall. I definitely want us to go out to the East Coast. There a few Selfmadegod bands out that way and I’d really like to hook up with them. Bands like Drugs of Faith and Pyrrhon are on the label so I think that would be good. So, just staying busy and working at it is the key, I think.