Decaying Echoes

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The far reaching influence of Immolation has reached new heights over 20 years after the band released their debut, Dawn of Possession in 1991. In recent years the resurgence of old school death metal has peaked with a plethora of bands culling both from Immolation as well as the well documented Stockholm sound. One such band reaching into the past, culling from Immolation as well as Gorguts and other early but forward thinking death metal stalwarts is international act, Zealotry.

Even with members based in Boston and Quebec as well as a German session member, Zealotry managed to release an impressive  full-length album in The Charnel Expanse, a modern, caustic death metal record with filthy old school sheen. Founding member, guitarist  and former metal journalist Roman Temin, a gentleman I have spent quite a lot of time corresponding during the formation of Zealotry and release of the album, spent a few minute answering some question about his projects as well as other death metal related issues.

So let’s get the usual banter out of the way- tell me have Zealotry came about, who the current members are and how you guys got together for this project.

Started a few years back with just me noodling around on some midi orchestrators, making what was basically video game music for fun. I decided later to start writing for guitar (though it took me a couple of years to actually get up to speed on guitar, which is why I only did bass/vocals on the demo). Phil Tougas joined on the second demo, then Jason Demakis was brought in just before we were about to start recording. We all posted on a particular web forum at the time, and I eventually managed to get them on board, though it took a while to get them really committed because they both have other projects and at the time the material I had written wasn’t so strong.

Is this a full time/stable line up or will Zealotry be a project where you have different guys each release? Obviously drummer Lille Gruber is in Defeated Sanity- was he a session musician?

Phil and Jason are both permanent members until further notice. Their work was indispensable to the first album, and they’ll be more involved in the creative process for the second album, on which we’re already hard at work. Lille also did a fantastic job as a session guy, but we are definitely looking forward to adding a permanent drummer in the future so we can play out from time to time. Arranging gigs is going to be tricky because Phil is based out of Quebec and either he or the other guys would need to travel quite a ways to rehearse and play, but we’re confident we can figure that part out. Hiring a drummer is the first priority.

You used to write for and unchallenged Being a former journalist- can you tell me a little about how reviewing music for while impacts how you write and performs as a musician- I’ve always been interested in the delineation and relationship between journalist and musician. Especially as I critique music for a living, yet could not play a single note if my life depended on it.

I was one of those writers who constantly bitched about a lack of creativity in the metal scene, so really this was at least in part a way for me to channel that frustration into something constructive, rather than just whining about it incessantly. I think creating music and going through all the challenges of putting an album together changes one’s perspective a lot in certain ways, especially if you’re setting out to really raise the bar and not just play for the fun of it. Once you’re really embroiled in it and develop an appreciation for how difficult it is to put together something fresh that also flows well and is compelling, you feel a lot less inclined to put down someone else’s efforts, even if you don’t appreciate them on a personal level.

I feel nowadays that I was far too cynical as a writer, and don’t really like reading a lot of the stuff I wrote. But if I hadn’t perceived that creativity void that I mentioned, I wouldn’t have started Zealotry, so I still consider my time as a writer to have been valuable in that regard.

There are still some bands that I’ll trash if I feel they’re phoning it in. I’ll call out bands that have the freedom to be able to focus on their music 24/7 without worrying about other commitments but still put out really derivative, half-assed material. But those are really pretty few and far between in extreme metal.

You have been hard at work Zealotry for couple of years now- how satisfying is it to finally release an album to the masses?

Feels like a big burden lifted off me, to be honest. Some of the material on the first album goes back about 5 years, so it feels great to finally be able to present to the public the culmination of that effort. But more importantly, it gives us the chance to move forward. The material that we’re working on now is more evolved and more individuated in addition to being more of a full-band effort, so we’re happy to finally be able to fully focus on that.

As I stated in my review and as we have discussed before- the influences on The Charnel Expanse are fairly obvious- Immolation, Ulcerate, Gorguts, Ripping Corpse etc. How hard is it to allow you influences to shine through as homages while still trying not to be a rip off or completely sound like another band?

At this point in my development as a musician, I really don’t pay much attention to what band(s) I’m channeling. The focus is more on just putting together good songs that are easily distinguished from one another and also express what we, as a band, are looking to express. Obviously there are specific influences we draw from that can be named, but I personally am influenced in some manner by pretty much everything I hear, good or bad. I absorb and internalize what I feel are the best ideas and try to use them within what I consider to be the ‘Zealotry sound’. Some ideas work in that context, some don’t. Where those ideas specifically come from doesn’t really come into consideration until we listen to the finished product and can distinctly pick things out and say, ‘hey, that sounds like so-and-so’. Ultimately it just boils down to writing what I want to hear and seeking ideas from the other guys that incorporate seamlessly with that.

What is your view on the current state of death metal- it seems to be either old school retro movement or a brutal/fast/technical as possible- is there anything new death metal can do?

