Domination of the Unholy Cult of the Bleeding

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Sometimes you just need to stop all the obsessing over wheel reinvention and just play the music that you love, regardless of originality. That’s exactly what Belfast’s Rex Shachath did on debut EP Sepulchral Torment. Said EP is nothing more than well played and memorable death metal of the traditional sort inspired by the original masters. When a band references the likes of Morbid Angel, Vader, Immolation, and Cannibal Corpse in discussing its music (as Rex Shachath guitarist Andrew Pennington does in the discussion that follows), rare is the death metal fan that wouldn’t be paying attention. Mr. Pennington gives us the down ‘n dirty of the nitty and the gritty of Rex Shachath.

Given that Sepulchral Torment is your debut EP, a little background is in order. What is the story of Rex Shacath’s formation and what was the mission, aside from cracking a few skulls with this racket we call the Metal of Death?

Well basically, Dave Connolly, the band’s vocalist, was chewing my ear for quite some time about starting up a new band. He was convinced that together we could do something pretty powerful as we both had a lot of experience and we were basically the band leaders in our other and previous bands.I was, and still am, playing in another death metal band called Overoth so at the time I was concerned that I wouldn’t have enough time to fully commit to another project. In saying that though I had known Dave for quite a few years as we gigged together a few times in other bands and I was a big fan of what he done. He’s a superb front man and had I decided to start a new band he would have been on the top of my list for vocal duties without a doubt. Eventually I caved in to the idea so we got together and had a chat about what we’d like to do over a few polite beers, if such a thing exists [laughs].

The initial idea was to put a death metal outfit together,but incorporate some more ‘punky’ ideas into the music with d-beats and such. I asked Jay Rogers, the drummer from Overoth, if he’d like to join us and he jumped at the idea. Then we got in touch with bass player Eddie West and guitarist Jonathan Francis who both played in a band called Sadisture. Conveniently, that band had just split up so they were available and ready to sink their teeth into something new. We got together in the practice room one day; nothing was prepared so we just started jamming out riffs and everything we came up with was sounding very old school. Even if we tried to,there was nothing really ‘punky’ about what we were writing. We figured if this was the music that was naturally flowing then why change it? There’s no point cornering ourselves and trying to be something that wasn’t natural to us so we just carried on.

Overall I’m really happy with everything we’ve written together so far, and ok, it might not be exactly original, but who really is original these days? Don’t get me wrong that’s not an excuse but in the end this is the musical style we love, it’s natural to us and we have to be happy with what we’re doing otherwise what’s the point?

The mission? Cracking skulls of course, but in the beginning we didn’t really have a set goal, it was more a case of ‘let’s get some guys together and play some cool music’. Now that we’ve got the EP recorded and ready for release the mission would be to spread the word as far and wide as we can, play some shows and have some fun. We’re still a young band so there’s no long-term goal set, we just need to settle as a unit and find our own space in the death metal realm first.

Fair enough. And what of this name Rex Shachath? What does it mean?

It’s funny actually; we didn’t have a band name for ages. We were practicing and writing songs together but never had a name until maybe one month before we went to the studio. We all came in with ideas every time we got together, but nothing really stuck to the wall. There were some ok names and some dreadfully bad ones where we all just looked at whoever suggested it in disgust [laughs]. Then one day Dave said, ‘how about Rex Shachath?’ We all loved it and I think part of it was the curiosity of not knowing what it meant. It’s actually a mix of two languages. Rex, (pronounced rex) is a Latin word and it means the reigning king. Shachath, (pronounced shack- ath) is a Hebrew word and it means to destroy, decay, ruin, corrupt…I personally think it really suits the music we play.

Indeed it does. What I heard immediately in listening to the EP is twofold: (1) great riffs; and (2) songs in which a music degree is unnecessary for absorption. In other words, I’m hearing traditional death metal and conventional song structuring that makes memory retention a cinch.

I agree and it’s really cool you think that. It’s undoubtedly very traditional. As I mentioned, everything we wrote came out naturally so it wasn’t necessarily planned to be that way but in hindsight I couldn’t have expected anything else to happen really because old school death metal is what everyone in the band has a passion for. Death metal has come a long way but personally speaking it’s never been as good as the first wave of bands that pioneered the genre like Morbid Angel, Vader, Immolation, Cannibal Corpse, etc. These days a lot of death metal bands are playing real technical stuff with crazy song structures and albeit they’re amazing musicians the actual song is often lost. I think the true talent is being able to write ‘a song’ rather than ‘a riff’. Obviously riff writing is essential and it needs to be catchy so the listener can grasp hold of it but it’s the song as a whole that’s the main thing. When I walk away from a practice session if I’m humming stuff that we wrote or played that day then I know it’s a keeper. If I can’t remember a riff without thinking hard about it then there’s a reason for it, it doesn’t need to be there. In the end, if I can write a riff that makes people say, ‘wow that’s cool, he’s a really good guitarist’ I’ll be happy, but if I can write a riff that someone will be humming on their way home after hearing it I’d be far happier because they actually remembered it and that means more than a passing comment on my skill as a guitarist. I think I could speak for everyone in the band on that one. I hope that makes sense [laughs].

So you’re basically saying that too many bands strive for technicality and speed at the sake of the fundamentals inherent in a memorable song.

Definitely. I think some bands tend to lose sight of ‘the song’ over their technical ability. At the same time that’s a personal preference. You and I are obviously on the same wavelength, but some bands might make technicality and speed their goal and some people no doubt really dig that. It’s all preference but personally it’s not what I’m really into. That goes beyond death metal as well. I mean look at Joe Satriani, he’s one of the most talented guitarists in the world and he has some crazy stuff, but listen to his last couple of albums and it’s obvious what he’s done is that every song was written to be a song rather than ‘hey look, I can play guitar’ and because of it those albums are some of my favorite Satriani records.