I think there’s plenty of room for innovation but it won’t be realized until more bands start looking outside the genre for inspiration. I think what bands like Ulcerate, Defeated Sanity and Mitochondrion are doing is brilliant because they take key aspects from genres outside extreme metal and blend them seamlessly with what remains in essence that same ugly, primal death metal aesthetic that was established 25-30 years ago to create something unique. We’re trying to do the same thing but in our own way. Ulcerate draws a lot from post-rock and Neurosis style sludge, Defeated Sanity has elements of jazz, Mitochondrion has martial industrial influences, we’re influenced a lot by avant-prog (Univers Zero, Shub-Niggurath, Present, Art Zoyd, etc.) and composers like Danny Elfman, Jason Graves and Clint Mansell.

A lot of times it comes down not to instrumentation but purely to composition and arrangement – chord voices and progressions, counterpoint, phrasing, etc. You can hear on a track like “Codex Mysterium” that it wasn’t written like an ordinary death metal song, but more like something one of those avant-prog bands would do, even though we don’t use any instruments besides guitars, bass and drums. Other bands can surely find traits from other places that can be added to extreme metal without compromising it. Gorguts remain great because they really pioneered that idea in a lot of ways, taking most of their cues from Romantic era and Neoclassical composers and applying death metal brutality to those concepts. There’s still room for the retro stuff and the brutal stuff, if it’s done well enough, but the most viable acts in the genre are the ones that really think outside the box.

Speaking of new things in death metal, let’s get to my favorite track on The Charnel Expanse- the closer “The Unmaking”. You added some synths and keys to the atonal churning death metal, and it works really well. Talk about throw that process came about and how hard it was to mix the two.

Calling it ‘atonal’ is a misnomer, since most of the tonality on that song is actually quite conventional; a couple of dissonant portions here and there but it actually contains probably the least idiosyncratic riffing on the album when you look at the individual guitar parts. But I think what makes it stand out isn’t the use of synths but the fact that it’s basically all-counterpoint-all-the-time. It was one of three or four songs written for this album that I really felt captured a sound that was distinctly Zealotry. Not that I’m unhappy with the other songs, but that one, “Decaying Echoes”, “Codex Mysterium” and, I would say, “Blighted” are the ones that were written and arranged in a way that represents what we’re going to do in the future. The guitars, instead of falling into a typical lead/rhythm dichotomy interlace with each other in such a way that for much of the song they’re sort of weaving back and forth between those roles, and there are a lot of additional layers of harmonies that add depth to the track, similar in a lot of ways to what Ulcerate does. It was a very difficult song to mix because of that. The synths really were the last thing added, and I felt like they were an important element because the lyrics are sci-fi based and I wanted to punctuate that a bit.

So, Can we expect that to be developed further on future Zealotry releases or was this a one off incident?

We’ll use synths in a similar way in the future, but I can’t really tell you the extent just yet.We already have five full songs and a couple of half-songs written for the next album, which will be conceptual, so we’re definitely going full steam into continuing this thing. How much further it will go beyond that depends on what we feel we’ve accomplished with the next album and still have yet to accomplish. We’d like to play live, as I mentioned, but again, a lot more has to be done before that becomes a reality.

Who did the artwork for The Charnel Expanse- its very striking and fits the music perfectly.

The concept was mine, the execution was Turkka G. Rantanen. He’s, I think, most well-known for his work with Demilich and some of the other old-school Finnish dm bands, and considering our influences I thought it was a natural fit in addition to being a strategic one. There will be additional artwork, also handled by Turkka, on the cd version that’ll expand on that same little world we built. It’ll be pretty twisted. I think you’ll be impressed.

As I understand it- The Charnel Expanse will be released on CD in October on this year via Spain’s Mememto Mori records? How did that come about? Was there any other label interest?

Raul from memento Mori contacted us less than 12 hours after we released the digital version and gave us a really good offer. We asked around to determine just how good, and also find out what people’s experiences have been dealing with him and everyone spoke very highly, so we figured there was no reason to wait around for more offers.

In this day and age is there really a need labels in underground death metal with the digital age and site like bandcamp and stuff? Why not just do a digital release?

The problem with digital releases is that as soon as some unscrupulous dickwad gets a hold of it or manages to get through encryption on whatever site hosts it, pretty soon it’s all over the file sharing sites and blogs for free. As a result, people no longer have to pay for the product to enjoy all that it offers. A physical release has added value for most people, myself included. And that’s especially true in the metal scene where there’s a greater sense of intimacy between the artist and the audience and a more prevalent ‘collector’ mentality.

In closing- what death metal releases have you enjoyed so far in 2013 and what are you looking forward to for the rest of 2013?

I think my favorite release so far this year was that Bölzer mlp. Those songs were really beautifully put together, and I’m really looking forward to more from them. As far as full-lengths, it’s Defeated Sanity first, then Lantern, Vorum and Krypts. For the rest of the year, obviously Gorguts and Ulcerate are the big ones, but there’s this band from Quebec I’ve become friends with called Phobocosm that’s putting out an album soon that I think is going to send some ripples through the scene.


  1. Commented by: diggedy1

    Dude, just read this interview and pulled up the album on their Bandcamp page, listening now and it’s freakin awesome…my first impression is that this album is kinda like a heavier, more insane The Chasm. There is a journey to be taken with this album…value-added death metal! Much thanks for the introduction to Zealotry!

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