Based on the references about first wave bands you made earlier, is it safe to say that the music of Shachath is rooted in bands from the U.S. side of the Atlantic? The Asphyx comparisons I’ve read do seem accurate, but I’m hearing more USDM than anything else.

I think you’d be right. We can rule out any major Swedish death metal influence or at least on my part, so aside from that you’ve really only got bands like Vader, Asphyx, Pestilence, etc on the European side and all of whom I’m really into but there’s a lot more bands from the U.S. Cannibal Corpse, Deicide, Morbid Angel, Death, Obituary, Incantation, Autopsy…

That said, parts of the EP reminded me of Vomitory as well, at least in terms of that mass-carnage vibe that describes the guitar style in the case of both bands.

I’m gonna go back on my word now [laughs]. I ruled out Swedish death metal, but I did have a massive Vomitory phase a few years ago. I listened to Blood Rapture non-stop for a while. I can remember actually taking the CD out with me on more than one occasion so I could show it to friends and tell them to get it.

Well, and Vomitory’s style is more in league with the USDM style than what in a broad sense is considered “Swedish Death Metal.” In any case, if I had to pick a highlight from the EP, I’d probably go with “Follow the Bastard Prophet,” mainly because it incorporates the memorable chorus, the killer riffs, and the cool mid-tempo changeup. Would you agree or consider a different song to be most representative of the Shachath style?

Yeah… either that one or the finishing song “Statues of Death.” I really love the intro riff to that [latter] one and the outro passage; it’s so much fun to play. I think ‘Follow The Bastard Prophet’ is probably the catchiest song on the EP and yeah, it has a little bit of everything so I guess it would be a good representation of where we stand right now as a band. Jonathan, or ‘Frankie’ as we call him, was telling us over the phone or when we seen him ‘oh I’ve got a real cool song for you all’, then when we got together and he played the first few riffs we all knew we had a winner. I think he wrote all of that one; we made a few changes structurally as a band, but that was one of the songs that just fell together really quick. Also, as far as I recall the guitars were all done in one take in the studio when were recording it for the EP.

Talk about the process of writing and recording this batch of songs? Quick and painless or long and grueling?

Well, we didn’t have much choice on the timescale; it had to be quick because we didn’t have much money [laughs]. We had three days to record everything and one day mixing and mastering. We knew it would be tight, so we practiced quite a lot so that we were well prepared or as prepared as we could be. Frankie and I did some pre-production work a few days before so we had a head start and I suppose you could call it a practice run on the guitars. It went pretty well considering the time constraints we had. We also managed to record the intro, which is just some samples the producer John came up with. We wanted to mimic the sound of a tomb closing so we tested a few things out, dragging bricks across each other and stones, etc. but it turned out dragging a flowerpot across the ground sounded the best. We just added a load of bass and reverb to give it a better effect. First death metal band to use a flowerpot on record?

I’m guessing that’s the case. But along the same lines, that time frame was a main reason for going with an EP rather than a full-length then?

I think time and money was the big factor. It would have taken longer to write and gather funds to record a full length. We decided it would be quicker getting an EP out first so we had something that people could listen to. We also had to take into consideration we’d need to buy other things like merchandise, T-shirts and stage props. We recently got a backdrop, some lighting, and a smoke machine. It’s expensive business being in a band, especially at the beginning but it’s a labor of love. The plan is to record a second EP at the end of this year or very early next year and then start putting plans together for a full length. By that stage we should be a little more settled as a band and in a way more comfortable writing and recording with each other, which should benefit the recording.

If Rex Shachath is any indication of the quality of death metal found in Northern Ireland, then fans across the globe had better start paying attention. Are there other bands worth mentioning in Northern Ireland, or at least in your vicinity, deserving of said attention?

There’s not a massive death metal scene in Northern Ireland. I’d definitely recommend Zombified for one anyway. There’s more death metal bands in the South. Warpath have been doing some damage the last few years. Also check out Coldwar, Abaddon Incarnate, Guttrench and Vile Regression.

Based on that album art alone I’m hoping there are plans for a 7” vinyl version. Are there?

We have talked about it and personally I’d love to see the artwork blown up on vinyl, but there’s nothing set in stone right now. Juanjo Castellano done the art for us, He also worked on the latest Revel in Flesh record; check that one out, as it’s a really cool piece of art and really cool music. We had a basic concept in mind with someone’s soul being tortured in a tomb and I think he captured it very well.

Where does Rex Shachath go from here? Full-length? International tours? Crimes against humanity?

Next on the agenda for us are some live shows. We’ve our debut live show next week in Dublin then the following week we’ll play a release show for Sepulchral Torment in our hometown, Belfast. After that we’ve just over two weeks touring on mainland UK. We’ve also got plans to hit mainland Europe in 2013, but nothing we’re allowed to release yet, so keep an eye on our websites, Facebook, etc. Also, as I mentioned, we’re hoping to record a second EP later this year or beginning of 2013. We’ve written most of the material already it’s more just finding the free time outside our touring plans to squeeze it in.

Anything else worth nothing as we bring this one to a close?

The EP will be released via Hostile Media in UK & Europe. We have a label releasing it in North America as well, but I haven’t got the all clear to announce it yet. I’ll send you an e-mail as soon as I get the go ahead, as it is probably of interest to your U.S. readers.


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